Oct 25th 2023
Traumatic experiences, particularly childhood trauma, can significantly impact the development of an individual’s personality and functioning. Hyper-independence is believed to develop due to childhood trauma and can cause individuals to struggle with several aspects of functioning, including an impact on their ability to form meaningful relationships.
Many people begin to learn to be independent from adolescence, developing skills to help them progress in their personal, social, and professional lives as they age. Hyper-independence is an extreme form of independence, often learned from a young age, that can cause individuals to feel reluctant and unable to ask for help from others .
People who are hyper-independent struggle to trust and rely on others. They believe that they must accomplish all tasks, decision-making, and other requirements of their lives without ever asking for or accepting support from others. Typically, this is developed as an emotional response to childhood trauma .
In most cases, hyper-independence is caused by past trauma, particularly childhood trauma. Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other stress and trauma-related disorders may experience hyper-independence.
Often, the type of trauma contributing to hyper-independence development involves neglect from the parent or caregiver. Neglect happens when the person whose role it is to keep the child safe and teach them skills of independence as they become an adolescent fails to meet these needs.
The child learns from these experiences that they cannot rely on others, so they must depend solely on themselves to meet their needs. Hyper-independence is, therefore, one of several maladaptive emotional responses to trauma and is used as a defense mechanism by the child, often continuing into adulthood .
Hyper-independence can help relieve some negative emotions in the short term by preventing the stress, shame, and fear of relying on others. However, if this continues long-term, it will likely contribute to increasing emotional difficulties, such as depression and anxiety .
Hyper-independence often develops in response to experiences of childhood neglect. For example, parents may be absent, inattentive, show no affection or emotional support, or fail to provide the child with basic needs such as food and clothing. The child then realizes they must take care of their own needs, as they cannot rely on anyone else to provide them with care or support .
Similarly, hyper-independence can develop when a young child is expected to be responsible for others, such as caring for unwell family members, younger siblings, or family finances. They learn they are the only person capable of accomplishing these requirements, so they take on all parental responsibilities.
When a child becomes a caregiver or takes on responsibilities that are usually the role of the parent, they learn how to be independent from a young age. They are taught that their own and others’ needs will not be met by anyone else and any requests for support will be refused or ignored. As such, they develop extreme independence and a belief that they cannot rely on or trust others .
Hyper-independence is a defense mechanism caused by exposure to this trauma, used to prevent the child from repeated disappointment and rejection. It is, therefore, a trauma response, used by the child to help them survive and protect themselves.
This can continue into adulthood, with the individual continuing to display hyper-independence to protect themselves from further disappointment. Once it is developed, it can become an ingrained trait and be difficult to change without professional help, potentially continuing throughout the individual’s life and impacting several areas of functioning .
Hyper-independence is caused mainly by exposure to childhood trauma, although it can sometimes develop without these experiences. Familial and societal expectations can influence how a child or adolescent learns independence skills and to what extent.
For example, in some families, cultures, or countries, individuals may be taught that self-reliance is crucial and may be discouraged from asking for help with emotional or practical challenges. This can cause the person to develop hyper-independence, without having experienced neglect, through learned behaviors and attitudes .
Hyper-independence is a trauma response likely to occur alongside other mental health symptoms or conditions. As such, it is often beneficial for these individuals to receive therapeutic help to process and overcome their past trauma, as this can reduce the emotional impact of these experiences.
Furthermore, developing positive relationships can help individuals reduce hyper-independence by learning to relate to and trust others. This may be with family and friends or within support groups alongside individuals with similar experiences. Support groups can help individuals learn how to share their emotions and experiences with others and develop positive and trusting relationships .
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