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Understanding Why Independence May Be Unhealthy

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

What is hyper-independence and why can it be harmful?

Independence in our individualistic culture today continues to be something people strive to achieve. Whether it be personal motives, familial influences or societal demands, independence is a positive accomplishment for many. However, independence can turn negative when a person experiences it in too great of a quantity. This is where hyper-independence exists and thrives. Hyper-independence can be defined as someone who shields themselves from others by always doing things themselves, constantly putting others’ needs before their own and never trusting anyone. This is when independence becomes a trauma response. 

Extreme independence is a trust issue. The mentality of doing everything on your own is a coping skill to ensure that no one will bail, come up short, or abandon you in achieving your aspirations. If you only rely on yourself, no one can ever let you down, right? This construct enables the ability never to be disappointed in others and thus protects yourself internally. Your heart can never be hurt if you don’t let others in and depend on people in hardships. You know this because the people who said they were your ride or die were very quick to leave when life got heavy and real. Your hyper-independence is the preemptive attack against heartbreak. 

The only reason an individual accepts this phenomenon is because of their personal experiences of where they were hurt and collateral damage. Whether it be the lies and betrayal of someone else, getting left behind and forgotten about, never gaining an anticipated safe haven from relationships, or always giving more than you get, extreme independence emanates from this trauma. Eventually, this strategy turns in on yourself that you don’t really trust your own instincts and values. If people always hurt you, don’t you just choose the wrong people? This becomes the ultimate question and one that persistently taunts your mind. Am I simply the common denominator? 

Recently this phenomenon frequented and haunted my mind all too often. I found myself lying awake at night feeling as if I was consistently the issue in all of my relationships. People leave relationships for a reason, and if I am always the one getting left behind doesn’t that mean I am the crazy one? I had befriended my hyper-independent trauma response. However, I decided to reframe this question and take back the control I craved. If when people abandon me they tell me I am the problem, then why are they not the solution? Let me say that again to everyone who has told me that I am unworthy. If I am the problem, why weren’t you my solution? 

My hyper-independence stems from this. It is deeply rooted in being left alone and being the only person I can rely on for the long haul. The reality of needing to find comfort within myself has been one of the harshest experiences to endure. Feeling alone is an uncomfortable emotion, but staring at your phone with no one to call when the feeling is unbearable can only be classified as defeating. I endlessly yearn for someone to non-judgementally listen, deliver on promises and hold me up when I can’t do it for myself. Repeatedly believing you found the people to satisfy this ache only to be disappointed is devastating. However, I must continue searching for people, learning what is a healthy relationship and telling myself this will be temporary. That the trial and error period will end.  The hyper-independence will diminish over time and the battles will eventually cease. My tribe is indeed out there and I will find them.

Until this happens, I continuously find myself needing reminders of how I am worthy. I am deserving of so many things I have yet to have come easy to me in this world. I am worthy of being held when I fall apart, having someone willing to help me pick up those pieces, and finally being allowed to escape the facade I live behind. My feelings are legitimate and authentic, and someone will validate them in due time. This does not need to be earned, proved, or pled for. So to anyone who resonates with my experience and currently has hyper-independence defining their life, continue to be patient. Wait for the day to come when you are cherished for simply existing. Until then, hang in there. And because no one else may tell you – you got this. 

Kate O’Leary

Wisconsin '23

Kate is currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin Madison majoring in Biology, Psychology and Sociology. She is the proud co-president of Her Campus Wisconsin. Kate enjoys indoor cycling, spending time with friends, cheering on the Badgers and making the absolute best crepes ever!