By Elisabetta Franzoso, Life Coach, Counsellor, Speaker, Trainer, Author & Social Activist at InsideOutYou Coaching & Training.
A few years ago, my daughter gave me two books for Christmas, both covering the same topic: solitude. At that time, I still didn’t feel or see the value of solitude, in fact, I couldn’t stand it at all, even though I was thrust into it unwillingly over many years.
I perceived solitude to be a sort of curse but my daughter, who was observing from the outside in, saw it as a blessing that had arrived after my divorce.
Not too long ago, she said to me, “Mum, if you and dad had not split, you’d never have had the chance to integrate everything that you learned in your years of study, training and travel around the world to become the counsellor, coach and trainer you are now”. Admittedly, I couldn’t agree more. Today I can see how solitude had come to heal me.
This is what we can’t see. This is what nobody teaches us.
Solitude has the power to heal. Through solitude, we can recognise what we’re not able to see when in relationships or surrounded by the warmth (and distraction) of a family, in the company of friends or even pets.
Over Covid, many of us have had very little choice in the matter of solitude. How is it that we bemoan the imposed isolation? It could be a great opportunity to heal and look to unresolved issues which have been preventing us to connect with true love and responsibility. Perhaps it’s because we didn’t choose it. This year’s solitude, for many, was inflicted rather than welcomed, and I’ve heard so many people complaining.
I am finding it hard to continue this kind of solitude after so many months. I can’t see my daughter who lives in the UK, nor my mother who’s based in Italy; each of us are residing in some of the worst hit countries in Europe.
As we know, people like to resist that which they are uncomfortable with, that which they don’t like. Unlike animals, we’re not able to simply accept things as they unfold, unfazed by preference or ego. We’re not able to accept that with all its hefty negatives, Covid has brought forth a lot of positives: the chance to heal through the solitude we’re being forced to face and embrace. It is a choice to see it as a blessing in disguise.
SELF-LOVE, RESPONSIBILITY AND SOLITUDE
I talk a lot in my work about two core values that I strongly believe in: love and responsibility. These two qualities are, for me, the foundation for authentic confidence inside and out.
Love and responsibility have a lot to do with our ability to live in solitude. If I truly love myself, feel whole in myself and I’m a responsible, mature, autonomous human being, I know how to welcome and manage times of solitude.
Covid having given us cornering us into self-isolation has no doubt amplified the feeling of inner-solitude in many of us. We’ve all dealt with that in our own way: some have rebelled, others have silently submitted, unfortunately many were thrust into depression. Whichever way we reacted, the truth is none of us are very happy. We want to go back to connecting with people and having the freedom to meet in a bar, sit down for a meal at a restaurant or go to the theatre.
For this reason, I thought it pertinent to write about solitude, a topic too often ignored, overlooked and for the most part, misunderstood.
WHAT IS SOLITUDE?
Unlike many might believe, solitude doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of others. It means being with oneself. In the words of Lao Tzu, “Ordinary men hate solitude. But the master makes use of it, embracing his loneliness, realising he is one with the whole universe. Osho differentiated between ‘loneliness’ and ‘aloneness’, the former referring to the missing other, the latter referring to the experience of wholeness in one’s own company.
Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and creative state of engagement with oneself, where you provide yourself the constructive company you need to rebalance and find harmony. For some of us it is also a state of engagement with the Divine.
THE CHALLENGES OF SOLITUDE
For an extrovert, solitude is undoubtedly hellish. The belief is that people who normally love to be surrounded by and lose themselves in others, feel recharged by being in the company of people and contrarily, drained by being alone. I identify as one of these people.
It’s said that introverted personalities are prone to re-energising by being alone. Can this truth be absolute? Well, until 18 months ago, during which I chose to live the majority of my time alone, I can see why people think so.
After experiencing the benefits of solitude, also thanks to the Covid lockdowns, I can confirm, yes, there are challenges when you choose solitude (and more so when you don’t choose it!). I’ve found these challenges to be about finding a balance and wholeness within; feeling comfortable in our own skin; becoming intimate with ourselves and our minds (both the intellect and subconscious); allowing the hurts and pain to surface; observing one’s vulnerability; observing and admitting our addictions that solitude both trigger and corner us out of perpetuating; embracing the boredom when it surfaces; sustaining the sense of emptiness we so expertly avoid by keeping ourselves busy and stimulated. Solitude is having the time to peel each layer of the onion that makes us, one by one, until we finally reconnect with who we really are.
“You must lose all that you have, in order to become all that you really are” – ‘Where God Begins to Be – A Woman’s Journey Into Solitude’, Karen Karper.
The challenge of solitude is sensing the power that flows through us when we are attuned to our essence or true self, and the boundaries between us and the world outside dissolve. Alone, in front of a beautiful sunset, in the middle of a powerful storm, embracing a tree, hugging your innocent child or being in company of your pets, is when we feel the bliss of being fully alive on this earth.
SOLITUDE AS A CHOICE
I remember when at 20 I chose to see a psychiatrist because I was challenged by sudden outbursts of anger and huge emotional pain inside. After a few months of sessions together, he told me, “Elisabetta, before you enter a serious relationship, go and live by yourself for a few years. That time will help you understand yourself and heal you childhood traumas and wounds”. I was 23 when I had the chance to do just that.
