All Loners Aren’t Social Misfits

I’ve always been a loner and I disagree with the notion that reclusive people require therapy. Many believe that solitude is a human need, and to deny it is very unhealthy for both mind and body.Dr. Ester Buchholz, a psychoanalyst and clinical psychologist who died in 2004 at the age of 71, did quite a bit of research on solitude during her career, what she called “alone time.”

She thought that society undervalued solitude and alone time and overvalued attachment. Dr. Buchholz thought that periods of solitude were important if we were to tap our creative potential:

On Dr. Joyce Brother’s site we find the following loners, hermits and recluses quiz.

What makes people want to sequester themselves? This quiz provides some answers to the questions surrounding loners, hermits and recluses. True or false?

1. Hermits first came from a religious tradition, thousands of years ago.

2. A person must live in an isolated area in order to be considered a recluse.

3. Only a mental illness would cause people to seek total solitude.

4. A true recluse will have no social relationships at all.

5. Avoidant personality disorder leads sufferers to avoid people because they are afraid of being criticized or rejected.

6. Socially avoidant personality types are more likely than aggressive Type A people to have heart-disease problems.

7. Someone who wants to overcome his reclusiveness with therapy might have some difficulty working with a therapist.

8. An important initial step toward becoming less reclusive is to change the bad things a person thinks about himself.

Find the answers here.

What is introversion?

In its modern sense, the concept goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung. Today it is a mainstay of personality tests, including the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.

Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially “on,” we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.

Elizabeth Svoboda explains in Psychology Today that many introverts have far stronger responses to some experiences than the three-fourths of the world’s population that can be considered extroverted.

Contrary to popular belief, not all loners have a pathological fear of social contact. Instead, they appear to require solitude to process thoughts and events, because those stimuli register far more strongly with them than in outgoing people.

Introverts aren’t just less sociable than extroverts; they also engage with the world in fundamentally different ways. While outgoing “people people” savor the nuances of social interaction, loners tend to focus more on their own ideas—and on stimuli that don’t register in the minds of others. Social engagement drains them, while quiet time gives them an energy boost.

According to several sources, extroverts make up 60% to 75% of the population, and introverts make up the remainder. This might explain society’s alleged preference toward extroverted behavior. One introvert vented his frustration in an essay entitled “The Tyranny of the Extroverts.” Introverts shouldn’t fret, though — even though they’re outnumbered, 60% of gifted children are believed to be “on their team.”

Jonathan Cheek, a psychologist at Wellesley College says, “Some people simply have a low need for affiliation. There’s a big subdivision between the loner-by-preference and the enforced loner.”
While a few studies have shown a correlation between creativity, originality, and introversion, perhaps more striking is the greater enjoyment introverts seem to reap from creative endeavors.

Amanda Guyer, a psychologist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, has found that socially withdrawn people have increased sensitivity to all kinds of emotional interactions and sensory cues, which may mean that they find pleasure where others do not.

Previous MRI studies have shown that during social situations, specific areas in the brains of loners experience especially lively blood flow, indicating a sort of overstimulation, which explains why they find parties so wearying. But Guyer’s results suggest that introverts may be more attuned to all sorts of positive experiences as well. This added sensitivity, she speculates, could mean that people who are reserved have an ability to respond quickly to situations—such as coming to your aid in a moment of need—or show unusual empathy to a friend, due to their strong emotional antennae.

Research by San Francisco psychotherapist Elaine Aron bears out Guyer’s hunch, demonstrating that withdrawn people typically have very high sensory acuity. Because loners are good at noticing subtleties that other people miss, Aron says, they are well-suited for careers that require close observation, like writing and scientific research. It’s no surprise that famous historical loners include Emily Dickinson, Stanley Kubrick, and Isaac Newton.

Now, more than ever, we need our solitude. Being alone gives us the power to regulate and adjust our lives. It can teach us fortitude and the ability to satisfy our own needs. A restorer of energy, the stillness of alone experiences provides us with much-needed rest. It brings forth our longing to explore, our curiosity about the unknown, our will to be an individual, our hopes for freedom. Alonetime is fuel for life. — Dr. Ester Buchholz


27 thoughts on “All Loners Aren’t Social Misfits

  1. I am too an introvert and a loner. I am quite comfortable with that. Society tends to emphasize the groupthink and group culture. People are pressured into being with either a group or be coupled. Being alone is frowned upon. This conditioning starts from childhood. Children are constantly conditioned by parents, relatives, and teachers that they must socialize in order to be “normal”. Children who are more “solitary” are considered psychologically damaged and in need of psychological intervention.

