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To Stay In or Go Out? Four Tips for Deciding

Balancing social and solitary needs is fundamental for subjective happiness.

Balancing social activity with solitary space is an important challenge to negotiate in order to promote one's adaptive functioning. Below are four tips for navigating the internal conflict of deciding whether it’s better for self-care to stay home or go out. It is important to keep in mind that it depends on context.

Recent research in personality and social psychology has shown that individuals differ on several personality traits that may make someone more or less prone to want to stay in and relax or go out with friends. Extraversion, need to belong, interpersonal dependency, attachment style, rejection sensitivity, and social anhedonia (the capacity experience pleasure from social interaction) are among the numerous personality traits that influence social and solitary attitudes, negative or positive.

Dogancan Ozturan/Unsplash
Source: Dogancan Ozturan/Unsplash

However, regardless of individual differences in sociability, the capacity to be alone has long been viewed in psychodynamic theory as a mature achievement that signals the capacity to love. For Winnicott, a child who has the experience of being alone in the presence of their mother (or caregiver) - as opposed to feeling intruded upon by a caregiver with demands, possibly stemming from a need for control - has learned how to be alone, can enjoy being alone, and may develop healthy solitary interests as well as mature interpersonal relationships. Whether or not one is comfortable with and can tolerate or enjoy being alone, it’s important for one to have the experience of being alone from time to time. Healthy solitude can enhance self-regulation and coping ability as well as enjoyment of life. Many people need to be alone to refresh or mentally prepare before socializing and going out into the world. Others avoid being alone excessively.

There is pressure to socialize. Social activity is - in general - healthy. It is linked with positive mood, self-esteem, and the development of romantic relationships as well as meaningful, lasting friendships. However, many people experience conflict and ambivalence about whether to accept a party invitation or go out on a Saturday night. Part of them may want the social approval and experience for health reasons whereas the other part of them may wish to get in the fetal position and binge watch Netflix. Below are four constructs and associated tips to hopefully help people navigate this ambivalence:

  1. Secure base: Generally, if you’re not going to have someone that you really trust and can feel comfortable going to if you start to get overwhelmed, then that is a good indicator you may be better off staying at home. You want to be able to have someone as a secure base to check in with at - for example - a party or whatever the situation may be.
  2. Emotional temperature: You want to be feeling calm-don’t go out if you’re in a reactive state, high in emotion, upset.
  3. Planning: You want to know where you are going and what you are doing and who’s going to be there, so you can know what to expect.
  4. Mental Resource Management: If you have important deadlines or things in the next couple of days, you might want to consider staying home to preserve your mental energy if you’re a person who feels drained after social interactions.

Hopefully, the reader will find these four constructs and the associated advice helpful. As the Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu holds, balance is key in all things. Balancing our needs for social interaction with our needs for solitary self-care is important for subjective happiness.

More from Daniel J Winarick Ph.D.
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