Fostering Independence

Fostering Independence

As you move through your addiction and maintain sobriety, you have likely noticed the complicated and multifaceted nature of your recovery. Your addiction likely has negatively impacted your health, job, finances, reputation, self-esteem, and mental health. Also, you may have compromised, damaged, or destroyed friend and family relationships along the way. I want to examine several ways to repair relationships damaged by mental health or substance use disorders. We will also look at specific, positive ways to interact with others to develop long-lasting, mutually rewarding, and intimate relationships.


At first glance, being overprotective might be perceived as a positive quality. It can, however, come across as being possessive, overly helpful, shielding, and stifling of independence. Rather than being a relationship of equals, one partner becomes dominant and parental over the other one. To correct this, begin to foster independence in your partner. Allow your partner to try new things, even if it means struggling with uncertainty, doubt, and potential failure. Communicate encouragement and unconditional, positive affirmations.

Even though you are communicating unconditional love, keep in mind that failure is inevitable. Loving someone does not mean you won’t let them falter, fall, or fail. Some people are very intimidated by this process. They want to prevent or fix problems, and if they can’t do that, they want to completely pull back, almost as though they don’t care what happens. Finding the middle ground can be difficult. Stay involved, be available, and assure them of your concern and connection.

Common Areas of Overprotection and Over-involvement

In this overprotective stance, you may find yourself trying to prevent problems from happening or fixing them when they do happen. You may be tempted to lie, minimize, or cover-up for someone else’s inadequacies. Strangely, many people become angry and controlling during this re-adjustment phase, meaning if your loved one doesn’t take your advice, you find yourself being offended and upset.

I am apt to overprotect:

  • When someone makes a mistake
  • When I could prevent a mistake
  • When my partner acts helpless
  • When others are afraid or anxious
  • When someone appears distraught, upset, or overwhelmed
  • When safety is a concern
  • When others can’t choose, decide, or are unsure of what to do
  • If my involvement appears to be the only reasonable choice
  • If I have the time, money, and energy to make a difference
  • When the other person makes me feel guilty or cheap
  • If it’s my child or spouse

10 Ways to Foster Independence in Others

  1. Allow the other person to experience common consequences.
  2. Encourage others to make attempts toward progress without regard to completion or success.
  3. Use a limited amount of praise, attention, and rewarding comments. Too much affirmation actually makes someone more dependent on your approval and less independent overall.
  4. Allow others to fail, then encourage them to take personal responsibility, followed by reviewing what could be done to eliminate mistakes or make more progress next time.
  5. As an example for others, tolerate difficulties and hardship in your own life without complaining.
  6. Let people complain, cry, and be upset without fixing it or pointing out their mistakes.
  7. Consider helping when asked, but don’t overextend when your help is clearly not wanted.
  8. Identify triggers that normally pull you into fix-it mode. Resist the urge to over-help or enable.
  9. Limit “prevention lectures.” Excessive scolding and warning make others more dependent and feel more insecure.
  10. Reduce the urge to nag, scream, swear, belittle, or criticize in an attempt to “improve” someone’s behavior.

Mutually Beneficial

It’s so great to be in a mutually respectful relationship where both parties interact in a reciprocal manner. When that happens, each person can make a contribution to the other person and to the relationship. The relationship is strongest and most comfortable when partners have equal, or very close to equal, worth, value, and power.

Keep in mind the power differential in a relationship is the responsibility of both people. Both need to be assertive and not passive. And equally important, each must be assertive and not controlling, over-helpful, or enabling. Fostering and encouraging independence in your loved ones will be a gift that will improve the quality of your relationship and strengthen your recovery.


Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!