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The Importance of Being Alone

Spending time with the most significant person in your life is 100% worth it.

For many of us, aloneness is a negative state of being. Society doesn’t help us with this notion either; being alone often carries a social stigma, implying isolation, being on the outside.

This perceived sense of aloneness seems to imply that being by one’s self is not volitional, or a choice we make, but rather an imposed state where a person is not socially engaged in the way that is somehow expected. Even further, it may imply that there is something actually wrong or defective with a person who remains alone.

Social media gives us the impression — the illusion — that we are connected even if it’s only interacting with somebody’s words. Clicking “like” is the abbreviated form of saying, “I hear you and I agree.” Comments serve as conversation as if we had really interacted with that person in real time. Without this connection through devices, we may feel anxious that we will be alone and left out. But I believe that most of us really know in our heart of hearts that our constant focus on this kind of communication deprives us of having real human interaction. Even more importantly, this kind of communication may keep us from having meaningful communion with ourselves.

Unlike being alone, loneliness often implies that you are looking for someone or something that you feel you need in order to feel secure and happy. For some, loneliness may be a chronic condition where your own company is never enough; where spending time with yourself may produce anxiety and sometimes worse symptoms such as panic attacks and depression. For many, the perceived solution to keep this fear away is to make sure that you are always in the company of another.

Of course, loneliness is not “one size fits all.” As with anything, there may be varying degrees of severity depending upon one’s personality and life experiences. For example, loneliness may be experienced by some as a painful reminder of previous loss and abandonment — feeling rejected, not cared for, or unloved.

Although aloneness and loneliness are often thought of as one and the same, they're not equal. Learning to be alone may be initially scary, but once mastered, serves as the cornerstone for your development and growth as a human being. There’s so much to be gained from learning to rely upon — and more importantly, to trust — your own inner voice as the best source for your own guidance.

Being alone allows you to drop your “social guard,” thus giving you the freedom to be introspective, to think for yourself. You may be able to make better choices and decisions about who you are and what you want without outside influence. Often, we are swayed by the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior of those in our immediate sphere. Of course, you may ask others for their advice and opinions, but ultimately, consulting yourself and making up your own mind about what you want to do will lead you into the life that’s best for you.

More specifically, learning how to be alone may serve you well when it comes to knowing what you need and want in a relationship. Some individuals allow their partner to tell them what to feel, what to want and do, largely because that is what their partner wants and needs. Certain relationships even require this. So if you’re too afraid to be alone and function on your own you’ll be selling yourself out, settling for a relationship (often not the healthiest, and sometimes, downright bad) that ensures that you’re never alone. The bottom line is that you cannot possibly have a healthy relationship with others if you haven’t learned to have a healthy relationship with yourself.

People love to quote that line from Jerry Maguire, “You complete me.” I know it’s very romantic, but what does it really say? That we’re not complete without another? Being alone allows you to access yourself as the complete person you already are.

There doesn’t have to be a pathological reason to explain your anxiety about being alone. Fear of being alone may be simply a function of never having learned to do it! It may never have been encouraged and so the idea of it may feel alien and uncomfortable. Once you begin to venture into this territory, you may find that your comfort about being alone increases. You may actually crave that time you spend by yourself.

Here’s a note about raising children today. Many kids are hovered over and micromanaged. Very different from days gone by, when children frequently had more time on their own alone and had to learn how to occupy themselves. While giving children a lot of opportunity to try various activities, we may be depriving them of this valuable time to learn how to be comfortable with themselves and to become resourceful. So alone time is a healthy thing to introduce early on to children who will carry the practice into their future lives.

You may want to start small if being alone is new to you. Carve out time every week to be by yourself (or an hour a day if you can). Take yourself solo to a movie or dinner. Venture to new places. Explore. Be adventurous. Build on the small to take bigger and bigger risks. If you were to remain alone as a lifestyle, assess what that might mean — living without a partner, being responsible for yourself, your choices and decisions, traveling solo, managing your own finances, creating a full and complete life for yourself. Even though you may want to be in relationship, can you be in a meaningful relationship with yourself if you had to?

Take heart and example from the Great Masters. They embarked on solitary journeys to probe the depths of their being and to find answers in revelatory, transformative experiences. Spiritually, being alone may bring you closer to your inner being, allowing you to more readily access the creative and intuitive aspects of yourself.

Give yourself the gift of your own time and energy—there’s nothing more worth it.

More from Abigail Brenner M.D.
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