The fear of finding oneself alone- that is what they suffer from – and so they don’t find themselves at all.” (Andre Gide)
Human beings are social by nature and unfit to endure extreme cases of isolation. If we are alone for too long, our mental faculties can degrade leading to states of insanity and deep despair. The use of solitary confinement and exile are practices’ with ancient roots. Indicating that people have long understood just how deeply the fear of isolation runs through our psyche.
However, in the modern day, our fears are not restricted to the extreme, extreme forms of isolation instead many of us fear to be alone for an extended period of time.
Why is isolation so detrimental to our relationships with others? Is there not solace in solitude?
Many great pontificators have suggested that the fear of solitude is actually the fear of oneself. In our standard daily routines, our social persona comes to the fore, and frightening thoughts and emotions are pushed outside of our awareness but when we are away from the restricting confines of others these darker aspects of ourselves tend to rise to the surface and make their presence known.
“It is what one takes into solitude that grows there, the beast within included.” ( Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathusra )
Hence, there is a danger in spending a significant amount of time isolated from others, as there will come a time when broken down by the beast within; solitude will weigh us down and become a great curse. However, there are some who can endure this crisis of isolation and through a heroic effort, tame and integrate the darkness within, but most would be destroyed by such a confrontation, which is why Nietzche thought:
“..many should be dissuaded from solitude.” ( Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra )
The default response for those for whom solitariness is too heavyweight to bear is to cling to others to ensure they never feel alone.
” One man runs to his neighbour because he is looking for himself, and another because he wants to lose himself. Your bad love of yourselves makes solutude a prision to you.” ( Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra )
Those who lose themselves in others may be saved from their solitude, but they always turn out to be crippled versions of the person they could have become. For us to actualize our potential, we need to fulfill what the psychologist, Abraham Maslow called our “meta needs or (“higher needs”), which include the drive for truth, beauty, and goodness.
These needs as Ernest Becker noted in his book, The Denial of Death, cannot be entirely fulfilled by other people.
” It is impossible to get glood from a stone , to get spirituality from a physcial being.” ( Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death )
Any attempt to fulfill the totality of our meta needs through an intimate relationship will succeed in a god-like idealization of the partner and a result of a slavish dependence on them for our self-worth and identity.
” If the partner becomes God they can just as easily become the Devil; the reason is not dar to seek.. If you find the ideal love and try to make it the sole judge of good and bad in yourself, the measure of your strivings, you become simply the reflex of another person. You lose yourself in the other, just as obegident children lose themselves in the family. No wonder that dependency, whether of the god or the slave in the relationship, carries with it so much inderlying resentiment.” ( Ernest Becker, Denial of Death)
To ensure we don’t, like many individual today, fall victim to dependence driven relationships we must develop what the twentieth-century psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott called “the capacity to be alone”. When the dear of solitude makes us dependent on others we become overly compliant out of a fear of abandonment and thus build up what Winnicott called, “a false self”. That is, our personality becomes a mere reflex of how we believe others want us to be.
- R.W.N II