Social Powers You Can Gain From Having A Difficult Childhood

It's clear how it could damage someone's social abilities if they grew up in an abusive, neglectful, or unstable environment. They may become anxious and insecure around people, be really distrusting and guarded, or have a fiery temper. These problems can develop even if someone's upbringing wasn't terrible, but lacking in more subtle ways, like having parents who were warm and loving, but also casually critical and overprotective.

However, not everyone who had a rough childhood has serious interpersonal problems. Some don't struggle at all in that area, and their past gives them issues in other ways, like they have a hard time staying motivated. Others are fine in most relationships, but their baggage rears its head in a handful of more intimate connections.

Many people also come out of a traumatic childhood with some beneficial social abilities, whether or not their past hobbles them in other ways. These social powers usually come from roles they unconsciously or half-consciously adopted as kids, as a way to survive in their families and at school.

Unfortunately, while certain roles or abilities have their upsides, and once allowed someone to manage as best they could in a difficult setting, they usually have drawbacks. They can come with an inflexible, unhealthy mentality, and also cause moment to moment problems in conversations and relationships. They can all come with a belief that the ability is all you have to offer people, and you have no value if you don't use it.

Here's a list of these social powers. It should go without saying I don't think anyone's a bad person if they have any of them. They're just side effects of growing up under really stressful conditions.

Being great at reading people

You can pick up tiny nuances in everyone's body language and tone of voice. You can easily read between the lines and decipher the unspoken message in what someone's saying. You have a sixth sense for what people want.

This ability can come from growing up in an environment where you had to be attuned to danger, like signs your dad's anger was building to a boiling point, or another kid at school was going to take a swing at you. The downside is it can be draining when you can't help but be hypertuned into everyone's hidden signals, even in places that don't warrant it. You may also be too quick to read hostile intent into subtle cues when none is actually there (as a kid it was safer for your warning system to be overly sensitive).

Being very empathetic and compassionate

Going through your own hardships as a child, and seeing your family and friends suffer too, can understandably give you a lot of empathy when you're older. You know firsthand how painful life can be, and how it isn't always someone's fault if they can't be perfect.

Of course, being compassionate is mostly a good thing, but on occasion you may be a bit too understanding or forgiving of someone's bad behavior, when it would be better to have some self-protective judgment and boundaries. It can also get emotionally tiring to constantly be thinking of the suffering of others

Being a good peacemaker and mediator

Some kids become little diplomats and take on the role of diffusing conflict among the rest of their family. Their skills can be useful when they're adults, and they can be the cool headed one and, say, help their colleagues work through a disagreement.

A grown up peacemaker may feel they have to play their role even when they don't want to. They may resent always having to be mature and level headed. They may also try to stick their noses into spats where it's not appropriate for them to get involved.

Being really thoughtful and considerate

You're always thinking of others, how they're feeling, and what they may need to be happy. You just know when your friend is having a bad day, and would appreciate you bringing them a hot chocolate.

This mindset can also develop out of a childhood desire to maintain peace and harmony. A kid can learn early on that Mom is less likely to be abusive if he anticipates her needs and helps her stay in a good mood. As a grown up being really thoughtful can go too far and turn into being a scared, compulsive people pleaser who always puts their own needs last.

Being really chill, low maintenance, and easy to get along with

You're relaxed and easy going. Nothing gets you too bothered. Sure, you're fine with letting your friends decide where to go for dinner, and you genuinely mean it. You can let it go after someone's rude to you.

Some kids learn to be accommodating and mellow. They may do it to keep the peace. They might see their parents already have enough on their plates and want to help out by not asking too much of them. Their unconscious mind may decide life feels easier if they can become someone who can go with the flow.

The cons of this approach is that it can lead to you being a people pleaser or pushover. Your resentment at letting actual disrespect and lack of consideration slide off your back can also build up under the surface. It can leak out in passive aggressive behavior, or you may suddenly lose it at someone one day. You may make such a habit of deferring to others' desires that you lose touch with who you actually are.

Being really good at supporting, listening to, and caring for others

You've always been the person people in your social circle go to for help. Your co-workers know they can drop by your desk and tell you about their problems. You're great at listening in a patient, non-judgmental way, but can also give good hands-on advice when you need to. You'll stay by a friend's side for hours when they've gotten sick from drinking too much. You may be so good at this kind of thing you've started a career as a therapist or nurse.

Some children are forced into this role when a struggling parent relies on them to be their little caretaker or confidant. For example, they may help their chronically depressed mother tidy up around the house and listen to her vent about her troubles. Others have low self-esteem, but realize they can get validation from helping everyone, and turn it into their identity and main way to feel good about themselves.

