Category Archives: Introverts

The Handbook Of Solitude. Psychological Perspectives on Social Isolation, Social Withdrawal, and Being Alone.

Some might believe that it is not fear that guides the behaviors of some of these solitary individuals. Instead, it might be proposed that some of these noninteracting individuals have a biological orientation that leads them to prefer a solitary existence.

I am quite certain that what the reader will come away with after having completed the chapters included herein is that solitude has many faces.

On Solitude, Withdrawal, and Social Isolation

Kenneth H. Rubin

As I sit in my office pondering what it is that I should be writing in the Foreword to this extraordinary compendium, I am alone. With the door closed, I am protected against possible interruptions and am reminded of the positive features of solitude, there is no one around, it is quiet, and I can concentrate on the duties at hand. Indeed, several contributors to this volume have written about the pleasantries associated with solitude; frankly, I must agree with this perspective, but do so with a number of significant provisos. I will offer a listing of these provisos in the following text. However, before so doing, I would like to suggest a thought experiment or two.

A Science Fiction Thought Experiment

Why must one understand the significance of solitude, withdrawal, and social isolation? Let’s begin with a little thought experiment. Imagine, for at least one millisecond, that we have arrived on a planet populated by billions of people. Never mind how these people came into existence. Let’s just assume that they happen to be on the planet and that we know not how they came to be. Imagine too that there is no interpersonal magnetism, that these people never come together, there are no interactions, there is no crashing together or colliding of these individuals. All we can see are solitary entities walking aimlessly, perhaps occasionally observing each other. In short, we are left with many individuals who produce, collectively, an enormous social void. From an Earthly perspective, we might find the entire enterprise to be rather intriguing or boring or frightening and would likely predict that prospects for the future of this planet are dim.

Given that this is a supposed “thought exercise,” please allow me to humor myself and replace the aforementioned noun “people” with “atoms” or their intrinsic properties of electrons, protons, and neutrons. By so doing, one might have to contemplate such topics as magnetism and collision and the products of these actions. This would immediately give rise to thoughts of mass, electricity, and excitement. Without magnetism (attraction), electricity, and excitement, whatever would we be left with? As I move more forcefully into this exercise, I find myself in increasingly unfamiliar territory I may study pretense, but I am not a pretender at least insofar as suggesting to anyone willing to listen (or read) that l have “real” knowledge about anything pertaining to physics. In fact, I am ever so happy to leave the study of the Higgs boson to that group of scholars engaged in research at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

For the time being, I will escape from any contemplation of physics and swiftly return to thinking about a planet on which people appear to exist without laws of attraction. If the “people” who inhabit the planet do not collide, we are left with the inevitability of what solitude would eventually predict, a nothingness, an emptiness, a void. If “people” did not collide, did not interact, there would be no “us.” Relationships would not exist; there would be no human groups, no communities, no cultures. There would be no sense of values, norms, rules, laws. Social hierarchies would not exist; there would be no need to think about mindreading, perspective taking, interpersonal problemsolving. Liking, loving, accepting, rejecting, excluding, victimizing none of these significant constructs would be relevant. Social comparison, self-appraisal, felt security, loneliness, rejection sensitivity topics that tend to appear regularly in the Developmental, Social, Personality, Cognitive, and Clinical Psychology literatures would be irrelevant. From my admittedly limited perspective, as a Developmental Scientist (and thankfully not as a Physicist), there would be nothing to write, think, feel, or be about.

Thank goodness for those nuclear researchers at CERN. They have taught us that magnetism matters, that interactions matter, that clusters matter (and may collide to produce new entities). These folks are not pondering what happens with people, they are thinking at the subatomic level. I, on the other hand, have spent the past 40-some years thinking about people, their individual characteristics, their interactions and collisions with one another, the relationships that are formed on the basis of their interactions, and the groups, communities, and cultures within which these individuals and relationships can be found. Indeed, I have collected more than a fair share of data on these topics. In so doing, I am left with the conclusion that solitude, isolation, and social withdrawal can be ruinous. It ain’t science fiction.

A Second Thought Experience

Let’s move to a rather different thought experience. Imagine that the community within which we live teaches its inhabitants, from early childhood, that normative sociocultural expectations involve helping, sharing, and caring with and for each other; teaching each other about that which defines the “good, bad, and ugly”; communicating with each other about norms and what may happen when one conforms to or violates them. Imagine too, that in such a community within which interaction, cooperation, and relationships matter, there are some individuals who, for whatever reason, do not interact with their confreres. One might suppose that the remaining members of the community could ponder why it is that these solitary individuals behave as they do. And several suggestions may be offered for their solitude.

For example, it may be suggested that some of these noninteracting individuals have some biological or perhaps some genetic orientation that leads them to feel uncomfortable in the presence of others. Perhaps members of the community may have read something about a gene that is associated with diminished 5-HTT transcription and reduced serotonin uptake. Some in the community may have read somewhere that without the regulating effects of serotonin, the amygdala and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system can become overactive, leading to the physiological profile of a fearful or anxious individual.

Fear may be a guiding force for these solitary individuals fear of what may happen if they approach others in the community; fear of what may happen if they attempt to develop a nonfamilial relationship with another in the community; fear of leaving a negative impression on those who may judge their actions, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Or perhaps, some might believe that it is not fear that guides the behaviors of some of these solitary individuals. Instead, it might be proposed that some of these noninteracting individuals have a biological orientation that leads them to prefer a solitary existence. These individuals may feel more positively inclined when in the company of inanimate objects things.

At this point, our second thought experience leaves us with the identification of two “types” of solitary individuals:

1. Those who are motivated by fear, the prospects of social appraisal, and heightened sensitivity to the possibility of rejection;

2. Those who have a distinct preference for solitude.

Regardless of the epidemiological “causes” of solitary behavior, in a society that has strong beliefs in the importance of cooperation, collaboration, and caregiving, it is likely that the majority of individuals who adhere to the cultural ethos would begin to think unpleasant thoughts about the noninteracting minority. They may think of solitary individuals as displaying unacceptable, discomfiting behavior; they may begin to feel negatively about them; they may discuss among themselves the need to exclude these noninteractors or to alter the behavior of these nonconforming individuals. Indeed, from the extant research, it is known that those who display behaviors considered to be inappropriate or abhorrent to the majority may be isolated by the group-at-large.

And so now we have a third group of solitary individuals those who have been isolated by the social group.

But how would these hypothetical community responses affect the nonsocial, nonconforming individual? What kinds of interactive/noninteractive cycles would be generated? And what would the solitary individuals think and feel about the larger community responses to them?

The Point

The preceding verbiage brings me to the singular message that I am attempting to convey. From “all of the above,” I am willing to step out on a limb to suggest, straight-out, that solitude can be punishing, humbling, debilitating, and destructive.

