Hyperindependence: Overcoming Independence Trauma in Young Adults

By Cara Mularski Clinical Intern at Fulshear Transition

Hyperindependence can be difficult for young adults accustomed to relying solely on themselves. It often stems from past experiences of interpersonal trauma that have shaped their belief in shouldering burdens alone. Despite appearing strong and self-sufficient, young adults may struggle with seeking help or forming meaningful connections with others, including their partners, friends, or family members, due to fear of vulnerability and interpersonal relationships. Parents and young people should know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of hyperindependence, a negative result of the usually positive trait of independence, and what treatment options are available when needed.

What is Hyperindependence?

Hyperindependence refers to a state where young adults exhibit excessive self-reliance and a reluctance to seek support or connection from others. This phenomenon often stems from past traumatic experiences, where young adults develop a heightened need for control and distance themselves from others as a coping mechanism.

Is Hyperindependence a Trauma Response?

Hyperindependence can be a trauma response; whether it’s abuse, neglect, loss, or other adverse events, young adults may adopt hyper-independent behaviors as a survival mechanism.

Here’s how hyperindependence functions as a trauma response:

  1. Self-Protection: Trauma survivors may develop hyper independence to protect themselves from further harm. They may perceive reliance on others as risky or dangerous, leading them to distance themselves emotionally and avoid seeking support.
  2. Control as Coping: Trauma often leaves young adults feeling powerless. To regain a sense of control, young adults may develop show signs of hyperindependence trauma responses such as being rigid in managing their lives to avoid feeling vulnerable. This fear drives them to avoid seeking support or opening up to others, fearing rejection or judgment. Survivors typically feel a loss of control over their lives during the traumatic event. To regain a sense of control, they may adopt hyperindependent trauma which may show up as rigid self-reliance and perfectionism.
  3. Fear of Vulnerability: Trauma survivors may harbor a deep-seated fear of vulnerability stemming from past experiences of betrayal or abandonment. As a result, they may avoid opening up to others or seeking help, fearing rejection or judgment.
  4. Survival Mechanism: Trauma survivors often feel a profound loss of control during traumatic events, leading them to adopt hyperindependent behaviors to regain a sense of agency and self-preservation. They may believe that relying on others is risky and distance themselves emotionally to protect themselves from further harm.
  5. Avoidance of Reliance: hyperindependence trauma may cause young people to rely on others, which is risky or dangerous, leading them to avoid seeking support or assistance. They may fear being let down or betrayed by others, choosing instead to rely solely on themselves to meet their needs and navigate challenges.
  6. Isolation and Emotional Detachment: Hyperindependent young adults may distance themselves emotionally from others to self-protection. They may struggle to trust others or form meaningful connections, fearing vulnerability will lead to rejection or abandonment. This emotional detachment can result in feelings of loneliness and alienation.

What Causes Hyperindependence?

Hyperindependence can be caused by traumatic past experiences, family conflict, relationship issues, or attachment issues. Here’s what you should know about each cause of hyper-independence:

  • Traumatic Experiences: Young adults who have experienced trauma, such as childhood trauma, may develop hyper-independence as a coping mechanism to protect themselves from further harm.
  • Attachment Style Issues: An insecure attachment style, characterized by a lack of trust in others and difficulty forming close relationships, can contribute to hyperindependence.
  • Family Dynamics: Family environments emphasizing self-reliance and independence over emotional connection and support may foster hyperindependence in children and young adults.
  • Personality Traits: Certain personality traits, such as perfectionism, fear of vulnerability, or a strong need for control, can predispose individuals to develop hyperindependent behaviors.
  • Cultural Influences: Cultural norms and values prioritizing individualism and self-sufficiency may reinforce hyperindependent tendencies in some individuals.
  • Parenting Styles: Overly authoritarian or neglectful parenting styles that discourage emotional expression and reliance on others can contribute to hyper-independence development.
Asian housewife is separating clothes from the basket and put them into the washing machine for laundry. Young woman is happily doing housework.

What Are The Signs of Hyperindependence Trauma?

The signs and symptoms of hyperindependence trauma can include perfectionism, excessive self-reliance, and relationship issues. Here are some other signs and symptoms of hyperindependence in young adults:

1. Extreme Independence

Extreme independence can develop as part of a coping mechanism from trauma that can hinder healthy relationships. In young adults, this could look like refusing to ask for support from friends and family and preferring to handle everything independently, even when help is needed.

