We’ve all heard the phrase, “no man is an island.” Yet, for some people, the idea of self-reliance can be taken to the extreme.
In the realm of psychology, particularly when it comes to relationships, we sometimes refer to this as ‘hyper independence.’ But is this staunch autonomy always a sign of strength, or could it be a mask concealing underlying issues?
Let’s dig a little deeper to find out.
What is hyper independence?
Hyper independence isn’t just about being able to handle things on your own – it’s more about finding it hard to let others in or accept their help, even when it might be good to do so. It’s not just about being strong and independent, but sometimes avoiding close connections or turning down help in the times you really need it.
Schema therapy and its relevance
It can be helpful to see this vulnerability through the lens of schema therapy. At its core, schema therapy rests on the idea that the maladaptive behaviours and patterns we adopt in adulthood stem from ‘schemas’ – deeply ingrained beliefs about ourselves and the world we form in childhood, usually in response to unmet emotional needs. These schemas can influence our relationships, decisions, and overall emotional wellbeing.
Within schema therapy, hyper independence could be viewed as a coping strategy in response to certain early maladaptive schemas. Specifically, schemas like ‘mistrust/abuse,’ ’emotional deprivation,’ and ‘abandonment’.
Let’s take a closer look.
Delving deeper – is hyper independence a trauma response?
- Mistrust/Abuse Schema: People with this schema often anticipate hurt, betrayal, or abuse (either emotional or physical) from those close to them. Hyper independence can emerge as a coping mechanism, with the belief, “If I don’t rely on anyone, I can’t be hurt by them”.
- Emotional Deprivation Schema: Growing up in an environment where your emotional needs (for nurturance, empathy, protection) weren’t met can lead to the belief that others won’t meet your emotional needs in adulthood either. The hyper-independent stance here might be, “I can only provide for myself because no one else will”.
- Abandonment Schema: If someone has faced repeated losses, instability, or unreliability from caregivers, they may develop the deep-seated fear that others will abandon them. By fiercely advocating for their independence, they may believe they’re protecting themselves from the pain of future abandonment.
Not everyone who values strong independence has gone through trauma, but many who have faced tough times early in life end up leaning towards being highly independent.
The double-edged sword of hyper independence
Being able to stand on your own two feet is great, but being too independent can get in the way of forming deep, meaningful relationships. Remember, genuine intimacy comes from opening up, supporting one another, and sharing emotions. By skipping these aspects, you risk missing out on the deep connection that every relationship deserves.
Moving forward and embracing interdependence
Recognising hyper independence as a possible trauma response, rather than an inherent personality trait, is empowering. It suggests that change, growth, and healing are possible. If you identify with being hyper-independent, here are some steps you can start taking today:
- Self-awareness – recognising and acknowledging this pattern is the first crucial step. Reflect on your past, and consider whether any early experiences might have contributed to your hyper independence.
- Seek support – this may seem counterintuitive if you’re hyper independent, but seeking therapy, especially schema therapy, can offer tailored strategies to understand and address the root causes of your coping mechanisms.
- Challenge any distorted underlying beliefs: question your ingrained beliefs. If you hold the belief that “everyone will eventually hurt or abandon me”, challenge these thoughts. Not every individual or situation will mirror past traumas.
- Embrace vulnerability – allow yourself to take small risks in being vulnerable with people you love and trust. Over time, this can reshape your schemas and beliefs about relationships.
- Cultivate Interdependence – recognise the strength in mutual reliance. Healthy relationships thrive on give and take. It’s OK to lean on someone else, just as it’s wonderful to be there for them in return.
In today’s world, where independence is highly prized, being self-reliant may appear as a strength. However, it can sometimes serve as a shield against past wounds. With the help of therapy, it’s possible to get a clearer picture of why some people lean into this independence.
The good news? Recognising this can pave the way for healing and the chance at really deep, rewarding relationships. Remember, wanting a balanced, shared connection with someone isn’t a sign of weakness but rather a step towards true happiness and a genuine, fulfilling relationship.