The importance of being alone

Gwen Randall-Young

Do you enjoy your own company? Are you good for you to be with? These might sound like strange questions, but it has been suggested that one of the reasons that we keep our lives so busy is because we are not comfortable being alone with our innermost thoughts and feelings.

For some, when they find themselves alone, it is a time for self-judgment and criticism. They replay in their minds how they behaved, or what they said, and deliver a massive critique. They may list repeatedly all their perceived faults, and a sense of hopelessness about ever improving. This, of course, is the perfect formula for undermining self-confidence and self-esteem, and can even create depression.

Unfortunately, it can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you tell yourself that you are stupid and boring and that no one likes you, soon you will begin acting in ways that will push people away.

Then there are those who, when alone, find their thoughts turning to fault finding in others. The critic is just as sharp, but this time directs the attack at other people. Thoughts focus on what others did that they didn’t like and begin to create (often false) conclusions about the intentions of the other person. This creates stress, anxiety and even aggression.

Sometimes people avoid solitude because they do not want to think about how they really feel. Perhaps they are in an unhealthy friendship or intimate relationship. If they really allowed themselves to think about it, they may realize that deep down they do not really want that relationship anymore.

Change can be very threatening, so it becomes easier to bury oneself in work or otherwise keep busy, than to confront the problem.

How can you become a more positive influence on yourself, so that time spent alone enriches you? You can begin by refusing to dump on yourself. Reflecting and modifying behavior to get better results is fine, but you do not need to perform your own character assassination in the process.

You can also reflect on how your body feels when you are dwelling on criticism of others. When you do this your body releases stress chemicals which weaken your immune system. This practice truly is toxic for the one engaging in it, and for their relationships.

Spending time alone can be nourishing if we are being kind to ourselves. Some people need to learn to treat themselves as they would a valued friend. It is only in times of solitude that we can truly come to know ourselves.

Shakespeare wrote ‘To thine own self be true.’ This is a well-known proverbial expression which means ‘be true to yourself or ‘don’t do anything that would go against your true nature’.

How can we be true to ourselves if we don’t spend time exploring how we feel about the different aspects of our lives? Begin some dialogues with yourself.

Ask, “What do you really feel/think about—–? Then listen to that inner voice. Doing this will reveal your true nature.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.