Are You Self-Reliant?

Are You Self-Reliant?

Explore the research on self-reliance and how to strike the right balance in your life.

Self-reliance is the ability to independently choose and execute a course of action that results in you getting something you want (Bandura, 1977). To be self-reliant is to take all these steps on your own, with confidence and success.

We can break down self-reliance into several key parts (Haley, 2013):

● Self-motivation: If you cannot find the motivation to do something on your own, you will have to get that momentum from somewhere else, and you won’t be self-reliant. Many of us rely on external forces to move us into action, but for many life tasks, that won’t cut it.

● Self-efficacy: Self-efficacy is the belief that you can do something. If you do not trust that you are capable of doing something, you’re likely to either avoid doing it or – a better choice – ask for help.

● Instrumentality: Having the actual means to do something. No matter how badly you want to fix your own flat tire, if you do not have the training – or tools – to do it successfully on your own, you will need to seek out the help of someone who does.

● Self-direction: Self-reliance involves not depending on others to stay on task. For example, nobody but yourself will be tracking your gym progress and holding you accountable to your goals if you do not hire a coach

● Self-agency: Self-reliance also requires us to believe that we can determine our own fates. If you live in reaction to the world, rather than believing you can change it, you won’t be self-reliant.

The opposite of self-reliance is being dependent on others. This means not making decisions on one’s own and needing other people’s help to get things done (Jennings et al., 2015).

“To find yourself, think for yourself.”
― Socrates

Why Is Self-Reliance Important?

Self-reliance is important because getting things done on our own makes us more effective, increases positive feelings about ourselves, and increases the likelihood that we will work harder in the future, especially in challenging circumstances (Bandura, 1997). The things we have trouble doing, or don’t think we can do, tend to become things we avoid doing. Building self-reliance therefore becomes an important way to stay committed to and actively pursue our goals.

How to Be More Self-Reliant

Here are a few ideas (Gecas, 1989) for how to be more self-reliant (but not too self-reliant):

● Develop an internal locus of control. Internal locus of control is awareness of what one can control in one’s environment. Focusing on the things that are within your control can help you stay in positive action.

● Develop a sense of mastery. Feeling capable and competent is a key part of self-reliance. To build this sense of mastery, approach activities in a way that maximizes your chances of success. Set modest and achievable goals, acknowledge your successes, and then set the bar a little higher next time. This accumulation of successes will gradually build self-reliance (Bandura, 1997).

● Find your self-reliance limits. Knowing when you are out of your league or need help, and then effectively getting the support you need, can paradoxically build your sense of self-reliance. It undermines our sense of self-reliance when other people have to step in and tell us we are falling short. Being honest with ourselves about our limits can help us be self-reliant even in the domain of getting help.

● Get positive feedback. Research tells us that it helps to have other people witness us and give support and encouragement as we do things on our own (Ashford et al., 2010; Bandura, 1997). We can carry this encouragement with us as we go on to do more things on our own.

In Sum

Think about where you see the distinction between self-reliance and codependence in your own life. What are the limits of your ability to build the life you want? How can you turn to others to increase that capacity in yourself? Can you accept the limits of your own self-reliance, but keep working to build it at the same time? Finding this balance has led to increased well-being for many people (Knudson & Terrell, 2012), and it can for you, too.


● Ashford, S., Edmunds, J., & French, D. P. (2010). What is the best way to change self-efficacy to promote lifestyle and recreational physical activity? A systematic review with meta-analysis. British Journal of Health Psychology, 15(2), 265-288.

● Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.

● Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

● Gecas, V. (1989). The social psychology of self-efficacy. Annual Review of Sociology, 291-316.

● Haley, K. (2013). Women designing a faculty career: the role of self-reliance. The Journal of Faculty Development, 27(1), 5-12.

● Jennings, K. S., Cheung, J. H., Britt, T. W., Goguen, K. N., Jeffirs, S. M., Peasley, A. L.,  & Lee, A. C. (2015). How are perceived stigma, self-stigma, and self-reliance related to treatment-seeking? A three-path model. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 38(2), 109.

● Knudson, T. M., & Terrell, H. K. (2012). Codependency, perceived interparental conflict, and substance abuse in the family of origin. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 40, 245–257.