Thursday, March 11, 2021


Why You Want to Be Alone and Why That Matters

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Posted Dec 12, 2019

Are you one of those people who likes spending time alone? If so, you probably already know that there are some people who will stigmatize you for it. They think you are alone because you anxious around other people and just don’t have very positive relationships with humans. They assume you are lonely and depressed.

That’s been the prevailing storyline about spending time alone for far too long. More recently, scholars are increasingly recognizing and documenting the value of solitude They believe that spending time alone can be good for creativity, self-insight, self-development, relaxation, and spirituality.

One of the most important determinants of whether time alone is a good experience or a fraught one is whether you choose to be alone. If you are spending time alone because that’s what you want, then that will probably be a psychologically healthy experience. If instead you are home alone feeling despondent because you really want to be with other people, that’s much more problematic.

As important as that distinction is, some scholars believe it is not enough. Even people who choose to be alone, they point out, can do so for different reasons. Some reasons for being alone are likely to be indicative of good psychological health, while others are more likely to spell trouble.

Different Reasons for Being Alone

The social scientists Virginia Thomas and Margarita Azmitia tested their predictions about the importance of different kinds of reasons for being alone in research that was published in the Journal of Adolescence in 2019. They created a short form of a scale measuring people’s Motivation for solitude and administered it to 176 adolescents (high school students, average age of 16) and 258 young adults (college students, ages 18-25).

In the Motivation for Solitude Scale, participants begin with the prompt, “When I spend time alone, I do so because…” and then indicate the importance of each of 14 reasons. Items from the two categories of reasons were all mixed together when participants answered the survey. I’ve separated them so you can see the differences.

Examples of the positive (intrinsically motivated) reasons for spending time alone:

· I enjoy the quiet.

· I can engage in activities that really interest me.

· I value the privacy.

· It helps me stay in touch with my feelings.

· Being alone helps me get in touch with my spirituality.

Examples of the negative (extrinsically motivated) reasons for spending time alone:

· I feel anxious when I’m with others.

· I don’t feel liked when I’m with others.

· I can’t be myself around others.

· I regret things I say or do when I’m with others.

To see whether the negative reasons for being alone really were associated with painful experiences or perceived inadequacies, the researchers included relevant measures such as:

· Loneliness (e.g, “I feel left out.”)

· Depression (e.g., In the past week, “I felt that I could not shake off the blues even with help from my      family or friends.”)

· Social Anxiety (e.g., experiencing fear or anxiety while “talking with people you don’t know very          well.”)

Measures of positive experiences were included, too. The survey administered to the young adults included all of the following measures; the adolescents answered only some of them.

· Personal growth (e.g., “I have a sense that I have developed a lot as a person over time.”)

· Self-acceptance (e.g., “I like most aspects of my personality”)

· Positive relationships with others (e.g., “Most people see me as loving and affectionate.”)

· Identity (e.g., “I’ve got a clear idea of what I want to be.”)

· Autonomy (e.g., “Being happy with myself is more important to me than having others approve of          me.”)

· Mastery (e.g., “I am quite good at managing the many responsibilities of my daily life.”)

· Purpose (e.g., “I enjoy making plans for the future and working to make them a reality.”)

The Results

As the researchers had predicted, the results were very different for the people who spent time alone for positive reasons compared to those who did so for negative reasons.

People who are alone for positive reasons have a profile that is almost entirely positive or neutral. Overall, for both the adolescents and the young adults, spending time alone for positive reasons had essentially nothing to do with loneliness. The correlation between loneliness and wanting to be alone for positive reasons was close to zero. For the young adults, spending time alone for positive reasons also had nothing to do with social anxiety or depression.

The social anxiety measure was not included in the survey administered to the adolescents. There was one negative finding for the adolescents who chose to be alone for positive reasons: They were slightly more likely to be depressed. (The correlation was .17, compared to .58 for the adolescents who were alone for negative reasons.)

The authors speculated that “low mood may drive adolescents to seek solitude to gain insight into their thoughts and feelings.” They point to other research showing that over time, adolescents who spend time alone by choice feel less depressed. Perhaps feeling down motivates some adolescents to spend time alone, and they use that time effectively to regulate their mood.

For the young adults, spending time alone for positive reasons was linked to some healthy psychological experiences. They were more self-accepting and they developed more over time. (The measures of self-acceptance and personal growth were not included in the surveys administered to the adolescents.)

People who were alone for negative reasons had a more worrisome profile. The results were troubling for both the adolescents and the young adults who chose to be alone for negative reasons. They were more likely to experience loneliness and depression. In the group of young adults, who also answered questions about anxiety, they were also more socially anxious.

The people who were alone for negative reasons were especially unlikely to have the other positive experiences. They were much less likely to have positive relationships with other people or to have a clear idea of who they want to be. They scored low on autonomy, too.

