Hyper independence is a coping mechanism that develops as a result of negative experiences, teaching us that relying on and trusting others is not safe. It can be short-lived and isolated to a specific situation; however, it can become a trauma response when someone applies this perspective to all areas of their life, relationships included.
What Is Hyper Independence?
Hyper independence is a way of coping with life for those who have experienced interpersonal trauma. Those who are hyper-independent do not rely on others to accomplish things, do not ask for help, and often avoid receiving support when possible, even to their detriment. They have learned through lived experiences that they need to do things themselves due to not having core needs met by others, usually through childhood, and apply it to an extreme.
Children can also learn that being fully independent will make them more accepted, leading them to develop an inability to delegate tasks to others as they get older. It also comes from repeated experiences of being let down or where no one shows up for you.
Chronically being let down by the people who we expect to support us chips away at our sense of self-worth and self-esteem as we learn to cope by doing things ourselves and not asking for help or sharing our needs. When we don’t want to face asking for support, this can cause us to be retraumatized from our unmet needs. Those who practice hyper-independence often feel alone and not safe enough to voice their unmet needs.1
Hyper Independence vs. Hypervigilance
The primary difference between hyper independence and hypervigilance is that hypervigilance keeps people looking for potential threats constantly as a subconscious state. In contrast, hyper independence is people’s conscious and intentional choice not to ask for help. Both are trauma responses and are often experienced simultaneously by people.2
How Is Hyper Independence a Trauma Response?
Hyper independence is a trauma response, often stemming from childhood trauma. When children are young, they rely on their caregivers for social and emotional learning to help them soothe their negative feelings through emotional regulation and teaching them how to use healthy coping mechanisms. They rely on their caregivers to be seen, heard, understood, and have their basic needs met.
If a child makes mistakes, they inherently look forward to being supported. When caregivers are inconsistent with their presence in the child’s life or consistently absent, children learn to cope on their own and may develop various harmful coping mechanisms–hyper independence is just one of those coping mechanisms for the trauma of physical and emotional neglect. Any additional abuse or exploitation further feeds this coping mechanism.3
Ultra-Independence & Lack of Trust
Those who are ultra-independent have also learned that it is easier to do things themselves than trust others to support them because they experienced a substantial break of confidence in the past. These individuals have developed trust issues over the years, and while this hyper independence and lack of trust helps keep them safe from disappointment, it also keeps them away from potentially experiencing the safety of trusting someone who will be there for them in their future relationships.
Relationships Where Hyper Independence Can Cause Problems
Hyper independence trauma stems from negative experiences from our previous relationships. It is common for those practicing this coping mechanism to experience difficulties in managing their relationships with those close to them. These problems can arise in relationships with a significant partner, friends, family, and even at school or work.
With a Partner
Hyper independence in relationships can leave the other partner feeling isolated, not wanted, or valued. These feelings can manifest into more significant issues like relationship burnout, relationship anxiety, attachment disorders, and abandonment issues. It may make your partner less willing to share, making it harder to develop healthy communication.2
With Friends or Family Members
Hyper independence with friends and family can be similar to that with partners. It can leave people with a minimal drive to form new relationships or reconnect and may develop an avoidant personality disorder. Family and friends may perceive that you may be upset with them, and though you may not be, it can make it harder for you to go to them for your needs and further validate your feelings of needing to be alone.
At Work or School
Hyper independence in a professional setting can be a self-destructive behavior that can set you up to fail long term, be excluded from projects and events, and have others view you in a negative way. If you are in a position of power but you never delegate appropriately because of hyper independence, it may cause a lack of trust among your colleagues and subordinates. It can also leave you without any allies in the workplace or any real connection in a place where you spend a lot of time. A lack of support in the workplace can lead to a lack of balance between professional and personal lives.
Are You Hyper Independent?
Sometimes it can be hard to tell if you are hyper-independent. But if you need to do things on your own, even if it may be harder, more time intensive, and costly, it could be a sign of poor coping.
