The Relationship Between Hyper Independence & Trauma
Dec 6, 2023, 9 min read
When we think of trauma, our mind often goes straight to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), however trauma can manifest in a number of ways that don’t involve ‘typical’ PTSD reactions. Here, we are taking a closer look at one such reaction to trauma – called Hyper-Independence – to identify how trauma can lead to someone developing this coping mechanism, and what to do if you have spotted the signs in yourself or a loved one.
At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest, so if you have questions about trauma, Hyper-Independence or both, we can help.
What does it mean to have Hyper-Independence?
Independence is generally considered a positive trait, and this is true for the most part. However, as in the case of most personality traits, too much of anything can have negative consequences. Excessive independence could be categorised as Hyper-Independence, which can affect an individual in a number of ways, from their mental health to their relationships.
Hyper-Independence is an extreme level of self-reliance that sees an individual reject any form of help, even to their detriment. Those with Hyper-Independence may prefer being alone, and assume they can do everything without help – from something important like getting help for mental health issues, to seemingly insignificant things like carrying heavy bags of shopping to the car.
It’s true that relying heavily on others too often in life is thought of as a negative trait (sometimes called codependency), but we all have needs that cannot be met solely by ourselves. Having a balance of being self-reliant but also delegating tasks and opening up when we need support is important for creating strong relationships and a healthy mindset.
If codependency is something you struggle with, you may find our article on Coping With Separation Anxiety In A Relationship helpful.
Although there are several things that can lead to Hyper-Independence, it can sometimes be caused by a trauma response, which is what we will focus on here.
What is a trauma response?
A trauma response is a reaction someone may have to an overwhelming or distressing event. While the initial trauma can cause adverse effects afterwards, it is common for an individual to experience a trauma response after time has passed (even years) when faced with certain experiences or triggers.
When we experience stress or a threat (even if we know it isn’t real), our bodies can release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline, which is what helps prepare the body for approaching danger – when this happens, the physical and mental reactions we have can feel out of our control.
Trauma can occur from events that made you feel scared, threatened, rejected, abandoned, unsafe, humiliated, ashamed, trapped, powerless, or a number of other emotions. This could occur from a one-off event or an ongoing situation, or it could result from being harmed yourself or seeing someone else harmed. Trauma can also be caused by living in a particular atmosphere, family or community for a length of time.
Examples of a trauma response include, but are not limited to:
- Dissociation (feeling disconnected from yourself or your environment)
- Avoidance (staying away from anything that could trigger a reaction)
- Hypervigilance (scanning the environment for evidence of potential threats)
- Hyperarousal (heightened alertness or increased irritability)
- Emotional numbing (difficulty feeling or showing emotions)
- Sleep problems (insomnia or vivid nightmares)
- Flashbacks (mental pictures of the distressing experience that feel real)
One lesser-known symptom of trauma is Hyper-Independence, which can develop in response to a traumatic event or ongoing traumatic situation.
You could also experience physical symptoms during a trauma response, such as sweating, a rapid heartbeat, stomach issues, and more. This can be caused by a dysregulated nervous system which can trigger the fight, flight or freeze reaction.
A trauma response can feel very upsetting and unhelpful when it is happening, but it is important to remember this is your body and mind’s way of coping with and protecting against any perceived threats. Even if you are consciously aware that there is nothing to be afraid of or worried about, your brain can be triggered by things that cause your body to react in an unusual way in an effort to keep you safe.
What is the relationship between Hyper-Independence and trauma?
Studies suggest there is a distinction between PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and PTS (post-traumatic stress), with PTSD being a clinically-diagnosed condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, whereas PTS is a common, adaptive response to a stressful event and is not considered to be a mental health condition.
It is common for those who have experienced trauma to develop codependence and feel like independence is out of their reach, as they rely on help from others to feel better. However, some people develop the opposite feeling, and seek to remain as independent as possible at all times; this is known as Hyper-Independence, as a response to a trauma trigger.
Hyper-Independence comes under the umbrella of PTS, as it is one of many coping mechanisms some people adopt when they have experienced trauma in their lives. In this case, they may develop an impractical sense of self-reliance, reject all kinds of vulnerability, and refuse to acknowledge needing help in many areas of life – even things that we all need help with from time to time. Hyper-Independence can offer people a sense of control and safety, but it is not helpful in the long run, and their sense of control is often short-lived.
“I wish there was more awareness of trauma and the way it affects a person's thought process and behaviour. [...] Self-preservation behaviours can be greatly misinterpreted or misunderstood.” – Anonymous, via Mind.org.uk
What kind of trauma can cause Hyper-Independence?
