How much alone time is too much? - Introvert Spring

HermitAlone time is essential to the well-being of introverts.  We need solitude to reflect and recharge.  If we don’t have enough time to ourselves, we can quickly become harried, growling bundles of discontentment, waiting to implode.

But how much alone time is too much?  As I’ve said before, introverts are not immune to the torment of loneliness.  Too little social interaction and we risk crossing over into the darker realms of depression and hermitdom (not a real word, but you get the idea). 

Some of you may have heard of the phenomenon in Japan known as “Hikikomori”.  Hikikomori is defined as a state of self-imposed social isolation lasting six months or longer.  Hundreds of thousands of Japanese youth have chosen to withdraw to their bedrooms for months or even years.  These modern-day hermits shun all forms of social interaction in favor of unhappy seclusion.

While we’re on the topic of extreme hermit cases, I read an article a few months ago about the Maine ‘North Pond Hermit’.  This man had spent nearly three decades in complete isolation in the Maine woods.  His arrest for burglarizing a nearby youth camp for disabled children was believed to be his first contact with other people in 27 years.

Most introverts are a far cry from the Hikikomori youths and deranged hermits of this world.   We know the importance of human connections.  We value our close friends and family; however, we are susceptible to unwanted feelings of isolation.  At times, our aloneness seeps into areas it doesn’t belong.  Peaceful silence becomes a messenger of sadness; contented solitude transforms into loneliness.

Sure, there are some hermits that are pretty cool.  I would love to be the wise sage living in an enchanted forest for a day or two.   I also have great respect for the spiritual leaders who withdrew from the world so that they could be enlightened (props to Buddha).  For the rest of us, the hermit life is unappealing and unnecessary.

When I go more than two days in a row without human interaction, I become restless.  I begin to obsess over things that aren’t worth obsessing over.  I start to feel agitated and morose.  Soon, the dreaded “L” word begins to taunt me wherever I go. In my bedroom, in the kitchen, outside – even while watching a beautiful sunset – loneliness is there.

Loneliness can be especially tormenting for introverts who don’t have close friends or family nearby.  Acquaintances just don’t do it for us.  We need our trusted loved ones by our sides or we can feel lonely even when surrounded by people.

I have struggled with this during my travels.  Because I usually couch surf, I am rarely completely by myself.  But when you’re in a new country, surrounded by ‘friends’ who were strangers a day earlier, you can feel more alone than ever.

Perhaps you can spend five days in blissful isolation without feeling sad or lonely.  Or maybe you can only handle one day of seclusion before you start itching for social interaction.  The important thing is to know when it is time to reach out to those you care about and welcome them back into your world.

I don’t recommend the hermit life for most people, but If you really want to give it a try then go for it.  But please, don’t ever steal from disabled children.  Even by hermit standards, that’s just plain mean.