I grew up in the eighties and nineties when “girls can do anything” was our everyday motto. This strong drive for independent women had shaped so many facets of my life that I failed to notice when I crossed the line from an independent woman into hyper-independence.
I struggle to ask for help.
Worse yet, I fail to accept support and connection from others and then will be the first to complain, “why do I have to do everything myself?”.
Hyper-independence is not a virtue. It may look like one of my strengths, but it is my Achilles heel.
What does hyper-independence look like?
Don’t mistake your excessive independence for strength and character!
Strong walls encasing a vulnerable and sentimental soul are at the heart of hyper-independence, keeping it safely isolated from abandonment. If you do everything yourself and never ask for help, others won’t reject you.
Hyper-independence can look like this:
- being an over-achiever and workaholic, leaving little time for self-care;
- failing to say no when others ask for help, but feeling like a burden or nuisance if you want help;
- taking on too much;
- having to be in control of everything, and therefore micro-managing even the tiny details;
- failing to delegate;
- doing everything by yourself, without asking other people’s opinion or advice;
- feeling smothered or suffocated by other people’s emotions, even when they want to help you;
- pulling away when there’s a problem, handling it all alone because you can’t rely on others; and
- hyper-vigilance and being on edge.
Hyper-independence often looks like trust issues: you’ve decided you can’t count on the love, help and protection of others. Unfortunately, you stop asking for this love and support, believing it’s never coming.
The misery of having to do it all yourself
It’s exhausting to do it all yourself, believing no one else will get it done. This pattern of hyper-independence will take a toll, whether in your professional life or personal day-to-day activities.
If you turn down offers for help often enough, people will stop offering to help. In much the same way, they stop offering their opinions and thoughts when they notice you make decisions without considering other views. They won’t stop to ask you whether this is your coping and survival technique.
Everyone is too busy focusing on themselves and their pain to recognise the patterns and misery of another.
So, once you’ve shown yourself capable of always doing it all yourself, you will be left to your own devices. A self-fulfilled prophecy that you recreate and reenact over and over.
But that’s not how life was intended.
Dependence, independence and inter-dependence
Ideally, in life, we pass through three stages:
- Dependence: as small children, we are utterly dependent on others for all of our wants and needs;
- As we grow, we learn “no” and to differentiate ourselves from others. We push the limits of our independence and want to do everything for ourselves. We become repugnant teenagers that know more than everyone else around us and are perfectly capable of fixing all the world’s problems;
- Hopefully, we find our way back to interdependence, where we recognise that while we can do everything alone, life is better when the burdens and joys are shared.
A broken cycle leads to hyper-independence
Not everyone finds their way through the three stages smoothly. We may find that in this period of dependence, needs are unmet. We stop crying and asking for attachment. We learn that the world is not a safe place where others meet our needs, and we get pushed too quickly into independence and looking out for ourselves.
On the other hand, our hearts may be broken in the world of independence, and we decide it’s safer to stay alone and avoid being vulnerable.
There are many reasons why we might learn hyper-independence rather than healthy inter-dependence.
Once you’ve noticed your patterns, can you turn this behaviour around and learn to trust again?
Self-compassion and loving-kindness
If you’ve noticed yourself asking, “why do I always have to do everything myself?” sprinkle a little self-compassion and loving-kindness into your heart!
Until now, you’ve done everything yourself because this is how you’ve protected yourself from rejection, disappointment and heartache.
While it’s plain to see that the strategy is no longer working for you and now leaves you miserable and exhausted, there was a time when it worked. Otherwise, you wouldn’t keep on using it.
Be gentle and kind with yourself as you make the changes that will support you into the future.
Your support network and connections
One of the hardest lessons you will learn on the road to building a new support network and connections is trust:
- trusting yourself;
- trusting yourself to choose good people around you; and
- trusting others.
Before you dive into asking others for help and support, setting yourself up for a new experience of failure that confirms the belief that you always have to do everything yourself, take a look at your support network and connections.
Do you have a support network or a network that you support and that is built to rely on you?
Don’t automatically get out there and ask your network for help and support if you built a network that will rely on you! First, you must dismantle this network and build a good support network.
I never promised easy.
If you want to learn to trust people around you again, trust yourself to pick the right people. They are not necessarily the same people that rely on you.
There’s a saying:
You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.
So, if the people around you are not your support network, build a new network that will support you. Stop looking for support from those you taught to rely on you.
A strong inner circle
Where do you start?
I typically have clients start with the five people they spend the most time with. When you look at the five people you spend the most time with; you might realise why you feel unsupported and alone.
- your needy friend that calls you any time there’s a problem
- your child
- your assistant
- a family member that depends on you
- a co-worker or employee that reports to you
If this is what your inner circle looks like, it should be obvious why you feel you are doing everything yourself.
How wonderful – you get to be the hero for all these people!
Is it any wonder you’re exhausted?
There will be some people in this inner circle that you cannot change or move. But you need to move some of them to an outer circle to make room for building a solid inner circle that supports you – emotionally, mentally and professionally.
Thriving is an inside job: choices for connection.
Thriving happens from the inside out: it starts with self-awareness. When you know yourself, you can tap into the wisdom of creating connections and relationships that support your life and dreams.
You don’t stop supporting and helping others but instead, rely on interdependence to build together. After you’ve stepped back and dismantled the power dynamic of reliance, some relationships will be built back stronger and on an equal footing. Others will wither naturally, while some relationships will be on an unequal foundation.
The difference is that when you approach them with emotional intelligence and self-awareness, you can see your unhealthy martyr complex and the need to be the hero.
You will thrive when you build connections with others that respect your feelings and theirs.
Be intentional with your inner circle and grow towards your authentic self.
- Author your life: make choices for authentic relationships
- Hyper-independence makes you miserable: ask for better support
- Make life better: how to live abundantly and authentically
- Radical Forgiveness bookclub: how to do the inner healing
- Emotional intelligence: 9 ways to build your self-awareness
More resources on hyper-independence:
- Can Hyper-Independence Be a Trauma Response?
- Hyper-independence: A Possible Characteristic of Trauma
- Mental health: this is why too much independence could be a bad thing, according to experts
- Is Ultra Independence a Strength or a Trauma response?