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Alcohol and Mental Health

Hyper-Independence as a Trauma Response

July 10, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 10, 2023
10 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 10, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 10, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
July 10, 2023
10 min read

We’re probably well aware of the importance of being independent: it’s a trait most of us were encouraged to develop as children, as it helps boost our confidence, self-esteem, and decision-making skills. But did you know that too much independence can actually be unhealthy? 

While it’s important to be able to do things on our own, hyper-independence is an inability to to depend on others, a condition that often develops in response to childhood trauma. How is hyper-independence a trauma response? And when is not asking for help a result of trauma? Let’s take a closer look.

Defining Hyper-Independence 

Just as with any other positive trait, when it’s taken to the extreme, independence can transform into an unhealthy and excessive need for self-reliance — otherwise known as “hyper-independence.” 

Hyper-independent people compulsively avoid relying on others for support or assistance, often maintaining an attitude of “I can do it all alone.” This mindset can lead to challenges in maintaining healthy relationships and hinder emotional connections, teamwork, and seeking help when needed.

For instance, hyper-independent people tend not to trust others, making it difficult to form new relationships with others or maintain good relationships with friends and family. In a work setting, hyper-independent people often aren’t good at delegating, and they might reject help or dismiss other people’s contributions. 

A hyper-independent person would rather face the challenges of accomplishing everything alone than depend on another person, even when it puts their own physical, mental, and emotional health at risk. Hyper-independence can manifest itself in various ways, but here are some of the more common signs: 

  • Refusing to ask for help
  • Avoiding situations requiring dependence on others
  • Overworking/overachieving and not delegating
  • Secretiveness or reluctance to share personal information
  • Inability to trust others
  • Few close relationships
  • Resistance to allowing others to rely on them
  • Dislike of needy people

Interestingly, not only do hyper-independent people cut off their own need for support and vulnerability, but they can also refuse to take accountability for how they impact others. In other words, they expect others to be as independent as they are and might look down on others for asking for help. It’s worth noting that even if hyper-independent people get up the nerve to ask for help, there’s usually a great sense of shame in doing so.

What Causes Hyper-Independence?

Hyper-independence is believed to be a trauma response, created when we learn from a traumatic experience that we can’t rely on others for protection or support. This usually occurs in childhood. For example, children who are neglected by their parents or caregivers and had to learn to rely on themselves may develop hyper-independence later in life. 

However, not all hyper-independent behaviors are trauma-induced, and not everyone who experiences trauma develops hyper-independence. 

Some factors linking hyper-independence and trauma include believing social support is undeserved or unacceptable, experiencing past neglect leading to self-reliance, distrusting others due to past abuse, and coping with loss of control or uncertainty following a traumatic experience. 

For instance, if we got into an accident years ago, we might never let anyone else drive while we’re in the car, and we’ll always drive ourselves no matter how exhausted we might be. Or perhaps we experienced such a great sense of shame, abandonment, grief, and even humiliation from relying on others in childhood that we learned to stop trying to rely on anyone at all. 

While hyper-independent people tend to act as if they have everything under control all the time, this often comes directly as a result of not wanting to ask for help in fear of being perceived as weak. We might have been raised to believe that not needing help was a sign of being superior and that asking for help was a sign of weakness. This may be especially true in competitive families and in kids who are supremely gifted or talented. 

Hyper-Independence and Mental Health

Hyper-independence can contribute to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. For example, many hyper-independent people experience burnout from not relying on anyone or ever asking for help. Burnout can put us at greater risk for developing depression and anxiety.

Similarly, hyper-independence can lead to social isolation and loneliness, which can also take a toll on our physical health and mental well-being. By continually pushing people away, hyper-independence creates a life with little or no social support. 

Even with any relationships we do have, hyper-independence can weaken bonds. For instance, if a friend offers to help and we continually reject their offer, it can damage the bond to the point that they no longer engage with us. In extreme cases, hyper-independence can even lead to self-destructive behaviors and unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as alcohol, gambling, and sex. 

Treating Hyper-Independence 

Although hyper-independence is not a formal diagnosis, therapy, self-reflection, and practicing vulnerability can help manage hyper-independence rooted in trauma. For instance, we might work with a therapist to discuss past wounds and discover the roots of this hyper independence trauma response. A therapist can also help us practice vulnerability and build healthier, closer relationships with others. 

Similarly, incorporating self-care and relaxation techniques (such as meditation, yoga, massage, or exercise) can help relieve stress and replace negative coping behaviors. Practicing mindfulness can be particularly beneficial, as it’s important to be aware of any thoughts and emotions that emerge when we receive help or support from others. 

It’s important to be patient and gentle with ourselves, as moving past a hyper-independence trauma response takes time and often involves small steps forward as well as periods of regression. It can be helpful to acknowledge that we likely became hyper-independent because it helped us survive a traumatic situation, while also recognizing that it no longer serves us. 

If you struggle with hyper-independence and alcohol has become one of your coping mechanisms, Reframe can help change your relationship with alcohol and build healthier lifestyle habits that help you flourish — personally, professionally, and socially. 

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