There’s no shortage of bangers that celebrate being independent. Maybe you’ve thrown your hands up to Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women Pt.1” or belted out Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” at the top of your lungs in the car. These songs conjure up the idea of someone strong and capable of taking care of themself without any help whatsoever.
There’s no question that American culture sees independence as a virtue. Doing something on your own without asking for help is praised. Even in a relationship, maybe you are someone who prides yourself on not needing your partner to care for you emotionally or financially.
Certainly, there is value in being independent. However, according to therapists, when taken to the extreme, independence can get in the way of maintaining healthy relationships and also cause a lot of anxiety. There’s actually a term for it: hyper-independence, which is known as an extreme form of self-reliance and actively avoiding relying on others for help.
Knowing the difference between healthy independence and hyper-independence is tricky. But if you are hyper-independent, learning how to ask for help can benefit both your relationships and overall mental health.
Healthy Independence Vs. Hyper-Independence
“Hyper-independence is over-relying on yourself and under-relying on others. It’s also known as toxic independence,” Summer Forlenza, a licensed family and marriage therapist who specialises in the impacts of trauma, told HuffPost.
Someone hyper-independent may, for example, not ask for help at work even when feeling completely lost, insist on their partner never paying for them or have trouble delegating because they don’t trust others to do the task right.
“It’s all about severity. Hyper-independence is an extreme form of self-reliance, possibly to the point of isolating yourself from your support network and refusing help even when it’s much needed,” she said.
Ross emphasised that independence isn’t inherently “bad”; it is often a good thing. But if your level of independence is reaching the point where it’s negatively impacting your relationships or causing you anxiety, that’s when it’s likely too much.
Both therapists told HuffPost that hyper-independence often stems from experiences of trauma, such as having unreliable caregivers as a child.
“If, as a child, you had to take care of yourself or your siblings, it may have been beneficial for you to figure out everything on your own. But then later in life, those patterns that have become ingrained in you can play out in romantic relationships, friendships and other relationships,” Lauren Auer, a clinical mental health counsellor who specialises in trauma, told HuffPost.
According to Forlenza, having your trust broken or experiencing betrayal can also lead to hyper-independence ― especially if you have been let down repeatedly. She explained that since the people you trusted ended up unreliable, it can lead to never wanting to trust someone else again.
All three therapists told HuffPost that hyper-independence can negatively impact one’s life in a few ways. According to Auer, one is that life can get really overwhelming if you never ask for help.
“This can lead to feeling really stressed or burned out,” she said. Forlenza added that hyper-independence can also make someone prone to self-isolation, leading to loneliness.
Hyper-independence can get in the way of maintaining healthy relationships, particularly romantic relationships.
“In romantic relationships, the goal is to be a team. Hyper-independence makes that very hard because it’s the idea that you can do everything on your own and you don’t need the other person,” Ross said. She added that people who are hyper-independent tend to have an avoidant attachment style, meaning they do not believe they need emotional intimacy. “This makes it very hard to have a trusting, vulnerable relationship,” she said.
Auer added that the inability to be trusting and vulnerable can also impede family relationships and friendships. Forlenza agreed, saying, “Humans are social beings. We’re meant to rely on each other.”
So, how do you start to do that if it goes against every fiber in your being?
How To Overcome Hyper-Independence
If you’re reading this and are starting to recognise signs of hyper-independence in yourself and want to take steps to change, Forlenza recommends first honouring the ways that hyper-independence has served you. There may have been reasons for your hyper-independence in the past that were important. For example, Forlenza said that if you didn’t have caregivers who took proper care of you, being hyper-independent was a valuable skill to develop.
“It’s really helpful to honour and express gratitude for what’s worked about it,” she said.
Next, Forlenza said to think about areas of your life where being hyper-independent isn’t working for you. For example, do you feel completely overwhelmed when asking someone you trust for a favour ― like to watch your kids for a couple of hours or to drive you somewhere you need to go ― would take a huge burden off your shoulders? Is there something at work you feel in over your head about when you know a colleague could easily help you out? Would asking your partner for their help with something or letting them pay for your next date make them feel valued?
Once you identify the parts of your life where you can benefit from being a little less independent, Forlenza recommends taking baby steps toward relying on others. “Identify who in your life feels safe and see how it feels opening up a little to them,” she said.
Auer said it can also be beneficial to remember that the vast majority of people want to help the people in their life they care about. If you knew a friend was going through a hard time and they asked for your help, chances are you would be grateful they asked.
“It feels really good to help! That’s how you build a healthy relationship,” Auer said.
Of course swinging the pendulum to the other end of the spectrum can be just as harmful as being hyper-independent. “Extreme codependency isn’t good either,” Ross said. “It’s important to find the inner ground.”
It bears repeating that independence is a positive trait and even hyper-independence has its benefits and can serve a purpose. But when taken to the extreme, independence can lead to anxiety, burnout and loneliness. Everyone needs help from time to time and asking for it isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it will very likely make you stronger.