What Is Hyper-Independence Trauma in Young Adults?Reading Time: 6 minutes
In the United States, most parents raise their children to be independent and self-sufficient. Young adults are expected to go to school or work, set career goals, build strong relationships outside the family, and maintain their commitments. Taken together, these life goals represent an appropriate level of adult independence.
But independence can sometimes be taken to extremes. Some young people are so fiercely independent that they’re unwilling to ask for help and support even when handling everything by themselves is detrimental to their mental and physical health. This is an unhealthy type of independence, known as hyper-independence, and it is often a response to past trauma.
- Hyper-independence is a stress response that causes people to feel they must make decisions and accomplish things without the support of others.
- Some signs of hyper-independence are difficulty trusting others, delegating to others, and forming close or long-term relationships with others.
- Hyper-independence is not a mental health condition, but it is a stress response triggered most often by childhood trauma.
- EMDR and Trauma-Informed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are two effective, evidence-based approaches that produce long-term recovery from the effects of trauma.
What Is Hyper-Independence?
Hyper-independence is more than self-reliance. It’s an unwavering insistence on autonomy. Hyper-independent people are unwilling and unable to depend on others. They typically experience intense discomfort asking for or allowing others to assist them, even when they’re in dire need.
While hyper-independence is not a diagnosable mental health condition, it is considered a stress response, triggered most often by chronic or acute trauma. Hyper-independence trauma can cause social isolation and lead to physical and mental illnesses.
Are You Hyper-Independent?
While some people are inherently more independent than others, the self-reliance that hyper-independent people exhibit is extreme. Because their core needs were typically not met as children, they’ve come to believe they can depend only on themselves. They may appear cold and distant, but in fact they fear disappointment and rejection most of all. Their reserved personalities are actually a form of protection.
5 Hyper-Independence Trauma Signs
Hyper-independence trauma can manifest differently from person to person, but some signs can include:
- Taking on too much responsibility: Young adults suffering from hyper-independence trauma may overcommit to work or personal projects, taking on more than they can realistically handle.
- Difficulty delegating: The trauma of not being able to rely on their primary caregivers as children makes it challenging or impossible for hyper-independent people to ask for help and delegate to others. They take it all on themselves, even when asking for support would make their lives much easier.
- Mistrust of others: Hyper-independent people are often mistrustful because they fear others will disappoint or betray them. They may need to know every detail of tasks they had to delegate, because they don’t trust others to complete them properly.
- Few close or long-term relationships: Because of their guardedness, it can be difficult for hyper-independent people to let their walls down. Hence, they struggle to form and maintain meaningful relationships. They may even build their identities around being single.
- Difficulty with neediness: Not only do they not want to rely on others, hyper-independent people may also resent or resist others relying on them.
Hyper-Independence vs. Hypervigilance
The main difference between hyper-independence and hypervigilance is that hypervigilance subconsciously and perpetually causes people to be on the lookout for potential threats. On the other hand, hyper-independence is a conscious and intentional choice not to ask for help. Both are trauma responses that people may experience simultaneously.
Causes of Hyper-Independence
Living in a country that glorifies independence, like the United States, can contribute to the development of hyper-independence. In addition, growing up in a family that celebrates ultra-independence can also catalyze hyper-independence. If your family disparages neediness and frequently reminds you, “If you want something done well, do it yourself,” the chances of becoming a hyper-independent young adult are greater.
More often, though, hyper-independence is a coping mechanism developed in response to childhood trauma, often in the form of neglect. When caregivers don’t sufficiently respond to children’s emotional needs, are inconsistently available, or are totally absent, children learn that people are unreliable. In addition, when children have to assume developmentally inappropriate responsibilities, they learn that their own basic needs will not be met. This might include taking care of younger siblings because no adults are present, mediating their parents’ arguments, or managing family finances.
These forms of trauma lead children to believe they can’t rely on others, and can lead to hyper-independence in young adulthood and beyond. In this sense, hyper-independence is an ingrained emotional response to traumatic events. It’s a form of protective armor to guard against further harm and disappointment.
What Causes a Trauma Response?
A trauma response is an emotional response to a terrible event that damages your sense of security. Some traumatic events, like natural disasters, car accidents, or physical assaults, are terrifying because they can be life threatening. Other traumatic events, such as emotional abuse, discrimination, and prejudice may not be life threatening. But they are deeply disturbing and leave long-lasting psychological scars.
