Danger Signs You’re Actually TOO Independent, According to Therapists

There is no shortage of people celebrating independence. Maybe you’ve listened to Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women Pt. 1” or sang Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” at the top of your lungs in the car. These songs conjure up the idea of ​​someone who is strong and able to take care of themselves without any help.

There is no doubt that American culture views independence as a virtue. Doing something yourself without asking for help is a compliment. Even in a relationship, perhaps you are someone who prides themselves on not needing your partner to care for you emotionally or financially.

Of course, there are benefits to being independent. However, according to therapists, if 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 dependence on the help of others.

Knowing the difference between healthy independence and hyper-independence is complicated. But if you’re fiercely independent, learning how to ask for help can benefit your relationships and overall mental health.

Healthy Independence Vs. Hyper-Independence

“Hyper-independence means relying too much on yourself and not enough on others. This is also known as toxic independence,” Summer Forlenza, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in the impact of trauma, told Talk News.

A highly independent person might, for example, not ask for help at work despite feeling completely lost, insist that their partner never pay for it, or have trouble delegating because they don’t trust others to do their jobs properly.

Liana Ross, a licensed mental health counselor and host of the podcast ”Let’s Be Honest,” told Talk News that it’s helpful to think of self-reliance as a spectrum.

“It’s all about severity. Excessive self-reliance is an extreme form of self-reliance, perhaps to the point of isolating oneself from support networks and refusing help even when that help is desperately needed,” he said.

Ross emphasizes that independence is not inherently “bad”; that’s often a good thing. But if your level of independence reaches a point where it negatively impacts your relationships or causes you anxiety, it’s likely too much.

Both therapists told Talk News that excessive independence often stems from traumatic experiences, such as having an unreliable caregiver as a child.

“If, as a child, you had to look after yourself or your siblings, it might be helpful to figure things out yourself. But later in life, the patterns that have been ingrained in you can play out in romantic relationships, friendships, and other relationships,” Lauren Auer, a clinical mental health counselor specializing in trauma, told Talk News.

According to Forlenza, having your trust broken or experiencing betrayal can also cause you to become very independent – ​​especially if you’ve been let down repeatedly. He explains that because the people you trust are ultimately unreliable, this can lead to you not wanting to trust others anymore.

All three therapists told Talk News that excessive independence can negatively impact a person’s life in several ways. According to Auer, one of them is that life can become very difficult if you never ask for help.

“This can lead to feelings of extreme stress or exhaustion,” he says. Forlenza added that hyper-independence can also make someone vulnerable to self-isolation, which can lead to loneliness.

Excessive independence can get in the way of maintaining healthy relationships, especially romantic relationships.

“In a romantic relationship, the goal is to be a team. Excessive independence makes this very difficult because of the idea that you can do everything yourself and don’t need anyone else,” says Ross. He adds that highly independent people tend to have an avoidant attachment style, meaning they don’t believe they need emotional intimacy. “This makes it very difficult to have trusting and vulnerable relationships,” she said.

Auer adds that an inability to trust and be vulnerable can also hinder family relationships and friendships. Forlenza agrees, saying, “Humans are social creatures. We are meant to rely on each other.”

So how do you start doing that when it goes against every fiber of your being?

If you have difficulty letting go of control, you may be struggling with excessive independence.

Westend61 via Getty Images

If you have difficulty letting go of control, you may be struggling with excessive independence.

How to Overcome Hyper-Independence

If you’re reading this and starting to recognize signs of hyper-independence in yourself and want to take steps to change, Forlenza recommends first honoring what hyper-independence does for you. There may be a reason why you were so independent in your important past. For example, Forlenza says that if you don’t have a caregiver to take good care of you, being fiercely independent is a valuable skill to develop.

“It helps to respect and express gratitude for what has been done,” he said.

Next, Forlenza says to think about areas of your life where being fiercely independent isn’t working for you. For example, do you feel overwhelmed when asking someone you trust for help – such as watching your child for a few hours or driving you somewhere you want to go – will lighten your load? Is there something at work that makes you feel better when you know a coworker could easily help you? Would asking your partner for help with something or letting them pay for your next date make them feel appreciated?

Once you’ve identified areas of your life where you could benefit from being less independent, Forlenza recommends taking small steps toward relying on others. “Identify anyone in your life who feels safe and see what it’s like to open up to them a little,” she says.

Auer said it’s also good to remember that most people want to help the people they care about in their lives. If you know a friend is going through a hard time and he asks you for help, you will likely be grateful for his request.

“It feels good to help! That’s how you build healthy relationships,” Auer said.

Of course, swinging the pendulum to the other end of the spectrum can be just as dangerous as being fiercely independent. “Extreme codependency is also not good,” says Ross. “It’s important to get to the heart of the problem.”

It is important to remember that independence is a positive trait and even hyper-independence has benefits and can achieve a goal. But if taken to the extreme, independence can lead to anxiety, exhaustion, and loneliness. Everyone needs help from time to time and asking for it is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it will most likely make you stronger.

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