Psychology Today – Have We Lost the Art of Relating?

I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram recently when I read a post from one of the parenting accounts I follow. A mother wrote about how she resents all the times her parents forced her to go to family gatherings when all she wanted to do was spend time with her own friends or sit in her room to read a book.

In the name of encouraging autonomy and independence in her own daughter, this mother pledged not to be that kind of parent. If her daughter wanted to do her own thing, she would allow it.

Assuming her daughter is neurotypical and the family isn’t abusive, I took issue with this proclamation. When, I wondered, did “self-care” and “boundaries” take center stage in the psychological lexicon? As we pay more attention to meeting our own needs, are we losing the art of relating?

Compared to other cultures, the United States is highly individualistic. We are taught to be independent and to avoid relying on others. In individualistic cultures, people behave according to their own self-interest and preferences. In collective societies, which tend to be in the Eastern hemisphere, choices are generally made only if they benefit the larger group. Individual needs come second to those of the community.

I worry that, often under the auspices of “boundaries” and “self-care,” many here in the U.S. are taking individualism too far. Don’t get me wrong; promoting autonomy and self-reliance is essential for personal growth and development. However, when the pursuit of self-interest becomes the primary focus, we risk losing sight of the importance of community and genuine human connections.

Too much “self-care” can hinder our ability to empathize, support, and connect with others. Relationships are the backbone of a healthy society, and they require effort and compromise. Countless studies cite strong social connection as one of the most important variables of overall healthy and longevity. By contrast, we have a wealth of research linking loneliness with depression and anxiety. So why is there such an emphasis on taking care of oneself apart from a group?

I see post after post encouraging people to embrace singledom, and I feel concerned about the long-term effects. The data tells us, after all, that loving, romantic relationships can be among the most meaningful relationships we will ever have. I see countless accounts dedicated to identifying “toxic” traits in others and giving tips on how to cut unhealthy people out of your life. The result, I worry, is alienation and loneliness.

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