If you recognize these 9 signs, you probably had a lonely childhood

by Isabel Cabrera | February 7, 2024, 4:32 pm

Childhood is supposed to be a time of fun, learning, and social interaction. For lots of people, the relationships they form in childhood remain a huge part of the memories throughout their lives. 

Some people are even still friends with the people they met as a child.

On the other hand, not all of us have the same childhood experience. For many people, childhood can be a very lonely time.

There are some telltale signs of a lonely childhood that anyone can see. If you recognize the signs, chances are you, too, had a lonely childhood.

1) You had solitary hobbies

Think back to when you were a kid. How did you spend your time?

Some kids are naturally more outgoing than others. But if your childhood hobbies included a lot of solitary activities like reading, it may be because you were a lonely child.

Lonely kids often immerse themselves in solitary activities because they don’t have friends to play with. In many ways, this can be a good thing, because it can create adults who don’t need other people to make them happy.

Still, if you spent a lot of time alone as a kid, maybe you were lonely.

2) You were an only child

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that being an only child necessarily means you were lonely. I’m married to an only child, and I know that just because you don’t have siblings doesn’t mean you can’t have an active social life with plenty of friends.

However, having siblings living in the house with you basically forces you to have social interaction as a kid every day of your life. 

And while your siblings can often drive you crazy, they make sure you are rarely lonely.

On the other hand, Psychologist Susan Newman writes that being an only child can often be a plus. Some children suffer violence and abuse from their siblings, and only children may also have an edge when it comes to academic achievement.

Ultimately, whether you were lonely as an only child or not depends a lot on how involved your parents were in your life and what kind of social interaction you were exposed to.

3) You didn’t have a lot of friends as a kid

In many ways, childhood is the easiest time of life to make friends. 

In school, we are forced into interaction with lots of kids our age, and if you had good parents, they probably went out of their way to make sure that you spent time with other kids.

But not all kids make friends easily.

When you think back to your childhood friends, is it a long list of acquaintances? Or are there only a few names that spring to mind, or maybe even none?

Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely. But if you had very few friendships as a kid, especially close ones, you may well have been a lonely child.

4) You were often alone

Similarly to the point above, it’s worth thinking about your childhood memories. When you think back to how you spent time as a kid, do you often remember yourself as being alone?

Maybe you sat alone in the school cafeteria, not interacting with anybody else. Maybe you walked home from school by yourself. Maybe you came home to an empty house.

These are all signs of a lonely childhood.

5) You talk a lot

Often, a lonely childhood reveals itself in your behaviors as an adult.

Here’s why: childhood is when we become, in many ways, the person we are going to be for the rest of our lives. These formative years have an outsized impact on our psychology and behaviors for the rest of our days.  

And one of the more subtle signs of someone who had a lonely child is that as an adult, they talk a lot.

That’s because lonely children grow into adults who are eager to please. Since they lack social interaction as children, they are often clumsy in how they interact with people socially as adults.

Psychologist Michael Ungar writes that lonely children are hungry for connection with others. And this is a hunger that doesn’t necessarily go away with time.

For the adults that lonely children become, talking a lot can be a way of protecting themselves from rejection. It can also be a way of filling the silence that they are uncomfortable with because it closely resembles the silently spent their lonely childhood in.

6) You struggle to make friendships as an adult

Another way your childhood affects your adult life is in your ability to make friends as you grow up.

As author and coach Marcia Sirota points out, people with childhood traumas tend to struggle more with relationships as adults.

And loneliness can be a traumatic experience for any child.

Childhood is a time when we learn many things that we will keep with us for the rest of our lives. One of those things is how to make friends with people.

That’s why childhood friendships are so important, and why it can be so damaging to your future relationships if you spent a lot of time alone as a kid and didn’t have a lot of friends.

If you have a hard time connecting with people and taking casual relationships to the next level of friendship, it might be because these are skills you never learned due to a lonely childhood.

7) You feel uncomfortable in social situations

There lots of reasons why people might feel uncomfortable when socializing with others. Maybe you’re an introvert. Maybe you’re a lone wolf who just prefers their own company.

But it may also be because you never learned how to socialize with others as a kid.

Childhood is a time in our lives when we don’t have a lot of control over what happens to us. Often, our social lives are determined by our parents and the schools we go to. 

Many parents will work hard to make sure their kids are invited to birthday parties and other social events, but others don’t.

Unfortunately, this can leave their kids growing up socially awkward.

Being comfortable in social situations with others is a learned skill, and it’s one most of us learn in childhood. 

On the other hand, if you had a lonely childhood without much social interaction, it’s going to be a lot harder for you to feel at ease spending time with others as an adult.

8) You constantly apologize

This is another classic sign of people pleasing. And unfortunately, it’s very common among people who were lonely as kids.

You see, having a lonely childhood means you never fully learned how to interact with others. Inevitably, that makes you awkward and uncomfortable in social situations.

This insecurity can often show itself in constant apologies, even for things that aren’t really your fault.

That’s because lonely kids grow into adults who are never quite sure where they stand with others. Constant apology can be a way of ingratiating yourself with other people and protecting yourself from the social isolation you remember from a lonely childhood.

9) You have an active imagination

Depending on how you look at it, this might actually be a rare benefit of a lonely childhood.

All kids have active imaginations. But lonely children, lacking other outlets for their energy, tend to retreat more into their imagination than others.

Maybe you had imaginary friends to make up for the friends you lacked in real life. Maybe you created entire worlds and epic stories of adventure to make your life more interesting.

The thing is, lonely children often carry this imaginative streak into their adulthood.

Do you often find yourself daydreaming? Are you a creative person with a vivid imagination?

There’s a long history of artists being lonely and isolated people, and often, that’s a trait that begins in childhood.

While these can often be positive traits, especially when it comes to creativity, they are also signs of someone who was lonely in childhood.

When lonely children reach adulthood

Our childhood has a huge impact on the kind of people we will become. Many of our behavioral traits, characteristics, and preferences are established in our earliest years and then maintained throughout the rest of our lives.

However, it’s also important to remember that the future is not set in stone. No matter what your past was like, it’s possible to work on yourself and escape negative behaviors from your childhood, no matter what age you are now.

If you were a lonely child, it can have a big impact on your ability to form and maintain relationships as an adult.

But it doesn’t have to.

The first step to changing is becoming aware of your behaviors and the reasons for them. So keep an eye out for these signs to determine if you were a lonely kid.

Then, work on escaping your programming to become a happy adult.

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