Who Are You Really When Alone?

Can being alone make you certain of who you really are?

It looks it can. Yet we must not forget that aloneness and solitude often spawns an inner struggle that may bring you to the edge of your mental health. In your inner wrangling amid quietness, you make choices that could be mind-boggling.

A young woman's mother came to me in tears. Her daughter, Kara, had been staying inside her room alone for many months. She was a pretty and intelligent girl that completed a degree with honors in a top-notch university. She was congenial in the presence of family members - an admirable quality also recognized in school. 

Then, out of the blue, she changed. She began to isolate. One item about her particularly troubled the family: every night, amid her stares and tears, she had been seeing snakes, cockroaches, and lizards crawling into her bed to attack her. 

By nature, this mystique of Kara's condition is erosion more than explosion. It is not a reality-based solitude and aloneness inside her room. The vacant stares, the manic tears, the unreality visions that will not stop. Such are the dry heaves and symptoms of unresolved, unprocessed pain. They've become a shadow to keep Kara from having to live in a real world. When you want to escape the world, solitude becomes destructive.

On the other hand, true leaders, geniuses, and creatives are accustomed to aloneness. From their times of social separateness, they acquire depths of character and produce great works. As psychologist Dr. Nathaniel Branden put it, "Innovators and creators are persons who can to a higher degree than average accept the condition of aloneness. They are more than willing to follow their own vision even when it takes them far from the mainland of human community."

I'm reminded of writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn who once said, "Prison, I bless you!" This man blessed his solitude, for out of his "Gulag aloneness" came his masterpieces. Like Solzhenitsyn, John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" and the apostle Paul's epistles in Scripture were also born out of the solitude of the jails. Even when alone in the heaviest of circumstances, who these men really were from their deepest core was celebration of their work that marked their greatness.

There, the paradox of being alone. You can like being alone only when you like who you really are. Great characters or accomplishments are often a product of constructive use of aloneness. If you are terrorized by your being alone, you'll be pained by negative thoughts, feelings, and lingering memories. It's destructive, unhealthy solitude.

Who are you really when you're alone?