Loneliness, as suggested from the word, is associated with being alone. Other times, solitude is interchanged with being lonely. Either way, solitude has become something dreaded in our society.
If you enjoy being alone, you might not understand the how hard some people, do not just dislike, but dread loneliness.
In fact, a study conducted showed that a number of people chose they will rather subject themselves to electric shock than stay alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes.
Truth be told, solitude is not always fun. Extroverts who find strength being among people can relate better.
This predisposition towards solitude is majorly sponsored from the social implication we have attached to soulitude. We have seen people experience severe loneliness that sometimes leads to depression and suicide when they are alone. So our concussions aren’t baseless. But that’s not the whole truth.
Loneliness does not necessarily come when one is alone. You can still feel lonely among many people. Think of a university freshman who is away from his high school friends, away from family, away from the environment he is used to, and the things he loves to do; although there are hundreds of other students in that school, chances are he will still feel lonely.
Then what is loneliness?
Loneliness is a feeling of lack of connection with the environment; not the absence of people or a pleasant environment, but lack of connection with that environment and the people there.
This means when our freshman finds two or three people in the hostel who he connects with: who he shares common interests with, who can relate with his mindset and background or have any form of connection with him, the feeling of loneliness leaves.
This makes it clear that solitude and loneliness are two distinct experiences. Here’s the difference: Solitude is a physical state (being where nobody is) while loneliness is an emotional or psychological state (a feeling of not finding connection with anyone or anything).
Since loneliness is a feeling, it can easily be stopped by changing what or how one feels. Our feelings are product of some chemical secretions in our body; these chemicals are secreted by the signals our brain send. So if you can change your interpretation of what is happening in the environment in your brain, the feeling will change too.
Examine these thoughts…
New thought 1: yes I’m the only one here but it’s for a while. I can get someone I can relate with when I’m ready
New thought 2: I’m new here, there’s no one I can relate with, but with time, I will find someone. There’s really no problem.
Either Thought 1 (for solitude) or Thought 2 (for perceived loneliness), will restructure the signal the brain sends and therefore, keep one away from the feeling of loneliness.
Although, loneliness and solitude are distinct experiences, that doesn’t mean they don’t meet. 1) Solitude can cause loneliness as I’ve explained, when the mind gives a certain interpretation, and 2) Loneliness can cause solitude when the individual feels that they can’t find any connection and then isolates themself.
Times When Being Alone Can Be Harmful
1. When it takes away your excitement for life
When being alone takes away a person’s excitement, drive and sense of meaning for life, it is harmful and should be avoided. This state can further lead to other severe psychological issues like depression. Individuals who find themselves in such situation, should either find an environment where there is much people and excitement or alter the current environment to bring excitement.
2. When you don’t have other healthy relationships
One or two close relationships can satisfy the desire the feeling of loneliness wants– it will create a sense of connection even if the people aren’t around. “I have relationships, it’s just that they aren’t here”
If one does not have any healthy relationship at all, the feeling of loneliness is easily heightened when they are alone. And because being among others they aren’t connected to will also make their lack of connection very obvious, the solution at this point is to set up a structure and begin working on how to healthily get out of a “no-friend” zone.
3. When it opens the door to destructive habits or emotions
When being alone makes you engage in destructive habits (e.g masturbation, pornography, or drug taking) and brings up destructive emotions (e.g regret, negative self-talk, or evil plots) to your mind, it should be avoided hastily. All our actions stem from our logic and emotions. If you think about something or have a particular feeling over a long period of time, it will lead to corresponding action(s).
For instance, if you continue in negative self-talk, low self-esteem will build overtime; if you continue in sexual thoughts or pornography over a period of time, sex addiction will form.
4. When it causes worry and overthinking
Worries and overthinking are strong depressants. It is easy, if the time spent alone is not structured and intentional, for you to slide into worry and overthinking when you are alone. If you notice you are very susceptible to the pattern of overthinking and/or worrying, reduce the time you spend alone or get a list of highly engaging activities you can engage in while you are alone.
You might be interested: sleep has greatly worked for me personally; I’ll just sleep than worry. The distasteful reality of work and overthinking is that they don’t make the past event (which you might be worrying about) any better, they don’t guarantee the future you are afraid of will get any better. Instead, worrying and overthinking deteriorates your health and stops you from finding workable solutions for the future.
If you are struggling with worrying, complaining or overthinking, you should read this guide on gratitude
5. When it makes you hate social environment entirely
If your state of solitude can be traced to hatred for social environments, it needs attention. Now, it is true that some people (introverts, for instance) need extra effort to thrive in social environments, yet humans are social beings.
Social isolation is a grave psychological punishment and has severe impact of the psychological wellbeing of the individual being isolated. That knowledge is the idea behind locking prisoners in jails– the real punishment is not the prison labor or confinement, but social isolation.
Solitude that can return to society at will is healthy; solitude that continually avoids society is harmful.
6. You are hiding away from life
There are times when people choose solitude because they are hiding from life: responsibilities, their weaknesses, their failures, challenges, sad realities and the likes. Solitude at this point, is harmful.
Problems get bigger when we hide from them or pretend they aren’t there. Life tears down when we avoid responsibility. Rather than being alone at this point, you should get out of your shell and face life; rise up to your responsibilities and get help where you need help, instead of watching your life tear down.
Solitude can be enjoyed
I want to pose this honest discovery I have made with you: solitude can be enjoyed. Spending time alone can be enjoyed. Not just enjoyed, it can also be productive and be a blessing to your life.
I have written several blog posts to help you learn and maximise solitude
It is possible for one not to feel lonely even if they are alone because loneliness is a feeling and feelings can be controlled. Examine what triggers the feeling of loneliness for you: either being alone or being among people or anything else, then try to alter the feeling with new thought patterns. Avoid solitude once you discover it is harmful.
Olusegun Iyejare is career coach and certified counsellor. He helps entrepreneurs balance mental wellbeing and entrepreneurial success. Think about maximizing your potential or living a fulfilling life and Olusegun is your go to person.