The Roots & Implications of Hyper-Independence: How to Overcome “I Can Do It Myself”

Are you one of those people who believe they can handle everything on their own? Do you avoid seeking help from others at all costs? You may avoid letting people get too close in relationships. You prefer keeping your business to yourself, as you see opening up about your feelings as a sign of weakness. 

Independence is a sign of maturity and good mental health. Being independent allows us the freedom to make our own choices, have a sense of control over our lives, and feel confident in our abilities. However, the desire to be fully independent can create difficulties in our relationships and well-being when taken to an extreme.

What Exactly is Hyper-Independence?

Hyper-independence means that you are excessively self-reliant. This extreme form of self-sufficiency means that you avoid seeking help or support from others. Hyper-independent people often believe they must handle everything alone to prove their worth, strength, or quality. However, the façade of strength and self-reliance often masks underlying fears of abandonment, rejection, and hurt.    

How to Differentiate between Healthy Independence and Hyper-independence

Healthy independence is a behavior we learn from the earliest age. It is about being self-sufficient and capable of managing one’s life while recognizing the value of interdependence and seeking support when needed.

Healthy independence, or interdependence, means that people can be independent while remaining committed to their partner. Partners in an interdependent relationship are confident individuals who share a strong bond. They have clear, open communication, respect each other’s boundaries, and feel accountable for their actions. They balance sharing burdens, supporting each other, and following their personal endeavors.

Hyper-independence, on the other hand, pushes this concept to an extreme. It’s marked by a refusal to accept help, driven by a deep-seated fear of vulnerability or past traumas. This overemphasis on self-reliance can lead to isolation, burnout, and strained relationships, as it neglects the human need for connection and mutual support. This behavior pattern frequently stems from traumatic experiences like early losses, controlling parenting, and childhood neglect or abuse. While independence is usually desirable, being overly self-reliant can lead to isolation, making establishing and nurturing positive relationships difficult.

For example, others may see you as controlling and manipulative or feel left out, mistakenly seeing your exaggerated need to handle everything independently as a sign that there is no place for them. This can cause difficulties in forming meaningful connections with others and strain your relationships.

Furthermore, hyper-independence can lead to perfectionism, stress, and burnout. You may avoid asking for help, delegating tasks, and sharing responsibilities with your partner, family members, or coworkers, taking on more than you can handle. You may also struggle with emotional detachment and intimacy issues because you worry too much that others will let you down.

How Do You Know When Your Independence is Becoming Toxic: Signs of Hyper-Independence

Hyper-independence can mess with your emotional well-being and relationships. Recognizing signs of hyper-independence is the initial step in finding a middle ground between being independent and relying on others for support, affection, and resources. Here are some common signs:

  • You avoid asking for help
  • You are perfectionist 
  • You struggle to trust others
  • You avoid sharing personal information
  • You have difficulty maintaining meaningful relationships
  • You overburden yourself with responsibilities
  • You keep people at arm’s length to avoid vulnerability
  • You come across as emotionally unavailable
  • You prioritize tasks and responsibilities over self-care 
  • You are obsessed with control 
  • You often feel exhausted 
  • You feel uncomfortable accepting support 
  • You experience stress and burnout when depending on others

What are the Causes of Hyper-Independence?

The extreme need to be independent in every aspect of life can stem from past experiences where trust in others led to distress, disappointment, and harm. So, hyper-independence goes beyond simply being fully independent or taking pleasure in being alone. It manifests in a reluctance to accept help, a constant need to be in control, and an aversion to relying on others. These behavior patterns can stem from various life experiences, such as attachment disruptions or childhood trauma. A person who experiences neglect, abuse, parentification (a form of early trauma where the roles of a child and caregiver are reversed), or betrayal trauma in early childhood may build walls and become self-reliant as a protective measure, isolating themselves and making it hard to have healthy relationships. 

Attachment Disruptions

Insecure attachment

Children who experience neglect or grow up with unreliable caregivers may develop an insecure attachment style. Their early experiences may result in a heightened sensitivity to rejection. This can lead to a belief that they cannot rely on others for emotional or physical needs, so they create a sense of self-sufficiency as a survival mechanism. Over time, this self-reliance might make it hard to ask for or receive help from others because they believe vulnerability translates to weakness. 

So, the person may avoid closeness and intimacy to protect themselves from disappointment, betrayal, and hurt. As a result, they may have difficulty forming and maintaining meaningful relationships. 