Various forms of trauma can contribute to the development of a number of trauma-related symptoms, including Hyper-Independence. These could include one-off events like a car accident or natural disaster, or ongoing situations like neglect or abuse.
Studies have found that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are known to increase risk of various health issues including mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, and could also cause various forms of trauma. These experiences include things like losing a family member to suicide, growing up in a household with substance abuse, having a mentally ill parent, or being a child of divorce or separation.
It is also thought that an individual’s inherent attachment style could influence how they might react after a traumatic incident, as studies suggest attachment is shown to have moderating and mediating influences on the relationship between trauma and post-traumatic stress.
Why do people develop Hyper-Independence to cope with trauma?
Not everyone will develop Hyper-Independence after a trauma, but those who do tend to develop this trait unintentionally as a coping mechanism to help them mitigate the emotional turmoil trauma can continue to cause, even if you feel free from the initial danger or discomfort.
Trauma tends to make individuals feel extremely vulnerable and powerless, which can lead some people to take on a hyper-independent attitude in defence. They may do so for self-protection, due to a loss of trust in other people, to regain a sense of control, and to avoid triggers that could lead to re-traumatisation.
What are the signs of Hyper-Independence?
Common signs of Hyper-Independence might include someone:
- Overcommitting to work and achievement
- Being highly reluctant to seek help from others, even when it is obviously needed
- Struggling to form or maintain relationships due to an inability to open up
- Being secretive and struggling to trust other people
- Having difficulty taking compliments from others
- Fiercely rejecting help from others and any form of ‘neediness’
- Not feeling comfortable collaborating with others in teams
- Seeking solitude where possible
- Having a persistent need for control and a desire for perfectionism
- Avoiding situations where they may need to ask for help
- Resisting other people trying to rely on them
The signs of Hyper-Independence can vary depending on a person’s initial trauma or the underlying reasons for this trait, but these are some of the most common signs to look out for in yourself or a loved one.
If you have recognised the signs of Hyper-Independence in someone you love, you might find our article on What To Do When Someone With PTSD Pushes You Away helpful.
Are there any other reasons someone might develop Hyper-Independence?
As well as trauma, there are other reasons someone could develop Hyper-Independence, for example:
- As a result of other inherent personality traits
- Due to learned behaviours from cultural or familial influences
- Due to past experiences involving disappointment (this could be linked to trauma)
- Being raised to believe that needing help is a sign of weakness
- Being parentified as a child, meaning a child is made to act as the adult in the family rather than the child
Is there support available for Hyper-Independence issues?
Although many people can go through life and function well with Hyper-Independence, and it can be seen as a positive trait in some respects, it can lead to negative consequences such as stress and burnout from never delegating or getting help from others, poor workplace relationships due to an aversion to teamwork, and romantic relationship issues due to never letting their walls down for a new person.
It can help to seek support for Hyper-Independence issues, and there are several ways to do this. Pursuing therapy – such as Interpersonal Therapy or Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) – can help individuals discover the underlying reasons for their Hyper-Independence, start to trust others, and learn healthier coping strategies for their trauma responses.
Although Hyper-Independence is not a mental health diagnosis, it can be an indicator of another condition associated with Hyper-Independence, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or borderline personality disorder (BPD). In other cases, it can simply be a trait that you wish to change in order to develop a more balanced relationship with yourself and others.
By seeking psychotherapy interventions, you can also start to discuss the traumatic event or events that may have led to this trait developing in the first place.
Is there support for trauma?
There are also interventions to help with other symptoms of trauma and PTSD, and everyone will require their own bespoke treatments to address their individual experiences and symptoms. As well as the above therapeutic interventions available for Hyper-Independence, there are additional therapies to support those who have suffered a traumatic event or events in the past. These might include the likes of:
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which uses guided eye movements to help an individual process their traumatic memories
- Exposure therapy, which aims to gradually expose individuals to the triggers related to their trauma, but in a safe environment where they can explore their thoughts more
- Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), which helps with emotional regulation
- Creative therapies like art therapy, drama therapy or music therapy that can help individuals process trauma through a different outlet if they struggle to talk about it
- Schema therapy, which can help people address any unmet needs or difficult beliefs about themselves related to the trauma they faced
- Medications, which can be prescribed alongside therapy in order to ease accompanying symptoms such as anxiety or depression
- Mindfulness practices like meditation or breathwork that can foster stronger emotional awareness and develop a healthy mindset
Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from private PTSD assessments and reviews to broader private mental health care.
If you have a question about mental health, like what the difference is between stress vs burnout, we’re here to assist on your journey. Our free 15 minute consultation can guide you to the most relevant specialists to answer your questions and discuss next steps.