2. Not Asking for Help

Not asking for help may be a consequence of a fear of vulnerability or a belief that seeking support is a sign of weakness which is often a sign of hyperindependence trauma. Some examples in young adults could include not seeking treatment for mental health issues or young adults who burn themselves out with work or academics because they refuse to ask for help, leading to negative impacts on their physical health. It is important to approach these situations with compassion and understanding, as it can take time for individuals to accept help.

3. Mistrust of Others

Mistrust of others, also known as trust issues, can develop because of past traumatic experiences and hyperindependence, leading young adults to struggle with forming meaningful connections and relying on others for support. This mistrust can look like a deep-seated belief that others will let them down or betray their trust and avoid of developing new relationships due to developmental trauma.

4. Perfectionism

Perfectionism often arises as a coping mechanism in response to past or childhood trauma. Young adults strive for flawlessness to regain a sense of control or avoid criticism and rejection. Young adults with perfectionism traits may find it challenging to accept mistakes or failures, leading to high levels of self-imposed pressure and stress in adulthood. This can be linked to survival responses that were activated during the traumatic experience, causing a need for perfectionism as a means of control.

5. Relationship Issues

Another sign of hyperindependence trauma can be relationship issues. Hyperindependence can strain relationships which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, further exacerbating the impact of trauma on mental health.

6. Excessive Need for Control

Excessive need for control can stem from hyper-independence-related childhood trauma and show up in young adults. This could look like an obsessive need to oversee every aspect of their lives, reluctance to delegate tasks, and difficulty adapting to unexpected changes.

7. Being Overly Responsible

Being overly responsible may result from a desire to avoid vulnerability or disappointment, stemming from childhood trauma and hyper independence issues, taking on too many responsibilities to feel a sense of self-worth, or a need to control their environment. This response could look like taking on too many responsibilities at work or taking on too many responsibilities at home.

How to Help Young Adults Overcome Hyper Independence

Parents can help young adults showing signs of hyperindependence by providing a supportive environment at home, setting time aside to actively listen and communicate with young adults, and encouraging healthy independence in young adults. Here are some other strategies to help young adults overcome hyperindependence and foster healthier patterns of relating to themselves and others:

A young woman in a consultation with a professional psychologist listens to advice on improving behavior in life. The modern millennial woman is developing mindfulness and psychological health

Communicate With Them

Open, honest communication fosters trust and understanding between parents and young adults. Take the time to listen to their thoughts and feelings without judgment, and encourage them to express themselves freely. Validate their experiences and reassure them that it’s okay to ask for help when needed.

Model Healthy Relationships

Demonstrate healthy communication, boundary-setting, and conflict-resolution skills in your own relationships. Serve as a role model for interdependence by seeking support and guidance when needed and demonstrating vulnerability when appropriate.

Encourage Healthy Independence

While hyperindependence can be a barrier to seeking support, fostering healthy independence is key to your young adult’s growth and development. Encourage them to take on responsibilities and make decisions independently while also providing guidance and support along the way. Help them strike a balance between autonomy and connection with others.

Help Them to Join and Build Communities of Support

Encourage young adults to seek out and participate in communities where they feel accepted and supported. Activities could include support groups, clubs, or volunteering opportunities. Building connections with shared experiences can provide valuable support and validation.

Teach Them to Ask for Help and Delegate Tasks

Empower young adults to recognize when they need assistance and confidently ask for help when necessary. Teach them the importance of delegation and collaboration in achieving goals, and model healthy communication and boundary-setting in your own interactions.

Help Them Build Trusting and Interdependent Relationships

Building trusting relationships is essential for healing from trauma and developing healthy interdependence. Encourage your young adult to cultivate meaningful connections with others based on mutual respect, empathy, and support. Help them navigate the complexities of relationships by providing guidance and modeling healthy communication and conflict resolution skills.

Seek Treatment If Necessary

If hyperindependence or other symptoms of trauma are significantly impacting your young adult’s daily functioning and well-being, consider seeking professional treatment. Therapy, counseling, and other forms of intervention can provide specialized support and guidance tailored to their needs, helping them navigate their healing journey more effectively.

Hyperindependence Wrap-Up

Hyperindependence among young adults can be a complex response to past trauma or adverse experiences. Recognizing the signs of extreme independence and understanding the underlying factors are crucial steps for parents and caregivers to provide practical support and intervention. If you notice signs of hyperindependence in your young adult, such as reluctance to seek help, excessive self-reliance, or avoidance of emotional vulnerability, know that you’re not alone.

The Fulshear Treatment to Transition team specializes in providing comprehensive, compassionate, and personalized care to young women facing mental health challenges. Contact us or call us at 979-985-3236 for guidance and support on your young adult’s healing journey. Together, we can navigate through the challenges and facilitate growth and resilience.