We live in a culture that values independence above all. You should be able to figure things out on your own; you shouldn’t rely on people too much; you should become successful through your own merit.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many perks to independence. But sometimes, excessive independence can give rise to loneliness, and sometimes, independence is but a disguise behind which lonely people hide.
These are the 8 subtle traits of a lonely soul disguised as an independent person.
1) They present a strong front but feel exhausted on the inside
Independence is all about strength, right?
If you’re independent, it means you don’t need anybody else. It means you’re fully self-reliant. Every time an issue pops up, you’re able to handle it effectively all on your own.
But the truth is… no one is that strong. Humans are social beings.
In fact, as Yuval Noah Harari explains in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, one of the reasons Homo Sapiens spread across the world and survived until the present day is that we all love to share helpful information, tell stories, and unite thanks to common myths.
We need each other. And if someone pretends to be fully self-reliant but feels completely exhausted on the inside… chances are, they feel lonely and could use a bit of help.
2) They are workaholics
Loneliness is terrible. It fills you with an empty void and a gut-wrenching desire for something more, as well as hopelessness when you’re quite unable to reach it.
This is why lonely souls tend to be workaholics. Work temporarily fills that void and keeps them busy, driving their thoughts away from the emptiness and offering a distraction.
Of course, loneliness always catches up with them in the end. The moment they come home and sit down to watch TV, that overwhelming heaviness is back, which is why they might end up working until the late hours to avoid the evening blues.
What’s more, work is what allows most of us to be independent – it’s what lets us have our own place to stay, buy our own food, and be able to rely on no one but ourselves – so the financial incentive motivates lonely souls to work even more as it helps them feel even more independent.
3) They are stressed quite often
According to research, social isolation has drastic effects on one’s physical and mental health.
What’s more, high-quality relationships are precisely what helps us grow in resilience and mental strength because they provide us with an emotional support network to fall back on when we struggle.
When you’re lonely and work too much, there’s a high likelihood you’ll be very stressed, and since you don’t have a strong enough social network, your stress levels may increase even more.
What follows is a positive feedback loop of misery.
This is why battling loneliness with work doesn’t help you in the long run. It may work as a short-term solution, but over time, the stress may wreak havoc on your well-being.
4) They shop a lot
Lonely souls aren’t only addicted to work – they can also be addicted to shopping.
This makes sense as shopping is a very effective way to get a dopamine hit, temporarily lessening our negative feelings in favor of excitement and satisfaction.
Plus, shopping can give rise to feelings of independence because the more money you have at your disposal, the more you can afford to buy, helping you feel like you’re financially well-off.
And the more you shop, the more you work so that you can shop more, creating a cycle of overworking yourself and getting temporary dopamine hits through the acquisition of material possessions.
Alas, just like working, shopping can’t substitute for real human connection. It’s only a distraction.
5) They surround themselves with other lonely souls
Did you know that loneliness can be contagious?
Based on research, loneliness “occurs in clusters” and “spreads through a contagious process”.
If you’re lonely, there’s a high chance the people close to you will feel lonely, too, and all of you will desire a human connection but won’t know how to go about acquiring it.
6) They struggle to open up
Let’s get to the crux of the problem. Why are some people lonely? Why do they find it difficult to form deep connections and fit into different social groups?
Well, the answers are numerous.
A lot of it is due to societal problems. For example, technology has made it so that people rarely talk to strangers in public.
Some people are shy or suffer from social anxiety, others find it difficult to find like-minded friends, and others yet struggle to open up.
The last point is what might help us explain why lonely souls attract each other yet don’t overcome their loneliness together.
If both people don’t open up for fear of showing vulnerability or being misunderstood and rejected, they will stay in their lonely bubbles and won’t reach across the expanse to connect.
This may also be why many lonely people disguise themselves as independent workaholics who don’t need any help.
7) They seek connections online
The online world is a place of respite for many lonely souls out there.
Well, one of the answers is that online connections might feel safer. If you make an online friend, you can always “turn them off” as it were. You’re in charge of the whole situation – all you need to do is navigate out of the chat or shut down your laptop, and that person will stop existing in the here and now.
Another answer is that anonymity can help people become vulnerable with each other without actually revealing who they are. It’s a way to connect on a deep level without the fear that your moment of vulnerability will come to bite you later on.
Of course, as great as online friendships can be – many people have found their best friends and spouses online, after all – real-life friendships are just as important.
8) They glorify the independent life
Lastly, many lonely people who put on an independent front do so because they glorify the idea of independence itself.
A few years ago, I read a book called Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. It described the real life of a man named Christopher Johnson McCandless who decided to let go of his material possessions, leave his old life behind, and travel the world on his own.
He ended up going to Alaska and living in the wilderness. After having accidentally eaten a poisonous plant, he passed away.
When his home in the wilderness was found later on, it was discovered that McCandless had scribbled in a book: “Happiness only real when shared.”
McCandless lived an extraordinary and fully independent life. Yet after living in a beautiful wilderness for months, he recognized that he couldn’t share that beauty with anyone and that he was overwhelmingly lonely.
This isn’t to say that being independent or doing things on your own is bad. Solo traveling is an incredible way to get to know yourself. Learning to be self-sufficient is an important skill.
But even independence can be taken too far. And no matter how much of an independent front you put on, loneliness will eventually catch up with you.
The only effective way to combat loneliness is, of course, to find your tribe.
This sounds easier than it is, but there is a lot of advice out there on how to take your first steps toward a less lonely and more fulfilling life.
As Melinda Gates said, “Deep human connection is the purpose and the result of a meaningful life – and it will inspire the most amazing acts of love, generosity, and humanity.”