Avoidant attachment

Individuals who experience inconsistent or emotionally distant caregiving during early childhood may develop avoidant attachment patterns. Suppose you grew up with emotionally unavailable, neglectful parents or caregivers. In that case, you may have learned to rely heavily on yourself and minimize the importance of close relationships to protect yourself from potential disappointment or rejection. You may see closeness as a threat to your self-sufficiency, so you may avoid dependence on others and prefer short-term relationships without commitment. While you may come across as self-confident, you may fear intimacy and prioritize independence and self-sufficiency, often at the expense of close or intimate relationships.

Overemphasis on Independence

If you grew up in an environment where independence was highly valued, while dependency and vulnerability were discouraged, this can contribute to becoming hyper-independent.

Imagine growing up with parents or caregivers who always show they can do everything alone. They never seek help from one another or family members, taking pride in their self-reliance. They might keep saying that people are not to be trusted. When parents model such behaviors without stressing the importance of helping each other, the child observing them could develop the belief that this is normal. They might grow up believing they can’t really count on others and should depend on themselves.

Overly controlling parenting

Overly controlling or authoritarian parents/caregivers who stifle their children’s autonomy and freedom can inadvertently reinforce self-reliance. Parents with an authoritarian parenting style rarely respond to their kids’ needs. They set high standards and tight rules for children without reasoning or giving much attention to their social, emotional, and behavioral needs. Instead of praise and rewards, overly controlling parents often use shame and punishment. The child, constantly needing to prove their competence to gain approval, may develop the belief that relying on others is a sign of weakness.

Trauma response

Our excessive desire for independence can serve as a coping mechanism in the wake of past hurts or trauma.

When a person experiences trauma – a highly distressing or life-threatening event that overcomes their coping capabilities – this can have severe consequences for their health and well-being. Trauma can be:

  • a single experience like a natural disaster, car accident, or sexual assault
  • chronic trauma with continuous or repetitive exposure to traumatic conditions, such as domestic violence or war
  • complex or permanent trauma when a person is exposed to multiple long-term traumatic experiences, like ongoing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

When we go through a traumatic event, our brain instinctively triggers the body’s protective reactions to ensure safety. Since our brains are wired to prioritize survival, this can lead us to remain in survival mode even when those reactions are no longer helpful or needed. This post-traumatic stress response can last a long time after a traumatic event if we don’t address it adequately.

Hyper-independence can develop as a trauma response to trauma for several reasons:

Fear of relinquishing control due to traumatic experiences

Individuals who have experienced trauma, such as loss, betrayal, or abuse, may see depending on others as a potential threat, leading to an exaggerated need for self-sufficiency. A person who experienced betrayal trauma, for example, may develop hyper-independence as a way to regain a sense of control over their lives. Betrayal trauma happens when a trusted, significant person severely violates our boundaries and causes serious hurt.

When someone who is expected to safeguard and care for a child’s needs causes harm, either by neglecting or abusing the child, this sort of betrayal disrupts the person’s fundamental need for trust and safety. usually leaving deep emotional scars. Since acknowledging the betrayal may endanger the person’s sense of safety or even existence, they learn not to rely on others, developing their self-reliance to an extreme.

Compensation for low self-worth

Hyper-independence sometimes compensates for deep feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem. When there is ongoing abuse, trauma bonds, and trauma betrayal in a family, the abuser often makes the victims think that the abuse was their fault or that they somehow deserved it. This instills in the victim a deep sense of shame and a feeling that they are fundamentally damaged and flawed.

So, people who were abused as children are more likely to feel shame for a long time, taking on the blame and shame of the abusers and blaming themselves for the abuse. The mindset that you are not good enough may cause you to feel that you do not deserve others’ support. As a result, you become highly self-sufficient, compensating for deep-seated insecurity and low self-worth.

Early losses

Losing a loved one, especially through a traumatic death or abandonment, can profoundly impact our ability to trust others, creating a fear of dependence. This is especially true for children, who, unable to cope with the pain of loss, might build emotional walls and avoid relying on others. To protect themselves from experiencing such intense pain again, they may keep others at a distance by avoiding close relationships and relying only on themselves.

If you experienced significant early loss, you may believe that if you don’t allow yourself to get too attached to someone, they won’t have to suffer if you lose that person.

Defense mechanism against fear of vulnerability

A person may develop hyper-independence as a defense mechanism against underlying fears of vulnerability or abandonment. If you experienced an early loss or trauma, you may have grown up believing that important persons will permanently abandon you for one reason or another. In your adult relationships, you may struggle with opening up and relying on others, fearing that honesty and dependence could lead to loss, hurt, and pain.

