I was an only child, but I never thought of myself as lonely.
That is, until I grew up and people started telling me stories about their childhood and I realized that perhaps I was a little lonely after all.
While other kids were fighting with their brothers or having crushes on their sisters’ friends, I was dressing up in a bedsheet and pretending to be Queen Boudicca of the Iceni tribe, leading the Celts to victory against the Romans.
Yeah, I was a weird kid.
Anyway, now that I’m all grown up, I have a better idea of the traits that suggest that someone might have grown up lonely, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Let’s get started.
1) Inability to form close friendships
People who grew up lonely often find it difficult to form close friendships because it doesn’t come naturally to them.
It also gets more difficult as time goes on, because by the time that you reach adulthood, most people have already established their friend groups. You can make new friends, as is shown by people who move to a new city or new country, but it’s a lot more difficult.
On top of that, people who grew up lonely tend to have no problem making acquaintances. The hard part is making those close friendships that will stand the test of time.
This is something I still struggle with today. I have a lot of acquaintances but few close friends.
2) Social anxiety
Interestingly enough, while I’ll admit that I grew up lonely, my anxiety centers around health and I don’t find social situations too difficult. I’m a big believer in faking it ‘til you make it.
And that brings me on to my tip for surviving social anxiety, which is to pretend to be an extrovert even if you’re a hardcore introvert, like me. You might be surprised by how much easier that can make things.
You’ll also want to brush up on your breathing exercises and other coping strategies and to seek professional help if it becomes too much of a problem.
3) Poor social skills
Because people who grew up lonely didn’t get to practice their social skills as much as others, they can start to struggle with it when they’re an adult.
In practice, this can mean that they either dominate conversations or zone out of them completely. Perhaps they’re not great with their pleases and thank yous, or perhaps they suck at remembering names.
It really depends and can vary from one person to another, but the general theme is the same. People who grew up lonely struggle with social situations and often don’t understand the social mores that come naturally to other people.
They’re not being rude; they just don’t know what they don’t know.
We’ve mentioned introversion a couple of times and so let’s tackle the elephant in the room.
There’s a super easy way to tell whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert that’s always stuck with me. Ask yourself how you feel after you’ve spent the day with friends.
Extroverts feel energized by other people, and so after spending the day with friends, they’ll feel pumped up and ready to take on the world. Introverts feel drained by other people, and so while they might enjoy hanging out with their friends, they’ll need time at the end of the day to recharge.
Neither of these approaches is right or wrong. Just know that if you grew up lonely, you’re much more likely to be an introvert than an extrovert.
5) Hatred of small talk
Let’s face it, no one likes small talk. It’s just that people who grew up lonely hate it more than most.
That’s because they weren’t exposed to it when they were growing up, and so the idea of talking about nothing in particular seems alien to them. They’d be much happier just sitting in silence.
I like to think of it as being like training a cat or a dog. My cat hates being in the car because he hadn’t been in one until he was a couple of years old. If he’d been raised with regular car journeys, he wouldn’t mind so much.
Not that I’m comparing you to a cat.
Not all of the traits we’re going to talk about are negative.
People who grew up lonely tend to learn self-reliance at an early age, mostly because they have to. With no one else for them to rely on, they learn to rely on themselves.
This is good in some ways, because it makes sure that we’re as strong as we can possibly be. At the same time, it’s good to be able to rely on others, because we all need a little help here and there.
Self-reliance is great, but it works best if you also know when to call in reinforcements and rely on others.
7) Preference for online relationships
This is something that I’m guilty of, and for a variety of different reasons.
Online relationships are ideal in many ways, because you can decide when you want to speak to people and when you want some alone time. It’s also super easy to block people if they upset you or start to show alarming behaviors.
People who grew up lonely tend to prefer online relationships because it gives them greater control. It also allows them to meet people who share their interests, which can make those relationships much more fulfilling.
However, online relationships can never make up for a lack of in-person relationships, which bring unique advantages like physical touch and more clearly defined body language.
8) Difficulties with assertion
People who grew up lonely often find it difficult to assert themselves and to set boundaries.
Like most of the other traits that we’ve looked at today, this is due in part to the fact that people who grew up lonely didn’t get many opportunities to practice. There’s no need to assert yourself when there’s no one to assert yourself to.
But then all of a sudden, these people found themselves all grown up but without one of the skills they needed to function. This can cause problems both at home and at work because they find it hard to say “no”.
We need to be able to set healthy boundaries and to stick to them, and assertion is an important part of that. If we can’t set those boundaries, we’ll find ourselves doing things that we don’t want to do and living someone else’s life instead of our own.
9) You had an imaginary friend
When I was a kid, I had an imaginary friend called Ashley.
It’s not unusual for kids to have imaginary friends, especially when they have active imaginations and when they love to create things. What’s weird in my case is that I also had an actual friend called Ashley, which confused the heck out of my parents.
Having an imaginary friend as a kid doesn’t necessarily mean that you grew up lonely, but it’s also a good sign that you did. You were either a lonely kid, an imaginative kid, or a lonely and imaginative kid.
No prizes for guessing what I was.
The good news is that just because you grew up lonely, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be lonely for the rest of your life. I’m living proof of that.
Still, it’s my hope that by sharing these insights, I’ve helped you to get a better understanding of yourself.
Remember that there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you grew up lonely, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that your parents are at fault, either. It might just be that you were an introverted kid.
I’d like to leave you with a final reminder that even if you were a lonely kid, it’s never too late to change. Your past doesn’t have to shape your future. It’s totally up to you.