I do admit that it would be foolish to ignore the perspectives of those who have sung the praises of solitude. This would include several authors of chapters in this compendium. It would also include the many beloved and respected authors, poets, painters, philosophers, spiritualists, and scientists who have suggested that their best work or their deepest thoughts derive from those moments when they are able to escape the madding crowd. Here are a few examples:

1 “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

2 “How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary seabird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” Virginia Woolf

I could offer hundreds of quotations about the glories of solitude from rather well known people. Nevertheless, from my perhaps distorted, limited, and ego-centered perspective, I find it difficult to believe that one can lead a productive and happy life locked in a closet, a cave, a tent, a room. Virginia Woolf committed suicide; Kafka had documented psychological difficulties vis-a-vis his inability to develop and maintain positive and supportive relationships with others.

One may prefer solitude and many of us require solitude for contemplation, exploration, problem solving, introspection, and the escape of pressures elicited by the social/academic/employment/political communities. As I noted in the opening paragraph, solitude may be an entirely acceptable pursuit. But this statement comes with several provisos.

The “ifs”

If one spends time alone voluntarily, and if one can join a social group when one wants to, and if one can regulate one’s emotions (e.g., social fears and anger) effectively, and if one can initiate and maintain positive, supportive relationships with significant others, then the solitary experience can be productive.

But the provisos that I have appended to the solitary experience are rather significant. I am quite certain that what the reader will come away with after having completed the chapters included herein is that solitude has many faces. These faces have varied developmental beginnings, concomitants, and courses. And these faces may be interpreted in different ways in different contexts, communities, and cultures. And perhaps most importantly, the provisos offered previously must be kept in mind regardless of context, community, and culture. Frankly, if one fails to be mindful of these provisos, one can return to the introductory thought experiment and be assured that the failure of individuals to “collide” with one another will result in unpleasant consequences.

People do need to collide, or better put, interact with others. Of course, these interactions must be viewed by both partners as acceptable, positive, and productive. These interactions must be need fulfilling. Drawing from the wisdom of others who have written of the significance of such interactions (e.g., John Bowlby and Robert Hinde), one might expect that a product of these interactive experiences is the expectation of the nature of future interactions with the same partners. Furthermore, from this perspective, one might expect that each partner is likely to develop a set of expectations about the nature of future interactions with unknown others. If the interactions experienced are pleasant and productive, then positive dyadic relationships may result. if, however, the interactions experienced are unpleasant or agonistic, the partners may avoid each other. And in some cases, if a particular individual comes to expect that all interactions will eventually prove negative, withdrawal from the social community may result.

A Final Comment: Annus horribilis

During the first six months of 2012, I “lived” in a hospital after having endured a heart transplant and numerous health complications. Although I was surrounded by medical staff and had many regular visitors, I was literally isolated from the “outside world.” For the first two months of my hospitalization, my mind and body were at the river’s edge. But when the neurons began firing somewhat normally (beginning March 2012), and when I was able to converse with hospital staff and visitors, I nevertheless felt totally alone. It did not help that when visitors (and medical staff) met with me, they were required to wear masks, gloves, and medical gowns of one sort or another.

Eventually, it struck me that I was living at the extreme edge of what I had been studying for most of my professional career. And just as I had found through the use of questionnaires, interviews, rating scales, and observations (with samples of children and adolescents, and their parents, peers, and friends), solitude brought with it intrapersonal feelings of loneliness, sadness, anxiety, helplessness, and hopelessness. I felt disconnected from my personal and professional communities. Despite visitors’ generosity and kindness, I was miserable. Of course, when I was able to read and use my laptop, I could have taken the opportunity to play with ideas and data; my solitude could have been productive. But negative affect (emotion dysregulation) got in the way.

Upon return home, I rehabilitated and received visitors family, friends, colleagues, students, former golf and hockey “buddies.” I welcomed news about family (I was especially grateful to be reunited with my grandchildren!), friends, academe, and the world at large. I began to catch up on the various projects that my lab was involved in. Within a matter of weeks, I was coauthoring manuscripts and preparing abstracts for submission to various conferences. Although physically weak and incapable of taking lengthy walks or lifting anything heavier than a few pounds, my spirits were greatly improving, I was no longer alone! And finally, by August, when I returned to campus for the first time, I felt reconnected and valued!

The bottom line is that my personal solitude, especially given that it was experienced for a lengthy period of time and “enforced” externally and involuntarily, resulted in unpleasant consequences. The good news is that I have come to believe that the data my colleagues and I have collected over the years are actually meaningful beyond the halls of academe! Spending an inordinate time alone; feeling disconnected, rejected, and lonely; being excluded and perhaps victimized by others; being unable to competently converse with and relate to others (which may well result from solitude) can create a life of misery and malcontent; in some cases, this combination of factors may result in attempts at self-harm; in other cases it may result in attempts to harm others. Think for a moment about how often perpetrators of violence (e.g., Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newton High School, and the Boston Marathon bombings) have been described as loners, withdrawn, victimized, isolated, and friendless. Indeed, think about how some of the perpetrators have described themselves.

As I write this last sentence, my mind drifts to the lyricist/songwriting team of Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament. Their evocative song “Jeremy” is based, in part, on the description of the death of Jeremy Wade Delle, a 15-year-old high school student in Richardson, Texas. Jeremy is portrayed as a quiet, sad adolescent who “spoke in class today” by committing suicide (by gunshot) in the presence of his classmates. The lyrics also suggest that the Jeremy in the song suffered parental abuse and/or neglect. In the music video, Jeremy appears to be rejected, excluded, and isolated by his peers. The words “harmless,” “peers,” and “problem” appear throughout the video. And in interviews about the “meanings” of the lyrics, Vedder has suggested that he was attempting to draw attention to one possible consequence of difficulties that can be produced by familial and peer disruptions. More importantly, he argued that one must gather one’s strength to fight against the seeming inevitability of the negative consequences of isolation, solitude, and rejection. I would suggest that the central message is that family members, peers, school personnel, and community leaders should be aware of the signs that presage intra and interpersonal desolation.

Of course, not all people described as “solitary” or “isolated” have intra or interpersonal problems. As noted previously, solitude and social withdrawal are not “necessarily evil.” We all need time alone to energize and re-energize, to mull, to produce this-and-that without interruption. But our species is a social species. So much is gained when people interact, collaborate, help, and care for others, develop relationships, and become active members of groups and communities. However, when combined with dysregulated emotions, social incompetence, and a lack of supportive relationships, solitude, much like many other behavioral constructs studied by psychologists, can induce miserable consequences. The “trick” is to know if, when, and how to intervene within the family, peer group, and community.

