I cam across this post on “The Benefits of Solitude” by Prof Stephen Joseph recently and thought it really appropriate in letting us know that being alone is not only all right but can indeed be necessary for our welfare and wellbeing.
Humanistic and positive psychologists talk about the importance of relationships in fostering good mental health. Relationships that are unconditional, genuine, and empathic help to bring the best out in us. In such relationships we flourish.
Not surprisingly, as psychologists we tend to promote the idea that people need to develop their relationships as a way to find happiness in life.
What is rarely pointed out however is the scarcity of such relationships. The fact is that on a day to day basis most of our relationships are controlling, false and lack understanding.
Be they family relationships or those we have at work, the stark reality of what most of us have to contend with are relationships that we only too glad to escape from. It might be the relief at leaving home to get to work or the relief of leaving work to get home, or sadly for many of us, the in between ground of the car when we have the solitude of being alone.
The point is that we might deeply desire positive relationships in which we are accepted for who we are and able to be ourselves but it is not what we always have.
My worry is that as psychologists we induce guilt and shame with our message that relationships are the path to happiness. Let us not also forget that relationships are the path to misery. It is when we we are in relationships that are controlling, inauthentic and which lack empathic understanding that we are at our worst.
Sometimes, being on our own is the best and most healthy option we have at that moment in time.
We should strive to be unconditionally accepting, genuine and empathic in our relationships with others and we might hope that we get the same back. But if we don’t get it back, then it is okay to walk away.
Positive relationships are worth striving for, but surely solitude is better than relationships that make us feel ill? It is in solitude that we can begin to find ourselves and the new directions in life that will take us to better relationships.
Stephen Joseph is Professor in Psychology, Health and Social Care at the University of Nottingham, a senior practitioner member of the British Psychological Societies register of psychologists who specialise in psychotherapy, and an HCPC registered health and counselling psychologist.
He is the author of “What Doesn’t Kill Us.”