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Loneliness: It Happens to Introverts Too

woman alone on rocks

Mother’s Day this year topped all the other years I can remember. My children attended church with me. My sons had never been to a service with me. It was so fun to introduce the kids to my  friends. My friends had heard about my kiddos but now they could put faces and voices to the stories. One woman had taught my younger son nine years ago when he was a kindergartener. She oohed, aahed and fussed over him and how he’d changed. I think he liked it. Another church member commented that she was happy I got my wish to have my kids with me. It was special to be surrounded by family. I usually attend services by myself.

After church, we met up with my sweet boyfriend at a local restaurant for brunch. There was a light, comfortable and fairly talkative atmosphere at our round table conveniently near the lobster scrambled eggs, maple glazed bread pudding and bacon.

Each of my children gave me a thoughtful card with a unique handwritten message. I said thank you and gave each of them a loving hug.

The weather smiled on us that day too. Perfect golden sunshine with a gentle breeze. For dinner, we walked to a neighborhood pizza place. We walked through our neighborhood, chatting and reminiscing about old times. It felt so nice. Once at the pizza place, the soft-spoken and somewhat shy restaurant owner surprised us with a free plate of cheese toast for Mother’s Day.

I talked with my sister on the phone that night. We try to connect on days we especially miss our mom. Mother’s Day qualifies. This was our second one without her. Even though we did not talk about Mom much, her absence and memories were in the background of our conversation.

I foresee a lot of time alone and surprisingly, don’t like it

boardwalk ocean sunriseThe next day, my high from the weekend, plummeted. Things went back to normal. I looked ahead to the summer’s schedule and saw a lot of time on my own. My kids will be gone with their dad for a good portion of it. My boyfriend is in the middle of two important work projects that take him out-of-state during the week. My extended family is all out-of-state. My friends are around but have their own plans and people. No one is intentionally absent or unavailable. It just works out that way.

I realized I’ve spent a lot of the last decade feeling lonely. I’d never associated myself with that word until now, but in truth even when I was married, I felt lonely. There was not a two way current of emotional safety and caring between my husband and me. Introverts supposedly like being alone, but I don’t think we like feeling alone or being alone all the time. We want to feel connected just as much as extroverts.

Kids are great companions but not the same as another adult

Last summer, I took the kids on three different trips — two of them road trips. By the end of the road trip to South Dakota in August, I was frazzled. We saw cool things and have interesting memories of Mount Rushmore, bison burgers and The Badlands, but being the only adult on the trip — no one to help make decisions, no one my age to share the experiences with and no one to giggle with at night about the day’s mishaps — took its toll. I vowed I would take fewer trips with the kids this year, especially if I didn’t have another adult with me. The fact is I can physically and financially plan and carry out the vacation with the kids. I’ve proven that many times. It’s the empty feeling that accompanies the trips that I don’t want to face again.

People need people

I’ve done a lot of research over the last two years regarding attachment theory and the human need for support and emotional safety. I’ve learned how other people help us heal emotionally, make us feel loved and calm our nervous systems. They can also have the exact opposite effects. Feeling isolated is a lethal threat to our well-being. It wreaks havoc on us physiologically. Our positive neural pathways flourish or atrophy depending on how much care and support we receive. Neuroscientist, Dr. Bruce Perry, says an isolated mother is a distressed mother. Infants perish if they do not get enough touch and care. The elderly suffer tremendously from lack of interaction and touch. People need people.

Looking back at my strong need for solitude during the last few years of my marriage, I see I used it to recharge and escape the loneliness. I was safe from conflict and pressure to be super mom/wife/woman. Physically alone, I could escape into the world of books, learning or my writing. I could connect with others there, if only in my head. I wanted  to know and understand myself. If I knew myself maybe I could get someone in my home to know me. The more I learned about myself through reading and writing, the more obvious and painful the disconnection in my home. It was less uncomfortable to be alone or with supportive friends.

Besides solitude, I sought refuge from the loneliness by spending time with kind, perceptive, emotionally generous people who seemed to be interested in connecting with me and with life in general. Their presence filled me up.

This summer, like the last few summers, I will take my kids to Tennessee to stay with my dad and stepmom. We will see my brother and his family too. It’s ideal. We all love it there. The relaxed atmosphere is so fun and we feel the gift of connection with extended family. Bonus, there will be other adults there.

I do not feel lonely when with my boyfriend. I feel loved and loving. He’s the person I want to giggle with at the end of the day. Sometimes our schedules make it difficult to be together. The intellectual evolved part of my brain understands the pressing handsresponsibilities and time commitments we both have. The primitive involuntary part of my brain quickly registers absence as me by myself again. Luckily, my guy is very good at sensing when I’m feeling disconnected. He knows reassuring me with touch and words keeps the loneliness at bay.

