All people require some amount of alone time. It’s when we are alone that we’re able to fully hear our own thoughts and feelings, to process the events and experiences from the day, and to assess our current needs and tend to them. Alone time gives us the space to identify what is our own, separate from what is coming from our environment and from others.
This self-awareness and self-tending is vital to our daily functioning, as being disconnected from our own feelings and needs often comes at the cost of our health and well-being. It’s how people can go months being exhausted and stressed at work before realizing they’re suffering from burnout, or how a person in a toxic relationship will continuously abandon their own needs in pursuit of pleasing a partner that’s objectively not good for them. It’s why therapists say even the healthiest couples need alone time away from each other.
According to clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., some people may be more predisposed to enjoying solitude. “Personality factors, such as a tendency toward extroversion, may surely contribute to a person’s ability to feel happy when they’re alone,” she tells mbg. That is, people high in extraversion (one of the so-called “Big Five personality traits”) may be more likely to struggle with alone time than introverts.
That said, being able to enjoy being alone is a skill that all people benefit from. All relationships inevitably come and go, and so when we attach our happiness to other people, we relinquish power over our sense of contentment to something external and temporary.
According to licensed therapist Alyssa Mancao, LCSW, the idea that our happiness depends on something outside of us is known as emotional dependence. “It is when our feelings and self-worth are based on external factors such as how another person feels about us,” she writes at mbg.
The opposite side of the coin—and the goal, according to Mancao—is emotional independence. “People who possess emotional independence are able to cultivate a sense of happiness and peace despite what may be happening in their lives and relationships. This is not to say that they are never affected by things that happen outside of them, but they still have a sense of who they are and can fulfill their own needs internally,” she explains.