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Isolation vs. Solitude

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December 11, 2011 by Treina Aronson

Often people fear the act or desire to isolate themselves; the need to step away, to be alone. While it is true isolation is a symptom and aggravation of depression, what is perceived as isolation may just be the quest for solitude. In our society being alone is perceived as an indication of social ineptitude, after all who would choose to be alone if they could help it? Social interaction is redeemed, quiet reverie thought strange. However, although on the outside both may appear the same, there is a vast difference between pathological isolation and healthy solitude. Isolation is a refusal to engage with the world to avoid pain. Solitude is the temporary withdrawal from the world in the quest to engage with it more fully. 

We’ve likely all heard or stated the need to process things. “Things” could mean anything from ending a relationship, trying to find a new career or thinking about the milestone birthday you just had. But how in a world full of so much noise and preoccupation, be it passive (TV) or active (work), can one be quiet enough to hear their own process? When we say “process” this is also a way of saying “gaining insights” or otherwise known as “a-ha moments”. Whatever way you spin it, we are talking about blending the polarities of our conscious and unconscious mind. This requires the quiet of solitude.

You may be feeling the pull of solitude and dismiss it as a form of “escape”. If you are caring for a family you may even feel guilt or shame surrounding fantasies of being alone.  Why feel ashamed? What is often born out of solitude is what we cherish as most beautiful: new directions, new ideas, new passions, a renewed sense of courage and inspiration, creativity. Existentialist, Rollo May, in his book The Courage to Create explains the act of solitude as a retiring “…from a world that is too much with us”. Sometimes the world is too much with us and we need a break, a degree of separation in order to see the things anew. Isolation can be an indication of a serious problem, but let us not hastily judge the need to be alone as a sign of depression or other pathology, for it may just be a sign of much needed and healthy solitude.

Tags: alone, depression, escape, isolation, solitude,