• Dr. Sharon Livingston

The Difference Between Solitude and Loneliness

Sometimes it all becomes too much - too much input, too much noise, too many emails. Can there really be “Breaking News” about the next, more-contagious variant of the virus, or the next disturbing event in the world to upset us?

While it is human to require connection with others, sometimes what we really need is to step back from the clatter and re-connect with ourselves.

We need time to breathe, to think, to feel what we feel without outside influences so we can get back in touch with who we are and want to be.

We Need Solitude.

While humans do not actually hibernate as bears and other animals do, the long dark cold nights of this time of year invite us to pause and center ourselves. It’s a welcome opportunity to slow down, stop reacting in a knee-jerk manner, curl up with a cozy blanket and read, write in a journal, or just catch up on needed sleep. Physical hibernation is regenerative and necessary in parts of the animal kingdom. The same holds true for solitude with people.

Finding time for solitude supports a state of being alone without being lonely.

This is an important distinction, because solitude restores body and mind, whereas loneliness depletes them.

Both solitude and loneliness mean that we are alone.

But that’s where the similarity ends.

Loneliness is a negative feeling that we attach to the idea that we’re being forced to be alone, whether by our own actions and decisions or those of others. It’s an emotional reaction to isolation, especially when imposed by conditions outside our control. There’s a sad feeling that something is missing. It makes some of us feel frantic, frightened and despairing. And, you don’t have to be physically alone to feel lonely. People even report feeling a sense of loneliness and alienation in a crowd.

Solitude, on the other hand, is a time that can be used for reflection and inner searching that leads to inspiration and growth. It allows us to consider new ideas, filter them through our experiences, confirm our interest and wish to expand who we are. It can be as simple as “communing with nature” – taking a walk in the woods or by the shore. Or, it can be an awakening that’s intellectual, spiritual or metaphysical. It’s often an “aha” that help us remember who we are on the deepest level; a level we love about ourselves.

Solitude is a break from the pressures and fast-pace of everyday life that feels like a relief. It provides a creative space that we’re lucky to be able to access. It enables you to check in with yourself, have a meaningful conversation, share observations and feel understood and inspired by the person in the world who knows you best: YOU. Solitude helps us to feel good about ourselves: solid, balanced and capable.

Whether we’re introverts who crave time alone to reenergize, or extraverts who need to be with others to feel motivated, solitude is a necessary state for everyone. It helps us regroup and problem solve. It encourages self-awareness and inspires new thinking about who we are, who we want to be, and what we want in our lives.

We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount of solitude we need. Introverts need more, Extraverts say less.

Some solitude is essential. It is the necessary counterpoint to intimacy; it’s what allows us to have a self that is worthy of sharing. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life. It allows us to get back into the position of driving our own lives, rather than having them run by schedules and demands of outside forces and influences.

One good use of solitude is to imagine a positive future in a not-too-distant future. Where are you? What are you doing? Who’s there? What’s there? What’s happening? What’s good about it? Great about it? What are you doing? Use your five senses to bring it to life. What do you most appreciate and desire in this scenario?

How would you take a break and give yourself time to think about what you want for yourself? Take a walk, work out, find a cozy place to be warm and inspired? It’s different for all of us.

If you’d like some help, you might be the kind of person who needs a witness -- someone who can hear you and reflect what you really want, without questioning or trying to change it. Or, you might be better doing it on your own.

Either way is good as long as you give yourself the gift of solitude and reconnection from time to time.

Thoughts? Questions? Feel free to contact me. DrSharonLivingston@gmail.ocm. 603 505-5000. www.SharonLivingstonPhd.com

To your bright future.

Doc Sharon