Only the young adults were asked about self-acceptance, personal growth, mastery, or purpose. Those who spend time alone for more negative reasons scored lower on all of those positive experiences.

Other findings: A measure of extraversion was also included. Among both the adolescents and the young adults, those whose solitude was intrinsically motivated were no more or less likely to be extraverted than people who scored low on positive reasons for being alone.

It was different for those with negative reasons. Both the adolescents and the young adults who were alone for negative reasons were less likely to be extraverted.

Finally, wanting to spend time alone for positive reasons wasn’t completely separate from wanting to spend time alone for negative reasons. There was a small correlation between the two. Some people want to be alone for both kinds of reasons.

Conclusion: Both Perspectives May Capture a Bit of the Truth

First, a word of caution: This research was correlational. It does not tell us, for example, whether depression causes people to want to spend time alone for negative reasons, or whether the reverse is true, or whether some other factor causes people to be depressed and to want to spend time alone for negative reasons.

With that in mind, the results offer some insight into why some people worry about those who spend a lot of time alone. Solitude-seekers may, in fact, be feeling lonely, anxious, and depressed if they choose to be alone because they don’t think other people like them, feel like they are always saying the wrong thing, or they can’t be themselves when they are with other people.

The findings also demonstrate why, for some people who choose to be alone, there is no reason at all to be concerned. People who choose to be alone for positive reasons (enjoying the quiet and the privacy; getting in touch with your feelings; doing things you love) seem to be at no special risk for feeling lonely or anxious. Instead, people who choose to be alone for positive reasons may be more likely to enjoy greater self-acceptance and personal growth.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021


Random Post-Panic Pandemic Reflections


"Father Ron's Periodic Suspicious Spiritual Advice" 

I have enough trouble with useful information, never
mind being burdened with what is useless. 
Erlend Loe

We all know about the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Booorrrring! I have discovered something much harder - much more pain inflicting - the dreaded treadmill! It is worse than all the disciplines of long, long ago. It is worse than being stretched on the awful "rack!" It is worse than wearing one of those terrible "hair shirts!" It is worse than the hated whips of "self-flagellation." 

If you think "meatless Fridays" are such a burden, then you need to read some history about the other Lenten practices of times past. In the 13th century, a group of Roman Catholics, known as the Flagellants, took self-mortification to extremes. These people would travel to towns and publicly beat and whip each other while preaching repentance. The nature of these demonstrations being quite morbid and disorderly, were over periods of time suppressed by the authorities.

Even the Protestants got into it! Martin Luther regularly practiced self-flagellation as a means of mortification of the flesh. Likewise, the Congregationalist writer Sarah Osborn, also practiced self-flagellation in order "to remind her of her continued sin, depravity, and vileness in the eyes of God." It became "quite common" for members of the Tractarian movement within the Anglican Church to practice self-flagellation as a spiritual discipline.

St. Therese of Lisieux, a late 19th-century French Discalced Carmelite nun, showed some good sense. She questioned prevailing attitudes toward physical penance. Her view was that loving acceptance of the many sufferings of daily life was pleasing to God, and fostered loving relationships with other people, more than taking upon oneself extraneous sufferings through instruments of penance.

I'm with St. Therese of Lisieux! Who needs all that "useless pain" when the "useful pain" of the dreaded treadmill is so "Lenten friendly?" With its "good pain," the dreaded treadmill was just "made for" for the Lenten season! On the dreaded treadmill, you can whip your sins and your stomach fat into shape at the same time - all while watching TV! Don't fret about giving up candy bars and ice cream, just hop on that dreaded and under-used treadmill! (Don't forget to turn it on!) Your sins and fat will "melt away" while you are watching an hour of the "Jerry Springer Show." An hour of the "Jerry Springer Show" alone will help you feel better about yourself! Since it is pretty hard to eat while you are running that fast, you will be burning calories, not just exchanging them! Eating and running at the same time equals zero when it comes to the effectiveness of the dreaded treadmill! However, if you follow this regime faithfully during Lent, your priest and your doctor will both be impressed - and you might also look pretty good on the beach during "spring break!"  The dreaded treadmill: it's a Lenten-friendly win/win/win discipline! 

Since Ash Wednesday, I have been on the dreaded treadmill for an hour and a half every day. Just this far into Lent, I have already lost four ounces and I haven't felt this sinless for a long time! Try it! You'll be glad you did! 

Sunday, March 7, 2021



He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area,
with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
John 2:13-25

In a moment of great humility, something rare for our church at that time, the bishops of Vatican II admitted in writing that the church is “semper reformanda,” “always in need of reform.” The human side of the church, like all human organizations, has a tendency to fall into sin and decay and must be called back to fidelity, over and over again, as it moves through history. As it was in the beginning, is now and shall ever be, as long as it is on the earth. Yes, even in Jesus’ day, organized religion needed a good cleansing.

