Solitude is taking time for oneself. We all need solitude whether we are single, in a relationship, or have a family. Solitude is essential for our personal well-being and the health of our interpersonal relationships. Solitude allows us time to rejuvenate and get in touch with ourselves; it is needed by everyone, regardless of their nature; introverts tend to require more solitude, but even the most extroverted individuals benefit from time with themselves.
Solitude vs. Loneliness
Solitude is often mistaken for loneliness, the two may look the same from the outside, but they are very different. Solitude is a positive state; it is feeling the pleasure or joy of being alone, whereas loneliness is feeling the pain or sorrow of being alone. The circumstance can be the same, but it is the attitude which makes the difference.
When one is lonely they feel their aloneness isn’t by choice; they feel excluded, rejected, isolated, unwanted, or cut off from others. But, loneliness is not resolved by company; loneliness can be felt even when we are surrounded by other people. In loneliness, we feel disconnected, but it is not because we are disconnected from others, it is because we are disconnected from ourselves. Solitude is a when we are content and happy to be by our self while knowing that we have the ability to connect with others.
Loneliness depletes us because it stems from feelings of emptiness, inadequacy and a lack of self-love. Solitude, on the other hand, restores us because we connect to our sense of being whole and complete and find the pleasure of going within.
Solitude involves retreating from the outside world, but not withdrawing from it. In solitude we recognize that relationships are nourishing and inspiring, and also acknowledge that we need solitude to discover the other layers of ourselves so we can find meaning and figure things out. In loneliness we withdraw from the world because we may not know how to connect.
The Resistance to Being Alone
It is natural to feel the empty space inside of ourselves and try to fill it with outside distractions. We fear alienation, abandonment, and isolation, then we over- compensate with social media, technology, work, activities, and social obligations.
The modern day has made it so we are always “connected”, yet we are more disconnected from ourselves than ever; we have some many distractions available, there is no room left for thought or contemplation. Ideas need time and space to grow, but we hinder our focus and concentration with constant interruptions; using technology as an escape, we lose out on valuable time for self-knowledge and self-reflection.
In a society where being productive is the standard, it’s easy to get caught up in the business of life and neglect our self-care. Our worth is often measured by how much we accomplish in the outer world, and there is pressure to fill each spare moment with what we think needs to be done.
Relaxing is seen as laziness, wasting time, or being passive in life, so instead of taking the time we need, we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by the responsibilities, routines, and demands of life. Staying busy helps us escape from life, we can’t acknowledge what is there if we are busy sorting out the past or planning the future.
How Does Solitude Look?
Each persons alone time is unique; there are no set rules on how to spend time with yourself. The important part to remember is that it is time to focus on yourself and ease your mind. You may choose to be physically active during this period, or you may relax by reading a book, listening to music, savouring a cup of tea, or settling into prayer or meditation.
Solitude is a choice, an active decision to spend time with yourself to benefit your well-being. But, like anything, solitude must be taken in balance with the rest of life. While we may have periods where extended solitude is required to process life situations, excess solitude can be hinder our development. The amount of alone time we each need is individual and it is up to each of us to figure out how much we need for ourselves.
Benefits of Solitude
Increases Connection with Self
Most of us are afraid to explore ourselves; we tend to cling to our social identities and our roles in daily life. When we are alone, we have the opportunity to let those roles go, but this can be frightening because, without an identity to hold on to, we are forced to explore the conceptions we have about ourselves.
When we have a break from the world, we have time to look at ourselves, to settle into what is there at the moment, even if it is uncomfortable. It can feel awkward at first to be alone; we may try to fill ourselves with thoughts or worries, but eventually a spaciousness comes that nourishes our soul.
Solitude gives the space to reflect on what things mean to us. Solitude allows us to return to our center and remind ourselves of our own identities, to see that we are more than our relations to others. Solitude is necessary to recalibrate our sense of self and gain perspective on life. Solitude gives us a chance to breathe without taking in energy or ideas from others. And, as we have an opportunity to let go of the collective mental clutter that we accumulate, we make space for our more subtle perceptions to come through. As we make a habit of sitting in our aloneness, we cultivate the sense of what it is like to be oneself and are more able to recognize if we stray from our self in our interactions with the world.
When we are in the present moment with our self, there is no concern about being right or wrong or caring about what others think. There is a freedom to explore without society or relationships dictating how we should be. When expectations cease and the pressure to perform in a certain way if off, we relax and lay the ground needed to cultivate our sense of what we truly need and want. We become more attuned to our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, and can make decisions from a place of trust in our self.
In solitude, we also discover our unique gifts. It takes time with our self to know what our strengths are and how we can contribute to the world. Taking time for oneself if often misunderstood as being self-indulgent, but unless we get to know ourselves in a deeper way, we don’t know what we have inside to offer the world.
We feel lonely when we are not understood by others, but when we understand ourselves, we don’t expect or need everyone to understand us. We are firm in ourselves, realizing that we are enough. The need for approval from others falls away as we find more assurance in ourselves.
Feeling the lack of positive feedback from others can be difficult at first, but unless we commit to loving ourselves without assurance from outside, we will always be dependent on approval from others to feel worthy or lovable.
Solitude is a way to commit to loving our self more; we take the time we need to be able to engage in our life from a deeper, more meaningful place.