    The idea of being in a group also applies to only children. Only children are often derided because they “lack” siblings. They are viewed to be outcasts in a society that values people having more than two children. Only children are a unique birth order. Only children are alone, not lonely. Their ability to be alone translates into a fierce self-reliance, independence, and creativity. They can play alone for hours at a time and entertain themselves without much difficulty. They are also not as needy for people as children from multichild families are.

    The emphasis to belong and to be part of a group extend to the tween and teen years. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the group culture. The most important thing to the average tween and teenagers is to belong to a group while the worst thing is to be alone. Solitary tweens and teens are often viewed as losers in the teen group culture.

    In adulthood, people are pressurized to be part of a couple. People who are single are often ostracized and pitied. Yes, people are inundated constantly to be part of a group. Being alone sadly is not cherished; however, there are benefits from being alone as creativity and independence.

    I am a writer on HubPages and have written a hub on the topic of aloneness. My work can be seen on http://gmwilliams/hubpages.com. Thank you.

    1. I hear you. I’m a loner, living by choice in a semi-remote location. I am in the forest dweller stage of life. I have never been shy. I cannot clearly recall ever being lonely for long. I prefer to be a hermit and I have no strong desire to befriend others. However, I acknowledge what the world needs is more goodwill, love and peace and so do I. So when I meet new people I will be attempting to engage in small talk. When I’m with acquaintances I be attemtping to have deeper conversations with them. When it comes to my family and friends, I will be more attentive and affectionate, and I will make sure they know how much I appreciate having them in my life.

  2. I came across this blog and I guess it’s a little old but I wanted to say I agree. I too have great social skills and I’m able to talk to anyone, however I love being alone too. Although I don’t find any interest in superficial filler convo. I find if I invest too much time into people I feel overwhelmed because I care so deeply for others, which would make me extremely empathetic. I find a lot of society to be dysfunctional and the main problem is most people don’t spend enough time alone to sort through their emotional baggage because they are always in need of someone else in hopes they will make them content. They are looking for all sorts of ways to keep their brain busy and not focussed on their thoughts.

    It’s hard to say though maybe these individuals just learn their lessons at a much later time in life. Everything does in fact happen for a reason but reflection is so vital to one’s health. You always do reap what you sew.

    However, the one thing I have noticed about caring about others so much is that you can be a great inspiration to help others with their own struggles, which encourages them to change their ways. It’s such a rewarding feeling and how beautiful it must be for those people to know someone truly cares about them, you know! I find that is the bliss of love. Love is capable of moving mountains.

    Back on topic though…I think being alone is great and it allows you to process your thoughts and be at one with yourself. It’s bliss when you can give your whole world to someone else and not be in “need” of them like they are a drug. It becomes a relationship built on love because you are sharing who you are, instead of giving your headaches or for that matter just never changing or evolving for the greater good. I think as humans we are always suppose to evolve and change but most fear that change…life is like a blossoming flower.

    :) Thanks for sharing this xo

  3. Hi again,
    I think there’s a city mouse / country mouse divide on this one. In the city, nobody is alone but many are lonely. In the country, many are alone, but few are lonely.

  4. Anything that is not considered norm by society is considered outcast. But than again society as a whole needs a wake up call and itself is dysfunctional.

    Agreed.

    I do think ‘loners’ are very sensitive but people should get it in their heads that being alone is different to being lonely. is it wrong to be with oneself?

    Social butterflies who have little to offer but superficial chitchat are considered to be the “norm”. And like you I sense that these types are scared of being alone. That’s really unfortunate because if they did spend some time getting to know themselves they might have something of value to bring into a relationship.

    Those who prefer spending time alone, rather than having numerous acquaintances and superficial distracting social activities to keep them busy are stigmatized. This sucks and that is why I posted this article in the first place.

    From nursery school onwards we are all pressured to be in the company of family, friends, co-workers and complete strangers from morning until night. Somehow and somewhere along the line our societal priorities got mucked up royally.

    IMO anyone who does not enjoy his or her own company is a sad case with nothing to offer another person in relationship except neediness. That why I believe people who cannot be alone without feeling lonely are the ones who could benefit from therapy.

