Why do some people have no capacity to be alone?

Some of my clients were unable to be alone and constantly needed the companion of others.  If they lived alone, they needed to be in contact with their family members or friends all the time in the evening after work.  In weekends, they cannot engage in solitary activities and needed to have the companionships of others in whatever they do.  In fact, quite frequently, these clients usually had problematic relationships with their parents in their childhood.  They were either being emotionally or physically abused by their parents or being deprived of emotional support and connections with others.  Why do these clients with abusive childhood or emotional deprivation cannot develop capacity to be alone?

According to Donald Winnicott, an influential psychoanalyst famous for object relation theory and development psychology, children with a sense of security and the confidence of their attachment figure’s presence were able to develop the capacity to be alone.  This is an indication of emotional maturity as this individual growing up.  In one’s childhood, if the mother or primary caretaker could cultivate trust on the child that he or she would be available when the child needed them, the child could explore the environment and increase one’s experience when being alone without anxiety.  As this child grew up, the mother or the primary caretaker did not need to be in physical presence.  If they could provide the trust on the child, they became part of the inner world of this child.  The child could rely on these internalized attachment figure even when they were not physically present.  As a result, adult who grew up with this secure attachment were emotionally mature and able to be alone and engage in solitary activities.

With secure attachment with one’s mother or primary caretaker, a child gradually developed the capacity to get in touch with one’s inner feelings.  This person, when growing up as a adult, developed a capacity to know what he or she really needed or wanted.  They would not be too compliant with others’ expectation and too eager to please others.  Indeed, the capacity to be alone is related to one’s ability to discover oneself and be aware of one’s inner feelings, needs and impulses.  As an adult, this is a very important element for one to be able to engage in solitary activities alone.

For those who have mild difficulty to be alone, it is important for them to learn to cultivate connection with their inner self.  Mindfulness meditation, such as sitting meditation or body scan, as well as arts, such as painting or pottery, may be able to allow ones to cultivate more self awareness and self discovery.  In fact, dreams are also a gateway for ones to explore and discover oneself.  By exploring ones’ inner self, ones could get in touch with the inner feelings and thoughts, so that ones could process for further integration and reflection.  As a result, ones are being more able to be alone and strive to ones’ full potential.

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