Enhances Creativity and Problem Solving
Solitude gives us permission to quiet our mind and create space for fresh insights to blossom. We need solitude to solve problems, find answers, and let new discoveries emerge. Creative insights may come slowly or as a sudden burst, but quiet contemplation is the what breeds curiosity.
When we are alone we can discover what makes us feel alive; we engage in activities that bring us joy, and we can immerse ourselves in those activities without distraction. Freedom from distraction clears the mind and allows the brain a chance to reset and re-focus.
Even the boredom which often comes with solitude contributes to the creative process. If we do not have empty time, there is no space for inspiration to come through. As much as we try to avoid boredom, sitting with it has a purpose, as author Cheryl Strayed states, “the useless days will add up to something….these things are your becoming.” We are only board when we do no know ourselves, we are waiting for something, and if we keep waiting, we will discover it.
Provides Opportunity for Self-Care
Self-care is a requirement, just like food or water. We are told to drink before we are thirsty, because by the time our body communicates thirst, we are already dehydrated. When we crave alone time, we are already beyond our need for it.
Taking time to ourselves is most commonly seen as something we do when life becomes overwhelming, or we have burnt out, but it is important to take time for ourselves before we get to this point. When we spend time alone we can wind-down, rest, and restore; we bring our lives into balance before becoming entirely depleted from the stresses of daily life. When there is time without obligations, we can go inside, notice what is there, and discover what we need. Slowing down allows us to hear the needs of our soul.
Taking adequate solitude as a form of self-care also prevents resentment from building in our relationships. When we over-extend ourselves, we feel like others are “taking” our time, but in reality, we are not giving it to ourselves. Taking time to nourish ourselves first allows us to build up a reserve to be able to better give to others and when we give to ourselves, the desire to reach out and give to others is more sincere.
Supports Healthy Relationships
Our most significant relationship is our relationship with our self. If we are happy and at peace with our self, then we can cultivate healthy relationships with others. If we are not content with our self, we will never find satisfaction from those around us. Once we become grounded in our own being we can reach greater depths with others; relating to others because we want to, not because we need approval or security.
When we are full in ourselves, we don’t seek company to fill the emptiness. Looking to others to meet our needs leads to co-dependency, but others are not responsible for our well-being. Solitude helps us learn to be more accountable for ourselves, to no be hurt when others don’t provide the attention that we desire. When something from outside feels like it’s not working, we learn to shift our attention inside and acknowledge what inside of us is not working.
Being comfortable in solitude show us that we can connect to ourselves, and this makes us better able to connect with others. In solitude, we slow down our mental and emotional processes; our ability to feel empathy and our willingness to face challenges in relationships increases. As we take time out to transform ourselves, we can better commit to helping transform one another. We learn that relationships are not about spending as much time together as possible, but being more present in the time you are with others.
Forming a solid bond with our self shouldn’t take away from other relationships, rather, it a makes us more authentic in our interactions – allowing each person to be present with the other while being responsible for themselves. When two complete people interact, they take responsibility for themselves and own what is going on inside them, easing tension and blame that often occurs in relationships.
By spending time alone, we also gain a greater appreciation of the moments we do spend with others. We are social creatures; there needs to be a balance between solitude and interactions with people. When we have this balance, we can feel more gratitude for the relationships we have and receive more nourishment from our interactions with others.
How to Get More Solitude
Solitude may seem like a luxury that you can’t afford, but there are always opportunities to take time for yourself if you look for them. Some ideas include:
- Take your lunch hour by yourself in a park or a cafe.
- Wake up 30 minutes earlier than everyone else in your house or go to bed 30 minutes later to have space to yourself.
- Arrive at appointments early, so you have time to sit and read.
- Schedule a small block of time for yourself in your day.
- Set a weekly date with yourself to do an activity you usually would not do alone – this could be a visit to a museum, a concert, or a walk in the park.
- When at work or home close your door to distractions.
- Disconnect from technology – turn off your cell phone, wi-fi, and Netflix.
- Learn to be alone while with others – go for a silent walk with a friend or meditate in a room full of people.
- When in nature take a moment to pause and notice the wilderness.
It is very important to communicate your need for alone time in a way that shows you still value your relationships. Suddenly disappearing or blowing people off will harm your relationships. Avoid being vague when expressing your need for solitude “I need space” or “I need time to myself” usually comes across as a rejection. We can talk about a need for solitude without making it seem like we are pushing others away, alienating them, or avoiding deeper intimacy. Stating a need for self-care, quiet relaxation, or a specific activity that you like to do by yourself will be better received and prevent others from worrying about you or feeling rejected by you.
- Tanya Davis, How to Be Alone
- Sara Maitland, How to Be Alone (The School of Life)
- Robert Kull, Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes: A Year Alone in the Patagonia Wilderness
- Ester Schaler Buchholz, The Call Of Solitude: Alonetime In A World Of Attachment
- John D. Barbour, The Value Of Solitude: The Ethics And Spirituality Of Aloneness In Autobiography
- Coplan, Robert J., Bowker, Julie C, The Handbook of Solitude: Psychological Perspectives on Social Isolation, Social Withdrawal, and Being Alone
- Anthony Storr, Solitude: A Return to the Self
See Also: Quotes on Solitude
Photo: Giorgio Pulcini