18 Signs You Grew Up Chronically Lonely

Juliette Virzi  •  August 25, 2018

Growing up, most of us aren’t taught about our feelings and mental health. So if you are a kid struggling with the uncomfortable feeling of loneliness, it’s easy to think there’s just something wrong with you.

What might look like “being shy” or being an “imaginative” kid on the outside can sometimes be indicative of a deeper struggle. It’s important to remember young people do experience loneliness — and we need to know the signs. To find out how people knew (in hindsight) that they struggled with loneliness as a kid, we asked our mental health community to share signs they experienced chronic loneliness growing up.

Here’s what they had to say:

  1. “Chasing people who don’t want you for affection they aren’t going to give you. It’s so easy for someone to lead you on and it causes such bad downward spiral. I’ve never felt more alone than when you realize you have been used and discarded.” — Callum C.
  2. “I made up lots of stories and things about myself, to make myself seem ‘tough’ and ‘hardcore’ for attention, and because I felt no one would be around long enough to figure out I was lying.” — Amanda Z.
  3. “Over-talking whenever there’s someone to talk to, because having no one for long periods makes it just pour out even if you’re aware it’s incredibly socially awkward.” — Violet F.
  4. “I grew up isolated. For a while, I hoarded pets because I was so alone in the world. No one understood or cared about my existence. My animals were my only friendships, my companions, my only reason for living. I rescued as many as I could to find worthy purpose in a lonely reality.” — Nicole E.
  5. “Never having one best friend, a person. I always volunteered to work events because it kept me busy and the work gave me satisfaction. Aside from my husband and son, I end up going weeks without talking to anyone. When I was young, I read for companionship; now I have Netflix.” — Lynn L.
  6. “I read a lot and before I could read I had a vivid imagination. When no one wants to play with you or you have no one to go out with as an adult at night, reading books is your best friend. That and my animals.” — Jennifer D.
  7. “I always felt lonely and found it very disturbing. Daydreamed a lot, literally every second. I searched for people’s attention, tried to make everybody happy to fill that hole in my heart. I completely forgot myself over helping others and making others happy, no matter the cost. It drained me so much that I had extreme suicidal thoughts. Kept on going like this for years.” — Saraya V.
  8. “I cling emotionally to others who I’ve grown close to and reach out for support from my closest friends because my own parents don’t interact with me as much. I don’t always start conversations much because I feel awkward around strangers. I want to fit in and be around people, but that constant feeling of becoming a burden stops me in my tracks and keeps me in my head when I head out of my house. I’m in college, so the friends I make leave anyway.” — Vanessa B.
  9. “Assuming that I was the ‘disposable’ person in the group, and that I wasn’t there because anyone was really friends with me, but just because they didn’t want to look rude. I had a firm conviction that I would always be lonely, which I struggle with to this day. I never thought of myself as anyone’s true friend, just someone they allowed in their group, and who they might leave behind at a moment’s notice.” — Jacinta M.
  10. “I used to go in the bathroom and spends hours in the bathtub full of water. I always needed to lie down after doing simple everyday task. I would be extremely exhausted some days.” — Nica C.
  11. “I talk to myself and I would stare obsessively at pictures of musicians or actors and talk with them. I would live in my head and make up friendships with them.” — Stephanie H.
  12. “Chasing people, being used by people and discarded like rubbish, wanting friends and a possible relationship, but [being] terrified at the same time. Anxiety around people, isolating myself and pushing people away.” — Justin L.
  13. “I get obsessive towards a person who wants to be friends or talks to me. Any interaction, I obsess…” — Sarah S.
  14. “I was attention-deprived as a kid, so I developed attention-seeking behaviors. I took baths and played with rubber toys, making up pretend worlds with pretend friends until I was about 12.” — Lizzy M.
  15. “Excessive helpfulness/having to make everyone food anytime they come over. If I keep helping them, they’ll hang out longer.” — Cheyenne L.
  16. “I never learned how to make and keep friendships. At church I’m very outgoing, but at home, I can always just stay alone and be fine. I have only had one BFF.” — Steve H.
  17. “I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. Socializing is wanted, but exhausting. I feel like I can’t connect with anyone. No best friend, never been in a relationship.” — Tepp V.
  18. “Super active imagination. I had tons of imaginary friends and used to imagine living far, far away.” — Shelley A.

If you grew up chronically lonely, you’re not alone. We are so grateful you’re here and in our community. If you’re struggling, we encourage you to post a Thought or Questionabout it on the site to get support from other people in our community who get it.

Share Your Experience With a Community That Cares

You can now post Thoughts on The Mighty. Here’s how.

