A friend of mine recently started living alone.
After escaping from the roommate who was playing in the room in the middle of the night and the toilet where she often saw footprints, she finally realized the freedom to control her “full life”.
She invited me to be a guest in her new home, which is a one-bedroom apartment of more than 40 square meters. The furnishings of the room have obviously been reorganized according to her taste. The novels and clothing littered everywhere can also be seen in the comfort and undisciplinedness of the room owner. .
Picture / Japanese drama “I live alone”
However, unlike the visible happiness, my friend started to complain to me about the invisible discomfort as soon as I sat down.
For example, every day when she comes home from get off work, she is greeted by darkness. She has to stand at the door and muster the courage to turn on the light. There are also extremely boring weekends. The person she communicates most frequently at home can only be the Tmall Elf who must answer questions.
John T. Cacioppo, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, once pointed out in his book: “It doesn’t matter whether you live alone or not. What matters is whether people feel lonely. Loneliness is the more deadly injury.”
The theory is so, but for many people, living alone is an experience where “loneliness” and “comfort” alternate at any time and are constantly mixed.
What is the boundary between this “freedom” and “loneliness”? What kind of solitude is positive and what is negative? If we are born alone, how can we develop our ability to be alone?
After reading today’s article, perhaps you will re-understand “loneliness”.
1. “We want to see the beast inside”
For a long time, loneliness has been studied as a negative emotional state.
Modern social neuroscientist John Cacioppo has extensively studied loneliness. He believes that “loneliness not only damages our thinking ability, but also damages our physical health.”
A 2015 review of 70 studies pointed out that compared with people who do not feel lonely, people who feel lonely have a 26% higher risk of death. (In contrast, the mortality rate of depression and anxiety increased by 21%.)
But these studies are exactly the opposite of our current popular discourse. The literature, art, and social environment in the public eye are promoting the benefits of loneliness:
- The author Thomas Merton wrote in the book “Lonely Thinking”: “We can’t look at things correctly unless we stop embracing them.” Many articles and books explain the “benefits of loneliness.”
- According to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in the United States, 85% of respondents believe that being alone is “important” and 55% think it is “very important”.
- The Rest Test surveyed 18,000 people from 134 countries. “Lonely” is the third place on the list of people’s rest activities.
Many researchers will use “alone (Solitude) ” and “Lonely” (Loneliness) to distinguish between “positive Solitude” and “negative loneliness” concept, in fact, these concepts do not provide practical guidance for us.
Photo / Nietzsche wrote in “So Zarathustra”: “No matter what, even the inner beast, it will grow in solitude”, which may mean that the negative emotions such as solitude and loneliness are often inseparable.
For this reason, Kenneth Rubin, a developmental psychologist at the University of Maryland, has opened up the trap between the so-called good and bad loneliness on a more realistic and operational level.
He believes that in order to be alone (loneliness) is beneficial, certain prerequisites must be met, and he calls these conditions “if”.
If loneliness is voluntary;
- If a person can “effectively” regulate their emotions;
- If a person can join a social group “anytime” when needed;
- If one can initiate and maintain a supportive relationship with “important others”.
——So, being alone (loneliness) can produce the benefits it should have: relieve the pressure of interacting with others, and re-establish a connection with yourself.
On the contrary, if the above “if” conditions are not fulfilled, we will easily fall into a kind of “unhelpful loneliness”, and even use loneliness as an excuse for self-enclosure and escape from life.
2. Being alone is an ability
As early as 1958, psychologist Winnicott wrote an article ” The Capacity to be Alone ” (The Capacity to be Alone) .
In previous literature studies, people paid more attention to the “fear” or “hope” of being alone (both of which regard aloneness as a kind of “retreat”) , but Winnicott first proposed that being alone is one. This “positive ability” is different from the withdrawal state.
So, since it is a kind of ability, how does it develop?
Winnicott believes that this is related to the interaction between the baby and the mother. When a baby realizes that TA has a reliable mother, it is possible for the baby to be alone for a limited time and enjoy this loneliness.
Over time, this “reliable image of a mother” will be internalized into a “reliable internal environment”. Even if the image of a mother no longer exists, we can still rely on our support system to get a sense of satisfaction in being alone. .
Therefore, Winnicott said, he is trying to prove a paradox:
The ability to be alone is based on the experience of facing someone alone, and if this experience is not sufficient, the ability to be alone cannot be developed (the state of being alone in fact always implies that “someone is there”) .
Photo / Japan’s NHK TV documentary “Seven Single Women Living Together”, they ranged from 71 to 83 years old. They bought 7 single rooms in the same apartment together to form a “sisters pension group”, while insisting on their loneliness. Being alone, on the one hand, can hold a group to keep warm when necessary.