In closing, it is with pleasure and pride that two of my former students (and current colleagues and close friends) have done such a wonderful job in putting together this compendium on solitude. After all, I do believe that once upon a time, I may have introduced the constructs of social withdrawal and solitude to Rob Coplan and Julie Bowker! Somehow, I doubt that I instructed or commandeered Rob and Julie to study solitude, isolation, and aloneness. If memory serves me correct, they were each interested in things social. All I happened to do was provide them with a personal, historical (perhaps hysterical) note about how and why I became interested in the research I was doing. Of course, I could never claim to have played a role in the thoughts and research of those who have examined solitude from the perspectives of anthropology, biology, computer science, divinity, neuroscience, political science, primatology, psychoanalysis, sociology, and those tracks of psychology that focus primarily on personality, the environment, autism, and adult relationships. Therein lies the beauty of this compendium.

Editors Coplan and Bowker have cleverly taken a twisty turn that curves beyond their own comfort zones of Developmental Science. By so doing, they have left me absolutely delighted. Coplan and Bowker have clearly attempted to move the reader into multiple zones of cognitive disequilibration and to appreciate that if we are to truly understand any given phenomenon, we must look well beyond the silos within which we are typically reinforced to reside.

You now hold in your hands a selection of readings that describe a variety of perspectives on solitude. You will read what solitude looks like; why it is that people spend time alone; why it is that solitude can be a necessary experience; how it feels and what one thinks about when one spends a good deal of time avoiding others or being rejected and excluded by one’s social community. There is no compendium quite like the one that you are handling. I applaud the editors’ efforts, and I do hope that the reader does herself/himself justice by closely examining chapters that move well beyond their own self-defined areas of expertise and intrapersonal comfort tunnels.

1 All Alone

Multiple Perspectives on the Study of Solitude

Robert J. Coplan, Department of Psychology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

Julie C. Bowker, Department of Psychology, University at Buffalo, USA


Seems I’m not alone in being alone. Gordon Matthew Sumner (1979)

The experience of solitude is a ubiquitous phenomenon. Historically, solitude has been considered both a boon and a curse, with artists, poets, musicians, and philosophers both lauding and lamenting being alone. Over the course of the lifespan, humans experience solitude for many different reasons and subjectively respond to solitude with a wide range of reactions and consequences. Some people may retreat to solitude as a respite from the stresses of life, for quiet contemplation, to foster creative impulses, or to commune with nature. Others may suffer the pain and loneliness of social isolation, withdrawing or being forcefully excluded from social interactions. Indeed, we all have and will experience different types of solitude in our lives.

The complex relationship we have with solitude and its multifaceted nature is reflected in our everyday language and culture. We can be alone in a crowd, alone with nature, or alone with our thoughts. Solitude can be differentially characterized along the full range of a continuum from a form of punishment (e.g., timeouts for children, solitary confinement for prisoners) to a less than ideal context (e.g., no man is an island, one is the loneliest number, misery loves company), all the way to a desirable state (e.g., taking time for oneself, needing your space or alone time).

In this Handbook, we explore the many different faces of solitude, from perspectives inside and outside of psychology. In this introductory chapter, we consider some emergent themes in the historical study of solitude (see Figure 1.1) and provide an overview of the contents of this volume.

Figure 1.1 Emergent themes in the psychological study of solitude.

Emergent Themes

The study of solitude cuts across virtually all psychology subdisciplines and has been explored from multiple and diverse theoretical perspectives across the lifespan. Accordingly, it is not surprising that there remains competing hypotheses regarding the nature of solitude and its implications for well-being. Indeed, from our view, these fundamentally opposed differential characterizations of solitude represent the most pervasive theme in the historical study of solitude as a psychological construct.

In essence, this ongoing debate about the nature of solitude can be distilled down to an analysis of its costs versus benefits.

Solitude is bad

Social affiliations are relationships that have long been considered to be adaptive to the survival of the human species. Indeed, social groups offer several well-documented evolutionary advantages: e.g., protection against predators, cooperative hunting, and food sharing. The notion that solitude may have negative consequences has a long history and can literally be traced back to biblical times: Genesis 2:18, And the LORD God said “It is not good for the man to be alone”.

Within the field of psychology, Triplett (1898) demonstrated in one of the earliest psychology experiments that children performed a simple task (pulling back a fishing reel) more slowly when alone than when paired with other children performing the same task. Thus, at the turn of the century, it was clear that certain types of performance were hindered by solitude.

Developmental psychologists have also long suggested that excessive solitude during childhood can cause psychological pain and suffering, damage critically important family relationships, impede the development of the self-system, and prevent children from learning from their peers. The profound psychological impairments caused by extreme cases of social isolation in childhood, in cases such as Victor (Lane, 1976) or Genie (Curtiss, 1977), have emphasized that human contact is a basic necessity of development.

Social psychologists have also long considered the need for affiliation to be a basic human need. Early social psychology studies on small group dynamics, such as the Robbers Cave experiments, further highlighted the ways in which intergroup conflict can emerge and how out-group members can become quickly perceived negatively and in a stereotypical fashion and become mistreated. More recently, the need to belong theory has suggested that we all have a fundamental need to belong or be accepted and to maintain positive relationships with others, and that the failure to fulfill such needs can lead to significant physical and psychological distress. Relatedly, social neuroscientists now suggest that loneliness and social isolation can be bad not only for our psychological functioning and well-being but also for our physical health.

Finally, from the perspective of clinical psychology, social isolation has been traditionally viewed as a target criterion for intervention. In the first edition of the Diagnostic statistical manual of mental disorders, people who failed to relate effectively to others could be classified as suffering from either a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia; a psychoneurotic disorder, such as anxiety; or a personality disorder, such as an inadequate personality, characterized by inadaptability, ineptness, poor judgment, lack of physical and emotional stamina, and social incompatibility.

Schizoid personality disorder is described as another personality disorder characterized by social difficulties, specifically social avoidance. Interestingly, children with schizoid personalities are described as quiet, shy, and sensitive; adolescents were described as withdrawn, introverted, unsociable, and as shut-ins.

Solitude can be good

In stark contrast, and from a very different historical tradition, many theorists and researchers have long called attention to the benefits of being alone.

For example, a central question for ancient Greek and Roman philosophers was the role of the group in society and the extent to which the individual should be a part of and separate from the group in order to achieve wisdom, excellence, and happiness. Later, Montaigne acknowledged the difficulties of attaining solitude but argued that individuals should strive for experiences of solitude to escape pressures, dogma, conventional ways of thinking and being, vices, and the power of the group. For Montaigne, the fullest experiences of solitude could not be guaranteed by physical separation from others; instead, solitude involved a state of natural personal experience that could be accomplished both alone and in the company of others.

