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.
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