Growing up, just like many others, I learned to be alone. It seemed like the only way to navigate life. However, as I grew older and explored different experiences, I realized that if I had experienced a deep and emotionally safe connection with my parents — known as “secure attachment” — it would have created the skills needed to connect with others and myself.
Lacking that strong bond with my parents, I convinced myself that I did not need anyone else. I became an expert at self-reliance. But as time went on, I started to lose touch with my body, my emotions, and even my relationships. It was then that I realized there was another way to truly experience life. I had to confront the loneliness I had denied for so long and all the associated feelings of sadness, fear, anger, and shame. It was through acknowledging and embracing these emotions that I could genuinely connect with myself and others.
That was when I discovered the difference between loneliness and solitude. Previously, being alone meant talking to myself as a way of distracting and consoling myself. However, solitude eventually became a way for me to be with myself without escaping from reality. It became a way to rejuvenate and renew.
In today’s culture, we are constantly bombarded with the need to be connected to something — whether it is our phones or other distractions. These distractions serve as emotional pacifiers, preventing us from truly being present with our own experiences.
Thuy-vy Nguyen, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Durham University in England, challenges the notion that being alone is always negative. Her research and that of her colleagues suggest that loneliness is the distress we feel when we lack the social connections and relationships we desire, while solitude is different. Taking time for ourselves can actually have a positive impact on our daily mood, according to Nguyen.
Studies by Nguyen and other researchers have shown that solitude can reduce stress, increase life satisfaction, improve relationship quality, and boost creativity. This is in stark contrast to the epidemic of loneliness faced by many men as they age. Loneliness has been linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even identifies loneliness as a risk factor for dementia, heart failure, stroke, and cancer. Furthermore, loneliness has been associated with higher mortality rates, and the isolation experienced by men contributes to alarmingly high suicide rates.
So, how do we transition from loneliness and isolation to connection and solitude?
It starts with ROC – slow down to Relax, Open to vulnerability, and risk Connection.
When I began slowing down my mind and disconnecting from constant activities, I found myself entering a state of relaxation. In that state, I became more aware and vulnerable to my own deeper experiences and emotions. Initially, it was not easy or enjoyable. I had to face the emotions I had worked so hard to avoid. This practice of being with my discomfort unknowingly led me to embrace solitude.
As I confronted my unresolved past, I was able to let it go, allowing myself to become even more open and vulnerable to releasing the next layer. Gradually, I discovered that I had more space in my life for my own feelings and authentic connections with others. I could truly be present and vulnerable in my interactions. It was through this process that I realized solitude had become my ally. Neglecting time in solitude would cause suffering for both myself and those around me.
Some men express their resistance to being alone. The idea of embarking on a Vision Quest, like the ones I undertook with Native Americans years ago, where you spend days in the wilderness, terrifies them. I felt the same way until I experienced it for myself. I discovered solitude’s immense power during those moments while in nature.
How comfortable are you with being alone?
How do you seek out the renewal aspects of solitude?
What holds you back from just being with yourself? What comes up with the thought of being in nature alone for several days, even if it was just in a comfortable cabin without any distractions?EVRYMANlonelinessMens Healthmens retreatThuy vy Nguyen