Related ideas can be found in religious writings and theology. For example, Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who spent many years in solitude, passionately argued in several books and essays that solitude offered unique experiences for contemplation and prayer and that solitary retreats are necessary to achieve authentic connections with others.

Ideas about the benefits of solitude can also be found in the writings of Winnicott (1958). For Winnicott, solitude was an experience of aloneness afforded by a good enough facilitating environment and was a necessary precondition during infancy and childhood for later psychological maturity and self-discovery and self-realization.

In adulthood, spending time alone and away from others has also long been argued by philosophers, authors, and poets to be necessary for imaginative, creative, and artistic enterprises (e.g., Thoreau, 1854). In these perspectives, solitary experiences provide benefits when the individual chooses to be alone. However, personal stories of several accomplished authors, such as Beatrix Potter and Emily Dickinson, suggest that creativity and artistic talents may also develop in response to long periods of painful social isolation and rejection (Middleton, 1935; Storr, 1988).

Underlying mechanisms of solitude

Although the costs versus benefits debate regarding solitude is somewhat all-encompassing, nested within this broader distinction is a theme pertaining to the different mechanisms that may underlie our experiences of solitude. To begin with, it is important to distinguish between instances when solitude is other imposed versus sought after. Rubin (1982) was one of the first psychologists to describe these different processes as distinguishing between social isolation, where the individual is excluded, rejected, or ostracized by their peer group, and social withdrawal, where the individual removes themselves from opportunities for social interaction.

As we have previously discussed, there are long-studied negative consequences that accompany being socially isolated from one’s group of peers. Thus, we turn now to a consideration of varying views regarding why individuals might chose to withdraw into solitude.

Within the psychological literature, researchers have highlighted several different reasons why individuals may seek out solitude, including a desire for privacy (Pedersen, 1979), the pursuance of religious experiences (Hay & Morisey, 1978), the simple enjoyment of leisure activities (Purcell & Keller, 1989), and seeking solace from or avoiding upsetting situations (Larson, 1990).

Biological and neurophysiological processes have also been considered as putative sources of solitary behaviors. For example, the ancient Greeks and Romans argued that biologically based individual differences in character help to determine mood (such as fear and anxiety) and social behavioral patterns (such as the tendency to be sociable or not), ideas which were precursors to the contemporary study of child temperament (Kagan & Fox, 2006). As well, recent interest in the specific neural systems that may be involved in social behaviors can be traced to the late 1800s with the case of Phineas Gage, who injured his orbitofrontal cortex in a railroad construction accident and afterwards was reported to no longer adhere to social norms or to be able to sustain positive relationships (Macmillan, 2000).

Finally, there is also a notable history of research pertaining to motivations for social contact (e.g., Murphy, 1954; Murray, 1938), which has been construed as a primary substrate of human personality (Eysenck, 1947). An important distinction was made between social approach and social avoidance motivations (Lewinsky, 1941; Mehrabian & Ksionzky, 1970). It has since been argued that individual differences in these social motivations further discriminate different reasons why individuals might withdraw from social interactions. For example, a low social approach motivation, or solitropic orientation, is construed as a non-fearful preference for solitude in adults (Burger, 1995; Cheek & Buss, 1981; Leary, Herbst, & McCrary, 2001) and children (Asendorpf, 1990; Coplan, Rubin, Fox, Calkins, & Stewart, 1994). In contrast, the conflict between competing social approach and social avoidance motivations (i.e., approach-avoidance conflict) is thought to lead to shyness and social anxiety (Cheek & Melchior, 1990; Jones, Briggs, & Smith, 1986).

Developmental timing effects of solitude

Our final theme has to do with developmental timing or when (or at what age/developmental period) experiences of solitude occur. The costs of solitude are often assumed to be greater during childhood than in adolescence or adulthood given the now widely held notion that the young developing child requires a significant amount of positive peer interaction for healthy social, emotional, and social-cognitive development and well-being (Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 2006). This pervasive belief may explain, in part, why considerably more developmental research on the concomitants of social withdrawal has focused on children as compared to adolescents. In addition, it is during adolescence that increasing needs for and enjoyment of privacy and solitude are thought to emerge (Larson, 1990). For this reason, it has been posited that some of the negative peer consequences often associated with social withdrawal during childhood, such as peer rejection and peer victimization, may diminish during the adolescent developmental period (Bowker, Rubin, & Coplan, 2012). However, it has also long been argued that solitude at any age can foster loneliness and psychological angst, particularly if it is other-imposed.

As mentioned previously, social needs are thought to exist in individuals of all ages, with several social and developmental theories suggesting that psychological well-being is determined by whether social needs are satisfied. For example, Sullivan (1953) posited that all individuals have social needs but that with development, the nature of the social needs change (e.g., with puberty, needs for sexual relations emerge), as well as the type of relationship required to fulfill the needs (e.g., relationships with parents might satisfy early needs for tenderness; same-sex chumships or best friendships might satisfy needs for intimacy that emerge in early adolescence). Regardless of the developmental changes, however, Sullivan argued that if social needs were not fulfilled, significant negative self-system and psychological consequences would ensue. Consistent with these latter ideas are research findings that have identified loneliness, at any age, as one of the strongest risk factors for psychological illbeing (Heinrich & Gullone, 2006).

The debate as to when in development solitude might carry the greatest costs is yet to be resolved. However, it must also be acknowledged that the very nature of solitary experiences likely changes with age. For example, young children may retreat to their rooms, engage in solitary play in the company of peers, or find themselves forced to the periphery of social groups. Although other-imposed solitude might be manifested similarly at older ages (e.g., adolescents being forced to eat alone at lunchtime, adults being left out of afterwork gatherings), adolescents and adults have greater control over and increased opportunities for selfselected solitary experiences relative to children. For example, adolescents are sometimes left alone without parental supervision in their homes or able to take themselves to places of their choosing. Adults can also choose to travel alone, can engage in meditative and religious retreats, and can select relatively solitary occupations and ways to spend their free time. In contrast, there may come a time in the life of an older adult where they are significantly impeded in their ability to actively seek out social contacts. It remains to be seen how these potential differences in agency pertaining to solitude across the lifespan speak to the relation between solitude and well-being.

Final Comments: Solitude…Together?

It is somewhat ironic that the future study of solitude will likely be pursued within the context of an everexpanding and increasingly connected global social community. The chapter authors in this Handbook span 13 countries and represent only the very tip of the iceberg in terms of cross-cultural research in this area. There is growing evidence to suggest that both the meaning and impact of (different types of) solitude differ substantively across cultures (e.g., Chen & French, 2008). Accordingly, it is critically important to embed this psychological research within a larger cultural context.

