The world has treated some people well: They’re successful, liked, and rarely been burned. Not surprisingly, those people seek more contact with people.

Alas, the world hasn’t been as kind to other people. They’ve been hurt, unsuccessful, and badly burned. As one client said, “When you’ve gotten knocked out each of the first nine rounds, it’s hard to make yourself come out for the tenth.”

So it’s not surprising that many such people encase themselves in an ever smaller world: seeing ever fewer people, going out less. One client deliberately wore dull clothes, all the way down to a matching dull-colored pen in her pocket so she’d be as invisible as possible.

That’s especially true of older people who feel themselves less prepossessing and efficacious than they once were. They think, “I didn’t do that well when I was more energetic and on-the ball. Now, they’ll really chew me up.”

Alternatives

  • Embrace solitude. While the social norm is to denigrate people who prefer solitude, it can be a reasonable option. Indeed, for some people, the advantage of a solitary life goes beyond self-protection. It can feel good to not have to compromise: work when you want, play when you want, at whatever you want.

I’m dubious of the argument that being social leads to long life. Yes, socializing and long life are correlated but I believe that’s because if you’re healthy, you’re more likely to want to be social, not the other way around. So if you’re tempted toward more solitude, I believe health fears shouldn’t deter you.

  • Embrace pickiness.  Over your lifetime, others have treated you so poorly that you’re tempted to retreat into your shell. But perhaps all you need is to be pickier about who you spend your time with. Are there people you should excise from your life? For example, there’s pressure to stay close with family members, no matter what. But what if they’ve been making you miserable? Perhaps you’d be wiser to reallocate some time to friends who bring out the best in you.
  • A matter of perception? Just possibly, the world hasn’t, net, been as bad to you as you’re thinking. Are you selectively focusing on the negative? Try doing an inventory of each year of your life, starting at age 5, the time most people have their first memories and list the good and bad that’s happened to you each year since then. If years start blending together, fine. Just, for each chunk of time, list  those goodies and baddies. Now look at the entire list. Does that justify hermitage? Being more selective about with whom you spend your time? Or rather, more gratitude that, all things equal, the world has given you a decent deal?

Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to his articles here on PsychologyToday.com, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on www.martynemko.com. Of Nemko's seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. His bio is on Wikipedia.

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