The Difference Between Solitude & Being Lonely

Loneliness and Having Solitude

Our modern society – movies, TV, magazines, advertisements and online memes – tell us it’s a negative to be alone. We’re constantly being bombarded by things telling us how we need to be in a relationship or “with company”. Let’s explore the difference between solitude & being lonely.

Loneliness is failed solitude. If you don’t teach your children how to be alone, then they will only know how to be lonely.

Sherry Turkle

Part of the result of this misleading campaign is millions of bad relationships and a lot of unneeded stress and heartache. This same social push also has given us the myth of solitude being negative.

I need to make it clear that I’m not saying people should avoid relationships or become hermits! I’m saying we must perfect solitude and not feel the pressure from outside influences or within to “be with someone”. There’s a significant difference between spending time alone and feeling lonely.

The Difference Between Solitude & Being Lonely

Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone & solitude expresses the glory of being alone.

Paul Tillich

Aside from one being a time of growth & the other a condition, the difference between solitude and being lonely is huge. A person can turn those lonely times into beautiful moments they look forward to, where rejuvenation, creativity and even adventure await!

Loneliness is a symptom of something else going on inside a person. Loneliness can be masked as simply as a person being distracted or entertained, but that doesn’t fix the deeper problem.

Solitude is actually quite healthy in every way if a person is proactive instead of just wasting time away.

Reflection, introspection, growth, and inspiration happen in times of solitude. The practice of solitude overcomes the false “need” for connection & sense of loneliness. This allows one to grow mentally, spiritually and physically so they can be a healthy part of a truly synergistic relationship.

The Maturity Continuum

In the right relationship, a person can be quite happy and productive with another. Relationships add something essential to life which we need on a particular level. However, to be happy and healthy in a relationship requires a person to first master being happy and healthy alone.

Independence is an essential part of the natural growth process which we cannot ignore or defeat with any lasting success. Unfortunately, it’s a part of growth which is taught less and less in our society and completely ignored by the popular media. It’s necessary for a happy, healthy soul.

Dr. Stephen Covey, the creator of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls this principle of personal growth the Maturity Continuum. He illustrates how a person must go from dependence as a youngster to independence, then finally interdependence. The last two of the three stages are the most difficult. Human nature is to jump from dependence to interdependence. That spells disaster for relationships and results in a lot of personal unhappiness.

Stuck Between Dependence & Maturity

If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.

Jean-Paul Sartre

People who haven’t mastered independence are often unhappy in their relationships once the novelty or “newness” of the relationship wears off. They’ll blame their partner for their own unhappiness. At work, they blame their coworkers for their unhappiness.

It’s a constant cycle of unhappiness and comparing themselves to others and their relationship to other relationships. They usually have short-term perspective, shallow or fleeting interests and don’t develop educated standings on moral or ethical matters.

A person who hasn’t become comfortable with their solitude & achieved independence usually makes it a point to appear mature, intelligent and professional. They want to feel and appear independent, but it’s an illusion – they’re often bored and lonely.

Other people refuel this person – their entire being is dependent on the need of other individuals in some way. Someone to “be with”, someone to show them how, someone to have fun with, someone to blame. This behavior doesn’t make them an extrovert; it makes them somewhat like a vampire. When things go wrong, in their mind it’s the fault of the people they’re around. Then they often lash out at that person.

To get unstuck, a person needs to make a lot of effort in mastering their self through the practice of solitude.

Mastering Independence

I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.

Audrey Hepburn: Many-Sided Charmer, LIFE Magazine, December 7, 1953

Mastering independence doesn’t require anything radical. It doesn’t mean going on a sabbatical or joining a monastery. It does require changing how you think if you’re not used to solitude or feel lonely. And, changing our thought process is the most difficult obstacle to personal growth.

Begin by taking time for yourself. This means real alone time where you think, reflect and grow inside.

The independent person is accountable for their own actions. They will recognize their own mistakes as quickly as those of someone else and typically have a strong desire to make a positive change to overcome weaknesses. An independent person can be refueled physically, emotionally & physically by their times of solitude but can enjoy relating with other people.

Independents can better organize, plan and achieve effectively through their own independent thought process. This is done by proactive use of time to do things like reading, practicing creativity, meditation, eating properly, exercise, journaling, increasing knowledge and personal skills.

Like most principles of personal growth, practicing these things takes only minutes each day, but they need to become positive habits in your life to be effective. Start with 15-30 minutes a day just for you.

I’ll post more soon on habit building and personal growth. Meanwhile, let me know what works for you by sharing your comments below.

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