Hyper-Independence As A Trauma Response: Signs, Development, Treatment

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Independence is a requirement to live a happy, healthy life. To be independent is to be self-sufficient and able to handle daily life activities. As an adult, no one will make you keep appointments, go grocery shopping, pay your bills, go to work, and do all the things you need to do to live your life.

Like most things, however, independence can be harmful when taken to an extreme.

Independence crosses over into hyper-independence when the act of self-reliance subtracts from your life, and you refuse to accept help even when you really need it.

Everyone has problems they cannot solve on their own, and sometimes we all need additional support to get through whatever it is we’re facing.

Hyper-independence is often a trauma response to betrayal, abandonment, or broken trust. For example, children with insecure home lives may develop hyper-independence because they grow up knowing they cannot trust adults.

Let’s look at this topic in greater detail to understand what it looks like, where it comes from, and how to treat it.

Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you explore and work through the trauma that causes your hyper-independence. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.

Signs And Symptoms Of Hyper-Independence

Hyper-independence manifests in different ways from person to person. Some hyper-independence traits may be viewed in a positive light because they seem like positive qualities, even though they may harm the person.

They are strong-willed.

To be strong-willed is a symptom that many mistake as a positive trait in the context of hyper-independence. A strong will is a symptom that prevents the person from getting along with other people and forming relationships. They may not be willing to work with others and insist on always getting their way. On the other hand, a person with this symptom may be seen as highly competent and a hard worker because they will make unhealthy sacrifices to maintain their independence.

They constantly need to prove their independence.

This person may need to constantly prove to themselves and others that they are completely independent and able to do everything independently. As a result, they will sacrifice their well-being and may alienate others with a “See? I can do it all!” attitude.

They may constantly appear busy.

The hyper-independent person may always need to be on the move and doing something. Sometimes, they may try to appear busy all the time because they don’t want others to perceive them as needy or incompetent. But on the other hand, they may be workaholics or sacrifice personal relationships for professional goals.

They often experience stress and burnout.

Stress and burnout may follow the strong-willed, hyper-independent person. This person often takes on too many tasks and refuses to ask or accept help to complete them, even if they need it. The more of the load they pull onto their back, the greater their stress becomes, which can lead to physical and mental health problems. Burnout often follows.

They rarely work well with others.

They will have difficulty delegating responsibility to other people or asking for help even when they need it. Suppose they are in a position of leadership. In that case, they may insist on doing the tasks their subordinates would otherwise be responsible for, further overburdening themselves. They will often not solicit or want to hear other opinions and want to be in control of group decision-making. They may feel that the only good ideas are theirs, and if not used, they may get angry or resentful.

They may mistrust others.

The hyper-independent person knows they cannot trust or rely on others. They may believe everyone else is out to harm or take advantage of them. That may translate to an unhealthy amount of secretiveness and withdrawal from social interaction altogether. It’s not unusual for the hyper-independent person to not engage or alienate people to prevent them from getting closer. They may avoid social engagements altogether.

They are often reserved in relationships.

Since this person does not feel they can fully trust others, they often will not open themselves up in relationships to show vulnerability. A lack of vulnerability prevents a person from forming honest, loving relationships because the other person does not truly know them. They will not want to let others into their inner emotional life. Thus, they appear detached, cold, and distant.

They have a strong dislike of neediness.

Hyper-independent people may feel disgusted or resentful toward people that demonstrate neediness, particularly people who are needy of them. They may try to avoid helping or taking any responsibility for helping someone in need.

They lack long-term relationships.

All or some of these signs and symptoms will harm the person’s ability to have healthy relationships. They may have few friends or long-term relationships. They may flee relationships when they feel like they are forming an attachment.

Hyper-independence Vs. Hypervigilance

Hyper-independence and hypervigilance are both trauma responses that look similar but differ significantly. In addition, they are often intertwined with one another.

Hypervigilance as a trauma response puts the person on high alert for any potential attack that may be coming their way. This may look like high anxiety, an inability to relax, excessive skepticism, and paranoia.

Hyper-independent people are not always on high alert for an attack. Instead, they feel that their independence is essential to avoid future harm. They require themselves to be fully capable, which may keep them from developing social relationships or asking for help.

Understanding Hyper-Independence

Hyper-independence results from trauma stemming from a person learning to not rely on others. “Trauma” is the keyword in that sentence. It is normal and reasonable for others to not always do the right thing or live up to our expectations. People are messy creatures, and they don’t always get things right.

Trauma is defined as an event that may deprive a person of agency and choice over what happens to them. Trauma stemming from a person learning to not rely on others may include examples like:

– a child whose parents are absent or neglectful. The child will learn not to trust people if their parents are never around to emotionally care for them or adequately provide for them. That may look like neglecting to feed them or help them maintain hygiene.

