People who are fiercely independent but secretly lonely usually display these 5 behaviors

by Mal James | April 7, 2024, 6:00 pm

Have you ever wondered about those people who seem to ‘have it all together’, independent and seemingly content in their solitude? Could beneath that self-assured exterior lie a hidden reality of loneliness? 

Today, we’re peeling back the layers by covering five behaviors that highly independent individuals, who are secretly lonely, often display.

A few of them are sure to surprise you.

Let’s get to it.

1) They overwork

This was me. In my twenties, I hit a lonely patch. My solution? 

I buried myself in work. As I discussed in a previous article, this is a common but flawed solution to loneliness

I’d wake up, work, and then work some more. It was an endless cycle. This relentless grind wasn’t for ambition’s sake alone; it was a distraction, a way to avoid confronting how lonely I was. 

And it’s not just me. Lyra Health has also noted that “sometimes people attempt to deal with loneliness by working excessively.” 

The trap is thinking that if we’re productive, we’re okay. It’s that old adage of keeping busy to avoid dealing with our emotions. But it’s just a Band-Aid over a deeper wound.

For those of us who pride ourselves on being fiercely independent or self-reliant, this trap is particularly enticing. We think we can outwork our emotions and outpace our need for deeper connections. 

But here’s the hard truth: this relentless work ethic, while it may seem productive, often leads us down a more dangerous path. It sets the stage for the next behavior, one that’s even more detrimental to our well-being.

2) They try to hide their exhaustion.

Picture this: You’re at work, and there’s this colleague of yours who is always the first one in and the last one out. Today, like most days, she looks visibly drained – the kind of exhaustion that a couple of coffees won’t fix. But when you casually ask if she’s alright, she flashes a weary smile and insists she’s “great.” 

Sound familiar?

Loneliness and overworking are a lethal combination. As noted by Harvard Review, the lonelier we are, the more exhausted we become. But why is this? 

The answer lies in our very nature and has been explored in Johann Hari’s bestseller, Lost Connections. Hari cites research that loneliness can lead to frequent micro-awakenings during the night. It means that lonely individuals wake up several times without even realizing it. 

Think of it as a protective instinct. When we lived in tribes, sleeping in huts or the open wilderness, being away from the tribe, akin to feeling lonely, posed real dangers. Predators or rival tribes could strike when one was most vulnerable – during sleep. Hence, our bodies have evolved to sleep more fitfully when we’re lonely to stay alert for potential threats.

It’s a fascinating piece of evolutionary biology, but it leaves our modern selves in a quandary. These micro-awakenings, while once lifesaving, now contribute to a cycle of fatigue and stress.

And here’s the kicker: fiercely independent people, those who often work themselves to the bone to avoid confronting their loneliness, are the least likely to acknowledge their need for rest, let alone a helping hand. 

They push through, often exacerbating their exhaustion and loneliness..and sooner or later, it shows. 

3) They constantly defend the benefits of “solitude”

Ever met someone who always seems to be championing the ‘lone wolf‘ lifestyle? 

They rave about the virtues of solitude, often quoting how it fuels creativity and fosters self-awareness. They might intellectually argue about the benefits of solitude, citing academic research or famous examples of solitary geniuses

And they’re not wrong – solitude can indeed be a catalyst for personal growth and creativity. 

But often, it’s not really solitude they’re embracing. It’s a disguise for isolation. They might tell others, and even themselves, that they’re choosing solitude, but deep down, they’re battling a sense of profound aloneness.

And loneliness, as we’re coming to understand more clearly, is intricately linked to unhappiness. Hari’s book also delves into this, illustrating how the more isolated we feel, the higher our chances of falling into depression.

Adding another layer to this, the longest study on happiness, conducted by Harvard Researchers, has revealed something crucial: relationships are not just nice to have; they are the key to living longer, happier lives. 

So, the next time you encounter someone who appears to have few friends or close relationships yet adamantly defends their life of “solitude,” it might be time to read between the lines. 

Their staunch defense could be a mask, hiding loneliness they’re not ready to confront.

4) They use social media as an escape

Let’s get something straight: we human beings are social creatures. We need social connections. 

But the lone wolves among us often don’t want to admit this. They pride themselves on being self-reliant, relishing their time spent alone. 

However, our biological urges for social interaction aren’t so easily brushed aside. So, what’s the workaround for someone who upholds their independence yet craves connection? 

Social media and online gaming.

These platforms become an escape, a way to fulfill an inherent need for social interaction. 

But there’s a catch – it’s another band-aid solution that sometimes does more harm than good. Excessive use of social media often makes us worse and off and has been linked to increased levels of depression. 

Think back to the lockdowns. So many flocked to virtual hangouts. Sure, it was better than nothing, but it wasn’t great, was it?

We can’t deny that the virtual world simply can’t replace face-to-face interaction. 

Sometimes, this digital escapism isn’t just a suboptimal solution; it can actually exacerbate feelings of loneliness. 

One study highlighted this. It found that for older individuals, no interaction was better than online interaction for their well-being during the pandemic. That’s right, the study suggested that online interactions might have actually made things worse for them.

So, the next time you notice someone who seems to be constantly online, projecting an image of a fulfilled, solitary life, consider the possibility that they might be indulging in social media escapism. 

5) They rarely, if ever, ask for help

At the heart of the fiercely independent personality lies a deeply ingrained belief in self-reliance. 

This trait, while admirable in many respects, often becomes a barrier to seeking help. In their steadfast commitment to handling everything solo, they inadvertently deepen their isolation.

They might be grappling with a professional challenge, or even facing major life struggles, yet their default response is to go it alone.

Their reluctance to seek help can stem from various reasons. For some, it’s the fear of being perceived as incapable or dependent. For others, it’s a matter of pride, or a belief that they should be able to handle everything on their own. 

However, this mindset overlooks a fundamental aspect of human nature: we are inherently social beings, wired for connection and collaboration. By not asking for help, they miss out on opportunities for deeper connections and shared experiences that can enrich their lives.

It’s a self-imposed isolation that reinforces their solitude, creating a cycle that’s hard to break.

Breaking this cycle requires a shift in perspective, recognizing that asking for help is not a weakness but a strength. It’s an acknowledgment of our interdependence and a step towards building more meaningful, supportive relationships.

The bottom line 

From overworking to avoiding help, these behaviors highlight the complex emotions many of us have regarding self-reliance and the need for human connection. 

Watch out for these signs in the people you care for; things aren’t always as they seem. 

Until next time.

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