In a dramatic and public gesture of outrage, Jesus' anger boils over. He throws a fit and his fit is a lot more serious than selling raffle tickets in the back of church! It is very important to remember that the anger of Jesus was not directed at people who sinned or failed in all their everyday ways. His anger was directed at those who controlled religion and used it to abuse simple people. He had pity and compassion on the outcasts, the sick and sinner, but he was outraged at what had happened, at the hands of its leaders, to the religion he loved. In some of the most blunt words from the mouth of Jesus ever recorded, he called them “snakes, fakes, phonies and frauds. He called them “whitewashed tombs,” “all clean and pretty on the outside, but filled with stench and rot on the inside!” It is important to note that Jesus was not against organized religion, but what these people had done to organized religion he loved. As this gospel story tell us, he did not come to tear down the temple, he simply came to clean house! Instead of serving the religious needs of their people, they used people to serve their own needs. The temple had become a market place and they were getting a cut on every corner of it!

Even so, Jesus is not interested in a shake-up of temple administration. He knew all that “religious business” that he saw going on the the Temple precincts came from hearts that had turned away from God. He wanted conversion and transformation of minds and hearts, not just some cosmetic changes in the structure or simply a shake-up of a system. He was more interested in people changing internally than making external changes in the material world. He knew that if people turned toward God, the organization itself would improve.

It is sad that many people never get below the packaging when it comes to religion. One of my favorite writers says that they "live on the epidermis of the faith," meaning that their faith is just "skin deep." They see only the earthenware jar and never the treasure it holds. The purpose of religion is to serve others, not to be served by others. Pope Francis has taught that the Church must not be closed in on itself, preoccupied solely with its own inner life. If it is to be healthy, it must reach out beyond itself, not be focused in on its own self.

It is also sad that many people na├»vely assume that organized religion is always evil simply because it has gotten off track here and there in history. In today's gospel Jesus was not attacking organized religion, but organized religion that had gotten off track. Jesus was clear that he did not come to destroy organized religion, but to lead it back to its original purpose, to do the right thing and to do it for the right reasons, and that is to protect and pass on the “truth of the gospel.” He was for reformation, not destruction.

Without organized religion, the truth of the gospel would not have been passed from one generation to another. Without organized religion, we would never have heard the “good news.” Without organized religion, we would not have the sacred scriptures. Without organized religion, we would be split into millions of personal opinions and small little cults. Without organized religion, we could not be the unified and effective “Body of Christ” in the world today. Without organized religion, the followers of Christ would not be able to take the “good news” to the ends of the earth. Without organized religion, we would not have a way to offer support to other believers around the world. Yes, the church may always be in need of reform, but that does not negate the need for the church to be organized. Yes, the church may need a good “house cleaning” every now and then, (what house doesn't?) but the church still needs to be organized.

Fellow Catholics! The church of the recent past has been too closely identified with its leaders. These days we have re-discovered and re-emphasized the fact that we, each and every one of us, is the church. For the last thirty or forty years, people have operated out of a romantic notion that all the ills of the church reside with the institution – so that if only we could reform it, we ourselves would be better Christians. The truth quite often is the other way around. The institution will get better when each one of us are reformed and transformed. These days, we are called to renew the church, not by focusing on the weaknesses of the institution, but on our own personal conversion, one heart at a time. No church can be strong when every member of it is weak.

What is even more distressing to me are those today who imagine they can take us back to some imagined "glory days" by dragging out old artifacts and reviving old forms of clericalism as if that will fix what ails us. What is really needed is a powerful focus on preaching conversion of heart and conversion of life in a convincing way! Turning "my Father's house" into a "museum" misses the mark just as much as turning it into a "marketplace!" Preachers who cannot move people's hearts, always seem to resort either to rearranging the furniture or angrily ranting and raving how they ought to be listened to and what's wrong with everybody else!

We are the church. We are called to “clean house” one heart at a time! The problems of the church begin right here in our own hearts and in our own lives. As the philosopher Goethe put it, "Let everyone sweep in front of his own front door and the whole world will be clean." When you and I get better, the church will get better. It’s like the old song about “peace” that we are all familiar with: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!” I say, "Let there be a renewed church on earth and let it begin with me!"

Fellow Catholics! The church of the recent past has been overly identified with its leaders. Members of the church were seen as serving the leaders of the church. Now the church is again identified with the members of the church and the leaders are seen as servants of its members - at least on paper! The church of the future will be a church more identified with the laity. That church cannot be strong if all its members are weak. If the church is to be renewed, it will begin with you and me. Let us step up to the plate and take responsibility for our part in carrying Christ’s mission to the world. Let the “house cleaning” begin and let it begin inside us!