Are you fiercely independent, or do you push people away because of a fear of being hurt? This might be a trauma response.
If you find yourself refusing help — even when receiving help would make things much simpler for you — you could be operating from a place of trauma through a response known as hyper-independence.
While some level of independence is important and useful, a need to be overly independent can feel isolating and cause additional stress. But there are ways to work through this response.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event. This can involve isolated incidents like car accidents, assault, or recurring or generational events, such as ongoing abuse or racial discrimination.
Examples of sources of trauma can include:
- natural disasters or other life threatening situations
- physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- discrimination and prejudice
Many are familiar with the idea of fight, flight, or freeze responses — along with the fawn response — that can happen when the body senses danger. When your nervous system engages these survival responses, you may experience symptoms like:
- anxiety or panic
- social withdrawal
- physical symptoms, like headaches and stomachaches
Encountering something that reminds you of a trauma can cause extreme physical or emotional reactions long after the traumatic situation is no longer happening. This is especially true of childhood trauma.
According to Dr. Nekeshia Hammond — psychologist, founder of Hammond Psychology and Associates, author, and speaker — a trauma response can be physical, mental, emotional, or a combination.
Hyper-independence is when you choose to be independent of everyone, even though it may negatively affect you.
According to counselor and author Dr. Joanne Frederick, hyper-independence shows up as a perspective of “I” versus “we.” This can look like:
- taking on too much
- saying no to help
- having trouble with delegating tasks
Hyper-independence can be related to a past trauma. For example, you might be overly independent because you learned that you could not trust others, so you can rely only on yourself. Your hyper-independent traits may have developed to protect you from further harm.
If your hyper-independent traits are related to a past trauma, these thoughts and behaviors likely developed without your conscious awareness. It might feel like things have always been this way.
In fact, your nervous system responses may have caused these traits to develop in an attempt to protect you.
“Sometimes, the body and the mind naturally come up with ways to survive that trauma,” says Frederick. “The whole idea is, ‘I need to protect me, and no one is ever going to do this to me again.’”
Hyper-independence versus hypervigilance
Hyper-independence and hypervigilance — a state of being on high alert and scanning for threats around you — can be trauma responses.
Hammond says that there can be a connection between the two in that both responses involve a distrust of others.
If you have felt yourself pushing people away for fear of being let down, know that you are not alone. Emotional wounds take time to heal, and it is valid to have hesitations about being vulnerable after a trauma.
But doing everything on your own can be exhausting. And sometimes — even though it’s hard — accepting additional support can positively affect both your mental and physical health.
If you want to try to do things a little differently, consider the following:
- When you feel inclined to push back against help, consider trying to determine why. Is it based on a desire to handle things alone?
- Consider how things could look if you accepted the help you were offered.
- Remember that requesting help doesn’t say anything about your ability or overall independence. We all need help sometimes.
If you have experienced trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychotherapy (talk therapy) may help you work through the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that resulted from the experiences.
Therapy aims to help improve your relationships, help you develop healthy coping methods, and ultimately move toward healing. You can read about evidence-based therapies for trauma here.
Supporting a loved one can be tricky, but there are ways you can help.
“How a person manages trauma can show you a glimpse of their coping abilities, but it is important to know that just because a person has a strong emotional response to trauma, does not mean they are ‘weak,’” Hammond says.
Check in with them
For someone who has hyper-independence as a response to trauma, it can help to be present in a supportive way but not overbearing.
“Let them know you care about them, and you are there for them if they need to talk to someone. Some people need several check-ins to understand that someone else cares, and for some people, they may respond and have a more in-depth conversation,” says Hammond.
Realize that everyone is different
Support is not a one-size-fits-all, and it’s crucial to offer help in ways that will be helpful to them. The best way to do this is to be upfront and ask your loved one directly how to be supportive.
Help them to create a community of trust
Because hyper-independence is connected to a lack of trust, it’s important to understand that your friend or family member may not easily let folks in, even if you feel they are trustworthy.
In addition to making sure that you show up in ways that feel healthy to both of you, it can help support the idea of your loved one keeping their inner circle small, if that’s what they need right now.
Trauma can be pervasive, and because everyone is different, we work through trauma in varied ways. Pushing against help or support from others due to a need to be independent or hyper-independent is a common trauma response.
If you have found that you reject help and support from loved ones even when it could be beneficial, you can consider connecting with a therapist or counselor to aid in getting to the root of your trauma and developing more positive coping skills.
Trauma is something that sticks with you, but it doesn’t have to control your life. Everyone needs help sometimes, and there’s no shame in asking or receiving it.