People Who Felt Lonely as Children Usually Develop These 13 Traits as Adults, Psychologists Say

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traits of people who felt lonely as children according to psychologists

Think back to your childhood. Do you picture meandering around the playground by yourself, hoping that someone will ask you to join in? Being left out of parties? Sitting alone at the lunch table? As sad as these scenes are, for many people, they are an unfortunate, but all too normal, part of the childhood experience.

The studies prove that childhood loneliness appears to be even more of an epidemic today. According to one 2023 study, 38.7% of adolescents reported feeling moderately to extremely lonely, feelings that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Survey Center on American Life found in 2022, a majority of Gen Z individuals say that they felt lonely at least once or twice a month during their childhood.

Loneliness, for many people, seems to be an inevitable part of childhood. But for some individuals, that loneliness is even more extreme or palpable. If you feel that you often felt lonely as a child, discover how that loneliness can manifest as traits in adulthood.

What Can Cause Children to Be Lonely?

“Lack of close friendships is a major reason why a child may feel lonely,” says Dr. Ray W. Christner, Psy.D., NCSP, ABPP. “A child could have difficulty making or maintaining friends, either due to shyness, anxiety or a lack of general social skills. If they perceive themselves as different because of their interests, feelings or abilities, it can also make it harder to form friendships and create a social network.”

Dr. Christner adds that frequent relocation can disrupt a child’s social network as well, making it difficult to form lasting friendships.

“Additionally, being bullied or excluded by peers can lead to feelings of loneliness,” he says. “Finally, physical, mental health and neurodevelopmental differences can also result in a child feeling isolated from their peers.”

Related: 11 Phrases That Signal a Person’s Lonely, According to Psychologists

People Who Felt Lonely as Children Usually Develop These 13 Negative Traits as Adults, According to Psychologists

1. Social Anxiety

As an adult, Dr. Christner says that you may fear social judgment or rejection, making social interactions highly stressful.

2. Negativity

“Things that affect us emotionally during childhood can stick with us throughout life,” says Dr. Michele Leno. “A child who was lonely because of bullying and being left out may naturally view others as unreliable and find it best to steer clear of close ties.”

3. Difficulty Trusting Others

Taking negative stances on relationships can also manifest as difficulty trusting others. As Dr. Christner says, “Childhood loneliness can lead to wariness in adult relationships, stemming from fear of being hurt or abandoned.”

4. Extreme Independence

“The lonely child who dreams of the day when they no longer need or care about attachments may pursue independence to an excessive degree,” Dr. Leno observes. “Even in a relationship, they may resist their partner’s offers to help.”

5. Higher Incidence of Depression

Dr. Christner says that if someone has a history of loneliness or depression, it can contribute to feelings of sadness and depression in adulthood.

6. Low Self-Esteem

If you felt lonely as a child, your self-esteem may be low. Dr. Leno also calls this a poor self-concept or even imposter syndrome.

“This person believes that they are inefficient and not deserving of true love or support,” she says. “Despite accomplishments, they may feel like an imposter or fraud.”

Dr. Christner agrees with this viewpoint, saying, “Experiences of loneliness can affect how individuals view themselves, often leading to a critical self-perception.”

Related: A New Study Found That This One Thing May ‘Cure’ Loneliness—Here’s How to Get Started

7. Hyperfocus on Appearance

Tying into low self-esteem, Dr. Leno says that the adult who believes that their lack of attractiveness is the culprit may take extreme measures to improve their appearance.

8. Attachment Issues

Dr. Christner says that individuals who were lonely as children might develop insecure or avoidant attachment styles, either clinging too tightly to relationships or avoiding closeness altogether.

On clinginess, Dr. Leno says, “A person who felt lonely as a child may fear abandonment, which could negatively affect relationships.”

9. Payback Behavior

“Once the lonely child reaches adulthood they may seek retaliation, but not in a way that harms others,” Dr. Leno says. “They may simply ice out others who attempt to get close to them.”

10. Increased Sensitivity to Negative Social Cues

Dr. Christner notes that those who felt lonely as children may be more likely to notice and react strongly to perceived rejections or negative social interactions.

11. Difficulty Expressing Emotions

Also, Dr. Christner says that those who grew up lonely might struggle with identifying their own emotions and communicating their feelings to others.

12. Extreme Extroversion

Feeling lonely when you were young might cause you to overly compensate as well, resulting in what Dr. Leno calls “extreme extroversion,” which can be beyond a healthy level. She says, “The adult who grew up feeling lonely may go out of their way to develop a friend group.”

13. Preference for Solitude

Dr. Christner says that lonely children often prefer solitude as adults, saying that they may find comfort in being alone, sometimes to the point of isolating themselves from potential social support.

Dr. Leno calls this “extreme introversion.”

“Feeling lonely may cause a lack of trust, and the lonely child may become a socially withdrawn adult who does not trust others,” she adds.

Related: 8 Subtle Signs Your Dog Is Lonely, According to Pet Behaviorists

What Can Someone Do to Remedy These Negative Traits?

“Addressing these negative traits or impacts often requires a multifaceted approach,” Dr. Christner explains. “This could include seeking professional help, as psychotherapy can offer strategies for managing social anxiety, building self-esteem and developing healthier relationship patterns. Programs or therapy focusing on social skills can also help individuals learn and practice interaction strategies.”

He also says that building a network of supportive relationships gradually can provide a foundation for improving trust and reducing loneliness.

“Gradually facing social situations can help decrease sensitivity to perceived negative cues and reduce social anxiety,” he says, adding that practices like mindfulness can assist in managing negative thoughts and emotions, while self-compassion fosters a kinder self-view.

“Once a person becomes aware of the origins of their feelings and behavior, they can take action,” Dr. Leno adds. “Sometimes, awareness can be the catalyst to change.”

People Who Felt Lonely as Children Can Also Develop These Positive Traits as Adults

Resilience

As adults, those who were lonely as children don’t only develop negative traits. Some of them can actually be positive.

One of these positive traits is resilience.

“Interestingly, some develop a strong sense of independence and resilience, having coped with difficult emotions from a young age,” Dr. Christner explains. “This may result in stronger coping skills as an adult.”

Creativity

He goes on to say, “It is also possible that time alone can foster a rich inner life and creativity as individuals turn to imagination for comfort and expression. This might be evident in various visual and performing arts.”

Next up, find out what to do when you feel lonely.

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