What is an Aloof Personality and How are Aloof Personality Traits Misunderstood?

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on September 01, 2022

People with aloof personalities keep to themselves in most social situations. Even with friends and family members they will often appear distant, distracted, and uninvolved. They tend to separate themselves from others, physically, socially, and emotionally. They don’t seem to have much interest in starting or joining conversations, and this is a persistent pattern of behavior.

To those who don’t know them well, an aloof person may seem cold and unfriendly. As a result, those who don’t really know them are usually content to keep it that way. Among those who do know them, people with aloof personalities are seen as reserved and reticent, and generally more concerned about what is happening in their own lives than in the lives of their companions.

There’s an air of mystery surrounding those who have aloof personalities. It is important to know how aloof personality traits are misunderstood, so you will know how to deal with aloof people when you encounter them in your family or within your larger network of acquaintances.

Getting to Know the Aloof Personality: Their Six Defining Traits

If you’re curious about what makes the aloof person in your life tick, you’re not alone. Aloof people are the only ones who know for sure, and for the most part they aren’t talking.

Here are six traits of the aloof personality that reveal their true motivations:

#1 Individuals with aloof personalities find enjoyment and fulfillment in solitude

In most instances, aloof individuals will choose solitude over socializing. They avoid what they see as unnecessary entanglements with others, and their definition of “unnecessary” is noticeably broader than that of most people. In general they enjoy reflecting on their own thoughts and experiences more than they enjoy pursuing new friendships or seeking out the companionship of family members. They can function in social situations if forced to do so, but they try to avoid being put in those situations if at all possible.

#2 Aloof people don’t like to show their emotions in public

Honoring their personal preference for privacy, aloof people make a great effort to keep their emotions hidden and in check. Aloof people are uncomfortable with open displays of emotion in most instances, whether surrounded by close acquaintances or strangers. This is especially true when the emotions are strong and might show sensitivity or vulnerability. Their emotional reticence leads many people to conclude that aloof people are cold and disinterested. But aloof individuals see this as a small price to pay for not having their most intimate thoughts and feelings exposed to public scrutiny.

#3 Aloof people aren’t into gossip, small talk, or idle chit-chat

If people are gossiping about celebrities or local dignitaries, or telling tales out of school about co-workers or others they know, you can be sure the aloof person will be off by themselves, completely ignoring the conversation. They tend to see this type of dialogue as needless chatter, and they don’t like wasting their precious time on anything they consider lightweight or inconsequential.

#4 Aloof individuals don’t like to answer a lot of personal questions

Your attempts to draw out an aloof person might seem like normal conversational behavior from your perspective. But the aloof individual will wonder what your agenda is if you begin grilling them about their marital status, children, career ambitions, political views, personal triumphs or disappointments, or any other topic that requires them to reveal intimate details about their lives. They have a built-in, instinctual reaction that tells them to avoid people who do this and withdraw from any conversations that take a turn in this direction.

#5 Aloof people struggle to relate to others

You may find it hard to relate to an aloof personality, and you can be sure they have just as hard of a time relating to you. Aloof people frequently find the behavior of others difficult to comprehend and their motivations puzzling to interpret. In the majority of instances they feel like they have nothing in common with others, which from their perspective makes reaching out and socializing a hopeless endeavor. They don’t think it will lead to anything interesting and productive, so they don’t even bother to try to make new connections. Their sense of detachment is pervasive, and it explains why they’ve chosen a lifestyle that seems intentionally isolating.

#6 Every aloof person has a story to tell

Aloof people don’t develop their unique personality traits in a vacuum. In almost every instance they will have a story to tell about disappointing experiences involving other human beings, experiences that help explain why they became distrustful, cynical, or detached. These may involve a series of traumatic or disturbing encounters, problematic relationships with parents or former romantic partners, exploitation or mistreatment on the job, experiences with bullies or unsupportive teachers, or disillusionment with humanity in general that emerged from their involvement in social, political, or charitable causes that exposed them to people’s darkest behaviors.

Five Misconceptions about the Aloof Personality

Now that we’ve learned a little more about what aloof people are really like, let’s take a closer look at how aloof personality traits are misunderstood.

Here are five of the most common misconceptions about those who have aloof personalities:

#1 Aloof people are anti-social

People with antisocial tendencies have a genuine dislike for others, while the aloof person is motivated by skepticism about the possibility of social contacts being meaningful or interesting. An aloof person doesn’t like to waste time, and if you want to engage them socially you’ll have to challenge them intellectually to keep them interested.

Aloof people will never be social gadflies and they don’t always observe the social amenities. But if you try to remember a time when your aloof acquaintance has been openly hostile or rude to you, you’ll likely draw a complete blank. Reflect on it a bit more and you’ll probably realize your grouping of them under the rude and unfriendly label is based more on prejudice than reality.

#2 Aloof individuals think they are smarter and better than other people

Many people associate the aloof personality with being arrogant and judgmental. But aloof individuals don’t avoid social engagement because they feel they are better than everyone else. They do so because they are somewhat cynical about where it will lead. They don’t see striking up a conversation as a way to broaden their horizons or bring more spice into their lives.

Unfortunately, aloof people miss out on opportunities that would bring them pleasure and happiness, by passing on chances to get to know at least some people with whom they have a lot in common. If you feel like you could form a social bond with an aloof person over a shared interest, it could in the long run prove beneficial for both of you, if you can find a way to break through the barriers they’ve erected and make a connection. That may not be easy to do, but it isn’t impossible.

#3 Aloof people are cold and unemotional

Are aloof people really as cold and immune to normal human emotions as they often appear? The answer to this question is a definitive "no, they are not, not at all."

This perception provides a classic example of how aloof personality traits are misunderstood. Despite their reserved behavior, aloof people have rich inner lives and experience powerful emotional reactions. If anything, they may experience emotions even more deeply and acutely than the average person. If you get close to an aloof person you’ll eventually be able to see this for yourself, although even their closest confidants won’t be exposed to everything they think and feel.

#4 Trying to start a conversation with an aloof person is a fruitless endeavor

Aloof personalities don’t like it when others pry into what they see as their personal affairs. But they are open to conversation with people who have interesting things to say. They are smart enough to know that their habit of withdrawing from social situations might be causing them to miss out on the occasional rewarding relationship, and they are willing to speak to others if they have some reason to believe they will enjoy the experience.

What works best with an aloof person is to focus on subject matter or a topic that they find intriguing. Aloof people are curious about the world and often spend a lot of time investigating social, economic, cultural, or political issues in their search for enlightenment. If you can engage them on this level, it is possible to build a rewarding or even warm relationship with an aloof individual.

#5 Aloof people aren’t willing to let their guard down and share their personal stories

Getting aloof people to talk about their personal histories in depth, and to discuss the bad experiences that help explain their aloof behavior, is no easy task. It may take weeks or months of constructive engagement before they’re finally willing to open up and confide in new friends.

But while it takes a lot of work to reach this point, it is a point that can be reached, eventually, if you remain patient and understanding. You’ll have to earn an aloof person’s trust before they will allow your relationship to progress to the next stage. But once you’ve actually done that, you’ll have a loyal and wonderful friend for life.

Moving Beyond the Misconceptions to an Authentic Relationship

Aloof people aren’t shy or desperately lonely for human companionship. Their outward behavior is a reflection of who they really are, and you must respect that if you want to become closer to someone who demonstrates the characteristics of the aloof personality. They may be willing to make room for you in their lives, as long as you’re willing to meet them on their own terms.

Nathan Falde

Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.

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