How to beat Loneliness

We’ve all felt lonely from time to time. But sometimes, things can get out of hand. Psychologist Guy Winch lays out some straightforward tips to deal with the pain of deep loneliness.

ideas.ted.com Author Guy Winch

Loneliness is a subjective feeling. You may be surrounded by other people, friends, family, workmates — yet still feel emotionally or socially disconnected from those around you. Other people are not guaranteed to shield us against the raw emotional pain that loneliness inflicts.

But raw emotional pain is only the beginning of the damage loneliness can cause. It has a huge impact on our physical health as well. Loneliness activates our physical and psychological stress responses and suppresses the function of our immune systems. This puts us at increased risk for developing all kinds of illness and diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Shockingly, the long-term risk chronic loneliness poses to our health and longevity is so severe, it actually increases risk of an early death by 26%.

Emerging from loneliness is far more challenging than we realize.

There are many paths to loneliness. Some enter loneliness gradually. A friend moves away, another has a child, a third works a seventy-hour work week, and before we know it our social circle, the one we had relied upon for years, ceases to exist. Others enter loneliness more suddenly, when they leave for college or the military, lose a partner to death or divorce, start a new job, or move to a new town or country. And for some, chronic illness, disability or other limiting conditions have made loneliness a lifelong companion.

Unfortunately, emerging from loneliness is far more challenging than we realize, as the psychological wounds it inflicts create a trap from which it is difficult to break free. Loneliness distorts our perceptions, making us believe the people around us care much less than they actually do, and it makes us view our existing relationships more negatively, such that we see them as less meaningful and important than we would if we were not lonely.

These distorted perceptions have a huge ripple effect, creating self-fulfilling prophecies that ensnare many. Feeling emotionally raw and convinced of our own undesirability and of the diminished caring of others, we hesitate to reach out even as we are likely to respond to overtures from others with hesitance, resentment, skepticism or desperation, effectively pushing away the very people who could alleviate our condition.

Distorted perceptions have a huge ripple effect, creating self-fulfilling prophecies that ensnare many.

As a result, many lonely people withdraw and isolate themselves to avoid risking further rejection or disappointment. And when they do venture into the world, their hesitance and doubts are likely to create the very reaction they fear. They will force themselves to attend a party but feel so convinced others won’t talk to them, they spend the entire evening parked by the hummus and vegetable dip with a scowl on their face, and indeed, no one dares approach — which for them only verifies their fundamental undesirability.

Breaking free of loneliness and healing our psychological wounds is possible, but it involves a decision — a decision to override the gut instinct telling you to stay away and to play it safe by isolating yourself. Instead, you must do three things that require both courage and a leap of faith:

Take action

Accept that loneliness is impacting your perceptions and understand that people are likely to respond more positively than you expect. If you feel socially disconnected, go through your phone and email address books, and your social media contacts, and make a list of people you haven’t seen or spoken to for a while. If you feel emotionally disconnected, make a list of five people you’ve been close to in the past. Reach out to them and suggest getting together and catching up. Yes, it will feel scary to do so, and yes, you will worry about it being awkward or uncomfortable. That is why it is also important to:

Give the benefit of the doubt

It is fair to assume that someone who enjoyed your company in the past would likely enjoy spending time with you in the present as well. Yes, maybe they’ve been out of touch, maybe they never called after promising to see you soon, but you must accept that the reason they’ve been out of touch or the reason you haven’t been close lately might have nothing to do with you. In all likelihood, it is their busy lives, their competing priorities, stresses or opportunities that led to the “disconnect” between you. In many cases, there might not even be a disconnect — in other words, the reluctance you assume on their part might not even exist. So reach out to the people on your list but remember to:

Approach with positivity

Yes, you fear rejection and yes, you’re not in the best frame of mind, but this is one situation where it might be important to fake it. When contacting the people on your list, try to put yourself into a positive mindset. One safe way to do that is by using text or email so you can use emoticons to create the smiley face you might have a hard time manufacturing on your own face. Review your messages before you send them to make sure they sound appealing. Avoid accusations (“You haven’t called me in months!”) or statements of disconnect (“I know it must be weird to hear from me…”). Express positive sentiment (“Was thinking about you!” or “Miss you!”), an invitation (“Let’s grab coffee,” or “I’d love to get dinner and a catch-up,”) and be specific in terms of time frame (“How’s next week looking?” or What’s a good day this month?”).

Loneliness is extremely painful, but once you recognize the perceptual distortions it causes and the psychological trap it creates, you will be able to marshal your courage, take that leap of faith, and plan your escape. Freedom will be sweet once you do.

Illustration by Anna Parini/TED.