The Difference Between Solitude & Isolation

Alone.

Solitude.

These words have a resounding effect upon many who hear them.

“Why is she such a recluse?”

“Why doesn’t he like people?”

“They’re such a hermit.”

The grievous mistake many engage in questioning, and even mocking, other’s need to be alone at times is constant. These people assume that these people are intentionally drawing away from them and others because they have some, perhaps, disdain for people.

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t perhaps some latent aversion to people in general from some who desire their solitude…alone time. There very well could be. I know at times, I just don’t want to contend with everyone’s energy because I can barely contend with my own (and everyone else’s energy within my home).

And I am quite prone to be tempted to isolate when this desire happens.

So then just what is the difference between being alone and having some solitude versus being utterly lonely and isolated?

I’ve discovered one resounding difference: motive.

The why of one desiring to be away from other people reveals exactly their motive for such behavior.

My husband and I are both introverted personalities, yet, I am one of the more social types of introverts.

Meyer’s Brigg (MBTI) wise, I am an ISFJ, and this is easily confirmed with my Enneagram type of a Type 6 with a 5 wing. On the other hand, his introverted personality type isn’t as social – so we balance one another fairly well. Yet, one thing we both value deeply is our personal alone times.

Just like my husband, I’ve discovered I need time and space away from physical connection with people. This is especially true when I’m in environments where I’m required to exert more socializing than my personality is hardwired for.

Case in point, this past weekend I attended an IF:Local Gathering here in Charlotte with a handful of my Celebrate Recovery group ladies.

It was fantastic, and I learned so much (thank you to my friend, Ann Voskamp for continuing to be a vessel to reach my ever-healing-in-Christ broken heart); however, by 3 o’clock I was fading, and fast.

When I finally was able to make my exit (quietly before everyone else began to leave), I had no qualms about looking back in any sense of shame due to my early departure.

Upon entering my home after a twenty-minute ride home, I looked wearily at my husband and son with a side smile and asked where we were going for dinner that night – because mama ain’t cookin’. We went out, and by the time I arrived home and prepared for bed, I found myself in bed at nine-thirty and headed off to sleep.

I needed to recharge from everything that was required of me for the day.

Social interaction with new people (along with friends), attention to listen to significantly amazing teaching on God’s word, and listening to pumped up volume contemporary worship all day long wore on my already wearied body and mind – and my batteries were sapped dry.

The next day, after church, I spent delicious alone time in the bedroom resting and watching movies while my husband and son played some Minecraft together.

I needed this recharge, because come Monday, my kiddo needed every ounce I could give him energy wise. And let me tell you, being an introverted mama of one amazingly awesome extroverted young boy, I need every ounce of energy I can muster up to be able to work with him every day the way I do.

And this is the divergence right here between aloneness and isolation.

To spend time alone…to engage in solitude…for periods of time (a day, to perhaps a week or more at times) is necessary depending on the level of how extroverted an introvert needed to engage with others. It’s also necessary for those who’ve endured severely traumatic events such as grieving the loss of a loved one, abuse, etc.

This alone time is to be used as a means of allowing the mind, emotions, body and soul to heal and refuel.

I liken it to a broken bone.

Whenever a bone is broken, it needs to be set and put in a cast in order for it to heal properly. In its immobilized state for six to eight weeks, the physical body is forced to rest this area of the body so the body can heal. And once it’s done healing, it can go back to rehabilitating to engage back into life again.

This is what is looks like for an introvert (and even someone who is grieving or who has PTSD from abuse) to be alone.

To be lonely, however, is to be in a state of allowing the alone time we need to now become who we are. This is dangerous territory, because this is what becomes the slippery slope to isolation.

For it’s isolation where detachment is engaged in, and this is where unhealthy behavior is engaged.

Isolation is a detachment from human connection and relationships for the sake of preserving a sense of safety; yet, all the while, we are in prime position to be in the most unsafe of positions ever.

Scripture is scattered with constant reminders to never isolate. It does acknowledge that we will at times feel lonely, and that we need to at times be alone, but it warns us about isolating.

To be an introvert isn’t a bad thing, unless we allow our desires to constantly be removed from people lead us into a place where we separate from people – rather than use our alone and solitude-based times to merely re-energize so we can reconnect with others.

Recovery…and life itself…wasn’t intended to be lived through (or existed in) isolation. It was created to be in relationship with others; for life, and recovery of it, cannot be experienced at all within the confines of our own minds. It must be lived out in connection with others – above all, God.

It takes bravery, even as an introvert, to do this. So let’s be brave.

Let’s recover together.