Strong Alone, Weak Together: the paradox of a codependent feminist
She stands in the round pen facing the horses. Posture erect, breathing calm. I tell her to circle them around the pen. She hesitates, considering how, then begins. The horses take off at high speed, kicking sand. A frenzied feeling hits my stomach, this is more than I anticipated. I tell her to remain calm and in the center of the pen. The horses energy increase intensity, rather than decrease. I am her. I watch as she fights the inner and outer sensitivities. What the horses want, what I want, what she wants. I feel the conflict within me brew and build into worry and fear. I know it so well. I step in to deescalate. After tears and process, she finds that her instinct to back up to the fence was right. Her inner voice knew.
How is it that so many of us can be powerful, self-sufficient leaders when alone, yet shrink into uncertainty, doubt, and need when in relationship? There are volumes on the patriarchy and feminism. I am not seeking to explore the social aspects here. Rather, the more personal.
Underneath the social constructs, I find a choice that is being made time and again. The choice is to override one's inner voice for the opinion of another. Perhaps we've been taught to defer to the expert. Perhaps we want to be loved. Perhaps we have learned that our feelings are not to be trusted. Perhaps our silence has been long rewarded. Perhaps we think we're "too much." By choosing to ignore our feelings, needs, or wants for the sake of another, we slowly become more angry, sad, or anxious. Sleep alludes us. Stress begins to rise.
Ironically, we can point to the many places in our lives where we display leadership. Our sensitivities allow us to perceive the needs and wants of others, this is a professional superpower. We can step into the healing arts and create profound impact. We can enter a board room or strategy session, equipped with the wisdom to manipulate outcomes and build cohesion. Yes, I said manipulate. That's a topic for another day. But, in the presence of a partner, we drop into need, pleasing, appeasing, and caretaking. That too is a manipulation, if we really look at it. We give our power of choice and voice away to control an outcome, to be loved.
The herd teaches us the art of working as a team. The horse epitomizes the African proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." They have survived in relative health and peace since the time of the late dinosaurs because of their ability to work together for the benefit of all. But to truly access the power of the herd, of partnership, we must learn the way of interdependence rather than codependence or independence.
Interdependence is when two or more fully autonomous beings agree to work together for mutual benefit.
It is a constant conversation about personal need and collective good. There is nothing fixed about this state of partnership because to be fully autonomous and collaborative requires ongoing communication around each decision point. The natural, dynamic tension between the parties creates a powerful magnetism. It's a dance. It can be beautiful, peaceful, wild, chaotic, and even destructive.
This work deserves more than one article to articulate. The journey out of codependence is not easy. The gift of interdependence is authentic connection and empowered partnership.
There are many tools to reach the same goal. By far the most powerful in my life has been the horse. She is as a practice partner, a healing support, and a reality check. Not simply horsemanship, but the intentional space we create using equine assisted learning. In this space, we invite the horse to give us the truth and nothing but the truth. It can be severe at times, but is always underpinned with nonjudgement and love.
For inspiration, here's a page from Shel Silverstein's classic The Missing Piece Meets the Big O. If you don't know the book, it's a worthwhile read. Simple and true.