What is the Difference Between Loneliness and Solitude?

Loneliness versus Solitude

“Do you suppose that loneliness is actually a neurosis?” Linda asked.

“Hmmm. I never thought of it that way.” I replied. “Tell me more about what you’re thinking.”

“Well, isn’t loneliness a dysfunctional response to solitude?”

That produced a long pause on my part as I contemplated her point. Quickly my mind raced to something my long-time mentor had explained to me only a few weeks before.

He had described an adaptation many of us unknowingly make when we are too often neglected or otherwise diminished as children. Sam said that when we have experienced that kind of childhood emptiness it sets up a longing. Then when someone enters into our lives in a significant way and the ache is temporarily abated, we desire that person’s presence all the more. That is a predictable set up for us to experience loneliness, a need to be filled from outside ourselves.

I shared those thoughts with her, and she smiled.

“Of course. That’s the neurosis of loneliness.”

“It does make sense I replied. Well done!”

A perplexed look crossed Linda’s face. I waited to hear what else was on her mind.

“So what is to be done about it?” she wondered.

“Well, it is my experience that no one can fill that emptiness except ourselves. We must attend to ourselves. We must practice self-nurturing and self-care. Once we have not received from others, we have no choice but to demonstrate it to and for ourselves. When we seek it from others we fail to heal, and the result is invariably loneliness.”

“Okay. What happens then?”

“Not so fast,” I replied. “Learning to self-care is a long and slow process. But when we are sufficiently fulfilled the problem solves itself. When the longing vanishes, there can be no loneliness. Only solitude.”

Linda smiled again. “Solitude replaces loneliness.”

“That does seem to be the case.”

Seeing True

“May there be space in your togetherness,” spoke Kahlil Gibran’s prophet.

And may you relinquish the hold of loneliness, by embracing the balm of solitude.

Seeing True in Action

One way to appraise loneliness in contrast to solitude is to examine our use of open space in our lives.

·      How much solitude does there seem to be in my life?

·      What are my feelings when faced with unplanned or unfilled time?

·      What are the ways that I use to fill up time? Are those ways compulsive?

The only way to understand ourselves is to look for demonstrations in our lives. There we will find proof, and from that proof will come our healing.