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Solitude v Loneliness

marathon des sables. Solitude

Feeling it.

In my talks I often touch on the difference between solitude and loneliness, and the knife edge that separates them.
I love solitude, but my quest for it often tips me into loneliness. It is a difficult balance to find.

Here are some interesting thoughts on the difference between the two emotions.

As the world spins faster and faster—or maybe it just seems that way when an email can travel around the world in fractions of a second—we mortals need a variety of ways to cope with the resulting pressures. We need to maintain some semblance of balance and some sense that we are steering the ship of our life.

Otherwise we feel overloaded, overreact to minor annoyances and feel like we can never catch up. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best ways is by seeking, and enjoying, solitude.

That said, there is an important distinction to be established right off the bat. There is a world of difference between solitude and loneliness, though the two terms are often used interchangeably.

From the outside, solitude and loneliness look a lot alike. Both are characterized by solitariness. But all resemblance ends at the surface.

Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. One feels that something is missing. It is possible to be with people and still feel lonely—perhaps the most bitter form of loneliness.

Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself. Solitude is desirable, a state of being alone where you provide yourself wonderful and sufficient company.

Solitude is a time that can be used for reflection, inner searching or growth or enjoyment of some kind. Deep reading requires solitude, so does experiencing the beauty of nature. Thinking and creativity usually do too.

Solitude suggests peacefulness stemming from a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and whatever it brings that is satisfying and from which we draw sustenance. It is something we cultivate. Solitude is refreshing; an opportunity to renew ourselves. In other words, it replenishes us.

Loneliness is harsh, punishment, a deficiency state, a state of discontent marked by a sense of estrangement, an awareness of excess aloneness.

Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others.

We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount of solitude we need. Some solitude is essential; It gives us time to explore and know ourselves. It is the necessary counterpoint to intimacy, what allows us to have a self worthy of sharing. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life. It allows us to get (back) into the position of driving our own lives, rather than having them run by schedules and demands from without.

Solitude restores body and mind. Lonelinesss depletes them.
Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today

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Comments

  1. Great blog as always.
    One point I’d like to differ on though … Loneliness is not only imposed on you by others … but it can be imposed on you by yourself, through words and actions! Whether it be intentionally, or not!
    It’s always far to easy to blame others, right?!

    Elin

    Reply
  2. This is beautiful: “Solitude suggests peacefulness stemming from a state of inner richness.”

    I agree with Elin though, that loneliness cannot be imposed on you by others. It is an inner choice as well, but perhaps a less constructive one. Loneliness seems more like a resignation toward the fact of one’s separateness, whereas solitude seems to acknowledge such a separation, treat it as a blessing, and so make the most of it.

    One of my favourite summations of loneliness which I discovered when I was a teenager is this from Janet Fitch’s White Oleander:

    “Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it seeps into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way”

    Thanks for this post, I’ve been interested in this dichotomy for such a long time.

    Sophie

    Reply
  3. Once in a while, solitude is good both for your mind as well as your soul. You can ponder back, replay your life in your mind, and reflect where you went wrong or where there’s a scope for improvement.

    Reply

 
 

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