It’s a universal truth that humans are social beings – we are hardwired for connection, love
and belonging. Decades of research taught us that humans thrived in groups because there
was safety in numbers. For this reason, and many others, we can understand why humans
evolved as social animals and continued to organize into groups.
Yet today, we reinforce a culture that celebrates self-sufficiency, high productivity, and
individualism. Independence is a valuable and necessary trait until it becomes a barrier to
accepting well-intentioned help from others. Hyper-independence is taking on everything
alone and refusing to accept help from others at all costs. Hyper-independence can be
potentially damaging, leading to additional stress, burnout and isolation if gone
What is hyper-independence?
Hyper-independence can develop in response to a single or repeated emotionally neglecting
experience. In these experiences you were hurt, betrayed or abandoned and learned that
others are not reliable or can be trusted. To protect yourself from potential pain, you decided
that you did not need anyone and were better off doing everything on your own. This fear-
driven coping mechanism leads to patterns of avoiding closeness, intimacy, and connection.
Some ways to recognize hyper-independence in yourself or a loved one are discussed below.
-developing feelings for someone and then “ghosting” them
-withdrawing if a partner wants to deepen the relationship
-saying things like, “I don’t need to ask for help, I can do it myself.”
-refusing to ask for guidance from colleagues, supervisors or teachers
-preferring to be alone when doing things
-not respecting those who tend to need support
-feeling irritated if you’re told what to do
-history of hookups or relationships without titles; few long-term, committed relationships
-being told you’re “mature for your age”
Someone who is hyper-independent will avoid delegating tasks out of fear that others will not
follow-through, produce the same quality or be as efficient as they would. This is the classmate
who volunteers to do all the work in the group project, the partner who takes the lead in
managing the household, the friend who makes a lengthy travel itinerary. Accepting help
means relinquishing control and that is a risk for the hyper-independent. They would rather
take on too much and deal with the stress than be disappointed again.
Hyper-independence that developed from childhood trauma is likely a result of parentification,
i.e., a child who is given responsibilities inappropriate for their age. Their caregivers could not
fulfill their needs and thus, to survive, these children quickly matured into adults. The child who
grows up taking care of everyone becomes the self-reliant adult who continues to embrace the
Hyper-independent people tend to value success and productivity. They will dedicate majority
of their time towards their goals, advancing their career, or investing in their future. By staying
busy they avoid forming close, intimate relationships.
From a trauma lens, hyper-independent individuals believe their worth is tied to their
achievements and ability to provide for others, i.e., “I need to be successful to be worthy of
love.” This desire for success often comes at the expense of their own wellbeing.
The main goal of the hyper-independent person is to avoid vulnerability and perceived
disappointment. The behaviors and attitude that follow can make these individuals appear cold
and guarded. They have a hard time trusting others which can show up as poor communication
or difficulty opening up. If a hyper-independent individual starts to develop feelings or long for
someone, they will distance themselves as to not deepen the bond. They can also appear as
caregivers and people pleasers who sacrifice their own needs for others. Hyper-independent
people tend to end up in relationships with codependent individuals who minimize their needs
and therefore allow them to remain in control.
If you are someone who considers themselves independent and can relate to several of the
patterns described, it may be worthwhile to ask yourself if your independence is really a
survival mechanism. Being independent is a great trait to have to an extent. It is empowering to
know that you don’t need anyone to take care of you; however, it becomes problematic if it
stands in the way of you reaching out for help when you are struggling. Hyper-independence
may have developed as a way to protect yourself from the hurt and pain that others inflicted
but holding on to it ensures that you’ll miss out on connecting with people who do want to
genuinely support you. Lean into the social being that craves closeness. Recognize that you do
need other people. Challenge yourself to delegate small tasks. Accept opportunities for
increased engagement with loved ones. Be compassionate with yourself for trying to be better.