The obvious pitfalls of this social power are that people can take advantage of your caring, supportive nature, not give enough back in return, and leave you feeling used and burned out.

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Being really funny and entertaining

Some kids take on a clown or court jester role in their family. They learned it can short circuit an argument, or that Dad will pick on someone else if they can make him laugh. It can just raise everyone's spirits and help them get through another day. At school joking around can endear them to their classmates, distract everyone from their academic struggles, or diffuse a tense moment at recess.

Some people take their entertainer persona too far and are always "on". They may believe they have to constantly amuse everyone. They don't know how to relax and have more low key conversations. They may have trouble being themselves, or showing vulnerability, and only feel comfortable when they're acting like a comedian.

Having strong boundaries and being assertive

You know to stand up for yourself. No one's going to exploit or take advantage of you. If they say something disrespectful, you're going to let them know, and won't hesitate to cut them off if they don't apologize and change.

This attitude can develop from growing up in a setting where you'd be eaten alive if you didn't learn how to look out for yourself. Obviously it's good to have healthy boundaries, but the mindset can get out of hand. Some people are overly cautious and self-protective. They're too distrustful. They assert themselves too strongly and too early, over minor quibbles. They can come off as touchy and confrontational. They may even seem aggressive, bossy, or prickly.

Being really responsible, dependable, and organized

Throughout their childhood they may have had to take on a quasi-parent role and help take care of their siblings. Their home life may have been so chaotic that it forced them to become self-reliant and stay on top of everything from a young age. They could have learned that acting mature and responsible is a way to get praise.

As an adult their home is efficiently run, they're an asset at work, and they're a dependable friend who's good at organizing plans. Those are all great things, but they can grow to resent always having to be the responsible one, especially if the people around them don't do their share of the work.

Being very independent and self-reliant

Sure, other people can be nice to have around, but you don't need them. If push comes to shove you're confident you can survive on your own. It's nice not feeling dependent on anyone for your happiness.

If your family doesn't meet your needs as a kid you can develop a really self-reliant, lone wolf mentality. Better that than keep hoping for help or affection from people who will never deliver. While self-reliance has its benefits, the clear problem is that keeping everyone at a distance can feel lonely and make life harder than it has to be.

Being really warm, affectionate, open, and trusting

If you like someone, and you click with a lot of people, you don't hesitate to let them know. You're the furthest thing from cold and guarded, and open up to everyone easily. People love your loving, friendly vibe.

Some children don't get enough love and attention at home, and learn they can get it from other people if they're warm, likable, and not super picky about who they're drawn toward. Sometimes it works out. At other times they can come on too strong, over share, act clingy, or get involved with the wrong people.

Being a fun, spontaneous, wild risk taker

In high school they were the life of the party, always willing to entertain everyone, and themselves, by performing some wacky stunt. As an adult they may not try jumping off a roof into a pool like they did as a teenager, but they'll get up to other antics, like doing a lot of drugs or making ridiculous bets at the casino.

As a kid they may do this stuff as a way to get attention. They may have such a traumatic home life that their mind copes by making them constantly feel numb and disconnected. Risk taking and adrenaline rushes are the only way they can feel any pleasurable emotions. Some moderate risk taking isn't the end of the world, but obviously it can go too far and become dangerous. Someone can also fall into that entertainer trap where they feel they have to constantly be doing goofy, risky things to get everyone to like them.

Being incredibly self-confident

You know you've got a ton to offer. Your bullet proof self-assuredness endears you to others. You're not afraid to go after what you want, whether it's a job or a relationship, and you often get it.

Exaggerated confidence can be an unconscious defense against shame and low self-esteem. Someone's mind can't handle feeling so broken and insecure, so it pushes those feelings away with excessive self-regard. Being a bit cocky is fine, if sometimes annoying for everyone else. Taken to an extreme it can turn into delusional, toxic narcissism.

Being a great liar and manipulator

This isn't the most pro-social trait, but it has its advantages. Children in abusive households can get really good at being deceptive as a survival mechanism. If being able to lie is the only thing that protects you from being physically abused, you'll get good at it. Even if you don't deliberately use these powers for evil, you can still get in trouble if you get careless or compulsive with your lies and manipulation.

If you have one of these abilities, and you realize it's hurting more than it helps, the good news is you can change it. You don't have to completely drop a social power, and lose its benefits. You can keep its advantages, but have more choice and flexibility in how you use it. You can add other tools to your repertoire, so you don't feel you have to solve all your problems with the one strategy that carried you through childhood.