Mistrust of others

Our need to be independent may be toxic due to our deep-seated trust issues. It can be challenging for survivors of trauma, especially those who have been hurt by their caregivers, to reach out for help. They learned early on that the same person can be the source of comfort and hurt, insecurity, or pain. As adults, these people may feel unsafe in their relationships, feeling that relying on others would result in mistreatment or abuse by those people.

Adverse Effects of Hyper-Independence on Well-Being and Relationships: The Double-Edged Sword

While its primary purpose is self-protection, hyper-independence can sabotage your health, well-being, and relationships.

Relationship difficulties

Hyper-independence can create various challenges in relationships. Partners, family members, or friends might interpret this need for self-sufficiency as a lack of trust or intimacy.

This insistence on doing all things by yourself may cause you to feel overloaded and isolated. At the same time, your partner may feel rejected or undervalued because you don’t open up or rely on them for anything. It can lead to misunderstandings, resentment, conflicts, and an inability to form and maintain secure, healthy connections.

Stress and burnout

Those who strive for perfection and excessive self-reliance are more likely to get burned out. When you constantly take on more work and responsibilities than you can handle, this can lead to ongoing stress, exhaustion, and anxiety. Your motivation may be reduced, and you may feel depressed, irritable, and isolated. Additionally, you may struggle with a constant lack of energy, disturbed sleep, and ongoing physical exhaustion. Setting healthy boundaries and prioritizing self-care is essential. Also, seeking professional support can help address burnout and develop healthy coping strategies.

obsessive compulsive disorder and relationships, ocd and relationship, relationships and ocd

Distrust of Others

Because hyper-independence usually has roots in past traumatic experiences or betrayal, it can lead to a general distrust of others. You may always be on the lookout for danger, abandonment, and hurt, engaging only in superficial or short relationships without commitment. This suspicion and unwillingness to let others get too close can be incredibly isolating. Furthermore, your reluctance to open up can cause others to keep a distance, confirming your perception that you cannot trust anyone but yourself.

Avoidance of emotional intimacy

Insecure attachment formed in early childhood can cause people with hyper-independence to struggle with emotional intimacy in their adult relationships. If your early relationships lacked care, warmth, and security, you might have grown up believing that you don’t deserve love. Deep-seated shame and self-limiting beliefs developed in childhood may cause you to avoid situations that could lead to vulnerability.

Over-achieving and perfectionism

Hyper-independent people may be driven to overachieve and take on excessive obligations. They may struggle to set boundaries or say no to requests that do not correspond with their goals or values. They may neglect their needs and self-care, focusing too much on achieving their goals independently.

This leads to maladaptive perfectionism, in which you are excessively self-critical and strive to be the best. You may fear failure and consider mistakes major disappointments, never seeking support or allowing others to lift some of your weight.

How Do You Overcome Hyper-Independence: Moving Towards Balance

Because hyper-independence is a specific trauma response, overcoming it involves reprocessing past trauma and developing healthy coping mechanisms for managing stress. Therapy can be instrumental in addressing the underlying issues fueling hyper-independence and guiding you toward more balanced behavior. Here are additional actionable tips to help you in this journey.

Self-awareness

Acknowledge and understand your tendency towards hyper-independence. Identify the specific types of situations where you may avoid seeking help or support. For example:

  1. Tasks or projects that involve vulnerability or exposure. For example, if someone were working on a creative writing project that required sharing personal experiences or emotions, they might be hesitant to seek feedback or input from others. They may try to handle the entire process independently to avoid feeling exposed or judged.
  2. Problems or challenges that you perceive as personal failings. For example, if someone was struggling with a particular skill or area of knowledge, they might avoid asking for assistance because they would view it as an admission of weakness or inadequacy. 
  3. Situations where you feel like you should be able to handle things on your own. There may be times when you takes on tasks or responsibilities that are realistically too much for one person, but you persist in trying to do everything independently because you have a belief that you should be self-sufficient. 
  4. Interpersonal conflicts or relationship issues: When faced with challenges in your personal relationships, you may be reluctant to seek outside help or guidance from a counselor or therapist. You may try to work through the issues independently, even if it would be beneficial to have an objective third party involved.

By identifying these specific types of situations, you can become more aware of when my hyper-independent tendencies may be hampering your ability to seek help or support. Being mindful of these patterns is the first step towards breaking them and embracing a more interdependent approach.

