There is a general belief that loneliness and aloneness are the same. But, in actual there is a marked difference between the two. Loneliness is felt due to the dissatisfaction with the quality of one’s current relationships and it is a desire to develop good, intimate relationships, which becomes unable to attain. It is more of an unpleasant state. Aloneness, on the other hand, is a lack of friendships. The individual does not have any friends or may not desire to be in long-lasting relationships.

Loneliness is basically of two types – state loneliness and trait loneliness. State loneliness is temporary and depends on the situation that the person is involved in. For example, a person might go to a new place and not be very familiar with it or a person might take up a new job. In such a situation, an individual might initially feel lonely, but build good relationships later. Trait loneliness is more stable and enduring. The inherent traits of the person become a cause for his/her loneliness, which needless to say is a miserable condition. The situation does not make any difference to a person with trait loneliness. He/she will feel lonely in a familiar as well as an unfamiliar situation.

It is possible that an individual who experiences state loneliness too often might develop trait loneliness. This may happen, if a person does not stay or live at one place for a long period of time. For instance, a young boy or girl, due to various reasons, might have to study in many different schools. The same may happen to a person who has a transferable job or has work that requires him/her to travel a lot. Such an individual might not be able to build intimate relationships, for obvious reasons. This happening regularly will habituate him/her to feel lonely. Thus, state loneliness may develop into trait loneliness.

A lonely individual is melancholic. If loneliness is prolonged and it persists for a longer period of time, then this melancholy is exacerbated. This leads to behaviour patterns that might seem to be weird and eccentric to others, which in turn, may lead to social rejection. For example, an individual, due to the feeling of extreme loneliness, knowingly or unknowingly, might get into self-pity and try to gain sympathy. The person may also behave in an indifferent manner to seek attention. Such kind of behaviour might not be liked by many of his/her peers and might lead to shunning the individual. The person gets into a precarious situation, where he/she is unable to build new relationships and also drives away the current ones. All this happens only during extreme loneliness and not otherwise. This, therefore, results into social isolation. The initial stages of social isolation mark the beginning of aloneness. In this way, loneliness, especially trait loneliness, becomes a harbinger to aloneness.

Although social isolation may be the beginning of aloneness, it does not really mean that the person becomes socially withdrawn. The person might not socialize very much with people, but still be socially active, which on the whole is very different from being socially withdrawn or detached.

A person might also deliberately prefer aloneness. But this decision is also influenced by prolonged loneliness and earlier dissatisfaction in relationships. Therefore, a personal choice of aloneness is also caused by experiencing extreme loneliness.

Aloneness should not be used interchangeably with solitude. Solitude may be a very temporary phase that may last for a few minutes, hours, or a few days. Solitude has very little to do with defining the personality of the individual and is, most of the times, preferred by the individual. However, aloneness is a more permanent phase and has a lot to do in defining the personality of the individual. After being in a solitary state for a while, the person may go back to being in his normal state, i.e. the way he/she usually behaves. However, this is not the case with aloneness.

Aloneness can be both good and bad. Aloneness can be seen in two ways – negative state of aloneness and positive state of aloneness. In aloneness, if a person gets into severe depression, experiences low self-esteem, and feels a certain kind of worthlessness, then this comprises of the negative state of aloneness. The individual in this state diminishes his/her abilities and is unable to recognize his/her positive attributes. If this persists, the person might even develop suicidal tendencies.

On the other hand, an individual might also take aloneness as an opportunity to enhance himself/herself. The person might set up new challenges for himself/herself, he/she might enhance his/her abilities, and sharpen his/her skills. The person gets an opportunity to know himself/herself in a much better way and thus, gets to recognize his/her true abilities. All this comprises the positive state of aloneness. In this state, the individual builds in self-confidence, increases his/her self-esteem, and develops a certain kind of self-belief within himself/herself. For instance, a person, during aloneness, might get into activities that require a lot of creativity. The person might get into extensive reading and increase his/her knowledge as well as develop new insights. A person might also suddenly discover an urge to write and might get a lot of success in doing so. The person might enjoy the state of aloneness. In all, a completely new kind of person emerges through. In this way, aloneness can be a good thing.

