Embracing Solitude

Sarah McMahon
4 min readOct 6, 2019

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” David Whyte

The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator is a self-report designed to identify a person’s personality type, strengths, and preferences. It’s made of up four dichotomous traits: extroversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. You can take a free, shortened version of the test here. My type is ENFJ, which means I’m extroverted, use my intuition, and value feelings and emotions when making decisions. “Judging” essentially means that I like the outside world to have structure and rules. Those who test “perceiving” are generally more adept at handling change.

Whenever I take the Myers-Briggs, I consistently test as an extrovert. But because none of us are only one thing, I also have periods of extreme introversion. I keep a huge Word document of poetry I’m working on, and the other week I wrote the line, “alone is a place where I always feel safe.” It’s true, and it’s an incredible gift. I feel like the most genuine version of myself when I’m alone, or (and this is a very special ‘or’) when I’m with people I can easily connect with and implicitly trust.

Sometimes, socializing feels like a chore. Other times, it’s a beautiful avenue for human connection. The intersections of these two necessary but contrapositive states is constantly shifting, and compelling simply for the sake of it’s seeming inexplicably. We need both quality social time and quality alone time, and striking that balance is a tricky feat, especially when many of use feel pulled in so many directions. I like to compare my need for rest and quiet alone time to being hangry; I can wait a bit, but the longer I’m with people when I don’t want to be, the crabbier I become. Understanding this has helped me avoid pissing off a lot of people by being poor company. Conversely, I know when I need socialization, and which type. Sometimes, I crave a good heart-to-heart with a trustworthy friend. Other times, I just want to be in a big group of people, swept up in the energy of our shared humanity.

Extroversion is not inherently better than introversion (and vice versa), and humans are naturally inclined to be social. However, many of us fear solitude, unable to recognize the beauty, grace, and wisdom it contains.

The idea of being alone can be terrifying, for infinite, varying reasons: abandonment issues, lack of agency or self-belief, childhood trauma, co-dependency, etc, etc, etc. When we’re truly alone, we are left to confront and grapple with the most unsavory, unlovable, ugly parts of ourselves. Being alone and being lonely, however, are two very different things. Many of us have felt lonely when we’re surrounded by people, and that’s arguably the worst kind of lonesome.

Karyl McBride Ph.D., writes, “People often struggle with aloneness caused by mistrust of others; a part of your healing is learning to trust yourself so you can trust others again.” She goes on to say that being alone takes practice. I like to see movies by myself; it felt a bit awkward at first, but now it’s one of my favorite ways to spend time with myself. Besides, if you don’t like being around you, it’s difficult to expect others’ to like hanging out with you too. Growing a strong sense of self requires time alone, and once you embrace yourself fully, you’ll appreciate the respite solitude can bring.

Below are a handful of quotes about being alone that are perfect for pinning up on a canvas in your bathroom.

“I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

“You may not enjoy loneliness, because loneliness is sad. But solitude is something else; solitude is what you look forward to when you want to be alone, when you want to be with yourself. Solitude is something we all need from time to time.” ~ Ruskin Bond

“Loneliness adds beauty to life. It puts a special burn on sunsets and makes night air smell better. “ ~ Henry Rollins

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” ~John Muir

“What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be. “ ~ Ellen Burstyn


Sarah Rose