    Thanks for commenting and please come again soon. :)

  5. I think being a loner is not a bad thing. People these days are so scared to be by themselves or to be seen as popular. They always seem to need someone. As if they can’t exist without. Maybe it’s a basic need. What I know is that there are plenty of great looking and really smart people who like being themselves and alone. In public I prefer to be with people but when I need to think or do coursework, I prefer to work along. I do think ‘loners’ are very sensitive but people should get it in their heads that being alone is different to being lonely. is it wrong to be with oneself? I think others find it a problem because it threatens them and makes them feel scared. I for one need plenty of time alone because I do get sensitive but also I am very empathetic. I am also very good with people and have great social skills. People regard me to be happy and sociable. But I love being alone. And I know I am smart and pretty. Maybe loners are advanced for the average people. Anything that is not considered norm by society is considered outcast. But than again society as a whole needs a wake up call and itself is dysfunctional.

  6. Ah, the Goddess Tarot, that’s the deck that originally drew me… How very appropriate that you drew the “Contemplation” card. That card is actually the Hermit card :) That’s just her contemporary name for it, just as she calls the “Death” card “Transformation.” The Hermit card advises us to withdraw, get quiet, meditate, seek the answers from within…

    I created a page yesterday with the numerological calcation I mentioned above. If you want to see what your number is and the corresponding archetype…it’s called one’s “Life Path” number…here’s the link to it. It’s quite simple :)

  7. @dove
    Today the card I chose was Contemplation. It sounded like exactly what I know that I need to do.

    My birthday will take place on __________and I will return from my holiday at my sister’s home the next day.

    While I’m on vacation I will check out the link you left. Thanks for taking an interest in me and for sharing with me. I hope we will become blogging friends.

  8. @nita
    I think you’re right. Although others may think I’m more detached than I should be I find the intensity of being with people for long periods of time to be really exhausting.

    Being the eldest child in a dysfunctional family living a rural lifestyle provided me with some skills. I have an ability to read facial expressions, body language and subtle gestures in both animals and people. When I’m with others this part of me is always “turned on to high frequency”. I can intuit and perceive things before they happen and sometimes when I anticipate things will go in a bad way I intervene and re-direct them.

    Without doubt being the kind of person I am means that I find I actually give more to relationships than others are able to give to me in return. I don’t resent this. I’m not “needy” and I recognize that they are so I do give. But in order to give and to still be authentically me I need lots of time alone.

    This has really been an interesting discussion. I’m glad that every one of you took part in it and I hope you will visit again when I return. By then the appearance of my blog should be quite different. I hope you like it.

    Namaste

  9. Brightfeather, If you have close friends whom you can relate to and confide in, I do not think you are as much of an introvert or as much of a loner as you think. I think you pretty much in the middle. :) Wanting alone time does not make anyone an introvert.
    a true extrovert is someone who tends to relate to a huge number of people yes, but if that person just cannot be alone…well I think he or she needs therapy!
    a true introvert finds it difficult to relate to anyone…I mean get into a close and lasting relationship. I don’t know whether this is because he or she finds it difficult to do it or because he always feels a bit detached…well, at least that is my understanding of what those terms mean.

  10. You sound a lot like me :) You’re an interesting person, open-minded with an intricate mind…the Tarot would rock your world ;) People just haven’t a clue…I know I didn’t. It was inconceivable to my strongly logical mind… Nah, it isn’t logical, and that’s why it’s sooo cool, lol ;) I no the Tarot so well, am confident that once people simply open to it a tiny bit, they’ll be blown away by it. So confident in it that I can hand a deck of cards to anyone, even a plain deck of cards (they correspond with Tarot cards…but note, it’s not about the cards…) and then ask them to shuffle them any way they please, to think of some question, and then to cut the deck. Without fail, they will choose a card that is on point to their question. The Tarot is a phenomenal “book” of life, an explanation of life that actually makes sense…but it’s “something” within us that spurs it’s “magic” :)

    “I’m artistic, intuitive, loyal, sensitive and that I love being alone.” Me too :) And my guess is that your birthday would calculate to the 2, the High Priestess archetype. We are each like all of the archetypes some of the time, and maybe for different periods of our lives, but we are MOST like just one, and the birthday will show which one. Here’s a link to a good comprehensive interpretation of the High Priestess archetype:

    http://www.biddytarot.com/major/highpriestess.html

  11. @dovelove

    I freely admit that I don’t know much about tarot. What I do know is that I’m artistic, intuitive, loyal, sensitive and that I love being alone. I have never felt “lonesome” for more than a few minutes.

