Autonomy And Help

There was a guy called Erik Erikson who died in 1994.  I want to make a joke about a lack of imagination in his family when naming their prodgeny.  Although the joke would probably be unfair, this particular Erikson is famous for his theory on the eight stages of psychosocial development (and the concept of the identity crisis), so at least he seems to give some thought towards children.  The second stage of psychosocial development is autonomy.

The Autonomy stage examines the conflict between autonomy and shame and doubt.  In children it normally takes place between the ages of 2 and 3.  Children will gain a sense of independence at this stage and this independence, in turn, will help them develop will and determination.

Think about it in terms of potty training.  (At this stage, as someone with no kids that I know about, I’m having a little laugh at myself about the authority with which I write this example!)  The child learns to control their own body funtions and so this gives them independence.  Joking aside, I know someone who plans trips on toilet availability and feels terribly restricted and shamed because of it.

As we grow up we want more and more autonomy.  We want to start picking our food, make our own clothing and style decisions and then, in our work life, we want the autonomy to do things the way we think they should be done.  That’s also what we want from the people who work for us – initiative.

In the work place, though, empowering an employee needs to be done correctly.  Jen Roberts, writing for Forbes a few days ago, noted 5 autonomy crushing behaviours, many of which I have seen and sometimes experienced:

  1. Undermining decisions.  I remember being sat in an office once and my boss asking me which of two things we should do.  I’d done research, had a lot of knowledge and suitable experience and proposed one option.  He went in to his meeting and proposed the other.  His proposal lasted all of 2 months.  Eight years later we’re finally working on mine.  The point, though, was that I was given the decision to make and then wasn’t trusted.
  2. Taking over work when it’s not getting done.  Or, from my experience, not getting done fast enough or in the way someone else wants it done.
  3. “Failure isn’t an option” so the employee will start to worry about failing, and so put off making that important decision.
  4. It’s possible to trust employees so implicitly with any task that it’s not delegated properly, meaning that they don’t truly know what they’re doing.
  5. Those constant progress meetings!  These can be seen as looking for a stamp of approval rather than working together.

I just, at this stage, want to touch on another subject I wrote about recently – gaslighting.  This is a type of psychological abuse that has the vitcim doubting their own sanity.  In the past I’ve had someone tell my friends that I couldn’t pick my own clothes.  Someone also told me that I needed her to fulfill my self-worth.

My rationale for the clothes was that if this person liked the suit I was buying, other people would probably think it was OK too.  Regarding self-worth, I liked being to help her and it made me happy when she was.  But the point about the two comments is that they were inferring that I was completely bereft of autonomy.  The inferred that I had a dependency on others.

That is where I believe one of the greatest aspects of automony is actually being able to ask for help.  A bit like when Tesla’s autonomous car had an accident last week, there are occasions when we simply cannot do what’s being asked of us.  In fact, let’s strip it back even further than that.  I suspect that most people reading this post have not built their own home, do not grow their own food, do not tap their own water…

When talking about Erikson’s second stage of development, Simply Psychology talk about how “a supportive parent should have the patience to allow the child to try until they succeed or ask for assistance. So, the parents need to encourage the child to becoming more independent whilst at the same time protecting the child so that constant failure is avoided”.

Very Well say that the major question posed in this second stage is “Can I do things myself or am I reliant on the help of others?”

I mentioned before that autonomy helps to develop will and determination.  Part of the process of trying new things is that, if you fail, someone will be there to pick you up again.  It’s what an effective leader would do and it’s what friends do.

Not trying to sound high and mighty, but my side of the “self-worth” story was that I thought I was supporting a friend.  We’d had many a discussion about the difficulty in “adulting”, either seriously or in jest.  She also mentioned how she wanted someone to be the wind for her kite.  I thought I recognised someone who wanted to be independent so my idea was to (sometimes in a self-deprecating manner) be there to support that as unobtrusively as possible.

It feels roundabout, but I think to be truly independent you need someone there to support you.

Miss Independent,
Miss Self-sufficient,
Miss Keep Your Distance,
Miss Unafraid,
Miss Out Of My Way,
Miss Don’t Let A Man Interfere, No,
Miss On Her Own
Miss Almost Grown,
Miss Never Let A Man Help Her Off Her Throne.
So, by keeping her heart protected
She’d never ever feel rejected.
Little Miss Apprehensive
Said “ooh”,
She fell in love.

What is the feelin’ takin’ over?
Thinkin’ no one could open my door.
Surprise…It’s time
To feel what’s real.
What happened to Miss Independent?
No more the need to be defensive.
Goodbye, old you
When love is true.

Miss Independent by Kelly Clarkson

Comments 4

  1. Eleanor Parks

    I had this exact conversation with my niece. She has a child who, until last week, was being home-schooled. One of the reasons for this was that she simply wasn’t coping at school due to anxiety, yet she would never ask for help or tell anyone when she was feeling overwhelmed. Now, after counselling, being home-schooled and learning social skills, self confidence and, most importantly, when to admit being overwhelmed and ask for help, she (the child) has of her own volition, asked to return to school. The reason I had this conversation with my niece though, is because she herself suffers from anxiety, and she admitted having an anxiety attack at work. The thing was though, she didn’t tell anyone that she was having an attack and tried to cope on her own. Ultimately, she realised that she had to start applying those lessons which she had taught her daughter, to herself.

    • I think it’s hard to notice things like that in yourself. I can’t really speak on anxiety but (as you may know / have gathered) I’m on anti-depressants and have had counselling sessions for most of the year up until about a month ago, yet still won’t really admit to being depressed. I, though, actually found it easy enough to ask for help but often thought I was taking up time that would be better spent on someone with “proper” problems! Pleased your friend has realised. There’s no shame in needing help and her problems are just as important as anyone else’s.

  2. So, having read many of your posts, and commenting on them, I’m going to sound redundant…but, I loved this post as well….your topics/thoughts/experiences are intriguing and interesting and delivered in a wonderful and engaging way….thanks for sharing 🙂

Leave A Comment?