Being a loner or being alone
When I was little, I would love to play in my room for hours with toy soldiers, miniature cars and Lincoln Logs. Sometimes it was like I was directing a movie, filled with dramatic scenes, terse dialogue, and the careful movement of characters upon my own little stage. I had great fun with this. Later on as I got older and put the toys away, I would grab one of the encyclopedias from the den bookshelf and would read or research a fascinating topic, like tracing the English monarchs from Alfred the Great to Queen Elizabeth. All this for no other reason than to be alone with my thoughts, without distraction.
Sometimes the neighbor kids would ring the doorbell and ask me to come out and play. I would fake a headache or stomach ache, or anything else I could think of just to return to my solitude. I wasn’t like this all the time, about half the time I would opt instead to go outside and play, build forts in the woods, or play a game of catch or kickball in the street. But when I needed downtime, I would retreat to my room and revel in being alone.
I was fortunate, as I was the only boy in the family, and the oldest so I got my own room. It was truly my castle, my fortress and I used it well. Sometimes, my friends thought I was weird about this, remarking wryly that I should probably see a doctor about all those headaches and stomach aches. It became a bit of joke in the neighborhood. But, I always knew instinctively when I needed to shelter in my room, and regardless of my peers commentary, I carried on.
At times, I wondered if it was because I was a lone wolf, a solitary boy that need solitary time that made me different. At that time I had not yet registered that I was wired from the beginning for this type of solitude, the need for alone time. Now as an HSM adult, I recognize the importance to my system of parking myself away for a time, processing, recharging and quieting down my brain.
Why alone time is essential to HSMs.
When describing to others, what it’s like to be an HSP, I will cup my hands together, like praying hands, where the tips of my fingers barely touch, with the palms bent like open sails. I then open the fingertips just a bit wider, perhaps a few inches and say that this is like the non-HSP brain, where the gap between fingers is the aperture of their sensory reception. The flow of data being what a non-HSP would receive at any given time, not limited but not overflowing.
I then open the fingers wider, much wider, so that the aperture is much larger and say that this is the comparative difference between what an HSP receives in sensory data. The gap is substantial. These gaps stay pretty constant for each group; with I suppose some variation for stressful times. The constant bombardment of information, takes its toll on HSPs, usually followed by some type of overwhelm and then the need to withdraw to quiet quarters. This is the necessary downtime, all HSPs need. This is the importance of solitude to HSPs, that period of silent regrouping, of catch up processing time, of freeing and purging the queue, and mostly of resting alone time.
How often this occurs varies from one HSP to another. Some need more time than others, some need complete alone time, while others may just require a throttle down of stimulation and social contact. But be assured, all HSPs need this time. We don’t function well without it.
Confusion around HSP downtime.
Just like my boyhood friends, there is likely much confusion about the need for this sanctuary for HSPs among friends, family, partners, co-workers and social acquaintances. This need for “aloneness”, may make us seem like recluses to others, maybe even dangerously shy or socially anxious. Although some of those attributes may apply to some, for the most part this has nothing to do with our need for temporary seclusion.
Like introverts (which many of us are), we tend to draw significant amounts of energy from within. The outside world tends to drain us of that energy and in order to refill our tanks we need the space and time to do that. Most of the world sees that as odd and can’t quite grasp why we shun 24/7 connection. By nature, we are not always on, favoring the need to be off at times.
In this area, I think HSMs have a slight advantage over HSP females. Culturally, men who are lone wolves carry a cache or mystique about them, you know the dark, quiet types. Independent and brooding, the stuff of solitary heroes. Think of the lone woodsman in Alaska, independent and alone. Women on the other hand, are expected to be more social and this could present some perceptual problems for HSP women who need to isolate to recoup their energy. This could add some stigma to them that is not merited, but gets delivered anyway. Think the bookish, librarian, alone amongst the stacks, who prefers a quiet tea over shots of Tequila with her girlfriends.
Does significant alone time mean loneliness?
There is always a thin line between being alone and being lonely. For some people, being alone at all for short periods of time, conjures up thoughts of abandonment and/or loneliness. To an HSP though, that sweet solitude, that break from humanity, is the elixir of life. Something to return to often and in proportion to the stress of life. But, it can be too much. Isolation to an HSP can be addictive. In a healthy manner, it has purpose and place, but taken too far, it can be a prelude to social avoidance, fear and anxiety.
If HSMs are naturally shy, then stepping out of the comfort zone can be challenging. Rushing back to the sanctitude of aloneness, although a refuge, can also become a prison. Knowing the upper threshold of solitude, as it borders onto the cold plains of loneliness, is important for all of us HSPs. I wonder at times, if we are limited by our hardware, our wiring, to constantly live on the edge of that isolated border with loneliness with occasional forays into the warmth and shelter of companionship.
What price the cost of solitude?
In many ways, we HSPs go against the grain of social interaction. We tug back and forth between the non-HSP world and our own shelters. The cost of this sometimes, may mean loss of friends, real and potential, misunderstanding amongst our family and peers and the unnecessary labeling of us as social isolates and troubled souls.
I think sometimes for me, it’s a selfish indulgence, that keeps me disconnected especially from my family. Not intentional, I pull myself back to the comfort of my own solitude, alone with my thoughts and sometimes without a reference that society would provide me. And, I wonder, what have I missed? What learning, what interaction, and what emotion did I not experience? And, yes, I am feeling that now, more than ever as I age.
Balancing sanctuary with social interaction.
As with all things in life, it’s about balance. As HSPs we need the down time, that’s obvious, but we also need the opportunity for social growth. For getting out there in the world, pushing our comfort zones from time to time, growing and experiencing the world outside of our heads. As much as I love being alone at times, I do need social interaction and contact. Sometimes boldly and sometimes quietly, but getting out there a mixing it up with others is just the intoxication I need to feel alive again.
I think it helps for us HSPs to be involved with socially active partners or friends. They serve as brokers and intermediaries into the greater world. Find one and attach yourself to them. But choose one that is mindful of your HSP needs and respects your requirement for downtime. Do things that will energize you, charge your batteries and channel some of that energy to social affairs and interactions with others.
Getting prime face time is experientially beneficial for you and for those you interact with. Be sure to understand your limits and communicate them to those who care. They can have your back in social outings. Reach out to others and don’t just wait on others to reach out to you. There is growth inherent in doing this and it keeps you attached to the planet on which you live.
Above all, seek out kindred spirits, people who will respect you and will desire your company. And when you step out in to the world, make sure you are mostly in environments that you can thrive in, positive, optimistic, healing places. It’s easy to get mired in the negativity surrounding our world, since we absorb so much of that deeply. It’s not always simple to shrug off, like so many non-HSPs can. Make your base camp a place that nurtures your tender and creative spirit. Then go hiking bravely on the trails of social interaction.
So, tell me. What metaphor describes us best: lone wolf or pack dog that sometimes needs quiet sanctuary of the den?
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Bill Allen lives in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.