What is a sheltered person? 10 traits that stem from a sheltered childhood

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Did you grow up in a constrictive religious environment where you had little exposure to the outside world?

Or maybe you had overprotective “helicopter” parents who carefully controlled everything you saw, heard, and experienced?

If either of these scenarios sounds familiar, chances are you’re feeling confused, conflicted, and even downright anxious with everything the wider world might be throwing at you.

That’s okay. We all have to start somewhere, right? Some people learn valuable life skills when they’re very young, while others learn them when they’re a bit older.

Below are some of the signs of a sheltered person. Not everyone who has grown up sheltered will exhibit all of these, but they’ll likely experience a few things on the list.

Fortunately, there are ways of reducing, even undoing, some of these behaviors. They just take a bit of time, effort, and courage.

10 Signs Of A Sheltered Person

1. They’re naive.

Being naive is defined as “lacking experience, wisdom, or judgment.”

Do you always assume the best of people rather than bracing for potential disaster? Or believe what others say at face value? Or maybe think that government organizations have your best interests at heart?

The best way to correct naïveté is to learn to see below the surface.

For example, we all have a facade for the outside world. Learning to see beyond the surface of someone’s “public self” will help you understand what they’re like and understand their motivations. The same goes for messages and narratives given on social media.

Instead of taking words at face value, try to determine their intention. Why are they saying those particular words? What is their body language while they’re speaking? If someone is trying to reassure you but their posture seems threatening, then trust your instincts: not what’s coming out of their mouths.

2. They are emotionally immature.

Those who have been seriously sheltered haven’t necessarily developed the ability to regulate their own emotions well, and they might not behave in a manner suitable to their age.

For example, people who have spent their entire lives solely with extended family members may not know how to behave around strangers. They might be overly comfortable too soon (like belching or passing gas in shared company) or discuss inappropriate topics during shared meals.

Similarly, they might show very juvenile behavior that would only really be acceptable in people half their age.

3. They may struggle with anxiety.

Parents who overprotect their children give their kids the sense that horrible dangers lurk around every corner. As a result, those kids grow into super-anxious, fretful adults. They’ll freak out about the potential harm they might experience. Usually, they’ll hold back from doing all kinds of things they might otherwise enjoy.

This sense of danger creates a form of arrested development in that the child never steps into real adulthood. They might behave like juveniles well into middle age instead of maturing and will constantly struggle with fears of “what if?”.

In serious situations, they might even become agoraphobic. They might not want to leave the implied “safety” of home because of all the dangers that might be present in the big, scary world.

4. They have stunted social skills. 

If you’ve been raised in a very sheltered environment, you might experience social awkwardness or anxiety. You may default to thoughts about certain racial stereotypes if you meet people outside of your own culture, or you might not know how to behave around people of different social echelons.

The table etiquette you’d use with a Duke or foreign ambassador will be very different from your cousins.

Other people will pick up on this.

Whatever social atmosphere you plan on throwing yourself into, learn its intricacies. This goes for new work environments in your own country and potential opportunities overseas. You don’t want to insult friends and colleagues by eating with the wrong hand or making inappropriate gestures.

5. They lack awareness of cultural references.

If you’ve been sheltered all your life, you might miss out on certain pop culture references that others mention regularly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as many of these references are usually inane.

No one has seen or listened to all the films, TV programs, or music out there. Many people were exposed to catchphrases as they matured and socialized with others. These phrases have made their way into the common vernacular and are frequently used in workplaces or social situations.

There’s no shame in admitting that you don’t understand a specific phrase if someone uses it. You can take the opportunity to joke about having grown up sheltered and ask them for recommendations about things to immerse in so you “get” what they’re talking about. 99 times out of 100, they’ll be eager to expose you to the ton of things you’ve missed out on.

6. They lack coping mechanisms.

Many people who had a sheltered childhood/adolescence had exposure to unpleasant or difficult situations kept to a minimum. For example, parents might have kept you away from family funerals, so you didn’t have to cope with the reality of death yet. Or they prevented you from watching any TV shows or films that had violence, sexuality, etc.

While this might have allowed you to maintain an existence in a seemingly “safe,” innocent bubble, it certainly didn’t permit you to develop any coping mechanisms. Life can be ugly, violent, and harsh. If we don’t develop coping skills at a young age, it can be devastating to learn to deal with life’s curveballs in adulthood.

One great way to get over this type of sheltering is to do things that make you feel uncomfortable intentionally. Do you know the adage “do one thing every day that scares you”? You don’t have to follow that guidance precisely, but do things that push you out of your comfort zone.

Go to a movie by yourself or eat at a restaurant alone. Deal with the dead mouse in the trap on your own. Visit elders in a care residence to get more comfortable with the end-of-life process. These situations will be difficult but allow you to expand your comfort zones.

7. Everyone else knows better.

Many people who have been sheltered have learned to obey their older family members, teachers, and clergy, often without hesitation. They’re taught to believe that they can’t make life decisions for themselves simply because they haven’t had enough life experience already to do so.

It’s common for those who grew up in very religious communities to defer and submit to the elders of their community. When will a person have the opportunity to develop said life experience? Certainly not when they’re constantly obeying other people’s commands.

Nine times out of ten, you don’t need to take flak from anybody. Just because others have more experience with a situation doesn’t mean they know what’s best for YOU. You are allowed to have your own opinions.

Follow your instincts and make the decisions that you feel are right for your needs. Even you make the wrong decision, that’s a great learning opportunity.

8. They feel the need to ask permission to live their life. 

This goes along with the previous sign. It isn’t just deferring to other people regarding life experience, but feeling like you need to have “permission” to do the things you want to do.

