Solitude and loneliness are two different experiences although they overlap sometimes. Solitude is a physical disposition while loneliness is a psychological disposition. Loneliness is a feeling of lack of connection with the environment while solitude is being in an environment where it is just you.
Loneliness is a feeling; not the absence of people or a pleasant environment, but a lack of connection with that environment and the people there.
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.
But 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.
What Is The Root of Loneliness?
Since loneliness is a feeling, it can easily be stopped by changing what or how one feels. Our feelings are a product of some chemical secretions in our body; these chemicals are secreted by the signals our brain sends.
So if you can change your thoughts or interpretation of what is happening in the environment in your brain, the feeling will change too.
Examine these thoughts…
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.
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.
These thought patterns 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. Solitude can cause loneliness when the mind gives a certain interpretation and loneliness can cause solitude when the individual feels that they can’t find any connection and then isolates themself.
When Solitude Can Lead To Loneliness and Become Harmful
1. When it takes away your excitement for life
When being alone takes away your excitement, drive, and sense of meaning in 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 a situation, should either find an environment where there are many 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. On the other hand, because being among others they aren’t connected to will also make their lack of connection very obvious, the solution is to set up a structure and begin learning to make friends.
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, it will lead to corresponding action(s).
For instance, if you continue with negative self-talk, low self-esteem will build over time; if you continue with sexual thoughts or pornography over a while, sex addiction will form.
4. When it causes worry and overthinking
Worries and overthinking are powerful 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.
Sleep has greatly worked for me severally; I’ll rather 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 deteriorate 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 how to be always grateful. Sleep isn’t the best solution.
5. When it makes you hate social interactions
If your state of solitude can be traced to hatred for social interactions, it needs attention. Now, it is true that some people (introverts, for instance) need extra prep to thrive in social environments, yet humans are social beings.
Social isolation is a grave psychological punishment and has a severe impact on the psychological well-being of the individual being isolated. That knowledge is the idea behind locking prisoners in jails— the real punishment is not prison labor or confinement, but social isolation.
A desire for solitude that returns to social interactions at will is healthy; a desire for solitude that continually avoids social interactions 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 like. 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; get help where you need help, and rise to your responsibilities, instead of watching your life tear down.
Unlike Loneliness, Solitude Can Be Enjoyed
Spending time alone can be enjoyed. Not just enjoyed, it can also be productive and a blessing to your life. In fact, taking some time out to be alone is not just a thing for those who want, it holds great benefits that social interactions cannot give.
For example, there can be no self-discovery without spending time alone. I have highlighted other benefits and “hacks” around solitude and loneliness in these blog posts.
- More Friends Don’t Cure Loneliness, Here’s The Real Cure
- 7 Smart Ways To Enjoy Your Time Alone Without Feeling Bored
- How To Make Everyone Leave You Alone
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 a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.