I don't think we can talk about hyper-independence without paying homage to codependency.
Many of us got here from there, after all. I know I did.
I experienced an unhealthy degree of relying on others to take care of me. And thinking I "had to" take care of others in return. Thinking I "had to" save them, hoping someone would also save me (even when I didn't realize that's what I was what I was holding out for).
I did both to my own detriment. To the detriment of my relationships, and the people I shared those relationships with.
Codependency is unsustainable, and often times harmful. It wreaks havoc on even the best of us and our relationships. And, again, if you're like me...
Perhaps you've been "burned" or "burned out" from it to a point of reverting to hyper-independence instead.
Enter the "pendulum" my therapist talks about, where the first step to healing can sometimes be that we swing from one extreme to the other. And this is exactly what happens to a lot of people who finally run, full speed, away from anything that even remotely looks like the codependence. Or connection at all.
Hyper-Independence is a trauma response.
It often happens we experience such a depth of shame, abandonment, grief, and even humiliation from relying on other people, that we stop trying to rely on anyone else at all. This can lead to us completely cutting off the idea of being vulnerable and receiving support from others. Instead, we decide we can only depend on ourselves.
We pick our faces up. Whatever dignity we can muster. And we trek forward, alone. Head high. Ready (begrudgingly) to take on the challenge of living for ourselves, for once.
This isn't so much a side-effect of feeling like we can't trust others, though that's definitely a major part of it. But I think what's more deeply rooted is that somewhere along the way the message we heard was, you aren't worth being cared for. You're too much. No one can handle it.
And finally, we believe it. Hyper-independence is an act of surrender.
I should also mention hyper-independence is two-sided. Meaning, not only do we cut off our own needs for support & vulnerability, but we can also often refuse to see accountability for how we impact others. We expect others to be as independent as we are. This trauma response coincides heavily with Avoidant Attachment Styles.
We may become the people who:
- Refuse to receive support for fear of burdening our loved ones, or a belief that we don't deserve or are unworthy of it. We're crippled by this even when we need support and when others are willing to support us
- Work to suppress our emotions, or find ways around them instead of work though them. (This is us treating ourselves the same way others have treated us. Sometimes we can't even be vulnerable with ourselves).
- Say "I'm not responsible for your feelings" in response to loved ones asking for support from us. Erecting inflexible barriers that push people away instead of strong, fair boundaries that can help us feel safe connecting with people we care about.
- Avoid relational commitments with others (including platonic & work commitments)
- Shy away from deep & meaningful connections
- Shut down in conflict and back away from interpersonal relationships to avoid it
- Refuse to set standards and boundaries because we don't want to be a burden to others. We internalize a lot.
- Fail to express our needs in general
- Fail to take role in supporting the needs of others in general
Many of us have endured the harm that comes with experiencing hyper-independence. I already know you're reading this either because you identify as hyper-independent, are wondering if you are, or you know someone who is.
It's challenging no matter which of these positions you're in.
And, to be clear, regardless of the title of this issue I do agree that hyper-independence causes harm. And we have to manage it. Heal it. Especially if we want to experience deep, stable, safe, and fulfilling interpersonal connection with others (and ourselves)...
Like most things, we as a society have a tendency to label things only good or only harmful.
We are a "kill or worship" species. We struggle with nuances. Leave no room for reconciliation. But while most of the suffering in life is in extremes, most of the beauty in life is in grey areas.
What We Aren't Covering
In this case we know what's unhealthy about hyper-independence vs. codependency.
We know all about the red flags. We've done the "put a finger down" TikTok challenges and have discussed it with our friends, our therapists. We remember the negative and chaotic effects of experiencing them. We know what we shouldn't do.
How we shouldn't be.
But how do we know what we should do, who we should be, if we never a look at these extremes with openness and say...
"It was serving me in some way. Protecting me in some way. Showing me what I needed in some way. How was it serving me? What was it showing me? What can I keep? What can I learn?"
That's what we're going to do here, today. Discover the gifts of hyper-independence, so we know where to move from here.
Discovering the Grey Between Hyper-Independence & Codependency
Discovering the grey area means we have to look at the different extremes - including the ones we're conditioned to hate or fear - with an open mind. With curiosity instead of judgment.
It means we take the time to ask some questions, like:
1. What is harmful about this? But also...
2. What are the benefits?
3. How can I keep the benefits, and let go of the harm?
And, go from there.
A healthy middle ground in this case doesn't mean you never do things that appear codependent, like take responsibility for impacting the emotions of others and seeking repair. It doesn't mean you never adjust a boundary temporarily for a special circumstance.
It also doesn't mean you never do independent things, like avoid conflict, shy away from commitments, and struggle to let someone in. It doesn't mean you're immune to cold feet.
The middle ground means you figure out when it's healthy (for you) to do the things on either end. And discover a practice that encompasses the best of both worlds, while minimizing the worst of both worlds.
The middle ground allows you to practice things like trust and vulnerability. It also allows you to instead rely on yourself when you need to, or want to, without falling apart.
It allows you to discern when you shouldn't take shared responsibility in the outcome of a loved ones emotions, but you also have the capacity to do so. You have the capacity to empathize with them, and issue a genuine apology and reasonable changed behavior, without abandoning yourself.
It allows you to connect with others, and feel safe in vulnerability. Without the need to overshare, or over-expose yourself in unsafe environments.
The grey area gives you more options, while feeling secure enough in yourself to not get trapped in any of them.
There's already a term for this middle ground between hyper-independence & codependency. It's call interdependence. If we want to get to a healthy space of interdependence with our loved ones, peers, and community then it's important for us to consider that there are some things about hyper-independence that are worth keeping. And explore what those things may be, for us.
Each of us will have different answers. We're different people. I'll give you my favorites. Take what you love, Marie Kondo the rest. And remember to figure out what works for you.
Trusting We Can (Handle Our Own Shit)
One of the things people hate about hyper-independence, I think, is how we say "we must", (do this alone/avoid the conflict/leave the relationship/cancel the commitment/etc.)
But we miss a pretty little gem lying beneath "we must".