What is a word for someone who has experienced a lot of suffering and hardship (for example, having grown up in a chaotic family where they had to fight for survival), and as a result, is better able at detecting danger or negative intentions?

The reason I ask is because I want to describe the opposite of someone who is naive and sees the best in everyone, sometimes erroneously.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Feb 10, 2017 at 1:46

15 Answers 15


I believe you are looking for Hardened

Hardened, from Oxford Living Dictionaries:

Experienced in a particular job or activity and therefore not easily upset by its more unpleasant aspects. "Hardened police officers"

Another appropriate word may be Veteran. This word is usually associated with people who have prior experience, while having the connotations of a survivor that has experienced a grim fate.

Veteran via Dictionary.com

A person who has had long experience in a particular field.

A person who has served in the military. "a veteran of two world wars"

Lastly, Seasoned has the positive aspects of both without being too aggressive in its connotation, and being more general.

Seasoned via Vocabulary.com

Rendered competent through trial and experience; Having knowledge or skill from observation or participation: "she is a seasoned traveler", "seasoned sportscasters"

Synonyms: experienced, practiced, well versed, knowledgeable, established, habituated, veteran, hardened, battle-scarred, battle-weary

Antonyms: inexperienced

  • 3
    I added a source and a link for hardened. Doing the same for veteran and seasoned will strengthen your answer. +1 for hardened, even without the cite.
    – ab2
    Feb 8, 2017 at 21:53

Since you make a point of calling out going through hardship, we can say such an individual is tempered. One of the definitions of temper is:

: to make stronger and more resilient through hardship : toughen <troops tempered in battle>


What about streetwise (also: "street-smart" and "with-it") for your original question?

On the other hand, you then qualify the question with this:

The reason I ask is because I want to describe the opposite of someone who is naive and sees the best in everyone, sometimes erroneously.

Street-wise is not the opposite of naive, but it does describe someone who is familiar with dangerous environments and is resourceful enough to get by and even prosper.

The opposite of naive though, especially with your qualifier of sees the best in everyone, sometimes erroneously is probably paranoid or anxious.

street·wise: adj. Having the shrewd awareness, experience, and resourcefulness needed for survival in a difficult, often dangerous urban environment.

The Free Dictionary

par·a·noid: adj. … 2. Exhibiting or characterized by irrational distrust or suspicion of others.


This would especially be the case with someone who has lived in a dangerous environment (say, dealing with a violently abusive parent). This person would start to see the worst in everyone, usually erroneously.


The word you're looking for is jaded.


jaded made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience or by having or seeing too much of something.

Or equally,

jaded the end result of having a steady flow of negative experiences, disappointment, and unfulfillment fed into a person where they get to the point where their anger circuits just sort of burn out and they accept disillusionment.

  • 5
    "Jaded" implies cynicism ("willing to assume bad intentions") whereas the OP seems to be looking for something different ("able to detect bad intentions")
    – brianpck
    Feb 9, 2017 at 22:13
  • No. Jaded can also refer to positive experiences. We live in Las Vegas, all the lights on the casinos used to be something special but now we usually only care when we are playing tour guide to friends and relatives from out of town. Feb 10, 2017 at 6:18

If a slang idiom is acceptable then you can say they went to the school of hard knocks.

The School of Hard Knocks is an idiomatic phrase meaning the (sometimes painful) education one gets from life's usually negative experiences, often contrasted with formal education.

It is a phrase which is most-typically used by a person to claim a level of wisdom imparted by life experience ...


Merriam-Webster's lists an antonym to naive which I was not aware of:

worldly–wise, or just worldly (thanks to Stephen for the tip).

A venerable English word originating in the 15th century meaning exactly what you describe: "Possessing a practical and often shrewd understanding of human affairs", which implies not always seeing the best in people — although a logician could find that a circular argument ;-).

  • Love it when an old word is still usable, even if almost nobody has heard of it anymore. I'm going to start using this. Feb 10, 2017 at 13:38
  • You could also just use worldly. Feb 11, 2017 at 14:55

There is hard-bitten.


seasoned or steeled by difficult experience : tough


Perhaps you're looking for street-smart or street-wise.

street-smart, from Dictionary.com:

possessing or showing street smarts.

street smarts

shrewd awareness of how to survive or succeed in any situation, especially as a result of living or working in a difficult environment, as a city ghetto neighborhood.

Typically, you'd say that a person is street-smart, or that they have street smarts.


There are lots of good words. Personally, to describe somebody who is the opposite of naïve due to hardships experienced I would probably use the word cynical:

adj; distrusting or disparaging the motives of others

Other appropriate words may include:

  • skeptical (having an attitude of doubt)
  • wary (watchful; being on one's guard against danger)
  • mistrustful (full of mistrust; suspicious)
  • cautious (showing, using, or characterized by caution)
  • 1
    All of your words imply that they have been through hardship, learned from that, and then have a negative manner or outlook on what comes next. Someone can have had hard experience, and learned a lot from that, and still approach things with a positive manner. While optimism can be associated with being naive, not every optimist is naive.
    – Peter
    Feb 12, 2017 at 7:28
  • @Peter This is also true for the words in most of the other answers (such as paranoid in one of the higher-rated answers). Such is the nature of the English language.
    – flith
    Feb 12, 2017 at 7:31
  • true. Same comment applies to those posts too. And some of those have received similar comments from others, so you're not alone in being told that.
    – Peter
    Feb 12, 2017 at 7:36

The one you are describing is time-tested and battle-hardened.


I'm thinking of: perceptive, shrewd. If this adjective is closer to insecure: leery, wary, distrustful. Maybe on a more playful tone: sly, artful, foxy.

In México, if we know someone with that trait we would call him/her a "Coyota baleada" which means "shot coyote(female)" (shot but not dead), which makes reference to the astuce and ferocity of the animal, and adds the experience of a harsh situation.

Maybe this can also help you find a suitable metaphor if everything else fails.

  • 3
    Can you provide definitions and sources for your words? What if someone doesn't know what they mean?
    – Hank
    Feb 8, 2017 at 21:27

This may be putting it too simply, but the word you're looking for may be: experienced.

Merriam Webster defines it as:

made skillful or wise through experience.

Link to Merriam Webster definition

  • 1
    Please add more content to this answer: definitions, sources, and possible better formatting.
    – Hank
    Feb 9, 2017 at 23:05

It depends on the circumstances, of course, but a word I've often heard in this context is strong.
For example, in a eulogy for an older person, the speaker told stories from the deceased's life experience, and after each hardship or challenge, concluded "but it made her stronger."

By the end of such a description, you get a picture of someone who had a lot of grit and persistence and mental fortitude and ability to get over challenges others cannot, and you know where it comes from and why they are that way. If you're writing fiction, it's a great way to develop the character more.

It's also a very positive spin on an otherwise difficult set of situations.


Depending on the exact context, a burnt child may fit, alluding to the idiom:

A burnt child dreads the fire.

which is explained by TFD citing the Farlex Dictionary of Idioms as follows:

Someone who has experienced some kind of negative situation or consequence will try to avoid making the same mistake or experiencing the same situation again. Joseph refuses to invest any money after losing his retirement fund during the stock market crash; a burnt child dreads the fire.

For example you could say:

It’s not easy to gain Sally’s trust. She’s a burnt child.


Surprised I haven't seen "cunning" suggested. I adore the word.

From Dictionary.com:


  1. skill employed in a shrewd or sly manner, as in deceiving; craftiness; guile.
  2. adeptness in performance; dexterity: The weaver's hand lost its cunning. adjective
  3. showing or made with ingenuity.
  4. artfully subtle or shrewd; crafty; sly.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.