When we experience trauma, the brain and body enter survival mode, and it is difficult to move out of that state once the danger passes. Some people experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD causes intense and distressing thoughts and feelings when the person is reminded of the traumatic event, even if it happened long ago. Childhood trauma can also manifest in later life as extreme physical or emotional reactions, long after a traumatic situation has subsided. The body’s nervous system shifts into a state of high alert because the body senses danger and stays there long after the threat has dissipated.
Young adults who have experienced trauma choose behaviors that will keep them as safe as possible. That includes safety from both physical and emotional threats. Hyper-independence trauma is one of the maladaptive behaviors traumatized young people may develop. This type of independence can relieve stress in the short term. Young adults avoid the vulnerability and potential hurt that can come from caring about and relying on others. But over the long term, hyper-independence can cause an increase in anxiety, distress, and discomfort.
Symptoms of Hyper-Independence Trauma
Not everyone who experiences hyper-independence trauma will have the same symptoms. Generally speaking, some of the more common symptoms of hyper-independence trauma are:
- Feeling undeserving of social support
- Feelings of shame or failure if you have to rely on others
- Difficulty sharing vulnerability or expressing needs
- A tendency to isolate
- High-functioning anxiety
- Feelings of wanting to cause harm to yourself and/or others
- Substance abuse
Mental Health Conditions Associated with Hyper-Independence Trauma
Underlying trauma can cause a variety of mental health issues and behaviors. A 2022 study found that childhood trauma victims experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Some people engage in alcohol and drug use as a form of self-medication for the distressing feelings resulting from unprocessed traumatic experiences.
Furthermore, a multi-decade study observed 1,420 elementary school children through age 30, from 1993 to 2015. The researchers found that childhood trauma is associated with an elevated risk for various adult psychiatric disorders that negatively impact health, relationships, and academic and financial success.
In addition, the symptoms of hyper-independence usually make existing mental health challenges worse. The negative cycle of extreme self-reliance increases issues like loneliness, anxiety, and maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse and self-harm.
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Healing Hyper-Independence Trauma
To address hyper-independence trauma as well as the underlying and resulting mental health issues, healing the underlying cause is essential. Talk therapy or group therapy can be hugely helpful. Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is especially effective to help young people recover from PTSD, while addressing related issues such as anxiety, depression, and behavior issues. Another useful therapy for trauma is EMDR, in which clients focus on memories related to the trauma while performing eye movements or tapping to integrate and resolve traumatic experiences.
Moreover, developing and nourishing healthy, authentic connection with others is essential for healing hyper-independence trauma. These relationships might be with friends, family, and/or a caring community. Openly sharing thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a nonjudgmental environment can reduce the negative effects of childhood trauma. Healthy relationships also teach young adults that interdependence is possible.
Self-care is another important element of healing from trauma. Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, massage, exercise, and exploring nature, can help relieve trauma symptoms. Avoiding negative coping skills is also essential. Substance use, risky sexual activity, or other negative coping skills may create the illusion that trauma symptoms are under control. But this are temporary. Negative coping skills don’t provide long-term healing; they just make the problems worse.
Trauma Treatment at Newport Institute
Processing the effects of trauma—whether acute or chronic—is an essential part of the healing process. Receiving trauma-informed care from a mental health professional or in a residential or outpatient setting can help young adults release their trauma as well as accompanying issues like hyper-independence, disordered eating, substance abuse, and self-harm.
At Newport Institute, our team of clinical experts uses evidence-based approaches such as EMDR and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) to help young adults heal from childhood trauma. Young people also experience caring, supportive connections with peers and mentors, and gain skills to help them succeed in relationships and in life.
Contact us today to learn more about our specialized approach to young adult treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is being hyper-independent a trauma response?
Yes, in most cases, hyper-independence is the result of prior trauma, often childhood trauma.
What kind of trauma causes hyper-independence?
Often, hyper-independence is the result of neglect, a form of childhood trauma. Children whose parents or caregivers were absent, inconsistently available, or unable to meet their emotional needs grow up believing that people are ultimately unreliable and that they can only rely on themselves.
What are signs of hyper-independence?
Some signs of hyper-independence are difficulty asking for help and delegating, taking on too much responsibility, not trusting others, and guardedness to the point of having few close or long-term relationships.