Many friends like the portrayal of old loneliness in this documentary. A comment from a Douban netizen said:
“Some of them have a strong sense of loneliness at night, some are fidgeting, and some say,’Ah, I am so lonely.’ It can be resolved. Some people said cutely,’I am not the only one who is lonely. It’s so nice’, see The light in my friend’s apartment is a relief.”
This documentary may explain what psychology professor James R. AVERILL said, “Intimacy is a benefit of loneliness.”
Yes, intimacy and loneliness are not opposed.
Oliver (1991) did a detailed study on “loneliness and intimacy”. He tracked a group of wintering workers in Antarctica and found that their scores on the MMPI Dependence and Paranoia Scale dropped significantly; on the personal vector scale, the participants’ The presence score and the intimacy score increase over time.
These scores show that many people experience intimacy in loneliness, and loneliness can also increase a person’s ability to walk into intimacy to some extent.
This feeling is like Thoreau wrote during his solitude at Walden Lake: “There are many companions in my room, especially in the morning when there are no people visiting.”
3. How to practice the ability to be alone?
If being alone is an “ability”, can it become better with practice?
The answer is yes.
Matthew Bowker, a psychoanalyst at Medel College who studies the problem of loneliness, believes that beneficial and effective solitude requires inner exploration, which is a kind of labor that may make people feel uncomfortable and even painful.
“You may need a little effort before it becomes a pleasant experience.”
The following is the ” The Handbook Of Solitude ” we tried to organize . I hope I can give you some practical help:
- First assess whether you have a preference for being alone. Some people like to be alone and find it to be pleasant and productive. However, some people think that being alone is unpleasant and ineffective (Burger, 1995) . Know your preferences and arrange your time alone. This is a prerequisite. .
- Having a supportive relationship of “important others” is very important for people who are alone. They can be family members or trusted friends. Keep in touch with them at a certain frequency, such as making an appointment once a week or making a video call. They are the so-called “someone is there.”
- If the support of “important others” is lacking, then at least be kind to the most familiar strangers. For example, auntie cleaning and property security, they are the most accessible and safe relationships you can reach.
- Loneliness is neither absolutely good nor absolutely bad. There is no need to demand oneself based on external evaluations. Remember the “conditions of loneliness” proposed by Professor Kenneth Rubin. If you don’t meet these conditions right now, you don’t have to force yourself to be alone.
- Being alone does not necessarily mean “no stimulation”. On the contrary, the value of loneliness depends on whether a person can find comfortable stimulation for himself. You can choose to go out to eat or watch a movie. Everyone has a way to connect with themselves and find it. (Matthew Bowker, 2017)
- Appropriately increase the sense of mission in life. Being alone is not a subtraction experiment, but an addition experiment. If you feel lonely and empty, what you have to do is not to reduce loneliness, but to enhance your sense of mission, such as “tracking the process of a flower blooming”. (Arleen Brown, 2013)
- If you feel lonely, remember that it is not the fault of being alone. Eric Klinenberg, the author of “Single Society”, once stated in an interview that “loneliness is a fundamental part of human experience” and “There is nothing more lonely than living with the wrong person.”
- If, I mean, if you (involuntarily) are forced to place an order, then don’t resist, accept it. Let loneliness appear calmly and truthfully, and focus on the inner feelings, and some wonderful self-experiences may also occur. (Jack Fong, 2013)
Picture / “Nai’s New Life”
For the seemingly grand concept of “loneliness”, everyone has a personal understanding of it. It may be isolated, it may be dark, but at the same time it is the nature of free and inextricable people.
Before leaving my friend’s house that day, she suddenly said to me: “Come and sit down when you know you’re okay. It feels good to live alone.”
There is no logic between these two sentences, but they really touched me at that moment.
I hope every lonely person can:
“Feel the existence of others in loneliness, and find the place where you are least lonely in loneliness.”
1. TheCut:85 Percent of Americans Would Rather Just Be Left Alone Some of the Time
2. TheAtlantic:The Virtues of IsolationWinnicott, D. W. (1958). The capacity to be alone. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 416–420.
3. Long, C. R., & Averill, J. R. (2003). Solitude: An exploration of benefits of being alone. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 33(1), 21–44. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-5914.00204
4. BBC:Hikikomori:Why are so many Japanese men refusing to leave their rooms?
5. Matthewhbowker:Interviews on Solitude in “The Atlantic” and “Azione”
6. Changemakers:LA Intergenerational “Generation Xchange” Program: Generation XchangeRobert J. Coplan & Julie C. Bowker,The Handbook of Solitude
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