    When I’m compelled to be with others in close quarters and for any length of time I become either drained or bored. And when I feel drained or bored I become testy and snappish.

    Yet, when left to my own devices I feel energized and content. I can create a never ending array of things to do or I can simply choose to do nothing at all and be comfortable with not “doing”.

    You could fairly say of me that I value being without people just as much as I value being with them. Moreover, I sense from deep within that an introvert is who I truly am and whom I am is whom I am meant to be.

  12. @nita
    “While I think that introverts can be perfectly happy…one needs to know whether one is intrinsically an introvert or has become one gradually due to life experiences.”

    I think I see some truth in what you have said. Although I have always felt a comfortable sense of indifference and detachment, as a teen I felt compelled to be more like my extroverted peers. I experimented with having many superficial social contacts, places to go and things to do, but in the end, I developed strong bonds with only a few true friends.

    Since that time my circle of true friends has slowly grown. Within my own circle I am very outgoing, warm and affectionate. And as time has passed I find sharing my innermost feelings is something I only wish to do with a few people who are precious to me. I give my all to our relationships. And to enable that quality of closeness I need at lot of quiet time alone — just to be.

  13. @letters
    I too am an introvert, although I have never been in the least — shy. Those who have met me in the political arena know that I am a forthright public speaker. Some even call me a charismatic speaker and formidable adversary.

    I’m not in the least phobic about crowds I just don’t choose to be in them and have my energy drained away by “needy” strangers desperate to make and stay in contact. I do not own a cell phone and I will never become a convert to instant messanging. Those who truly need to reach me in a hurry use either email or the telephone.

    To my way of thinking there’s something terribly wrong with folks who cannot spend a moment alone without a cell phone glued to the side of their head, or their fingers busily text messaging “tat” to and fro.

    I’ve been busy working with a great web developer on my new site. We are developing my own wordpress.org install at A Small Orange so I haven’t had the time to read your blog or anyone else’s the way I did in the past. However, when I return from my vacation in 2 weeks time I will be back at it. And by then my domain will be re-pointed.

    I would appreciate you including my blog (the url will not change – it will just be re-pointed) in your blogroll but this of course is not required. If you like reading what I write please link my blog and if not that’s okay too. :)

  14. I believe being a loner or a “hermit” is not a choice, but an innate characteristic. I know this is a stretch for a lot of people, but there is a numerological calculation that can be done on the birthday…and it invariably will show whether one tends to have this characteristic. The number will reflect an archetype in the Tarot. Stay with me here ;) I’m very logical-minded too, but I can’t deny what I’ve seen repeatedly to be true… Via this calculation, if you’re a 2 (High Priestess archetype) or a 9 (Hermit archetype), it’s highly likely that you don’t do well unless you’re allowed a lot of quiet time. Promise :) So it’s not that we’re being anti-social or whatever, it’s simply who we are :)

  15. I think a happy medium is what is ideal, what they call intro-extroverts. I think I am one. I do need my space and my alone time, but at the same time I am very social. I need human beings around me. During my teen years I was an introvert…but I made a deliberate effort to change and surprisingly I found it came easily as most people around me were extroverts and responded instantly to me.

    While I think that introverts can be perfectly happy…one needs to know whether one is intrinsically an introvert or has become one gradually due to life experiences. there are some people who think they are extroverts, but they are not..unless you are able to communicate your deepest feelings to people around you,or at least to those who are close, you are in introvert, with an extroverted facade. if you don’t have people close to you, you aren’t an extroverted, however much small talk you make with strangers…

    Its a false facade and I think its these people who need therapy, not the true introverts!

    I think intrinsic introverts are few. Basically I believe that human beings are social animals…from the dawn of time. We humans need each other not just for company but to make us realise where we stand and explore our deepest feelings.

    These are my beliefs, partly from what I have read and partly observations of people around me.

  16. Hi,
    Great post! I saw myself all the way through it. I have never felt the need to always be with other people, and cherish my time away from the world. If you want to talk personality disorders, I think it is far healthier to withdraw to reflect and gather energy to face the tasks ahead than to be constantly connected with other people via the myriad ways available today. It seems to me compulsive in some people how they can never disconnect from their blackberries, their txt msging, etc. I guess Twitter was made for them.

    I have only just now noticed that I am on your blogroll! (blushes)

    Thanks a lot – and I’m going to put you on mine.
    cheers,
    ian in hamburg

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