The Need to Be Alone - Is It Good or Bad? (Or Both?)

Jordan Brown

Sometimes, I think there is something wrong with me.

Because I like being alone.

I crave alone time.

Still, I thought that it was a bad thing for the longest time.

But what I had to do was break down and dissect why I was feeling that way.

Being alone is not automatically a bad thing.

It depends on the context.

In this issue, you'll learn to look at both sides of the being alone coin.

Being Alone - The Good

First things first, being alone is not automatically bad. Yes, some people need more alone time than others, but that mainly comes down to an issue of whether you're an introvert or extrovert.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we're getting to see who the true extroverts really are. It's actually been a nice reprieve for someone like me, who falls just to the left of center on the introvert-extrovert scale. It has given me plenty of space to think, to write, and to recharge my batteries during this trying time.

And this is the point that I'm getting at--being alone, and understanding if it's good or bad for you, depends on the context.

Life is context. If you've just spent 5 days straight hanging out with family at a reunion, you might want to get away for a bit--and that's totally fine. If you just presented at a conference to 200 people and spent two hours answering questions, it's normal to want to steal away for a bit to collect your thoughts. Context is everything.

Plus, learning to be alone is critical to maintaining your mental health. The simple reality is that, as you get older, you're not going to be able to find people to attach yourself to every hour of every day--nor should you want to. Being alone is how you discover who you truly are. If you're always defining yourself in relation to other people, it's easy to confuse their dreams with your dreams, their goals and ideas with your goals and ideas.

Being alone is how you find yourself.


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Being Alone - The Not So Good

But being alone also has its mental health drawbacks. It's very easy to forget that mental health is not just a personal issue--there is an incredibly important social component to it.

Here's the truth: we know our mental health in relation to others. What is considered healthy? What is normal? What is the culture of our area?

And to go back to the idea of context, so much context is wrapped up in our relationships with others. One of the primary ways that we learn about the world is through our relationships. And, perhaps most important, most healing happens through relationships.

Being alone all the time would prevent you from getting important support and feedback from your world.

How to Know If You Need to Be Alone

We've looked at the good and a bit of the bad. Next up is to figure out what you need from life.

And so we return to what is quickly becoming the word of the day: context!

Think about context in these ways:

  • Emotional Context
  • Mental Context
  • Physical Context
  • Societal Context
  • Family Context

The list could go on and on, but these terms cover the basics. For the most part, they are self-explanatory, but I'll go over the key points.

You may remember context clues when you were first learning how to read in school. You need to look at all the words in a sentence--and the words in the sentences around any one sentence--to figure out the meaning of the content.

The same is true for your life and your happiness. What you need at any given time depends on the context of the world around you. For instance, do you have family obligations? Are you caring for a young child? Do you support others in the community who are less well off than you are? Then it may not be the best idea to spend hours and hours alone.

But wait. What is your body telling you, though? Are you absolutely worn out? So tired that you can't even lift your head up? That would suggest that you need to have a conversation with the people around you to figure out how you can get the space to recharge. The many types of context supply the data for your life. It's a scientific way to look at mental health, something that is often difficult to quantify.

I'm turning this over to you now.

Start with the above list of mental health context clues. Add terms of your own. You know your life best, and you know what kind of context is important to consider. This is just a start, but if you begin to look at your life in this systematic way, you'll find that you solve your problems much faster. To be more specific, you'll start to understand what it means to be alone and if being alone is good or bad for you.

For me, I learned years ago that I needed more alone time than I was getting. I didn't need to be the center of attention. I didn't need to try to make people laugh all the time. Being alone is where I found myself, my voice, and the gifts I have to share with the world.

So take this baton and run with it.

To know if being alone is good or bad, always consider the context.