Identify the root causes

Explore the reasons behind your hyper-independence. Often, this excessive self-reliance stems from deeper emotional or psychological issues that developed earlier in life. Some potential root causes we examined in this blog include trauma, attachment issues, and self-esteem issues.  Understanding the root causes can help you address them effectively.

Practice vulnerability

Opening up and sharing your thoughts, feelings, and needs with others can be difficult, but it’s essential for building trust and intimacy. Start with small steps and gradually increase your comfort level.

Here are some ways to cultivate vulnerability:

  1. Start small: You don’t have to share your deepest, darkest secrets right away. Begin by opening up about smaller, more manageable things, like sharing a minor struggle or insecurity with a trusted friend or family member. This helps build your vulnerability muscle.
  2. Express emotions: Allow yourself to openly express a range of emotions, both positive and negative, instead of suppressing or hiding them. This could involve talking about how you truly feel in a given situation or letting others see you cry when you’re sad.
  3. Ask for input: Invite others to provide feedback, advice or a different perspective on your life, work or decisions. This requires being open to influence and admitting that you don’t have all the answers.
  4. Admit mistakes: Rather than trying to appear perfect, own up to your missteps, failures and shortcomings. Apologize sincerely when you’ve made a mistake that affected others.
  5. Share personal stories: Opening up about pivotal life experiences, challenges you’ve faced, or lessons you’ve learned allows others to understand you better and creates space for relating.
  6. Voice needs/wants: Directly communicate your needs, wants and boundaries to others instead of implying or hinting at them. This transparency reduces guesswork.
  7. Embrace imperfection: Let go of the facade of having it all together. Share about your struggles, quirks and idiosyncrasies that make you human.
Learn to ask for help

Many hyper-independent individuals struggle with asking for help, viewing it as a weakness or burden on others. Recognize that seeking assistance when needed is a sign of strength and can foster stronger connections.

Develop emotional intelligence

Work on improving your ability to recognize, understand, and manage emotions, both your own and those of others. This can help you communicate more effectively and build empathy, which is crucial for healthy interdependence.

Build a support network

Building a robust support network is crucial for overcoming hyper-independence. Here are some ways to cultivate a diverse and nurturing circle:

Identify Different Support Needs: Make a list of the various types of support you may need – emotional, practical, professional, social etc. This will help you understand what kinds of relationships to prioritize.

Foster Existing Connections: Look at your current relationships and determine which ones have the potential to be supportive. Nurture those bonds by making time, being vulnerable, and showing appreciation.

Expand Your Circle: Put yourself in new social situations aligned with your values/interests to meet potential supportive friends. Join groups, clubs, classes or find online communities.

Choose Wisely:
Be selective about who you welcome into your close support system. Look for people who are non-judgmental, trustworthy, good listeners and able to respect boundaries.

Diversify Your Sources: Don’t rely on just one person or group for all your support needs. Build a network with different relationships serving different purposes – e.g. close friends, activity partners, career mentors etc.

Be a Supportive Member:  To receive support, you must be willing to provide it as well. Be an engaged listener, celebrate others’ wins, and reciprocate acts of service.

Start Small: If being vulnerable with a group feels too intense initially, practice opening up to just one trusted confidant first as you build your comfort level.

Having a well-rounded personal support system provides different avenues for interdependence and connectedness. But it’s a balance – your network should enhance independence, not enable unhealthy dependency.

Seek professional help

If hyper-independence is causing significant distress or impacting your relationships, consider seeking guidance from a therapist or counselor who can provide personalized strategies and support. In therapy, you can learn to set boundaries, open up and be vulnerable without fearing rejection, and overcome trust issues and perfectionism. Your therapist may encourage you to say “no” assertively, set smaller, achievable goals, communicate more effectively, and seek help when necessary. 

Conclusion

When taken to an extreme, independence may become harmful, damaging our mental health and relationships. The journey from hyper-independence to a balanced interdependence requires us to acknowledge the underlying issues and break free from the grip of past hurts. Seeking help and support is not a sign of weakness but a step towards resilience and recovery.

Therapy, mindfulness, and cultivating healthier relationships can help you move towards overcoming the “I can do it myself” mindset and find a harmonious balance between self-reliance and the natural human need for connection and support.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Priscilla is a therapist, psychoanalyst, and the practice owner of Imagine Emotional Wellness, a culturally responsive online therapy practice in New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC. 

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