Personal Intimacy: Being Good With Being Alone
Romantic relationships receive a lot of attention, but the most important relationship that you’ll ever have isn’t a romantic one — it’s with yourself.
Many people believe that only introverts need to prioritize solo time, but the truth is – spending regular time alone is, in fact, as vital to your mental health as a good night’s rest.
Regular solo time is helpful for “stress management, problem solving and overall well-being,” says Rachel Annunziato, an associate professor of psychology at Fordham University. Every moment of solitude can be a step toward a strong, healthy relationship with yourself. When we spend time alone, we get to fully relax, become aware of our thoughts, and tune into our hearts.
Let’s face it, though — being alone with your thoughts can be downright scary sometimes. So how can we approach this time in a way that feels good instead of like work? The bad news is that it’s not as easy as just hunkering down and watching Netflix. The good news? It will make you feel so, so much better in the long run.
Healthy Solitude vs. Unhealthy Solitude
Being alone has a negative reputation, and that’s because it can be a bad experience. Solitude is often confused with loneliness, but the two are markedly different. Loneliness is painful because it’s involuntary. Solitude, however, is an intentional state. It’s when we go home to ourselves with purpose and joy.
To make sure that you’re engaging in solitude in a healthy, productive way, you should try to make time for two things: reflection and self-care. This is a time for you to reconnect with your physical, emotional and spiritual states and show yourself some tenderness.
Psychologist Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, the chair of the counseling department at Northern Illinois University, reminds us not to try to busy ourselves too much during this time. “It’s important that each of us finds time to sit and simply ‘be’ in our own skin.” Getting in touch with yourself requires creating some empty space, so filling the space with distractions just won’t work.
You’re A Priority, Too
All the self-love platitudes in the world can’t compare to the simple act of spending quality time with yourself. You show your friends and partners that you’re invested by making time to see them, even when you’re swamped with work. So many of us, though, never think to show ourselves the same courtesy. If you crave a deep, intimate relationship with yourself, showing up is the first step.
“It’s okay to enjoy spending time with those who care about you,” Degges-White assures us. “This also should include spending time alone with yourself. By intentionally choosing to spend time alone, you are acknowledging the worth of your personhood — and the value inherent in being who you are.”
Communicating With Ourselves
Living a happy life is all about healthy communication, but you cannot communicate successfully with others if you haven’t taken the time to understand what’s going on with you: what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling, what you want, and what you don’t want. If you’ve been feeling frustrated by your own or others’ behavior, this is a great opportunity to gently probe more deeply to find the root.
When we hold our innermost thoughts up to the light, we’re opening the door to growth. “The point of healthy inner solitude is to provide a space to explore the pieces of yourself that you treasure or that you wish you could change,” says Degges-White.
Notice, though, when you’re beginning to be too hard on yourself. “Healthy solitude is not about beating yourself up for past mistakes or behaviors. It is meant to be a space of acceptance of self, where plans for life changes are also developed.” Rumination will turn your solitude into an unhealthy time rather than a healthy one.
Meditation, reflective walks, and journaling are three ways to communicate with yourself during your alone time. If intimacy is the ability to be vulnerable with another person, then personal intimacy is the willingness to fully see ourselves in all our glory.
Solitude Allows Us To Become Healthier Partners
We often believe that if we can just find the right partner, we won’t have to work on ourselves anymore. Unfortunately, that’s nowhere near the case, as Degges-White makes clear: “When we do not give ourselves time alone for reflection and self-intimacy, we are letting ourselves off too easy in life and not holding ourselves up to the inner scrutiny that allows us the space to acknowledge and address the areas in which we may need to grow.”
In short, staying in a relationship without any alone time is like running a marathon with a blindfold on — you may be going to an entirely unintended destination, because you haven’t given yourself the time and space to check in with how you’re feeling.
Practicing solitude has other benefits for your romantic and non-romantic relationships, too. Being able to tolerate aloneness allows us to form relationships out of desire rather than dependence. It also makes us less likely to lose ourselves in someone else, which may lead us to neglect our own happiness.
You are the expert on your own life, and you deserve your own time and energy. When you learn to see alone time as a gift rather than a sentence, you can use that time in a way that brings you greater peace, joy and certainty.