Other potential signs that you might be hyper-independent include:
- Individualizing things
- Refusing help when offered
- Refusing to ask for help
- Unable to delegate tasks
- Needing to know every detail of a task if you did delegate or had a job/assignment taken away
7 Tips for How to Stop Being Overly Independent
Even though being overly independent is a trauma response, there are ways to work through this and take action steps to move forward in a healthy, balanced way.
Here are seven steps to help manage your hyper-independence:
1. Work Through Trust Issues
Taking time to work through trust issues is essential. We learn a lot from our experiences and base our views on that, and working through them to also learn how to manage disappointment is a crucial step to building trust. Allow yourself to experience the beauty of faith and confidence in others once again.
2. Build Meaningful Relationships
Having people who can show up for you will only be actualized if you allow others to do so for you. You likely have people in your life who care about you and want you to be supported, so allowing yourself the risk of letting them show you is crucial.
3. Give Tasks to Others
Recognize that others are also capable of accomplishing tasks. Challenge yourself to delegate a job and keep track of your emotions. Giving tasks to others can also show you that letting others do things for you can be safe.
4. Ask for Help
Asking for help can be scary, but it’s the first step to seeing how others can show up and support you without letting you down. Each of these steps includes an element of risk-taking, but the rewards of knowing and feeling supported can be worth the risk.
5. Say No
It’s essential to know your limits. It is vital to understand that just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to. We can do a lot independently, but we may not have the capacity for it. Let yourself off the hook and say no so you can preserve yourself for when you need it. If you are feeling run down, it will make it harder to ask for help.
6. Avoid Codependent Relationships
Those who are hyper-independent should avoid codependent relationships as they will often feel like they are carrying the weight of managing the relationship. They can often feel overwhelmed by the needs of the codependent individual and take on more to avoid hurting their feelings. It can be even more challenging for the other person to stop being codependent when they are being taken care of by a hyper-independent person.
7. Work Toward Interdependence
We all need to connect with others, and close relationships include relying on one another. Working towards forming interdependent relationships is healthy as it lets you enjoy others’ support in a meaningful way. Developing interdependence can be accomplished through forms of treatment like interpersonal therapy.
How to Support a Hyper-Independent Loved One
If you have someone in your life that is hyper-independent, there are ways to support them. Understanding what is going on for them can be challenging, but your patience and support can be very worthwhile.
Here are three ways to help your loved one with trust issues:
1. Check In Regularly
It’s essential to check in regularly, offer support, and be okay with having your offer to help be refused. It can take people a long time to accept that they may have an issue with receiving help, and your compassion during those times will make it easier for them to consider taking the support.
2. Remember That Everyone’s Different
Everyone is different, so while you may have no issue taking help, understand that others will, and logic may not change their mind. There have been experiences that have reprogrammed their nervous system to consider receiving support a potential threat to their emotional health. It can be a lot deeper for others, so accept that people are different than you.
3. Help Them Build a Trusting Community
Community is vital for everyone, so if there are reliable people in your loved one’s life, help them see that—encouraging someone to develop their support network. Be sure you are showing authenticity and that your intentions are well-meaning and in their best interest. Outpatient services with an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) model can also be a great program to start.
How to Find Treatment
Currently, no medications are available or prescribed to manage the issues related to being hyper-independent. Instead, a prescriber might offer medications to help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety that arise from the trauma associated with your trust issues. Paired psychotherapy can be more targeted and focused on dependency issues by treating these symptoms.
Hyper-Independence may require specialized treatment, so anyone interested in the best treatment should find a therapist with expertise in trauma-informed care and attachment styles. You can ask your primary care provider or a trusted loved one for a referral, or browse an online therapist directory, where you can search by location and specialty.
What you may be dealing with can be overwhelming and stressful, but you are not alone. There are a lot of ways you can work to overcome your hyper-independence and ways to support your loved ones dealing with this. It will take time and patience, but it is possible to live a whole, happy life by being able to rely on others.