Understanding Hyper-Independence as a Trauma Response: Pathways to Healing
Helen is having the worst birthday ever. She just turned 45 and her husband has asked for a divorce. Her hyper-independence is coming back to bite her again. As much as she tried to control every possible risk of being hurt again, she is feeling shattered, abandoned, and betrayed…again. She’s spent most of her life convincing herself that she doesn’t need anyone, that she will never get too attached to anyone or anything, and hiding her biggest fears even from herself. She secretly knows this is a trauma response, but has been too afraid to acknowledge it and take action. She’s gotten so good at pretending she’s got it all together, she’s strong, independent, and doesn’t need anyone, that she hasn’t noticed she’s imprisoned herself behind thick walls that have blocked her from experiencing genuine love and intimacy. She feels hollow, broken, unlovable, and incapable of love. So, why does it hurt so much?
Hyper-independence is an acute form of self-reliance in which a person protects their autonomy at all costs, damaging their ability to have healthy, interdependent relationships. Family and trauma informed therapists see this as a response to trauma, usually in attachment.
Typical Impact of Trauma:
- Need to control
- Need to protect self
- Limited ability to self-regulate
How These Are Evident In Hyper-Independence:
- The person overestimates danger due to past trauma and therefore needs to control everything, including emotional closeness, to create safety
- The person doesn’t want to experience the pain and helplessness of abandonment again, so he/she makes an internal pact to never get too attached/dependent
- The person associates depending on others with betrayal/disappointment/danger, so he/she is very distrustful of others
- The person is often flooded with emotions that lead to exaggerated reactions and/or shut downs, making them believe they’re too broken to rely on others for soothing, so they push away/avoid
- The person believes there’s something innately wrong with them, so they hide behind a persona or anything that will keep people from getting too close, blocking genuine intimate relationships
Pathways to Healing Attachment Trauma:
- EMDR Attachment-Focused Therapy
- Emotion Focused Couples Therapy
- Self-Awareness and Self-Regulation Skills (Mindfulness Based Therapies)
- Faith and Forgiveness (when ready)
- Secure relationships with current attachment figures (i.e. spouse, significant other)
- Shame Resilience work
Healing Attachment Trauma with EMDR Therapy
Attachment trauma, often stemming from early childhood experiences, can have a profound impact on an individual’s emotional well-being and relationships throughout their life. Understanding and addressing attachment trauma is crucial for healing and personal growth. One effective therapeutic approach for this purpose is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.
Understanding Attachment Trauma
Attachment trauma occurs when a child’s primary caregivers are consistently unavailable, neglectful, or abusive. This early relational disruption can lead to a range of emotional and psychological challenges, including difficulties in forming healthy relationships, low self-esteem, and a heightened sense of fear and anxiety.
How EMDR Works
EMDR therapy is a structured, evidence-based approach that was initially developed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, it has shown remarkable effectiveness in addressing various forms of psychological distress, including attachment trauma.
The EMDR process involves the following steps:
- History Taking: The therapist explores the client’s attachment history, identifying key traumatic events and their associated negative beliefs and emotions.
- Desensitization: Using bilateral stimulation (typically through guided eye movements), EMDR helps the client process distressing memories and emotions. This phase aims to reduce the emotional charge connected to the traumatic experiences.
- Reprocessing: The therapist helps the client reframe negative beliefs about themselves and others, replacing them with more positive and adaptive beliefs.
- Body Scan: EMDR often includes a body scan to address any lingering physical sensations associated with trauma.
- Closure: The therapist ensures the client feels grounded and safe before ending each session.
Healing Attachment Trauma with EMDR
EMDR is particularly beneficial for attachment trauma because it allows individuals to process early relational wounds in a safe and controlled environment. Here’s how EMDR helps in healing attachment trauma:
- Emotional Regulation: EMDR assists clients in regulating their emotions, reducing anxiety, and addressing the fear and shame associated with attachment trauma.
- Rebuilding Trust: By reprocessing negative beliefs about oneself and others, individuals can gradually rebuild their trust in themselves and in forming healthy relationships.
- Improved Self-Esteem: EMDR helps clients develop a more positive self-image, which is often distorted by attachment trauma.
- Enhanced Relational Skills: Through the therapy process, individuals can develop healthier patterns of relating to others and establish secure attachments.
Hyper-independence is rooted in the belief that one does not need anyone and can go a whole life without getting too close in a relationship. It is a maladaptive belief created by traumatic attachment-related experiences. This maladaptive belief is a trauma response, and if left unchecked, can lead to more attachment trauma, which prolongs avoidant, detached, and numbing behaviors. Trauma work is necessary for healing and breaking free from this extreme and isolating relationship/coping style.
Attachment trauma can have far-reaching effects on an individual’s life, but healing is possible through therapeutic interventions like EMDR. By addressing the root causes of attachment trauma and reprocessing these experiences, individuals can move towards greater emotional well-being and healthier relationships. EMDR therapy offers a path to healing and recovery for those who have experienced attachment trauma.
Note: For research on EMDR and Attachment Trauma visit https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2013-06600-000.
Want to learn more about how EMDR can help individuals and couples? Visit our EMDR Page.