“Ultra independence is a coping mechanism we develop when we’ve learned it’s not safe to trust love or when we are terrified to lose ourselves in another. We aren’t meant to go it alone. We are wounded in relationship and we heal in relationship.” ~Rising Woman
Do you feel like you have to do everything on your own?
Is it difficult for you to ask for and receive help in fear of being let down?
Have you ever heard the expression “Ultra-independence may be a trauma response?”
If this is you, I get it; that was me too.
Please know there isn’t anything wrong with you. I lived most of my life this way. This way of being was a survival strategy that kept me safe, but it was also very lonely. I lived in a constant state of anxiety, and it wore me out physically because I thought I had to do everything myself.
We often become ultra-independent because we don’t trust others and/or we may not feel worthy of being loved and supported. Or, we may believe that by denying support from others and doing things ourselves we’ll gain love and acceptance, because we’re not being a burden.
Maintaining connections and receiving support from others are basic human needs. If we’re saying we don’t need anybody, that’s often coming from a part of ourselves that wants to protect us from hurt, abuse, criticism, disappointment, or rejection.
If we even consider the possibility of wanting, needing, and/or receiving support from other people, something in us may say, “No way, it’s not safe,” so we keep these thoughts at bay.
We may think that if we ask for anything then we’re weak or being too needy, and that’s codependency. But we’re not meant to do everything on our own; there is such a thing as healthy codependency.
Ultra-independence may also be an extreme unspoken boundary, so, what may be important is to learn how to set healthy boundaries so we can feel safe in situations where we thought we’d lose ourselves.
Sometimes we feel the need to be ultra-independent because we don’t feel safe being vulnerable and letting people in, because if we do, they may see our flaws and insecurities, or they may trigger our unresolved traumas and wounds.
We may be carrying deep shame, and we don’t want to feel it or have others see it, so we stay away from connecting with and receiving support from other human beings.
One of the hardest things to fathom is that, although we’ve been hurt in relationships, in supportive relationships we can experience healing and a sense of safety.
That didn’t make sense to me, because in my relationships I often experienced criticism, hurt, rejection, and being screamed at for having natural human feelings and needs.
A part of me wanted support and connections, but another part of me was afraid, because as a child it made my father angry when I asked for anything. It was hard living in a world where I felt all alone, believing I had to do everything on my own while watching everyone else receive support and connect with their family and friends.
For me, being ultra-independent eventually led to denying and suppressing my needs and feelings because it got too overwhelming to try to do everything on my own, especially at such a young age.
At age fifteen I became anorexic, and I struggled with depression, anxiety, and self-harm for over twenty-three years.
In the midst of that, at age twenty, I let my guard down and got a boyfriend, who I thought loved me because he bought me anything I wanted, but there were strings attached. If I didn’t do what he wanted he would take back the gifts. He became obsessed with me, waited outside of my house when I wouldn’t talk to him, and would draw me in again with gifts and words of seduction.
This left me confused. “Do I only receive support and things when I’m a slave to somebody?” I wondered. After I finally broke up with him, I made a vow to myself that I would never receive anything from anyone again.
I got the opportunity to heal that vow later in my life when I went to Palm Springs with a friend. We were playing the slot machines and he put in $20. I told him “It’s your money if we win.” We won $200 on the first spin, and he told me, “Cash out, you won.”
When I cashed out, I chased him around the casino, trying to put the money in his pocket. I didn’t want to receive from him because I thought, “Then I owe him, and he owns me.”
Thankfully, he’s someone I can share anything with, and we talked about it. He told me he knew my struggle, that he didn’t want anything in return, and that it makes him happy to give to his friends and family. This experience helped me see things differently.
My healing journey really began at age forty when I started learning how to reconnect with myself, my needs, and my feelings and started healing the trauma I was carrying. I also learned how to ask for support, which wasn’t easy at the beginning; some people got mad at me, and some people were happy to fulfill my requests and needs.
Instead of blaming and shaming myself for believing I had to do everything on my own, I made peace with the part of me that felt it didn’t need anybody. By listening to its fears I started understanding why it thought I needed protecting.
It revealed to me the pain it felt of being rejected, hurt, and screamed at for having human feelings and needs, and that it didn’t want to experience that pain again.
As I listened to this part of myself with compassion, I acknowledged and validated the fear and pain it experienced, thanked it for doing what it was doing, and let it know it was now loved and safe.
I asked it what it really wanted, and it said, “I want to have true connections. I want to feel safe with and receive support from others, but I’m afraid.”
This younger part of me was stuck in perspective from my childhood wounding and the experience with the guy I was dating. By giving this part of me a chance to speak and tell me its intentions, I was able to help it/me have a new understanding and feel loved and safe.
I also began to have a more realistic view of who and who isn’t safe, instead of seeing no one as safe based on outdated neuro programming stemming from my past traumas, hurts, and pains.
Being ultra-independent did help me heal from all those years of struggling with anorexia, depression, and anxiety. Even after twenty-three years of going in and out of hospitals and treatment centers and doing traditional therapy and nothing working, I finally took my healing into my own hands, and yes, I did most of it on my own.
However, even doing it on my own, I found it was also helpful to be in a loving and supportive environment with people who didn’t try to fix, control, or save me.
We’re not meant to be or do life alone, but being alone can be comforting if we fear being hurt by others.
This doesn’t mean we should force ourselves to ask for and receive support from others, especially if we’re afraid; it means we need to create a loving and caring relationship with ourselves and understand where the need to be ultra-independent is coming from as a first step toward letting people in.
A great question to ask yourself is “Why is it not okay for me to receive support?” Be with that part of you, allow it to show you what it believes, and take time to listen with compassion. Then ask it what it really wants and needs.
Receiving support isn’t about being totally dependent on others, that’s just a set up for frustration and disappointment; it’s also important to learn how to be independent and meet our needs. This isn’t either/or, it’s both.
Learning how to connect with our feelings and needs and how to communicate them and make requests is also important.
For instance, if you’re going through a challenge and you would like support from someone, you can say, “I’m having a hard time right now, and I would really like someone who I can talk to, someone who will just listen without trying to change me or my situation. Is that something you would be willing to do?”
If this feels impossible for you, it might help to repeat some affirmations related to letting people in and receiving support. If some of these don’t resonate yet, instead of using “I am” start with “I like the idea of…”
I am worthy of being supported and loved.
I am worthy of having heartfelt connections.
It’s safe for me to have this experience.
I am worthy of being seen, heard, and accepted,
I am worthy of being loved and cared for by myself and others.
I am worthy of shining authentically,
I am worthy of receiving help and support.
There isn’t anything you need to earn or prove. You are worthy because you are beautiful and amazing you.
If you’re shutting people out because or your past traumas, as I once did, know that you don’t need to do everything on your own just because you were hurt in the past. Some people may let you down, but there are plenty of good people out there who want to love and support you—you just have to let them in.
About Debra Mittler
Debra Mittler is a warm and compassionate healer with a unique ability to touch people’s hearts and souls. She enjoys assisting others in loving and accepting themselves unconditionally, feeling at peace in their body, and living authentically. Debra is a leading authority in overcoming obstacles and supports her clients by holding a space of unconditional love and offering encouragement, effective tools, and valuable insights allowing them to experience and listen to their own inner wisdom.