There’s a Word for Feeling Bad When You Don’t Get Enough Alone Time

an introvert experiences loneliness

This word, coined by a psychologist, describes the “mirror image” of loneliness.

When I was a kid — and an introverted one, no less — my older brothers played a “game” with me. It was called Keep Away.

Keep Away, of course, isn’t really a game. It’s condoned torture.

The two (or more) people who are doing the keep-away-ing (of one of my toys or my teddy bear or some other object of value) taunt you with the thing you so badly want — while they gleefully prevent you from having it.

Meanwhile, you, the person “in the middle,” keep fighting — unsuccessfully — to get it. What fun! (For the keep-away-ers, at least.)

If you’re the poor schlub in the middle, you end up frustrated, angry, and perhaps even in tears, because the thing you want is constantly just out of your reach, literally and figuratively.


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It’s Not Fun, or Healthy, to Chase a Moving Target 

Imagine chasing a moving target; feel this feeling right now, just for a few seconds.

Picture reaching for something and having it move on you, reaching for it again and having it move on you again, reaching for it a third time and having it move on you yet again, and so on.

Instead of thinking of an object, though, think of the solitude you so badly want and need each day as an introvert — the solitude that sustains you in so many ways.

Picture not getting your quiet alone time, or not getting enough of it, no matter how hard you try. I’ll bet you’ve been in this place many times. So have I.

What is it like? Do you become frustrated? Do you get angry? Do you maybe even start to cry if it goes on too long?

Of course, probably all three. It only makes sense! In fact, there’s a name for this feeling, for not getting the solitude you crave, and need, as an introvert. It’s called aloneliness (yes, that is spelled correctly — with an “a” on the front).

And once you’re aware of aloneliness in your life, you can beat it. You can get the solitude you want — and need — as the introvert you are.

Aloneliness — Not Enough Time to Yourself

Carleton University psychology professor Robert Coplan, and several of his research colleagues, introduced the concept of aloneliness in their fascinating 2019 Personality and Individual Differences article entitled, “Seeking More Solitude: Conceptualization, Assessment, and Implications of Aloneliness.”

Coplan and his colleagues write that aloneliness is the “mirror image” of loneliness, loneliness being “a dissatisfaction with the amount (and/or quality) of time one spends with others.”

Aloneliness, on the other hand, is “the negative feelings that may arise from the perception that one is not getting to spend enough time alone.”

You are the sole judge of what enough solitude is for you, they stress. If there’s a discrepancy between how much time you get to spend alone and how much time you want to spend alone, you are experiencing aloneliness.

The question then becomes: What do you do about it?

Finding the Right Balance of Alone Time

Coplan and his colleagues offer this: “It may be that individuals with stronger preferences for solitude might benefit from more deliberate planning so that their needs for solitude are satisfied, or by re-adjusting their expectations for time alone.”

Let’s take the second part of this advice first because it’s simple (though not easy!).

Sometimes we really do just have to make peace with the fact that we won’t be getting as much solitude as we want. We do indeed have to temper our expectations for quiet time, at least in the short-term.

Think of these times as the exception to the rule. Sometimes, for example, we go to the party with our partner, even when we’d rather stay home and read a book. Sometimes, we take our kid to the noisy concert featuring music we can’t stand when we’d rather, well, stay home and read a book.

You get the idea.

We all have to, and should, sacrifice our own needs at times, whether it’s the need for solitude or something else. That’s the exception.

But what’s the rule? Or what should be the rule?

That’s where the first part of their advice is more helpful and empowering. Here’s the rule: As introverts, we need to be exceedingly proactive about making sure we get enough of the solitude we crave.

Just as Coplan and his colleagues suggest, we do indeed have to engage in more deliberate planning so our need for solitude is satisfied.

Here are three ways to do just that. 

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3 Ways to Ensure You Get More Alone Time

1. Treat solitude like eating — a necessity.

If you’re experiencing aloneliness right now — again, a gap between how much solitude you want/need as an introvert and how much you’re actually getting — you already know you’re in the midst of what we might call a solitude deficit.

But how do you get out of it?

By turning solitude into a rock-solid, not-to-be-blown-off part of your daily routine. Starting today.

Think of eating your meals. Yes, you may skip a meal now and again (and likely pay for it!), but in general, you eat three meals a day at roughly the same time each day. It’s so automatic that you don’t even think about it. What’s to question, after all? We all need to eat.

Well, as an introvert, you need to get your solitude just as urgently. It’s as much a form of nutrition for you as any other. (Read the science behind why introverts love – and need – alone time here.)

So, plan your solitude. Plot your solitude. Put it in your schedule and on your calendar, be it in short spurts (via micro-recharging), longer time slots, or both.

There is wisdom — as well as practical guidance — in the adage “Show me your calendar and I’ll tell you your priorities.” 

2. Pick your solitude spot ahead of time.

When you’re in the midst of a bout with aloneliness, you aren’t exactly doing your best thinking: You’re irritable. Your head’s spinning. You’re overwhelmed. You may even be lashing out at others in your life. (That’s me, I’m sad to report.) It’s kind of like having an introvert hangover.

In short, you have the decision-making power of an anesthetized slug.

So, don’t wait until you’re in trouble to figure out where you can go to get the solitude you need. Instead, choose — and/or set up — a place ahead of time.

Have a go-to place in your home (your bedroom, perhaps, or a den you can convert into an “introvert zen zone”), as well as a go-to place just outside (in a common area or in your yard). Also have a go-to place somewhere else nearby that is easily accessible to you, like a park or low-key bookstore or cafe where you can hide out and just be.

Point being, take thinking out of the situation.

3. “Lose” your phone sometimes so you can free up more alone time.

What would we do if we didn’t have our smartphones? Really?!

You can debate whether our phones have changed our lives for the worse or for the better, but the phone is here to stay. And it should stay. But… be brutally honest with yourself. If you were to trim back your phone use each day by, say, a mere 10 percent, would that free up some time to get a bit of the solitude you want and need as an introvert?

Could you alleviate some of your aloneliness by taking a five-minute walk outside after lunch, sans phone, instead of sitting at your desk doomscrolling on social media or your favorite news website?

Could you alleviate some of your aloneliness by going to the coffee shop with a physical book in your hand instead of the opening screen for level 2,191 of Candy Crush?

Could you alleviate some of your aloneliness by simply setting your phone to Airplane Mode at planned intervals each day? And then, just do nothing?

Let me be clear: The phone is not evil. The phone is not the Devil incarnate. But it is contributing to your aloneliness.

So, push back against your phone, in realistic ways.

And push back on similar technologies, as well — like your laptop, car radio, and the TV. Once again: How much solitude time could you reclaim with a mere 10 percent reduction in your use of any one of these tools?

Aloneliness Is Like Not Getting Enough Air or Food

About halfway through her powerful 2012 TED Talk entitled “The Power of Introverts,” Quiet author Susan Cain delivers one of her most illuminating (and now-famous) lines: “… that solitude matters, and that for some people, it is the air that they breathe.”

Far less remembered is what Cain says next: “And in fact, we have known for centuries about the transcendent power of solitude. It’s only recently that we’ve strangely begun to forget it.”

So, don’t forget how critical solitude is to your well-being, fellow introvert. Whether you think of it as oxygen that revitalizes you or food that nourishes you, it just isn’t optional. Not for you. Rather, it’s a necessity.

Don’t let it be kept away from you. Refuse to play that game. You need to breathe, and eat, same as everybody else. And, most importantly, you deserve to.

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