Help someone feel supported

As I thought about loneliness and isolation, my mom kept coming to mind. I have much more empathy for her plight as a single mother and single empty-nester now. She did almost everything on her own once my sister and I were gone, and even when we were there. She had a few long-term boyfriends who occasionally abated, but mostly exacerbated, her loneliness. Her boyfriend choices were mostly out of desperation to escape being alone. She was a cat lover. Her cats kept her company the best they could. I wish I would/could have spent more time with her. She needed us to go to church with her, meet her friends and reminisce about old times. She needed a lot of reassurance, that she did not receive.

Still an introvert

I still need alone time to do deep work that requires concentration and the ability to mine my imagination. I still don’t like too much stimulation or a rush of forced socializing. I’m still an introvert but I also know I need people. I physically and emotionally need others. We all do.


When do you feel most lonely, when with others or when alone? How does solitude recharge you? How could you make someone else feel less lonely?

If you would like help understanding and healing your loneliness please contact me for personal coaching.





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  1. Ann M May 19, 2017 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    What a great article! It has been awhile since I have been able to read your writing and really felt touched by your words. My big house is very empty these days with the girls all grown up and my husband traveling a lot. Lately, I have been experiencing loneliness after so many years of busyness. Maybe the loneliness was there but buried underneath it all. I look forward to re-connecting with you, Brenda!

    • Brenda Knowles May 20, 2017 at 9:54 am - Reply

      Always a pleasure to hear from you Ann.:) I imagine your lifestyle is quite different now that the girls are gone. We get so swept up in the fast paced hustle of work/kids/spouses/activities and then when it’s gone, we notice how much we need and want connection. We see how important those relationships are. I have found that even though the busy-ness distracts me, if I don’t feel close to enough people emotionally, I still feel lonely. I really need supportive relationships and I am working on being a more supportive companion to all my people. This learning stuff never ends! 😉 Sending you a big hug my friend.

  2. Jody Rivers May 19, 2017 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    Wonderful article as always Brenda! My take on your ‘people need people’ thesis, is that it may depend on where one exists on the introverted spectrum. As an extreme introvert, I do not feel the need to be around people, nor am I lonely. Perhaps it is also somewhat inherited, as I have several relatives who were extreme introverts and lived alone until they passed away at an advanced age. While I agree with your view that extreme isolation can be unhealthy for most people, I think it all depends on how the individual feels about the isolation. It could be possible to actually embrace solitude and isolation and be completely content with it. My uncle Don is a great example. After a bad marriage and divorce, he remained alone for the remainder of his life. He moved to a cabin on a beautiful lake and spent his time fishing and writing. He rarely had company, but when I would visit it was clear that he truly loved his solitude, and he always exhibited a kind and cheerful disposition. He never appeared to be lonely or sad. He passed away last year at the ripe old age of 96. He spent his remaining years after his divorce living the life of peace and solitude he craved.

    As you know from my previous post, I myself have recently left a long-term relationship. Although there was a period of adjustment, in the end, I embraced my newfound solitude with a fervor. It felt so freeing to have unlimited time to do what I wanted to do. No more having to attend my exes family gatherings, (introvert hell on earth!) or having to deal with her relatives stopping by unannounced. The longer I have been on my own, the more I have come to enjoy my isolation. I have no friends or family to contend with, thus my stress levels are pretty much nil. As I consciously embrace my solitude and isolation, it does not feel heavy or stressful to me. It feels serene and light. Perhaps I have discovered what my uncle realized all along, that some folks are just built for solitude. That is the environment which suits them best. So maybe in the end, all the negative press regarding isolation does not apply to everyone equally. It is all about our perception of our isolation, especially if we chose it.

    • Brenda Knowles May 20, 2017 at 9:41 am - Reply

      Thank you for sharing your perspective Jody. I really appreciate it. I guess I’m having a hard time believing someone could be happy alone all the time because that is not how I feel at this stage in my life. There were times in the past when I dreamed of running away to a cabin in the woods all by myself. I definitely understand the relief of not experiencing constant drop ins from family and friends. I love family and friends but if they were around all the time and often unannounced, I would start to get irritable. I know I need uninterrupted relax/work time and one-on-one time with my partner, between visits and socializing with others. I’ll be curious to see how you feel in a year or two Jody. I know I relished my freedom post divorce. It took me a year or two to start really craving consistent companionship again. Once I met people who did not make me feel alone when I was with them, people who energized me with their warmth and ideas, I started to put as much value on interacting as I did solitude. All the best to you Jody. Keep us posted on your journey.

