The creation story says God made the world in six days—pink flamingos and orange starfish, lilacs and aardvarks, the depths of the ocean and the heights of mountains, a human sculpted out of the earth. Each day God pronounced His creation good. Then came His declaration that “it is not good for man to be alone.” But what does alone really mean in this context?
The original meaning isn’t about physical aloneness but about living in separation and isolation. Social isolation involves a sense of separateness, loneliness, and disconnection. Solitude, in contrast, involves deeper connectedness to oneself and God, often feels less lonely to introverts than a crowd does, and restores us. Social isolation is a struggle, but the capacity for solitude is a strength.
The Brain Science Behind Our Need for Solitude
Dr. John Cacioppo studied the social responses of our brains for almost thirty years as a professor of psychology and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. He explains that social isolation is “not usually being literally alone, but the subjective experience known as loneliness.”
He elaborates that loneliness operates like hunger or thirst, a signal from our brains telling us a vital need isn’t met. “Each of us inherits from our parents a certain level of need for social inclusion (also expressed as sensitivity to the pain of social exclusion), just as we inherit a certain basic body type and basic level of intelligence,” writes Cacioppo.
This internal signaling system means as introverts, we don’t have to decide how much “alone time” we need. Our brains are designed to tell us. When we spend too much time alone, it becomes uncomfortable and painful, like hunger or thirst. The system that prompts us to connect with others also alerts us when we need time alone. As introverts, we need solitude to recalibrate our brains and nervous systems, process our thoughts, make decisions, figure out priorities, refuel for socializing, and reconnect with our true selves.
Two Kinds of Solitude: Scheduled and Sustainable
One way to practice the rhythm of scheduled solitude is by choosing a ten-minute block of time each day when you get to be by yourself (yes, that’s enough to make a difference). After a week, ask yourself, “Did this feel like enough daily solitude or would I like to try adding more? Did the details (when, how, where) work well for me or do I want to try something else?” Keep adjusting until you find what fits you and your season of life. Ten minutes is a suggested minimum; there is no maximum.
Sustainable solitude is a lifelong pursuit and what I want most for every introvert. It’s giving yourself permission to choose solitude whenever you need it. It’s not about an event; it’s embracing who you are as a person. It’s telling yourself it’s okay to head home from the holiday dinner when you’re ready. It’s stepping out of a meeting to clear your head and refocus your thoughts. It’s honoring the space you need before responding to a request or making a commitment. It’s learning to listen to the voice inside you saying, “I’ve had enough.”
Never Apologize for Needing Solitude
It’s tempting to believe the myth that time alone is a luxury, but it’s a necessity. Sure, you can never recharge your phone and still bring it with you. The actual phone will be there, but its best features will not. An introvert with no time to themselves works in much the same way. We keep showing up, but we’re not able to make our fullest contribution.
Alone time that is chosen, restorative, and includes a sense of connectedness or engagement is essential to our well-being. Yes, we can temporarily get away with cutting it out of our lives. But eventually our bodies force solitude through illness, depression, or burnout. And the busiest among us need the most solitude to keep our emotional, physical, social, and spiritual health.
Solitude is not selfish; it’s a sacred act of service that will empower you to love and serve well for a lifetime.
p.s. “How You Can Get the Time Alone You Need” is one of the lessons in my popular new mini-course, 7 Ways to Thrive as an Introvert. You get the course FREE ($49 value) when you preorder any version (audio, ebook, physical copy) of The Powerful Purpose of Introverts: Why the World Needs You to Be You from any retailer. After preordering, just fill out the bonus form!