The Capacity To Be Alone
The first time I ever really thought about how important it is to not only tolerate being alone (which, is to say tolerate yourself) but also enjoy it was after reading this famous article by DW Winnicott. I was immediately drawn to the idea (and to Winnicott's theories!) and rather quickly decided that to develop and nurture the tolerance to be alone is to cultivate a stable and secure source of wellbeing.
So what exactly is the capacity to be alone? Winnicott originally coined the term when referring to the development of individuality that starts with the infant’s ability to be alone in the presence of the mother. It is the child’s ability to move from the sense of the mother’s compassionate, comforting and loving presence, to his/her ability to hold on to her presence, even when alone. This internalized sense of the comforting mother develops into the psychological capacity to regulate anxiety, self-soothe, and experience a true authentic self. In essence, this is the capacity to be alone.
To have not at all, or even poorly, developed this capacity could have potentially detrimental effects on our relationship to ourselves and to others. The following Osho quote speaks to this:
True intimacy (which many, if not most, adults struggle with) starts with a comfort in your own sense of self. If you like yourself and feel comfortable, you will be able to relate in a real and genuine way with another person. True intimacy is possible when you have the “capacity to be alone” because it implies choice. You may want to be with someone but you don’t have to be with someone because you fear that being alone leaves you without stability or value. If you are truly OK with being alone, you don't have to cling to someone to avoid abandonment or avoid someone for fear of rejection.
So it's worth considering: Are you OK with being alone? And, in this day and age of hyperconnectivity, are we ever truly alone? I think, for now, I'll leave that for a different post about the effects of social media on our sense of selves. Stay tuned!