Despite what I had been told, and what I knew deep down to be best for me, I chose to start a relationship with the man who I went on to be with for 26 years. I was so deeply afraid of living and being alone. Only a few months in we were living together in my flat. Not long after we married, had a beautiful daughter and moved to Asia, where we stayed for many years. Over those years, I had done exactly the opposite of what the psychiatrist advised and I never lived by myself.
That was until I turned 48, when my husband and I separated and my daughter moved to the UK. Now the chance to experience what I’d chosen not to at 20 unfolded itself: solitude and loneliness. It wasn’t an option this time so much as a path I need to walk, whether I liked it or not, and the time had finally come.
It is only when we are alone with ourselves that we get to spend time with the part of us we tend to reject or run from: our shadow, the part that Carl Jung says is “relegated to the depths of the unconscious”. Living with ourselves means not having the chance to project our s*** onto others, it reveals our blindspots.
What nobody teaches us is that it’s only in full solitude that we learn to engage with our shadow. Nobody teaches us to accept our shadow, and that truthfully we can be enriched by its wisdom, its doorway to showing us and connecting us with our whole self.
Through my personal and professional experiences, I have been brought to believe that extroverted people like I feel I am, do primarily require social connection to recharge. Introverted people on the other hand tolerate loneliness (have mastered ‘aloneness’) much better.
In both cases and irregardless of personal preference, there is no doubt about how necessary solitude is if we really want to get to know ourselves and find harmony inside and out. And it’s a choice we can make any time.
ONE WORD ON SOLITUDE VS. LONELINESS
It’s worth echoing the deep difference between solitude (aloneness) and a state of loneliness. The latter is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. It’s what many of us were faced with during this year’s Covid pandemic because we are so unfamiliar with solitude. For many of us, it was the first time in our lives we were able to completely disengage from the demands of the world around, the first time we had enough mental space available to focus on the things that have been craving our attention for far too long.
We cannot realistically connect in the very human, very special way we do when we wear a mask. We can’t attend retreats (if not over Zoom). We can’t hug, kiss, be intimate with people unless we co-habit. When feeling lonely, one feels like something is missing. Is it possible then, that we might enter a time when we will finally be with people but still feel lonely, given all the restrictions we face in this new territory. As the increase of individuals suffering with mental health shows: we can be surrounded by people but still feel separate and isolated deep inside. Is this what you are experiencing right now?
Covid-aside, it’s worth noting that this type of loneliness can rear its sneaky head on us pandemic or no pandemic. If we’re in a relationship for a long time and develop a co-dependency with our partner whom we end up divorcing, we might experience a state of deep loneliness that brings up all of our fragility and makes us feel lost.
Solitude is a totally different state of mind and body.
If we let it, solitude can teach us to become better observers of our lives and see things for what they really are. It gives us no choice but to face and release our denial.
If we’re not used to solitude, as I had not been when I was thrust into it, it is important to connect with the value it can bring to our lives. We must ensure not to confuse solitude with loneliness at all costs. And if loneliness surfaces, as it most surely will, when we enter into solitude, then that is the right time to face the reasons for its existence and resolve them instead of repeatedly avoiding and running away.
I have learnt that no matter how many times we try to escape, try to squirm our way out of the hands of our discomfort, we will always find ourselves back at square one: rejecting our loneliness and all that it’s bringing up for us to deal with. So how I see it is, do it now or do it later… either way, you’re going to have to do, so why not sooner rather than later?
Solitude needn’t be forced upon us. It can be searched for, longed for and we all have the choice. I wholly believe that the concept of solitude should be spoken about by parents and teachers, it shouldn’t be frowned up or judged for what it’s not. Covid has given us the opportunity to find solitude and be still. By actively taking the time to be in isolation, rather than itching for the fire exit, solitude will allow us to find balance as peace of mind. And every time you get a little better at being with yourself, at knowing yourself, and grow a little closer to a whole version of you: responsible, mature, autonomous.
Above all, it will release you of the deep fear you might have of being alone, freeing you to enjoy the gifts of solitude at any age and in any circumstance.
If what I’ve written has resonated with you and you think I could be the right support for you, feel free to get in touch and schedule a Free 30 Minute Consultation by clicking the button below.
► Elisabetta Franzoso is a multi continental Life and Wellness Coach practicing between Barcelona, London, Milan and Singapore where she has many loyal clients.
► Elisabetta empowers men and women to master their mind, body and personal relationships through renewing their confidence and building a sense of wellness. She does this through her unique Coaching In 4 Dimensions framework which takes into account the physical, emotional, intellectual and relational aspects of humanity.
► Elisabetta will inspire you to live the life you want to live, maximise your potential and achieve self mastery. Aside from coaching, Elisabetta is a passionate social activist and spokesperson against abuse.
► Elisabetta has been featured extensively across international and UK press including Thrive Global, Grazia Magazine, Breathe Magazine and Health & Wellbeing Magazine. Stay up to date with Elisabetta at instagram.com/elisabettafranzoso and www.elisabettafranzoso.com
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