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Loneliness versus SolitudeBy Dr. Margaret Paul
December 10, 2012
Do you often crave solitude, or is being alone too lonely for you? There is an inherent reason for these differences.
"Language has created the word 'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone, and the word 'solitude' to express the glory of being alone." –Benjamin Tillett
I find this quote very interesting in the light of recent research on introversion and extroversion.
The research indicates that introversion and extroversion are inborn qualities that stay with us our whole lives. About 20 percent of the population are introverts, which means that their nervous system is very different than that of extroverts. The nervous system of introverts is much more sensitive to stimulation and gets overloaded much more easily than that of extroverts. It is likely that introverts, looking at the above quote, might say, "Well, I'm not sure about the pain of being alone, but I certainly understand the glory of it."
Introverts rarely say they feel lonely when alone, because being alone calms their nervous system and allows them to regenerate. However, it is likely that many extroverts will look at this quote and say, "There is no glory in being alone. I hate being alone and I always feel very lonely when I'm alone." This is because extroverts regenerate around other people. Research indicates that about 40 percent of people are extroverts, and the other 40 percent fall on a continuum between introversion and extroversion.
Understanding this has been very helpful to me. I have rarely felt lonely when being alone – I love my solitude. My system is so sensitive that if I'm in a big box store like Target, I feel exhausted and agitated within five minutes. Same with being in an indoor crowded mall. I've wondered why so many people love going to a mall and even seem to regenerate in malls, while I get wiped out. Now I understand.
Understanding this inherent difference is very important to relationships. Introverts and extroverts are often attracted to each other, as each offers the other something that each of them lacks. Extroverts often like the quietness and depth of introverts, while introverts often like the aliveness and social ease of extroverts. When they each understand and accept these inherent differences, they can each benefit from the other’s way of being.
However, these differences can also cause major conflicts. For example, Shelley is an introvert and would like nothing better on a weekend than to sit with her husband, James, with her head on his lap reading her book. James is more of an extrovert and loves to socialize. He loves to have big parties at his house or get together with a group of couples and go out to dinner. He gets upset that Shelley doesn't do much to make these things happen, as he believes it is the woman's job to make social arrangements. Shelley does it on occasion because it is important to James, but resents it. She is willing to go along when James arranges it, but often comes home from dinner exhausted, and often needs to retreat to her room for 15 minutes during one of their parties.
Both Shelley and James need to understand and accept the big inherent differences between them. James needs to take on more of the responsibility for social arrangements, not expecting Shelley to do something that she doesn't care about. James also needs to find friends he can spend time with without Shelley. Shelley loves it when James goes out with his male friends and gives her "the glory of being alone." With three young children, she doesn't get much solitude and deeply craves it.
Too often, couples with these differences judge each other: "You're too shy. You need to learn to socialize better." "You're too needy – you always need to be around people to feel okay. You need to learn to be with yourself."
Understanding and accepting their inherent differences makes it far easier for couples to support each other in what they each need.
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