There is an interesting experiment where people are asked to wait for 15 minutes with no distractions and nobody to talk to. Next to their chair, there is a button which, if pressed, will give them an electric shock. Just over 60% participants could not bear sitting with their own selves for only 15 minutes and decided to shock themselves - why? Either boredom, curiosity or simply impatience. Or perhaps, a discomfort triggered by being on their own.
What is it about solitude that scares some people so deeply that they will do anything to avoid it? Perhaps it's being confused with loneliness which is an entirely different concept to what solitude is?
There is a certain quality of stigma surrounding solitude. Enjoying being on your own, travelling solo, or dining out by yourself seems either weird or incomprehensible to some people. Being a natural loner myself, I've encountered a variety of reactions to my desire for solitude ranging from surprise, pity, to admiration.
It's a very different experience to be on your own, and a very different experience to be with others. I can see how it might seem uncomfortable to those who avoid solitude as much as they can - since there is no other source of comfort or even distraction than yourself, you are literally forced to face various parts of yourself which normally remain hidden.
However, precisely being left with your own thoughts can lead to experiencing the most benefits that solitude can offer. Having no distractions can promote increase of self-awareness by familiarising yourself with your thoughts and feelings which would normally remain hidden if your avoided solitude.
Additionally, solitude builds up mental strength and confidence. Knowing who you are, what you want and what you stand for can rarely be achieved if we constantly surround ourselves with distractions. Of course, talking to your friends can be therapeutic and help you to gain some self-understanding, but the real treasure is hidden just below the threshold of you comfort zone and everyday awareness.
How to enjoy solitude
Solitude is primarily an ability to spend a quality time with yourself. It can provide you with a wonderful opportunity to build independence skills, decision making process, and setting up goals for the future.
Although some people associate it with loneliness, it's a very different state to being lonely: when you are lonely, you crave company of others, you feel vulnerable, and you might even feel as if you can't function without others. Solitude, in contrast, is about self-care, engaging in activities you enjoy on your own, and introspection.
In this YouTube video, I discuss the main difference between loneliness and solitude which is related to choice and taking responsibility for our social needs, so that when we do socialise - we do it out of our conscious choice.
In our world that never stops talking where we are surrounded by distractions requiring our attention and response on every corner, true solitude might be difficult to achieve. Spending time online on social media is not solitude. Neither sitting in a mall or having your friends in the next room. Although you are on your own in such situations, you are still being connected to and interacting with the social world.
If you really want to experience the true solitude, spending time in nature when the chances of encountering other people are low is probably the best opportunity for witnessing the deepest levels of your being.
But what to do when you are being on your own? Wouldn't it get boring? That depends. Enjoying solitude is often an acquired taste that takes some time to mature. Essentially, it's a skill – some people develop it early in life, some others in adulthood. If you are used to interacting with people almost constantly, it might feel awkward at first when you don't have anyone to talk to.
The most important skill that can help us to enjoy solitude is the ability to listen and observe. Listening to your thoughts, to sounds around you and to your feelings can boost your self-awareness and self-understanding. This experience is closely related to mindfulness and the ability to stay aware in the present moment without controlling anything.
If it gets lonely, observe this feeling. What does it try to tell you? What is it that is missing? Do you depend on others so strongly that it diminishes your ability to be independent and content with yourself?
Solitude can help us to discover alternative perspectives. Because being on your own creates a distance between yourself, your life and other people, you will be able to notice aspects of your past experiences which you wouldn't be able to see if you stayed engaged in them. For example, it could help you to understand others better by seeing them from a different perspective to the one you are used to using. This could naturally lead to higher empathy and improved ability to relate to others. This unique perspective could also aid you in discovering the hidden causes of your past mistakes, decisions and actions.
Lastly, solitude enables us to develop resilience, which is an important psychological skill that helps us to deal with stress and challenges. If you can't stand strong on your own, it might be difficult to cope with certain experiences. People that you know and depend on can disappear at any point and having this skill of being able to cope on your own will not only help you to stay strong, but will also help you to appreciate friends that you have now.
There is also a possibility of learning how to turn loneliness into solitude. By voluntary choosing solitude, you are gaining all the necessary skills that can help you to cope with loneliness.
Embracing solitude doesn't automatically mean that we should avoid others and give up on friendships. Rather, to lead a balanced life we need to be able to function in both states – being social and exploring the gifts of solitude.
If you would like to know more on how to find yourself in solitude or what to do when you are feeling lonely, send me a message and book a session with me.