      • Jody Rivers May 28, 2017 at 4:15 pm - Reply

        Thank you, Brenda, for your insights. While I appreciate that not every person is designed to embrace long-term solitude, some of us are and there is nothing wrong with choosing a reclusive lifestyle if it suits one’s temperament. You mentioned that you would be curious to see how I would feel in a year or two. Based on my personal history with relationships, and my genetic predisposition for extreme introversion, I think I can safely state that I will still be extremely content with my peaceful and solo by choice life far into the indefinite future. When I read all the terrifying gloom and doom articles regarding the dangers of living alone and being lonely, I shake my head in utter disbelief. Again, I differentiate between being alone and having the feeling of loneliness. If a person feels alone and lonely, then obviously they may be more prone to the potential health effects of such psychological isolation. That said, living totally alone by choice does not guarantee that one will suffer health issues down the road either. It is all in the individual’s perception.

        I came across an article about a reclusive woman who passed away at the ripe old age of 104! She was by all definitions a recluse, and very content being so. Link:

        Like my Uncle Don who lived to an advanced age despite being a self-imposed hermit, I believe there are always exceptions to the rules which society dictates we should live by to be considered normal and sane. As for myself, I foresee a happy and healthy future ahead, full of glorious solitude!

        • Brenda Knowles May 29, 2017 at 12:33 pm - Reply

          Hi Jody! Thank you for always giving the other side of the coin regarding long-term solitude. I am interested in your experience. I love solitude in good amounts too, but always find myself looking for connection after a couple of days. I’m curious what you find most fulfilling about being alone. I agree there is a difference between being alone and loneliness. Do you feel happier alone? Safer? More relaxed? Cheers to you and your contentment!

  3. Michael May 19, 2017 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    good post, Brenda. thank you.

    when we have been in a relationship that doesn’t feel safe — there’s negative, complaints, criticism (which might not be criticism to some, but is to highly sensitive people), absence of easy laughter — then being alone is at least safe. no one is going to criticize. that’s huge.

    i went through this for quite a few months after i moved out from my wife last July. i thought, I never want to be with anyone again. I will be alone, and happy, for the rest of my days. i felt safe for the first time in a long time. i slept soundly, by myself, for the first time in a long time. i felt peace. i felt safe.

    a couple months ago, that began to change. i began to feel lonely. crave a woman’s touch. her voice. simple kindnesses.

    i don’t mind time alone. and i need a woman in my life. I’m much clearer on what i need now. and what i don’t. i learned to articulate it with my wife. but she couldn’t hear what i was saying, as clear as i think i was.

    i think I’m ready for a relationship that I’ve never had before. where I’m me, out in the open, here i am, this is who i am, what i need. i know what i give. and now i know what i need.

    I’m entertaining the idea that i may be bipolar. I’m not sure. i do swing very high, and very low. often. maybe with a woman who sees me and accepts me, that will feel different. i have never felt accepted and loved for my highs (which are very cool and fun and alive), and my lows (which inevitably follow the highs, as much as I’m sure they won’t happen when I’m high).

    i shared it with a woman I’ve been seeing. the highs and lows. how the lows are very low. and the highs are very high. and she didn’t seem to freak out about it, or want to give me advice, or suggest anything at all. it was very different. i have been used to feeling flawed because of it. maybe I’m not flawed. maybe it’s just me. who i am. maybe i am bipolar. and it’s okay. but i needed to just be accepted for who i am, so i could see things for myself, and not have someone try to tell me what is wrong with me, if ‘wrong’ is even the right words.

    for what feels like the first time, maybe I’m okay as i am. it’s a very weird and strange feeling. and a good one. I’m not sure how it’s all different. but it is different. i’ll keep paying attention to that.

    thanks for your beautiful, heartfelt words, Brenda. a kindred spirit in the quest to simply be happy, really. just as we are.


    • Brenda Knowles May 20, 2017 at 9:28 am - Reply

      Hi Michael. I remember the blissful sleep and contentedness after my husband moved out. It was nice to just rest and feel calm and safe. I didn’t have to pretend to be fine and happy or compete with anyone. I could just be. I’ve had that with friends in the past but not romantic partners. Now I have that with a romantic partner. Now I want to be with my close special people more but scheduling is tough.
      I’m thrilled to hear you have found someone who can handle your highs and lows. It’s so wonderful when we can just be ourselves. We all need that gentle caring and touch. It takes us a while to know and accept that. It takes a while sometimes to find someone who can provide such love. Part of the problem is it takes us a while to learn we have to be gentle and caring and accepting too. Best wishes to you Michael. May your soul soothe and be soothed.

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