September 03, 2017

The Line between Solitude and Loneliness

Loneliness is weird in many ways. Despite tech connecting us, chronic loneliness still affects people. The threats it poses to a person’s health aren’t talked about often, but they’re very real. Dropping out of school, alcoholism, anxiety, sleep, hormone imbalances, suicide, and other aspects of physical health, can be fueled by our (lack of) relationships.

There’s been research about how chronic loneliness could even be a public health issue. But admitting to loneliness has a stigma equivalent to not being independent or being socially weak. Plus, to be frank, it’s harder to accept loneliness being hazardous to one’s health than something more clearly dangerous, like poison in the water.

Yet it’s easy to get how our bodies would react so badly to social isolation. In humanity’s earlier days, more social connections meant more people to share resources with. That’s why it became hard-wired as a need over time. Yet that wiring hasn’t changed for today, where most of those everyday hazards are gone.

To summarize, a lack of social connections can lead to major health issues due to outdated mental wiring, oft overlooked due to a lack of discussion and negative stigma.

So yeah, loneliness is a curious thing.

The Difference with Solitude

But the most interesting part, to me, is the line drawn between loneliness and solitude. The line between how being alone can either be good or bad for us. Can make us discover new strengths or wither our spirits. How do we define that line?

It was hard for me to understand for a long time. Too much alone time usually made me suffer during high school and college. I have just as much, if not more, as an adult, and it’s the total opposite. I feel productive, at peace, and reasonably happy. What could have caused just a drastic switch in less than a few years?

It likely differs from person to person. The secret ingredient to beating loneliness could be self-awareness, living in the moment, spontaneity, having goals, a sense of purpose, self-control, or any number of vague-sounding yet positive-sounding things that matter a lot.

For me, it was simply acceptance. Being alone is one thing. Being alone without judging myself is another.

Ignoring that Lonely Voice

Loneliness is a feeling that’ll always exist in humans, some more than others (like me). On its own it’s really not that bad. The real pain came from all the thoughts I dumped on myself because of it.

  • Do people not want to talk to me?
  • Did I do something to drive them away?
  • What’s wrong with me that keeps me inside?
  • Am I shy, afraid, or just a recluse?
  • What will others think of me for being so alone?
  • What did I do wrong to deserve all this?

These questions aren’t meant to be answered. Simply asking them was enough to beat down my self-esteem - trying to answer them only made it worse. The only thing to do is shoo them away, like flies buzzing around our head. Emotions like loneliness aren’t really harmful on their own. How we react is where the real harm happens.

Finding the line between loneliness and solitude is important. More importantly, we can choose to cross it or not.