– a person whose partner cheats on them. Infidelity can be devastating for the partner who was cheated on. Infidelity trauma is a real thing that can harm a person’s ability to trust or rely on their current partner or any future partners. After all, if they are vulnerable, they will just be hurt again.

– a person who has lived in poverty. Living in poverty is a constant, ongoing traumatic experience. You never have enough money. You may constantly fear your car breaking down and requiring a costly repair. You may never have enough money to make ends meet and need to juggle which bills you pay to survive. You may be one or two paychecks away from homelessness which makes sickness or injury extreme fears. The person who manages to escape a life of poverty may never feel as though they can trust other people or stop working to not end up in that place again.

6 Tips To Work On Hyper-Independence

Since hyper-independence is typically a trauma response, you’ll likely need a certified mental health counselor to help resolve your trauma and develop better habits.

BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

That being said, there are some things you can do for self-management to prevent some of the damage it’s doing to your life. These tips are not intended to replace mental health treatment with a certified professional.

1. Avoid codependent relationships.

A person affected by hyper-independence is the kind of person who may try to take charge of the people and circumstances in their life. A codependent person is the sort of person that looks for people like that because they have their own mental health challenges that cause them to need too much from their partner.

This is an unhealthy relationship dynamic for both partners. For the hyper-independent person, it reinforces the behavior while making it harder to treat and replace with healthier habits later. For the codependent, it reinforces their extreme need for the attention and care they require. Furthermore, since hyper-independent people often take on more than they can handle, they may burn right out of the relationship.

2. Learn to say “no” more often.

The hyper-independent person will often take on more work than they can handle because they do not want to rely on other people to get things done. However, they will need to learn to be mindful of how much work they take on to not burn themselves out.

Thus, they need to learn the magic word – no. “No, I don’t have time for another project.” “No, I can’t help with that.” “No, you’ll need to handle that yourself.” “No, you can ask Jack for help with that. He might be able to help you.” “No” – it’s a complete sentence that will significantly lighten your load in life.

3. Learn to delegate responsibility.

The hyper-independent person does not want to rely on others to get things done. That may be a matter of feeling like they need to do everything. It may also be a matter of not being okay with the level of work that others would put into the project. After all, if they do a bad job, that will reflect poorly on the hyper-independent person, which might damage their independence.

Still, one must work to accept that other people will not do things exactly or as well as the hyper-independent person might. That’s also assuming that the hyper-independent person has an accurate read on their own skill level. They may not actually be as good at responsibility as they think. It could be a blind spot caused by their hyper-independence and need to maintain control regardless of their ability.

Let other people do things. It will lighten your load, reduce your stress, and you’ll get more done.

4. Make it a point to ask for help.

Asking for help will likely feel extremely uncomfortable. Still, it’s a necessary thing to do if you want to combat your hyper-independence. It’s okay to start small and ask for help with smaller things. That will help you stick your toes into the discomfort. It will also allow you to see that others are often willing to help if you let them help.

But, again, remember that other people may not fulfill the request in the same way you would. They may have their own process or not work at the quality you would otherwise demand. This is just something you’ll need to get used to. It can also make it much easier for you to tweak things if it just needs a little more polish.

5. Build healthy, meaningful relationships.

Many hyper-independent people struggle with deeper connections but may find that they have surface-level connections with friends and family. Improving those relationships is often a matter of breaking down emotional walls and allowing oneself to let those people in. By doing so, you are extending an opportunity to build a stronger and deeper relationship.

Those people around you that want that deeper, more meaningful relationship will want you to feel supported. But, on the other hand, some of those people will be perfectly content with the surface-level relationship you currently have. That’s okay. Not everyone is meant to be deeply connected.

6. Develop greater trust.

The only way to develop trust in other people is to actually trust other people. It would help if you extended some trust to other people to see what they do with your trust. Though some people may not do the right thing with your trust, others will protect and cherish it. That being said, start small. To see what the other person does with your trust, offer some small thing that won’t harm you or won’t harm you much if it doesn’t work out.

If they treat you and your trust with respect, then you may consider extending them more trust, and more trust, and more trust. Once you do, you may find yourself in a deeper relationship with the person because you have allowed yourself to be vulnerable. And if things don’t go well, try talking to the person first to see if there was some mistake or miscommunication. Assuming that their actions were not malicious, people sometimes don’t do the right things.

Learning to talk it out, forgive, and mend the breach of trust is essential for building deep and meaningful relationships.

Do Seek Professional Help

Hyper-independence is but one symptom of a greater problem of trauma. Unfortunately, self-help is rarely the right approach for dealing with the whole problem. Instead, you should seek help from a certified professional to resolve your trauma. Of course, that will be a whole challenge in itself. Still, it will provide so many benefits past helping to reduce your hyper-independence as a means to prevent further trauma from happening to you.

It is a good idea to seek professional help from one of the therapists at BetterHelp.com to get to grips with the underlying trauma that has led you to become hyper-independent.

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About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.