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Is It Possible to Turn Loneliness into Solitude?

By Kathleen Metcalfe May 30, 2023 Mindset

When I think about these two states of being – loneliness and solitude – they have such different connotations. And yet the border between them is porous. If we are lonely, can we just decide that we can cross over into solitude? It seems a bit like the old fairy-tale about spinning straw into gold.

The New Epidemic

Loneliness has been called the new epidemic. The Surgeon General of the United States has written a book about it. Magazine articles about it abound. It has been linked to stress, depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, impaired cognitive functioning, decreased creativity and lower self-esteem.

A very bad thing, this loneliness. The obvious solution of taking steps to increase our social engagement is clearly positive, especially after the isolation of the pandemic. Joining clubs, phoning old friends, striking up conversations on elevators – all good.

But some loneliness is unavoidable. The existentialists draw our attention to the fact that on one level, basically, we are all alone. We can be alone in a crowd as well as in our bed. So, if loneliness is in some way inevitable, what can we do?

The Case for Solitude

Well, let’s consider the case for solitude. Unlike loneliness, solitude is a state we can choose for ourselves; it’s a deliberate choice – to be alone and to savour one’s own company. It can be healing. Animals, when they are hurt, prefer to recover on their own; and we, too, are animals according to basic biology.

Sometimes we need to shut out the noise of the outer world to let our shattered nerves recover, to allow our body and our mind to take care of us by creating the quiet space for them to do so.

We have an inner ‘voice’ that represents our instinctive knowledge, and we need peace to be able to hear it. It is this voice that conveys our intuition and our creativity. This is the voice that can help us to make good decisions, to know which direction to turn in.

This voice can be a good companion if we can honour it and not seek to silence it by busying ourselves with distractions. It can deepen our experience of life even when we are experiencing sorrow. But the catch is that we must actually choose to hear it – we must make an intentional decision to change our state of being. The effects of loneliness, such as anxiety and self-pity, can make that more difficult.

Make the Choice

To turn loneliness into solitude, we need to get hold of that part of ourselves that makes choices. It can be as simple as asking ourselves what we really enjoy when we’re alone. Is there music that soothes our soul? Can we make a special meal for ourselves? To pause, and ask how we actually want to live, can all by itself yield results. Often, in our loneliness, we are just following habit without connecting to what we are actually feeling.

One easy way to start is to become aware of our breathing. Our breath is sustaining us all the time whether we are aware of it or not. We can take a few moments just to appreciate our breathing; for example, sensing the flow of air in and out of our nostrils. This can settle us into ourselves and help us to experience our own presence.

We can use our senses. What are we seeing in this moment? What are the sounds we are hearing? What is our body touching? Our senses are always with us, and connect us with the present, which we are often unaware of as we focus on the past or the future.

As we do this, we are creating an opening into the world of solitude. We can think of it as a landscape to explore, as a way of turning what may be imposed on us, loneliness, into a state of chosen contemplation, solitude.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you feel lonely and anxious because of it? How much would you say loneliness affects your daily life? What would it take for you to turn loneliness into solitude? Would this change bring you inner peace?

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Britton Gildersleeve

I am battling loneliness and anxiety following the death of my husband a year ago. I’m trying hard to make the move to solitude instead of loneliness.

Gerry

It’s tough. I lost my wife a year ago too. It’s one day at a time.

Monnette Jackman

Thanks Britton and Gerry for your comments. I also lost my husband about 5 months ago. It is so difficult going from a “we” to a “me” without him.

Teresita Abad

Hi Katleen. I love this article. Well said and explained. Good job.

Kim

There was a time I felt like I constantly needed interaction with others. That is no longer the case for me as I found that I enjoy my own company. I chat with people when I’m out walking in my neighborhood, have telephone conversations with friends and kids, etc. I don’t feel the need to go out and spend time with people as my girlfriends do. They are going out daily for lunches, activities and so forth but do it because they are unhappy at home with their marriage and a spouse that doesn’t listen or pay them enough attention to them. It is far lonelier to live with someone who doesn’t fill their emotional needs than to live alone.

Joan

Well said! I feel there is no worse loneliness, than when you are lonely when you’re with someone.

Tracy

I just joined this group and really loved this article! I am going to really try and change things for myself, and really enjoy hearing everyone’s discussion!

Kim

I wish you luck. Once you start to truly enjoy your own company, it will happen for you. Welcome!

Laura

I crave time to myself. Always have. It’s my time to think on things OR to do things I would normally feel guilty about because I have so many other things I feel I should be doing. Having my cottage in which I allow absolutely nothing negative gunking up my special place was well worth the money spent!! (Right now it I need to make time to clean out the clutter that has accumulated! Oops!) I know several women that feel they need alone time as much as I do in order to function. I also know women that cannot deal with being alone. Different attitudes. We’re not all alike – and that’s a good thing.

Gerry

But living alone, especially after a long marriage, can be so BORING.

Cynthia Lewis

It must be really hard. I’ve had an interesting, challenging, mostly solo life. Never lucky enough to meet a man to love me. So, I have lots of practice both with solitude & loneliness. You need time to begin to heal& start to make a different life. You will. A pet to keep ya company.

Nancy Van Landingham

I like solitude. I enjoy lots of time alone. BUT loneliness is a painful emotion and it hurts. I think that is when a companion would be a positive.

Pastelholic

Well said, Nancy. Ditto for me. I’m lucky to still have my spouse, but that doesn’t prevent loneliness. The comfort I seek must come from me.

Kathy Koepsell

Both very astute comments. It is possible to both be lonely and to enjoy solitude immensely, even while living with a spouse of 50 years. It is up to me which way things shift. I have the power within me to turn the loneliness into solitude. It is risky to count on another person to produce your happiness.

The Author

Kathleen has developed a unique set of skills through her diverse experiences in corporate boardrooms, international war zones, and other environments. Kathleen advises and coaches people going through difficult situations. She finds her work to be fulfilling and enjoys the opportunity to bring her wealth of experience to the table.

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