Moreover, as evidenced by the chapters in the final section of this volume, psychologists have much to learn about the study of solitude from our colleagues in other disciplines. Indeed, we should expect interdisciplinary collaboration to eventually become the norm in these (and other) research areas. Such collaborations will allow us to further explore both the depth and breadth of our experiences of solitude and perhaps help to resolve some of the great debates in theory and research on solitude, such as when and why solitude causes harm or brings benefits.

Finally, rapidly evolving technological advances intend to connect all of us all of the time to social and informational networks. This inevitably leads to the question as to whether any of us will ever truly be alone in the future. It is certain that our relationship with solitude will necessarily evolve in the digital age. In this regard, it remains to be seen if the experience of solitude is itself doomed to become an archaic remnant of a past era.

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The Handbook Of Solitude. Psychological Perspectives on Social Isolation, Social Withdrawal, and Being Alone.

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If You Like Being Alone You Have These 5 Amazing Traits.

“I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.” Audrey Hepburn

Let’s clear something up: being alone is not the same as being lonely. In fact, many people prefer being alone because that’s their way to recharge and refuel their energy.

Being a loner and enjoying solitude can be a great thing. And people who enjoy being alone are one of the most interesting and fun people to be with. They have many, many amazing qualities that make them extraordinary human beings.

Here are 5 of them:

1. They Are Open-Minded

Many would perceive someone who is reserved and quiet as being judgmental and unsocial. However, this is not true. People who are comfortable being alone are actually more open minded than one would think because they can discuss any topic due to their massive knowledge they have gained during their alone time by reading books watching documentaries, or just focusing on themselves and their thoughts.

2. They Are Exquisite Listeners

All introverts are amazing listeners. This is because when people spend time alone they process things in their heads instead of saying them out loud. So, in turn, their listening ratio is higher than their talking ratio.

They would listen to anyone as long as the conversation doesn’t involve small talk. They hate small talk more than anything.

3. They Are Emotionally Stable

No, they are not neurotic as many people would believe. The word neurotic typically encompasses feelings of anger, fear, worry, anxiety, loneliness, and depressive mood. However, people who enjoy solitude are not by default experiencing those feelings. In fact, they are more in touch with themselves and their emotions.

4. They Are Quickly Over-Stimulated

Studies have shown that people who enjoy spending time alone have a different brain structure than those who are overly social. Namely, people who are socially active have more dopamine reward action in their brain.

The introverts, on the other hand, prefer the acetylcholine, a brain chemical that is similar to dopamine and is connected with the reward system as well. The main difference between them is that this chemical gets activated when people are by themselves and turn inward.

This is why extroverts enjoy loud music and noise, they think it is a part of the fun while introverts prefer the quiet dinners and the comfort of their home.

5. They DO Like People

They have small circles of friends but this doesn’t mean that they don’t like people. They just despise small talk. That’s it.

Curious Mind Magazine

ALONE. The Badass Psychology of People Who Like Being Alone – Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.

A loneliness panic has swept the nation and the world. 

For years, the popular press and the annals of academia have been spewing out warnings, in increasingly alarmist tones, that loneliness has reached epic proportions, and that it is killing us. But amidst all the angst about loneliness, something profoundly important has been overlooked: Some people like being alone. 

They like their time alone. They like living alone. In many nations all around the world, the number of people living alone has reached record levels. More and more people are also dining alone, traveling alone, and making their way in public places alone. 

Studies of married couples in the U.S. show that their lives are less enmeshed than they once were. Some couples are even living apart, in places of their own, not because far-flung jobs or other externalities have forced that upon them, but because they want their own space. 

For unknown numbers of people, being alone is not just a preference –it is a craving, a need. Deprived of their time alone for too long, they begin to fantasize about it. Nothing feels quite right until their need for solitude is replenished. Who are these people who like being alone? 

Stereotypically, they are the weirdos and the freaks, the scary loners planning shocking acts of violence. New thinking and fresh research upends those caricatures. We now have a better idea of the true personalities of people who like being alone, and they are, well, totally badass. 

In June of 2017, I published a post to my “Living Single” blog at Psychology Today called “The badass personalities of people who like being alone.” 

Immediately, it took off. It was shared and re-shared. It was republished over and over again, with and without permission. It got picked up nationally and internationally. That made me realize that there is a real hunger for a different story about the time we spend alone, one that acknowledges that not all people who live alone or spend time alone are lonely or doomed to an early death. Some, in fact, are spectacularly happy and healthy. 

I’ve been writing about people who live single or live alone or like their time alone for decades. In Alone: The Badass Psychology of People Who Like Being Alone, I have collected more than 60 of the articles I have published at places such as Psychology Today, Psych Central, and the Washington Post. Sample what you like or read it cover to cover. Either way, you will come away with a whole new understanding, grounded in research, of what it means to like being alone. 

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The True Meanings of Alone, Loner, and Lonely 

The Happy Loner 

“Loners” get a bad rap. “Loner”is the label we affix to criminals, outcasts, and just about everyone else we find scary or unsettling. In my all-time favorite book on the topic – Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto – author Anneli Rufus offers a whole different take on the true meaning of “loner.” 

A loner, she says, is “someone who prefers to be alone.” That person is so very different than all those who remain on the outside feeling isolated but so desperately wanted to be on the inside, feeling that they belong. The intense but thwarted craving for “acceptance, approval, coolness, companionship” is what sometimes sets off people who go ballistic on their objects of their desires. 

In an essay in the Guardian, Barbara Ellen lets us know that she has also had enough of the fear and the pity for people who actually like their time alone. Here’s how she opens her commentary: There used to be a fashion for scaremongering surveys about single women, saying things like: “Eight out of 10 women are going to die alone, surrounded by 17 cats.” But to that I would mentally add: “Or it could all go horribly wrong.” 

To my mind, aloneness never necessarily equated with loneliness. It wasn’t a negative, something to be avoided, feared or endured. In the tradition of Anneli Rufus (and everyone else who recognizes that alone and lonely are not the same thing), Ellen know that the kind of solitude that is chosen is a whole different experience than the type that is unwelcome. 

Riffing on a headline proclaiming that “Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe,” Ellen offers an alternative perspective: This study could just as well be interpreted as saying that many Britons are self-reliant problem-solvers, respectful of other people’s privacy –and what’s wrong with that? Isn’t this the modern British definition of neighbourliness: not over-chummy and intrusive, but friendly, considerate and, most importantly, happy to sign for your Amazon parcels? 

Barbara Ellen also poses a question that we should all ponder: Why is it that sociability is considered a skill, whereas the ability to be alone is seen as weird? As she notes: Personally, I’d be more likely to distrust people who can’t bear time with themselves. What’s wrong with them that they can’t abide their own company – what are they trying to hide in the crowd? 

