woman alone on rocks

Photo by Felix Russell-Saw on Unsplash

… when I felt depression or anxiety start to set in, I felt a panicked need to keep my head above water — so I would try to do something for myself. I would buy something, or watch a film I like, or read a book I like, or talk to a friend about my distress. It was an attempt to treat the isolated self, and it didn’t work very often. — Johann Hari, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression — and the Unexpected Solutions

Like Johann Hari above, I have often attempted to self-soothe by exercising, reading, or just being alone. I only felt true relief when I took what I learned in solitude and shared it with others.

I was happiest exercising in my group hip hop class. I am most content when I read something interesting and then share it with my family or you my readers on brendaknowles.com. Telling a friend of my distress provides mild relief but I’ve found it most effective if I also witness my friends’ experiences. There is something soothing about knowing you are not alone in your striving, challenges and triumphs.

What about introverts?

I know many of you are thinking but we are introverts and highly sensitive. We recharge in solitude. We need alone time like we need oxygen.

I agree, to a point. A portion of our stimulation/people sensitivity can be attributed to the biological makeup we were born with. At most, this explains about 50% of our sensitive behavior.

The truth is most of us have trained ourselves to self-regulate and promote our individuality. Self-regulating comes from our past relationship experiences and a lack of reliability from our parents or partners. Individuality comes from the Western culture we grew up in.

Eastern versus Western culture

How many times have we heard, “You do you!” or “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” ? Even when we encounter problems we assume they are our own problems and we must fix them ourselves.

Eastern countries in Asia have a more collective view of life. They see the crowd first and then the individual. According to research quoted by Johann Hari in Lost Connections, consciously trying to make yourself happy only works if you take a collective route. People in Asian countries make themselves happy by making things better for their group, and it works. People in the U.S. or Britain focus on making their own lives better and it does not work.

What does fill us up? 

So essentially the lives we’ve been taught to live do not fulfill us psychologically. They leave us feeling empty and longing for connection, security and togetherness.

The real path to happiness, they were telling me, comes from dismantling our ego walls — from letting yourself flow into other people’s stories and letting their stories flow into yours; from pooling your identity, from realizing that you were never you — alone, heroic, sad — all along. –Johann Hari, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression — and the Unexpected Solutions

group of friends skyline

Photo by Ben Duchac on Unsplash

In the last two years, I have spent more time with a partner, friends, family and a church community. When I am with them and afterward, I feel full. I have energy I did not have even when I had significant time alone. When I feel isolated and disconnected from my close people, I am down. I realize I am only presenting my story here. Of course, if our primary relationships are not emotionally or physically safe they will not offer the same peace and contentedness.

Welcome your input

I wonder if people in Asian cultures provide more emotionally and physically safe environments for each other? It seems they are more focused on the welfare of the group which would lead me to believe there is a sense of acceptance versus competition.

If you only find equanimity in solitude is it because you do not have safe companionship to turn to? I would appreciate feedback on this. Please let me know your perspective be it in agreement with mine or differing.

Are you truly more at happy alone or with a community? If you are from an Asian country, do you agree that your culture is more collective?