Positive state of aloneness is not a continuity of negative state of aloneness. Both of them are not related and may not be experienced by the same person. Who gets into the negative state of aloneness and who gets into the positive state of aloneness depends solely on the individual.

Therefore, loneliness and aloneness, though being different, are very much related to each other. Aloneness can be said to be the next stage of loneliness. In other words, loneliness is a harbinger to aloneness. But unlike loneliness, aloneness may not necessarily be a miserable or sad condition.

PS: To read more about loneliness and related concepts, refer to my articles, When Trait and State Loneliness Come Together and Loneliness: The Role that it Plays on a Student's Academic Performance

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. I also conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India


... said...

nice writeup :)

Natalie said...

That was a very interesting discussion to read.

I could relate to your description of the transition from state loneliness to trait loneliness. I was traveling a lot with my parents since childhood, and I believe this has influenced my personality (both good and bad). After having read this article of yours, I realized that it is important to understand where my "loneliness" behavior comes from, - meaning, that it might not be an inborn trait of mine to be not very social, but something that has developed due to external circumstances as well. That gives me a more positive view of myself :o)

Then I also have a minor comment on the state of aloneness, the positive and the negative aspects. They might co-exist in one person. When I prefer to stay away from the "society", it is a mixture of refusing to deal with other people, live up to their expectations, social phobia, etc. (the negative) AND willingness to spend time with myself, books, sewing, etc (the positive). At one specific moment, the positive or the negative might prevail, but over the long run (long run being for instance a couple of month), - both are present. When I reach the depth of negative feelings, I often rush into the positive experiences of the loneliness. The benefits of the loneliness state often seem to compensate the absence of other people around to communicate and even make me feel superior to others (because I spend time reading good books, and not chatting about another boyfriend of a friend over coffee). But then, after a while I feel that books are not enough and I need people, but I might be scared to reach out to them for help and understanding, - and so my mood goes back into negative... It becomes a vicious circle, which is hard to escape.

It would be great if you could make a series of article on a certain topic, like loneliness. For instance, you could continue this one by adding advice on how people should cope with loveliness and aloneness, - for example, what are the crucial emotional states where a radical change is possible.

Looking forward to read more :o)


Saif Farooqi said...

@ ...
thanks man :)

Saif Farooqi said...

@ natalie
i'm really glad to know that this article has in some way helped you in building a more positive outlook about yourself ...
... about both the positive and negative states of aloneness co-existing ... well, i believe you're talking more about mood or the state of mind whereas i talked more about the overall personality of an individual ... mood keeps on changing, but personality is relatively stable ... even in the context of personality, i would agree with you that both may co-exist, but as i said personality is more stable so, despite both co-existing one of them will be dominant ... for instance, a persons personality maybe defined as being in the positive state of aloneness, there will be times when he/she will slip into the negative state (depending on the mood or situation), but still his/her overall personality will be that of the positive state of aloneness. in other words, the positive state of aloneness will be dominant ... its just like introversion and extroversion ... an introvert will always be, more or less, an introvert but he/she, at times might show signs of extroversion depending on the situation ...
i would also like to add that the positive state of aloneness is not just about being with yourself and doing the things that you like ... its more about rediscovering yourself in a completely new way, its about identifying your positive attributes and using them to progress in life and attempting to achieve happiness and self-satisfaction ...

... and yeah, i will definitely give a thought to the other suggestion that you made ... it's a pleasure to receive your comments, and i will be looking forward to see you more often on my blog :)

Natalie said...

That comment of yours has made my view of myself even more positive! Thank you for clarifying the distinction between personality and mood, - the notions that I clearly confused... I can see how a small mistake in definition and attribution of some characteristic can make a dramatic effect. "Positive mood" and "positive personality" are two very different things. And that is why a blog like yours could help many people :o) Keep it up!!!


Saif Farooqi said...

@ natalie
its nice that you got what i meant :)

Nardeeisms said...

Interesting and neat. As a person who loves learning new things, I leave your blog feeling somewhat smarter - Nards

Saif Farooqi said...

@ nardeeisms
... pleased to know that :)

Anonymous said...

@me...is this article about me?