Alone in the World or Alone in Solitude? 

For such a little word, “alone” carries some big meanings. Sometimes “alone” is used to mean “single,” and I have often found that troubling. When other people are discussing a single person and they say, “she’s alone,” they often do so with sadness and pity. What they mean is, “She doesn’t have anyone”or “He’s alone in the world.” There are single people who truly are alone in the world, just as there are married people who fit that description. (Having a spouse is no guarantee of having someone who cares about you or even talks to you.) 

On the average, though, single people are more connected to other people than married people are. I’ve written often about how single people have more friends, do more to maintain their ties with siblings and parents and friends and neighbors, do more to participate in the life of their cities and towns, and do more than their share of caring for aging parents and others who need help. 

In contrast, when couples move in together or get married, they tend to become more insular. That happens even if they don’t have children. Single people who fit this typical pattern of maintaining a diversity of personal relationships are probably less vulnerable than, say, married people who invest all their relationship capital in their spouse. Research on susceptibility to depression is consistent with that suggestion. 

So is research on “emotionships,” which are the relationships we have with other people that are emotion-specific (for example, looking to different people when we are angry vs. happy vs. sad). “Alone in the world” is the ominous meaning of “alone.” There is another, more uplifting meaning, that many people embrace –single people in particular, and especially those who are single at heart. “Alone” can mean alone in solitude –having time and space to yourself. 

To the many people who savor their solitude, time alone is a blessing and a gift. To some (myself included), it may even feel like a necessity. To those who crave solitude rather than fearing it, time alone can offer wonderful opportunities for creativity, relaxation, rejuvenation, reflection, and spirituality. 

When I spent some time asking people about their ideal living situations, I found that everyone wants some time alone and some time with other people, but the proportions vary enormously from person to person. When seeking time to themselves, people are making room in their lives for that positive, nourishing, and uplifting sense of being alone. When seeking meaningful connections with other people, they are trying to keep that other sense of aloneness, being alone in the world, at bay. When we find just the right balance of time alone and time with others, it is magical.

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Why Alone is Not the Same as Lonely 

With more and more people living single and living alone, and so much hand-wringing about loneliness, it has never been more important to understand the difference between the kind of aloneness that people seek out and savor (not loneliness) and the kind of aloneness that hurts (loneliness). 

That’s what I talked about when Peace Talks Radio asked me to participate in their special show, “Considering Loneliness.” Here’s the transcript of my part of the show. 

Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Dr. Bella DePaulo, Project Scientist, University of California at Santa Barbara, author of “Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After and How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century.

Paul Ingles: Dr. Bella DePaulo is an author and visiting professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. 

Dr. DePaulo, you’ve also authored a blog called “The Happy Loner” that begins: “Loners get a bad rap. Loner is the label we affix to criminals, outcasts and just about everyone else we find scary or unsettling.” 

Then you quote author Anneli Rufus who wrote a different take that a loner is quote “someone who prefers to be alone” which you say is different from those who remain on the outside feeling isolated but desperately want to be on the inside. 

Help me understand the distinction. It sounds to me like you accept the more troubling definition of loner, but just want to make room for Loner 2.0 or Loner B who just prefers to be alone. Is that fair? 

Bella DePaulo: Yes. Well, Anneli Rufus says that a loner is someone who prefers to be alone, so that’s her central basic definition and she thinks that when we call these serial killers “loners” and we affix that kind of dark, menacing meaning to loner, we’re distorting the true meaning of loner. 

But let me say that whether being alone, living alone is a good or bad thing depends on how you got there. So if you got there because you want it and you love it and you crave it, that’s great. If you got there because, let’s say a spouse died, that’s more difficult although some people find that once a spouse dies, they come into their own in their own space and time. 

The real problematic person living alone is the one who has been rejected, who has been ostracized, particularly if they’ve been chronically ostracized. I think that can be an ingredient to real deep anger and the potential for violence. 

Ingles: So let’s say your “Loner B” in our little construct here, you prefer to be alone. Is it valuable to be even concerned about the claims of researchers that they might be at risk of becoming “ Loner A” like distrustful of society or prone to feeling rejected? Is it valuable, if you choose to be alone, to be aware of your place on the continuum and have an awareness of this conversation? 

DePaulo: I suppose so, but you know what’s really interesting? There’s a whole cottage industry of loneliness. If you went on Google and typed “loneliness,” you’d probably get tens of thousands of returns and yet the kind of research that would look at whether people have chosen to be alone or not is strikingly missing. So we really don’t know if the people who choose to be alone, who savor their solitude, who get great creative work done, get great restorative benefits, we don’t know if they are prone to some of the same negative risks that we’ve heard about so often in the general literature on loneliness. We just don’t know. That’s my scientific answer. 

Ingles: Okay and do you have another answer? 

DePaulo: Yes, I wonder about it. Imagine if we tried to force everyone to live with other people because we think that would somehow cure loneliness. Would it really? 

I think especially about the change over time and how older people live. It used to be that older people, say if a spouse died, they would almost automatically end up living with other people, often their grown children. Now that older people have Social Security and other ways of actually buying their own independence, more and more of them are choosing to live alone and they’re certainly choosing to stay outside of institutions if they can possibly afford it and so it seems like people are making a choice and so I think we should be cautious about demonizing people who live alone or thinking: you poor thing. Your life is going to be nasty, brutish and short because they’ve chosen this. 

Many people who live alone could find other people to live with, but that’s not what they want to do. 

Ingles: Well let’s see, let me go here with this then; one of your books is entitled Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized and Ignored and Still Live Happily Ever After, so let me look at the first half of that title to start because it sounds like it’s kind of what we were talking about here. It sounds like that you’re citing a societal preference for coupling. 

DePaulo: Yes, absolutely. 

Ingles: Are you suggesting that by stereotyping, stigmatizing and ignoring signals that society could be amplifying feelings of loneliness? 

DePaulo: Yes, it is, and ironically, what it could also be doing is pushing people to marry who really don’t feel like it’s right for them and what happens then is you have people who end up lonelier than they would have been because they’re marrying because they think they should marry, because they think it’s the only legitimate, respected, celebrated option and so then they end up with what is probably the most painful kind of loneliness; the loneliness you experience when there is someone lying there right beside you. 

Ingles: What would you call on society to do for its part in quelling loneliness brought on in part by those attitudes about singles? I mean if someone listening says, “Oh yeah, I guess I have thought that about singles,” what would you suggest they change in their behavior or their attitude that might tone it down a little bit? 

DePaulo: I think they should realize that there are so many ways to live in contemporary American society. That’s one of the joys of living in this time and place.

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What is the Opposite of Loneliness? 

