It’s been years since our culture has taken a turn to a more individualistic one versus one focused on collectivism. While both have their advantages and disadvantages, this article aims at reviewing some of the disadvantages of our now highly individualistic belief system and discusses why we still need people.
One of the primary methods of social media I use as a therapist trying to reach millennials is Instagram. Here, we are flooded with #bossbabe #independent and the belief that we don’t need anyone in our lives to meet our needs because we can and should meet those needs ourselves. It wasn’t too long ago where I read these and would throw up the praise emoji, but now, however, I take a different view.
Like myself at one point in my life, many of my clients believe that they should be paving their own way toward their passions, their purpose, and their future. They believe they need to do it on their own and are working hard toward doing that. Many of these people are highly perfectionistic, over-achievers, people-pleasers, and clinically anxious or depressed. They go into self-deprecating thoughts when something doesn’t go according to plan and are highly critical of themselves when they need to ask for help. While these traits can be personality-based, they are largely based on societal or cultural norms that we are expected to follow.
Character Traits in Individualism
The expectation now is that we should be able to do everything on our own and we can. Moreso, if you don’t or cannot do it on your own, then our cultural norm will increase the belief that something is wrong with you. In fact, people might actually ask what you’re doing wrong because you can’t do it on your own.
Now, people are considered “good” if we don’t need anyone. Values that are important to individualistic cultures include the following:
Why are depression rates and anxiety are at an all-time high, particularly among our youth and young adults? Because the expectation is that when encountering a problem, you should be able to do it alone. And if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you or you don’t receive praise. And guess what, we all want to receive praise.
A quote that caught my attention was said by Henrik Ibsen, a playwright and considered to be the Father of Modern Theatre, coming in second after Shakespeare in one of the most influential dramatist in the 19th century. He writes,
“The strongest man in the world is he who stands alone.”
This is now the expectation in 2019. It is expected that if something terrible happens to you, you are the strongest and the most worthy of praise if you were to survive and thrive by yourself. Instead of writing paragraphs as to how harmful this belief is to us, I challenge you to think in these five areas of your life. As you read, be curious about how these things have shown up in your life. Have you gotten these things by yourself or through community? When has having a community or support system been helpful to you?
In the very first session with a client, we explore who their support system is and how they utilize it. Warning factors include when someone is isolated! We are not made to be alone. We are made for love, belonging, community, support, and accountability. In my experience, what stops us from accessing these support systems or even creating them is the pride that has been formed based on the expectation that we should be able to do it on our own.
What we’re missing out on:
Having a support system is good.
Doing life with other people is good.
Asking for help when you need it is good.
Supporting others when they are down is good.
Walking through the storm with others is good.
It’s ok to want to belong to something bigger, to need help, to ask for forgiveness. Belonging and having a community is more work, yes, but it also is the most fulfilling, the most rewarding, and one of the biggest methods to assure growth and personal development. It’s a way to increase your individualism and self-esteem because you’ve been authentic, even when it’s been hard.
As mentioned before, individualism has its advantages and disadvantages. If something is stirred up in you after reading this, specifically if one that combats this point of view, I encourage you to explore this on your own. Do an experiment. Spend some time being with people, getting to know them, helping them and asking for help, and find out for yourself which is more fulfilling.
Robin Kluttz, LSCSW, LCSW, CPT