By Alanna Hilbink
Independence is a powerful trait. It can give us a sense of self-worth, of purpose, and of life satisfaction. But it turns out you can also be too independent. Just as too much dependency can lead to problematic relationships and codependency, being independent to a fault has downsides of its own.
We all need healthy relationships to live our best lives. What counts as healthy depends on our personalities and our life experiences. The different types of relationships we have, the number of friends, and the amount of time we spend with each of them all varies. But everyone benefits from some degree of friendship and feels the harm of loneliness.
Just as too much dependency can lead to problematic relationships and codependency, being independent to a fault has downsides of its own.
The Effects of Too Much Independence
The American Psychological Association (APA) found that over the course of COVID, loneliness levels rose 5% while social circles shrank. But you don’t have to be physically alone to be lonely. Even those in romantic relationships or who have a large circle of friends can be lonely if these relationships lack affection and connection.
And the effects of any form of loneliness are real. The Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research reports that loneliness can contribute to the following:
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Sleep problems
- Personality disorders
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Overall poor health
You’ll note that these effects are both mental and physical, as mental and physical health are closely connected. Loneliness and too much independence affect us, body and mind.
What Are the Benefits of Friendship?
The Survey Center on American Life says that we typically need four or more close friends to stave off loneliness and isolation. When we avoid loneliness, we avoid many of the mental and physical health issues listed above. What’s more is we also gain better stress management, support for personal growth, and a greater sense of belonging and security, according to Healthline.com
As with the negative effects of loneliness, the benefits of friendship aren’t only psychological. The APA shares that friendship gives us greater pain tolerance, a stronger immune system, better disease resistance and recovery, and perhaps even a longer life overall (certainly one that’s richer and more enjoyable to live).
Men and the Friendship Recession
Men may be hit particularly hard by recent increases in loneliness. The Survey Center on American Life shares that only 27% of men have six or more close friends. And 15% report having no close friends at all. Reasons for this friendship recession may be tied to the following:
- Discomfort sharing feelings
- Inability to be vulnerable
- Less likely to seek out emotional support from friends
- Less likely to do the work to invest in friendships
- Lower marriage rates
- More frequent and longer-distance moves
- Fewer opportunities for workplace friendships
No matter the reason, men may be more likely to find themselves intentionally or unintentionally independent to a fault, meaning they are more likely to need professional resources and support for forming healthy, lasting, and rewarding relationships. If you or a man in your life needs help reaching out, connecting, and finding emotional health and friendship, The Meadows is here to assist you.
How Do People Become Independent to a Fault?
Anyone can find themselves struggling to balance independence and a healthy social life. Personal or world events may separate us from loved ones physically or emotionally, or make it hard to find the time, space, and mindset to form bonds to begin with. Sometimes mental health issues can create isolation. For example, common symptoms of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse include difficulties in relationships, pushing others away, and neglecting or avoiding social situations. Or when it comes to being hyper independent, trauma may play a role.
Hyper Independence: Trauma Response
Hyper independence is taking being independent to a fault to an even lonelier and more stressful degree. It is an insistence on doing everything on your own, no matter the emotional or physical toll it takes. It makes asking for help feel impossible. And it’s often a response to past or present trauma that may be causing additional mental and physical health symptoms.
With trauma, your brain and body often react in unexpected, and not always helpful, ways. These reactions are called trauma responses. And if you are hyper independent, trauma responses may be the cause.
If you’ve experienced abuse in the past, you may no longer find it easy to trust people or believe you can rely on their support.
If you’ve experienced abuse in the past, you may no longer find it easy to trust people or believe you can rely on their support. Neglect or abandonment may have taught you to be hyper independent in order to survive. Survivor’s guilt may leave you convinced you don’t deserve help, support, or love. Or hyper independence may stem from a desire to feel in control after feeling a complete loss of it.
No response to trauma is the wrong response, your brain does what it can with what it has at the time. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep living a life limited by a hyper independence trauma response.
Finding Balance in Independence
When it comes to overcoming complex and often co-occurring mental health issues, you can’t do it alone. You need the support, and, yes, help, of compassionate, experienced mental health professionals and peers in recovery. We’re here at The Meadows to help you gain a balanced life and healthy connections with others. Please reach out for yourself or a loved one today.