On the eve of her graduation from Yale, Marina Keegan wrote an essay that, within about a week, would be read by well over a million people from 98 nations. It was called “The Opposite of Loneliness.” 

But what is the opposite of loneliness? Keegan opened her essay by noting that we don’t have a word for it, but whatever it is, she found it at Yale: “It is not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. 

When it’s four A.M. and no one goes to bed…“Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves. A cappella groups, sports teams, houses, societies, clubs. These tiny groups that make us feel loved and safe and part of something even on our loneliest nights…”

That essay now opens a collection of Keegan’s writings published under the same title, “The Opposite of Loneliness.” 

The question it poses, what is the opposite of loneliness, still resonates. For people who are “single at heart,” I think the opposite of loneliness is single life. People who are single at heart live their best, most meaningful, and most authentic lives as single people. I’m one of them. I rarely feel lonely, and when I do, it is usually when I’m with other people. 

One time, when I was living in Charlottesville, I was walking the downtown mall with a friend I always loved talking to – she’s smart, wryly funny, and great at getting to matters of depth. We happened upon a big table of colleagues who were laughing and talking. She wanted to join them. I sat for a while, but their conversation was so superficial and so inane, it made me feel lonely. I made an excuse and left. 

Another time, two couples wanted to treat me for my birthday. I looked forward to it. But they spent the night talking about babies and daycare. The whole night. 

That, rather spending my birthday home alone, is the definition of loneliness. I like the examples Keegan gives of the opposite of loneliness. But I’d add to them the experiences of being all by yourself, and feeling so engaged in whatever you are doing that you don’t even notice how much time has passed or that you’re actually pretty tired. (I think it is an example of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.”)

The opposite of loneliness is realizing the answer to what you were puzzling over when you weren’t trying to figure it out –during a long walk, for instance, or in the shower or just as you are falling asleep or waking up. The opposite of loneliness is feeling grateful for all the people in your life you cherish, even (especially?) when you don’t see them all the time. 

The opposite of loneliness is JOMO – the Joy of Missing Out. For me, that’s when I’m so delighted not to feel obligated to participate in social events that don’t interest me. I stay home and revel in my solitude, or pursue the social engagements that really do engage me. 

Alone is not lonely. Alone is a neutral description of a state that can be experienced any number of ways. Loneliness is, by definition, painful. The opposite of loneliness is contentment or joy. It is living your most meaningful life, the life you want to live rather than the life you think you should be living. For me, the opposite of loneliness is living single.

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Six Psychological Insights About Solitude 

People who are single-at-heart love the time they have to themselves. In fact, when thinking about spending time alone, just about all of them react with something like, “Ah, sweet solitude,” and almost none of them react with, “Oh, no, I might be lonely!” 

With more and more people living single, and more and more people living alone, a better understanding of solitude is becoming increasingly important. 

In 2014, The Handbook of Solitude was published. One of my favorite chapters in the book is “Experiences of Solitude,” by James Averill and Louise Sundararajan. It is a chapter that acknowledges the potential negative experiences of solitude, such as loneliness and boredom, but has far more to say about what can make solitude so sweet. Here are six of the authors’insights. 

#1 There is a difference between authentic solitude, in which the experience of being alone is mostly positive, and pseudo-solitude, which feels mostly like loneliness. Do you know what it is? It’s choice: “…authentic solitude is typically based on a decision to be alone; in contrast, pseudo-solitude, in which loneliness predominates, involves a sense of abandonment or unwanted isolation.”

#2 Loneliness is not all negative. It can actually be part of an authentic solitude experience, as, for example, when people drift in and out of different feelings, including feelings of loneliness, when they are alone. Loneliness can also be motivating, as when it pushes people to figure out solutions to their problems. Only when loneliness dominates the experience of being alone and seems insurmountable does the experience get classified as pseudo-solitude. 

#3 Do we appreciate solitude more as we grow older? I don’t know of any definitive data on this, but the authors believe that we do, as did Einstein when he said, “I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in years of maturity.” Averill and Sundararajan believe that “the sentiment is true of many people of advanced age, who have learned to find solitude delicious but who are reluctant to admit the fact due to cultural prejudices.”

#4 How can we understand how some people come to be good at being alone and others just can’t handle it? Again, I don’t know any great data on that, but the authors point to the 20th century psychoanalyst, Donald Winnocott, who believed that experiences during infancy are important. As the authors explained, “he posited that only those people who as infants were free to explore and independently occupy themselves in the security of their mothers’ presence will as adults have the capacity to be alone.”

#5 It is possible to experience solitude vicariously – for example, through art or poetry. Certain portrayals of nature can be especially effective. 

#6 The kinds of opportunities we now have to experience solitude were largely missing in the past. “For example, in colonial America, young people were expected to establish a household as soon as they had the means to live independently. Within a household privacy was rarely possible, even in bed; and since households served multiple functions (educational, commercial, etc.), they were, in turn, under constant guidance and surveillance by the community.”

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20 Varieties of Solitude 

In “Experiences of solitude,” a chapter in The Handbook of Solitude, James Averill and Louise Sundararajan described twenty different experiences of solitude. 

Statistical analyses showed that the experiences clustered into five groups, with a few of the experiences not fitting clearly into just one of the groups. (Those are listed under “other experiences of solitude.”) 

In research by Yao Wang reviewed in the chapter, American and Chinese university students rated the desirability of the 20 different experiences of time alone. Using the American ratings, I have listed the five main groups in the order of desirability. So, for Americans, experiences of freedom were the most desirable experiences of being alone. 

Within each of the five groups, I also arranged the specific examples the same way – the ones rated most desirable by the Americans are listed first. 

The American and Chinese ratings were most different for freedom and problem-solving. Americans found the experience of freedom especially more desirable than the Chinese did (though the Chinese rated it on the desirable end of the scale) and the Chinese rated the opportunity for problem-solving as more desirable than the Americans did. 

1. Freedom Inner peace: “You feel calm and free from the pressures of everyday life.” 

Freedom: “You feel free to do as you wish, without concern for social rules.” 

Daydreaming: “You engage in fantasies where you could do anything you desire.”

2. Enlightenment Self-discovery: “You gain insight into your fundamental values and goals, unique strengths, and weaknesses.”

Enlightenment: “You gain better realization of life’s meaning and significance.”

Emotional refinement: “Being alone provides an opportunity to cultivate and refine your emotions.”

Self-enrichment: “You use the time to enrich yourself and to broaden your perspective.”

Creativity: “Being alone stimulates novel ideas or innovative ways of expressing yourself.”

Problem-solving: “You think about specific problems and plan a course of action.”

3. Intimacy Reminiscence: “You recall events you have experienced or people you have known.”

Intimacy: “You feel especially close to someone you care about.”

