The Difference between Loneliness and Solitude
Many people fear being alone.
Do you fear extended periods of being alone? Solitude – it’s a scary thought to many. It’s often confused with loneliness.
Ironically, in a world that is so vastly populated, there are more lonely people than ever before. This is especially ironic due to the fact that due to technology it has never so been easier to connect with others, from all around the globe. Yet millions still say they are lonely.
So what exactly is the difference between solitude and loneliness?
Meanings of Loneliness and Solitude
Loneliness can be described as a psychological feeling you get when you find yourself either physically alone or when you are amongst people but you do not feel connected to them.
You can’t relate to them. Perhaps you have no interests in common and/or you find it difficult to express who you truly are for fear of not being accepted by others. Maybe you don’t honor your uniqueness and instead, it makes you feel different and hence lonely.
Loneliness is usually viewed as a negative state and sadly in today’s world has a stigma attached to it.
Solitude on the other hand is usually freely chosen. (Although during the recent pandemic it was forced on many). When choosing alone -time you are very content to make time just for yourself.
It is a positive time people use to explore their creativity and to work on their goals, distraction-free.
It is also a much needed time for personal reflection and rejuvenation. Periods of time alone allow you to restore your energy (which is constantly being drained when you are surrounded by too many stimuli) and vitality.
Differences between Loneliness and Solitude
When you find yourself alone not through your own choice, or because you battle other issues such as extreme shyness or lack of confidence, this is when you can experience solitude as a disadvantage. You are not content. What should be a positive experience is felt as loneliness instead. This state is negative and unwanted.
On the contrary healthy solitude is usually freely chosen, it is an essential part of who we are naturally, and is a positive experience.
Why Solitude is Important
For so many of us, our self-worth is directly related to our relationships. The more friends and engagements we have the better we feel about ourselves as we are never “alone”. We might enjoy the fact that we are “popular.”
However, there are times when friends are scarce or existing relationships are rocky. At these times we seem to create internal feelings of guilt, blame, or feeling of worthlessness. This can further lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. For some, it might not be as negative, but it still feels unnatural.
Immediately our overactive minds come to all sorts of conclusions about ourselves – Maybe something is wrong with me? People don’t like me. And perhaps worst of all – ” I am alone” and society says I should not be.
Learning to enjoy times of solitude is of great importance so as to counteract any feelings of low self-worth, anxiety, and depression.
Most people will have periods of both enjoyable solitude and moments of feeling lonely. Life is after all all about balance. This is normal but should you find yourself at the extremes of uncomfortable solitude permeated with loneliness it would be a good idea to examine your underlying feelings or get some help.
The Benefits of Solitude
Deciding to take time out to be alone, however, is just the antidote to stress and overwhelm many of us need. In this quiet space of “alone-ness”, we realize that we still exist and we are still whole beings. Nothing bad is going to happen because we are alone. If you do feel fear then just realize it is your thoughts – not your reality. By design, we are part of a tribe but all uniquely alone – this is our natural state of being.
We can take this time to just be. Nothing needs to be said or done. If you listen really closely you can feel the real you underneath all the noise of your mind. Try this – just focus on your breathing – there is no need to think. Some call this the divine self. Labels don’t matter. It the aliveness of the “real” you that matters.
With continuous practice in solitude, you will come to find that all the mind chatter (usually negative) seems to subside. There is no point in going over and over all the same thoughts. Besides, when you examine those thoughts you would find that they are usually trivial and mundane eg what he said to me; what I shouldn’t have said; what’s for dinner etc
Even more beneficial is that you slowly realize that the “world” of problems and overwhelm lives out there; not inside of you!
All our demands, goals, lists of things to do, meetings, insecurities, etc don’t need to matter at that moment. Instead. it is in these quiet times that we realize that we have a choice as to how important we make these things in the overall scheme of life.
Research has shown that having scheduled breaks can actually make us more productive. We don’t have to be on a week’s vacation to feel the benefits. Small pockets of relaxation or alone -time scheduled throughout the day will help us to feel calmer and more energetic. When in this energized state, we are definitely more productive.
Can Solitude be a Good Thing?
With increasing periods of choosing to be alone, we can reap many rewards, as mentioned above.
The greatest reward, however, is when you can take these moments of “solitude” into other situations in daily life. Connecting to your stillness or inner peace as often as possible is a skill that you can quickly learn.
For example, you may be stuck in traffic, dealing with a deadline, having a heated debate, the kids are screaming, etc – firstly, become aware of the thoughts going through your mind. Next, stop the judgmental thinking attached to what is going on around you. Instead, try “feel” for that quiet place below all the noise of your thinking – that place which is really you. You can use focusing on your breathing technique here as well.
This may seem too simple at first. Society has led us to believe that only when we busy interacting, pursuing goals, or being busy, are we productive. Furthermore, we are inclined to do more talking than listening. Too often we share our unsolicited opinions in order to show how confident and important we are. In no way am I implying you should be a doormat but, the mere fact that we all have been guilty of blurting out things we later regret – should be motivation enough to rather try and be still in these moments.
Tips to Enjoying Solitude
- Instead of focusing on your aloneness, focus on becoming your own best friend. Discover what you really like and don’t like, what music you enjoy, what food you like to prepare and eat, what silly jokes make you laugh, what clothes you like to wear etc Being alone gives you the grace of learning about who you truly are without outside influence and opinions.
- Connect with nature. Take a walk in the park or go on a hike and pay close attention to the sounds of the birds, the wind, the silence. Notice how nature is peaceful exactly the way it is – there is no rush and no struggle. This stillness is your true nature as well – breathe in it and be awed by the beauty of it all.
- Use this time to explore your mind. What do you mostly think about? It is mostly positive or negative. Is it mostly about what you don’t have or do have? Where do you spend most of your thoughts on – the past or the future? The quality of your thoughts determines the quality of your life so pay attention and make the necessary changes where needed.
I have considered that it might be easier for some personality types (eg. introverts) to enjoy solitude more than say extroverts. However, using myself as a subject I would rather suggest that it’s perhaps one of those spiritual “tools” you acquire on your own personal journey. I consider myself an “extroverted – introvert” but, I have noticed that as I get older, I need the balance between being “out there” and being alone, more than I did when I was younger.
It is now much easier to recognize the difference between loneliness and solitude.
Also, in previous periods in my life that I recall as “lonely”, I now in retrospect realize I was not. Rather I was comparing myself to other’s definitions of what it meant to be social.
What to others may appear as being lonely – I joyfully experience as chosen solitude instead.
Inspirational Quotes on Solitude
“Be still and know that I am God,” Psalm 46:10
“There is a difference between loneliness and solitude, one will empty you, and one will fill you. You have the power to choose.” Anonymous
“Solitude is dangerous. It’s addicting. Once you see how peaceful it is, you don’t want to deal with people.” Anonymous
“Solitude is creativity’s best friend, and solitude is refreshment for our souls.” Naomi Judd
“In nature, in solitude, the soft voice of wisdom can be heard.” Anonymous
“I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.” Oscar Wilde
The Difference between Loneliness and Solitude