Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person enjoying being alone, sitting atop a large concrete sculpture

The Sweet Loneliness of the Highly Sensitive Person

I used to think there must be something wrong with me if I enjoy this much alone time. In reality, it’s because HSPs process things a little differently. 

Sweet solitude, dreadful loneliness. That’s usually how it’s perceived, right? Some alone time is treasured, but a lot is tragic. We see someone who doesn’t have dozens of friends, a big family, or spends their weekends at home as someone who is probably sad. But let me tell you firsthand, we are not. If anything, the only thing that bothers us is that others might think we’re not okay.

I was highly sensitive from the time I was in diapers. I felt everything so strongly. I took everything to heart. I absorbed the details of my environment intensely. I was a crier and as a kid, I did this openly. Of course, I didn’t know what “highly sensitive” meant until decades later, so I went through the normal ups and downs of childhood and adolescence, but with extra pressure because I felt something was wrong with me. 

It didn’t help that my parents are Middle Eastern, having only been in New Jersey for a year after fleeing Afghanistan when I was born. Don’t get me wrong, they were good parents. But like with most immigrant families, they came here trying to survive and start all over again, so they weren’t overly concerned with showing their children true love, affection, and communication. To say that left me feeling lonely at times is an understatement. 

As a Highly Sensitive Person, Alone Time Feels Natural to Me

The silencing of my sensitivity caused me to close up. During the time when I was supposed to be learning who I was and making friends, I was often at home by myself. Part of this stemmed from being a girl in an overprotective Middle Eastern family. But part of it came from being highly sensitive and preferring solitude to socialization. I craved being alone, and I was thankful I could use my parents as an excuse at times. 

During high school, it was just me, my room, my notebooks, and my music — excess alone time that would shape me into who I was meant to be. With myself, I could get deep and do whatever I needed to feel fulfilled. I rarely felt empty and agitated, as I regularly did when I had to be around others. I also found I rarely regretted staying in, but have regretted going out a few times.

Things changed at college, but being around others people tended to leave me feeling drained. I went out and tried to do what everyone else was doing, but I always felt empty afterward. Perhaps it had to do with the lack of deep connection I always felt from these interactions. I just wanted to sit and talk about life, emotions, the mind, and dreams, but my classmates were interested in more surface-level topics. 

But Society Makes Loners Seem Weird

Even though I knew I felt okay with being alone a lot, I struggled with external perceptions. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing my friends and meeting new people — I think it is something everyone needs — I just believe that some of us need it less than others (HSPs holla!).

At college, all of my friends would give me crap and joke about my “curfew” whenever I told them I was leaving early. And the general pressure from society made me feel like I shouldn’t want to be alone so much. Images of loners and hermits and other negative stereotypes about people who prefer solitude circled in my head. I started to feel depressed and anxious when I was alone. 

The internal conflict I felt around solitude lasted for over a decade. I am now in my early 30s, married, and have only recently learned to be truly content with the amount of time I need to spend alone.

If you are a highly sensitive person who feels guilty or ashamed for enjoying your alone time as much as you do, first of all know that you’re not alone — excuse the pun. Here are four stigmas we need to erase once and for all so the world doesn’t keep twisting our beautiful alone time into something ugly and strange.   

4 ‘Loner’ Stigmas That Hold Us Back as HSPs

1. “I need to have friends.”

Let’s set this straight right away. What you need is to connect — not to have a ton of friends, especially if those friendships end up being surface-level connections that leave you feeling drained. 

For my true peace, I have found that having my husband and mom to talk to and confide in makes me truly happy. Like most HSPs, I am very protective of my private life and my emotions, so I don’t want a lot of energy around me that cannot be trusted. Whoever we let in, we either let them in fully or not at all.

I also have a few divine women in my life who I can do things with, like go dance or go to a concert (when that need arises, which it does…sometimes). The concept of friends seems to be people you constantly talk to and do everything with, but that is just draining and boring for me. The concept of friendships change, especially as you get older, and you can define what it means — and adds or doesn’t — to your life. 

2. “It’s weird not to leave my house for two days.”

Oh man, the confusion my husband had when we moved in together on this topic! He is an extrovert, with empathic qualities, but definitely not an HSP. We’d go out to a party, and then for the next two days, I wouldn’t even want to leave the house for a quick stop at CVS or something. He would legit be worried. I’d tell him, “No, this is fine. I want to be at home, watch movies, read, and cook because I need to decompress.” 

Years later, he still makes the comment, “I can’t believe you haven’t left the house all day!” I just laugh. What’s the problem? I know what I need to be my best self, and that looks different from what he (or others) need. It’s taken a lot to get here, but I don’t cave to other people’s expectations anymore. I’m allowed to live in the way that works for me, and that often means a day or two of complete isolation in the sacred place I call home. 

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3. “Everyone has to do things they don’t like.”

We think, “Oh, we have to be here for this person,” or “We have to go to this person’s event.” Why? Because they invited you? Look, if it’s people you truly adore and admire and care for, then be there for them. Go support them. Be there, even if you don’t want to, but you don’t have to stay the whole time. 

But most of the time, we are going to showers, parties, get togethers, and other sorts of surface social events for people we don’t know well or perhaps even like that much because we want to keep everyone pleased. STOP. You have a choice.

There’s something to be said about doing things you don’t always like because that’s how you grow, but you don’t always have to sacrifice what makes you happy — being on your own — just to make everyone else happy. 

4. “There’s something wrong with me if I enjoy this much alone time.”

This is a tough one — the loner stigma is real and painful. It seems like society expects everyone to conform to a certain social image, and if you don’t then you must not be happy or healthy. But as HSPs come to better understand themselves and their specific needs, and as the world slowly comes to know more about the trait, I hope that alone time stops getting such a bad rap. 

It’s not for everyone, but if you benefit from it then stop feeling ashamed. Embrace who you are and what you enjoy. Shut off the noise of the world and listen to your soul. It’s those “lonely” moments, after all, where the deepest revelations emerge. 

Want to reduce stress and thrive as a highly sensitive person? We recommend these online courses from psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland. Click here to learn more.

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