4. Relaxation Relaxation: “You use the time to rest or sleep and to recharge.”

Recreation: “You engage in distracting activities, for example, watch television and surf the web.”

5. Loneliness Alienation: “You feel isolated from the rest of society, left out, and forgotten.”

Boredom: “You wish for something to occupy your mind.”

Loneliness: “You feel unappreciated, depressed, anxious, and lonely.”

Other Experiences of Solitude Harmony: “Everything seems interconnected with everything else; you are in balance with the world.”

Self-transcendence: “As in meditation, you have a sense of transcending everyday distinctions and concerns.”

Heightened sensory awareness: “Sights and sounds seem magnified; you observe small things that you ordinarily wouldn’t notice.”

Longing: “Yearning for people or things beyond your reach at the moment.”

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Why People Who Like Being Alone Are Badasses 

The Badass Personalities of People Who Like Being Alone 

There are people who like being alone, maybe even love it. What do you think they are like? Does your mind leap immediately to the misanthrope or to the dreaded loner hiding away somewhere plotting the next mass murder? 

As Anneli Rufus told us in her wonderful Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto, those stereotypes don’t capture real loners. True loners are people who embrace their alone time. 

Others, such as those who lash out, are typically alone against their will. They want to be included. They want to be loved by the objects of their desire. But they’ve been excluded and rejected instead. That exclusion and rejection (among other things) is what fuels their hostility and rage. 

What’s the truth about people who like being alone? What are they really like? Thanks to some newly developed scales for measuring attitudes toward being alone, we now have research-based answers. 

First, though, we need to understand what it means to like being alone. One sense of “alone” refers to spending time alone. The “Desire for Being Alone” scale, developed by Birk Hagemeyer and his colleagues, measures that. People who score high on the desire to be alone AGREE with items such as: When I am alone, I feel relaxed. I like to be completely alone. They DISAGREE with items such as: I feel uncomfortable when I am alone. Being alone quickly gets to be too much for me. 

A second meaning of alone is the way it is used to refer to people who are single. (I think that usage is misleading and inappropriate, but I’ll save that argument for another day.) 

Thinking about single life as something some people fear, Stephanie Spielmann and her colleagues developed a “Fear of Being Single”scale. I’m interested in the personality characteristics of people who are UNAFRAID of being single, so I just reversed their scale. 

People who are UNAFRAID of being single DISAGREE with items such as: I feel anxious when I think about being single forever. If I end up alone in life, I will probably feel like there is something wrong with me. 

. . . 

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from her book

ALONE. The Badass Psychology of People Who Like Being Alone

by Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.

get it at Amazon.com


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Bella’s Website BellaDePaulo.com

Psychology Today blog LivingSingle.com

Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain. 

Our lives are driven by a fact that most of us can’t name and don’t understand. It defines who our friends and lovers are, which careers we choose, and whether we blush when we’re embarrassed.

That fact is whether we’re an introvert or an extrovert. The introvert/extrovert divide is the most fundamental dimension of personality. And at least a third of us are on the introverted side. Some of the world’s most talented people are introverts. Without them we wouldn’t have the Apple computer, the theory of relativity or Van Gogh’s sunflowers. Yet extroverts have taken over. Sensitivity and seriousness are often seen as undesirable. Introverts feel reproached for being the way they are.

The brain chemistry of introverts and extroverts differs, and society misunderstands and undervalues introverts.

“A species in which everyone was General Patton would not succeed, any more than would a race in which everyone was Vincent van Gogh. I prefer to think that the planet needs athletes, philosophers, sex symbols, painters, scientists; it needs the warmhearted, the hardhearted, the coldhearted, and the weakhearted. It needs those who can devote their lives to studying how many droplets of water are secreted by the salivary glands of dogs under which circumstances, and it needs those who can capture the passing impression of cherry blossoms in a fourteen-syllable poem or devote twenty-five pages to the dissection of a small boy’s feelings as he lies in bed in the dark waiting for his mother to kiss him goodnight.… Indeed the presence of outstanding strengths presupposes that energy needed in other areas has been channeled away from them.” – Allen Shawn

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Introversion, along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness: is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are.

Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, extroverts to the external life of people and activities.

Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves.

Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.

Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame.

Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict.

Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.

The word introvert is not a synonym for hermit or misanthrope. Introverts can be these things, but most are perfectly friendly.

Nor are introverts necessarily shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not. One reason that people confuse the two concepts is that they sometimes overlap, though psychologists debate to what degree.

But for all their differences, shyness and introversion have in common something profound. The mental state of a shy extrovert sitting quietly in a business meeting may be very different from that of a calm introvert— the shy person is afraid to speak up, while the introvert is simply overstimulated— but to the outside world, the two appear to be the same.

There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.

Many introverts are also “highly sensitive,” which sounds poetic, but is actually a technical term in psychology. If you are a sensitive sort, then you’re more apt than the average person to feel pleasantly overwhelmed by Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” or a well-turned phrase or an act of extraordinary kindness. You may be quicker than others to feel sickened by violence and ugliness, and you likely have a very strong conscience.

If there is only one insight you take away from this book, though, I hope it’s a newfound sense of entitlement to be yourself. I can vouch personally for the life-transforming effects of this outlook.

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by Susan Cain. from her book: Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking

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Rachel Ginder 

I oversimplify and say I don’t like people, when what I actually dislike are the surface-level interactions of most social gatherings.

We’ve all been to those parties where the sole purpose of the event is for everyone to break into small groups where they talk about sports, the weather, or where the host’s second cousin got her hair done. It’s moments like these where it suddenly becomes very important to find out if there’s a pet you can play with, or when all else fails, perhaps a large potted plant to hide behind. If there’s a drink to be fetched or a bowl of chips to be refilled, this task will instantly become the sole purpose of my existence, because literally anything is better than small talk.

In order to get to those coveted discussions about life goals, creative passions, and the existence of the universe, you sometimes have to start with some small talk, no matter how painful it might be.

Do I really want to go to a party when I could curl up in bed with a book and a cup of tea? It’s a no-brainer. However, to reap the rewards, you sometimes have to put in the work.

So, my fellow introverts, please occasionally put down your books, go out, and search for the people who make socializing worth it — because I’m out there looking for you.

by Rachel Ginder – Introvert, Dear

Hey, parents – leave those introverts alone!

There are any number of neglected and marginalised groups in society, but one of the largest is barely recognised. I am talking of introverts. 

Introverts constitute between a third and a half of society, according to a new book for adolescents. Quiet Power: Growing Up as an Introvert in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is currently being devoured by my (introvert) 14-year-old daughter and it needs to be read, I think, by parents as well as teenagers.

The Guardian