Fear of Solitude

Coming to terms with our inherent aloneness.

Humans are herd animals. We need to be with our herd or, because we are apes, tribe.  I see this in my son, who is a lot like my chickens. When he is too far away from us, he runs to find us and then calms down. It’s instinctual really.  We need to feel we belong to feel secure.

This is why the social exclusion that comes with bullying is so harmful. We experience social exclusion as pain (see: http://web.psych.utoronto.ca/gmacdonald/macdonald%20&%20leary,%202005a.pdf) It’s easy to understand why. Social exclusion or ostracism would have been, for quite a while in our evolutionary history, a matter of life or death.

Given our fear of being alone, how can you become comfortable with being alone and overcome your fear of solitude?  And why should you? One of the great existential problems we humans have is that we are stuck in our own heads. Our experience of the world is limited to our experience. We can know others only through the theory of mind, which lets us assume that others have brains and thoughts like ours. It’s very helpful, but imperfect. Because we can never really know what other people are thinking and whether they accept us or not, and that leaves us vulnerable.

The reason I think and teach people to become comfortable being alone is because if you are afraid of being alone, you not only have the existential fear of solitude, you also end up making choices to avoid solitude and those choices often involve allowing others to control us or hurt us. We accept this because it’s better than being alone. And I’m not just talking about abusive relationships. This can happen in friendships and work relationships too.

When you overcome your fear of solitude, you no longer allow your fear to dictate your choices regarding the actions of other people. And that’s a good thing. So, this is worth working on. Lose your existential angst and have healthier less destructive relationships. 

The question is – how?  The answer? Practice. There is only one way to overcome the fear of solitude and that is to intentionally seek it out. Maybe go for a walk by yourself. Go to a park for a walk by yourself. Go to a movie by yourself. Somewhere you can feel basically safe, but still experience solitude. The first thing I ever went to by myself was a Beatlefest. My mother insisted I go even though I couldn't find a friend to go with. I’m glad she did, I had a great time. And, I was safe. It turns out – people are basically nice. I branched out to going to movies by myself and then out to eat by myself. The more you practice this, the easier it gets and the funner it gets.  It’s self-reinforcing. I've even gone to amusement parks by myself and had a great time.

If you are ready to try and shake off your fear of solitude, start practicing. See what happens. You may find you like it. You will definitely become more confident as a result.

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