This behavior is common when people had parents who micro-managed them for most of their lives. Their parents decided what they could or couldn’t eat, drink, wear, watch, or whom they could spend time with.

It might manifest in feelings of guilt if you want to eat cereal for dinner or wear something that a family member might disapprove of. Maybe you want to read a book all afternoon instead of doing chores. Or you feel intense guilt or shame at sexual intimacy because of what your family might think.

Your life is your own, and only you get to decide what to do with it.

9. They seem to always need help.

Do you try to do new things on your own when they need doing? Or do you ask for help by default before making an attempt?

This behavior often happens when people fear making mistakes – for fear of punishment or mockery. Did your parents give you hell if you got poor grades in school? Or did they prevent you from learning life skills like cooking because they didn’t want you to mess anything up?

If so, you might default to allowing someone else to take point on even basic matters because you have an aversion to negative feedback.

The only way to get over this is by doing stuff yourself. Do you need to hang something on the wall and don’t know how? Look up a tutorial online and try to do it yourself. The same goes for cooking, carpentry, sewing a button back on your trousers; pretty much anything you’ll need to learn how to do as an adult has a handy “how-to” video on YouTube you can follow.

10. Their approach to risk is polarized.

Sheltered people can go either way when it comes to risk. Those afraid of negative judgment (as mentioned above) often try to avoid risk whenever possible. In contrast, those who want to “stick it to” whoever smothered them in their childhood or adolescence might take unnecessary risks as a means of defiance.

Both can be good in the right circumstances, and both can be harmful. The key is to determine which of these to do at what time.

If you’re avoidant, try taking small risks that won’t wholly devastate you if you fail. For example, take a chance and ask someone out for coffee. The risk of rejection is there, but it isn’t as harmful as grabbing a rattlesnake with your bare hands.

In contrast, if you find that you’re taking significant risks for the thrill of it, try to do so in a more productive fashion. Challenge yourself to undertake risks that will either be of benefit to you or others.

Go skydiving to raise money for charity. Get a permit to drive racecars around a track. Try hiking the Appalachian trail with friends or whitewater rafting just for the exaltation of feeling alive and free.

How To “Un-shelter” Yourself

Having lived a sheltered life should not discourage you from pursuing another way of living. You can do many different things to broaden your horizons, both figuratively and literally.


If you’ve never ventured beyond your county or state, then expand your world a bit. Start close to home; maybe the next town if you’re feeling nervous, or the next state over if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous.

Once you’ve realized that you’ll survive such adventures, expand your circle a bit more. Take a train to the other side of the country or attend a festival or other fun gathering.

Keep expanding your circle as you get more comfortable and confident with traveling. Before you know it, you might be jet-setting around the globe regularly.

Not only does traveling make you realize just how self-sufficient you can be, but it also exposes you to people of all different castes and cultures. Traveling can improve your self-confidence when interacting with new people you meet.

Become more survivable.

Some people who move from a very sheltered, rural environment to a big city can feel like they’re at a significant disadvantage. Muggings, assaults, break-ins, and harassment can be part of daily life in many cities.

The key in these situations is to take precautionary measures and know how to deal with these situations when they occur.

Don’t make yourself a target by walking around with your wallet in your hand or going to sleazy areas alone at night. Improve your physical fitness, not just benching weights to look good on the beach, but endurance so you can run for more than a minute if you need to.

Get some self-defense techniques under your belt. You’ll feel more confident about handling any situation you may find yourself in.

Learn how to do new things. 

Knowledge brings surety and confidence.

Learn how to do as many different things as possible, from cooking meals to changing tires. Basic plumbing, carpentry, sewing, and growing food are just a few areas where it’s vital to learn basics.

Take ownership of your favorite unique skills and make them part of your identity.

Did you grow up on an Amish farm? Instead of trying to adapt to a modern world that you don’t particularly like, make a niche for yourself with your skills.

Do you have skills as a farrier or blacksmith? If there are only a couple of others in your entire region, that can open up some substantial employment opportunities for you.

Can you bake truly amazing bread and cakes? Get a loan and open an authentic Amish bakery in your neighborhood. You may have grown up sheltered, but you probably also have some spectacularly cool techniques under your belt.

Create a sphere you’re comfortable in.

Part of “un-sheltering” yourself means coming to terms with the often harsh realities of life.

Becoming more world-savvy and less sheltered doesn’t mean you need to be damaged or depressed by this reality. Life might be easier for those who aren’t aware of the world’s harshness, but those people are more likely to take beauty and comfort for granted as a result.

The key is to find a healthy balance between the two polarities.

If you find that overexposure to the world’s cruelties gets you down, limit how much info about the world you allow into your sphere. Limit social media and don’t read the news; just focus on your community instead. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your sphere relatively small as long as you don’t close yourself off completely.

“Think globally, act locally” is a keyphrase that works for others and is remarkably self-affirming. Even if you can’t feed and clothe the world, you can do something to improve your community.

You don’t need to be “aware” of everything – you’ll end up with compassion fatigue. When you’re inundated with awful things day in and day out, your own life might start to feel pointless. You may even begin to feel guilty about being happy or enjoying anything when others are experiencing so much suffering.

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About The Author

Finn Robinson has spent the past few decades travelling the globe and honing his skills in bodywork, holistic health, and environmental stewardship. In his role as a personal trainer and fitness coach, he’s acted as an informal counselor to clients and friends alike, drawing upon his own life experience as well as his studies in both Eastern and Western philosophies. For him, every day is an opportunity to be of service to others in the hope of sowing seeds for a better world.