Independence is usually considered a positive trait, although taking this too far can harm relationships and mental health. This is known as hyper-independence, which, in many cases, can be a response to a past traumatic event.
What Is Hyper-Independence?
Hyper-independence is independence taken to the extreme. Those who have gone through interpersonal trauma may choose hyper-independence as a coping mechanism. Hyper-independent individuals do not depend on others to complete tasks and frequently reject support wherever possible.
Hyper-independence is not just limited to asking for help. Other signs of unhealthy independence include:
- Secretiveness – hyper-independent people can be reluctant to share information about themselves, as they may worry that it will be used against them.
- Stress – asking for help or delegating tasks can feel impossible or appear as a sign of neediness or weakness to hyper-independent people. In many cases, they take on more work than they can handle, leading to stress and burnout.
- Distrust of others – hyper-independence can stem from distrust or fear that others will let them down or betray them.
- Relationship difficulties – due to their reluctance to open up to others, hyper-independent people can have trouble forming and maintaining long-term friendships or relationships.
- Over-achieving or perfectionism – hyper-independence can encourage people to take on more work to prove to themselves and others that they don’t require support.
Even when offered help, hyper-independent people will often refuse it, which can cause relationship issues at work, with a romantic partner, and with family members or friends. Hyper-independence can also make other people feel unwanted or unvalued, which can develop into more significant issues such as relationship anxiety.
What Is a Trauma Response?
A trauma response is defined as the use of over-adaptive coping mechanisms during or after a traumatic event. The four most common trauma responses are fight, flight, freeze, and fawn.
Traumatic events sometimes force people’s brains into survival mode, where their behaviours are focussed on actions that will keep them safe in the present moment. Regardless of whether it is unhealthy, people can remain in this survival mode long after the traumatic event has passed.
Although responses to threats help people survive and cope with trauma, they can become maladaptive after the event, and can lead to long-term symptoms including hyper-independence.
Can Hyper-Independence be a Trauma Response?
There are many reasons hyper-independence can develop in response to trauma:
- Past neglect – some traumatised individuals may have experienced instances when their needs haven’t been met, leading them to exhibit hyper-independent traits to survive. Through past experiences, they learned that their only source of support is themselves.
- Coping – trauma can shake people’s worldviews and make their lives uncertain. Therefore, they may turn to hyper-independence as a way to manage and regain some control over their lives and environment.
- Feeling undeserving of support – some may believe they are undeserving of help and support after a traumatic event. This can stem from previous experiences, neglect, or past trauma.
Although hyper-independence is not a formal diagnosis, it can be a trauma symptom.
Trauma and Codependency
Just as trauma can lead to hyper-independence, it can also lead to codependence.
Codependence is almost the opposite of hyper-independence. Codependent relationships make it difficult to enforce boundaries and mean that one party may focus entirely on the other at the expense of their own well-being.
Childhood trauma and neglect can cause people to fawn; a type of trauma response that involves trying to please the person harming them. People who do this may put their needs aside to take care of others and try and make themselves as useful as possible.
Other indicators of codependent relationships or behaviours include:
- Praising people to try and avoid criticism
- Avoiding expressing feelings in relationships to limit negative emotions
- Having trouble setting boundaries
- Being unable to say no to others
- Feelings of guilt when angry or upset at others
Reaching out for help can be challenging, especially after a traumatic event. Both hyper-independence and codependence can stem from past trauma and can cause personal and relationship difficulties; however, it is possible to manage and move past these trauma symptoms.
Coping With Hyper-Independence
Taking the time to practice delegating tasks to others is the first step in tackling hyper-independence. Seeing how supportive others can be and offloading responsibility with positive results can be highly encouraging.
Working through trust issues is essential, although it takes time and patience. Building meaningful relationships and taking steps to get to know and trust others can help people break hyper-independent behaviour patterns.
If you are supporting a hyper-independent loved one, being consistent, checking in regularly and encouraging them to rebuild or find new friendships can help them to work through their issues and improve their relationships.
Trauma can affect all aspects of life and hyper-independence can make people feel incredibly lonely, so don’t hesitate to seek professional support when necessary. There are ways to tackle trauma and hyper-independence, and treatment options such as somatic experiencing and internal family systems therapy can help to address the root causes.
If you have a client or know of someone struggling with anything you have read in this blog, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).
 Burdick LS, Corr C. Helping teachers understand and mitigate trauma in their classrooms. TEACHING Exceptional Children. doi:10.1177/00400599211061870