Loneliness is not being alone, but being empty, according to Seneca

Loneliness is not being alone, but being empty, according to Seneca

Loneliness is one of the evils of our time. Let's try to avoid it by using all possible means. We immerse ourselves in a frenzy of stimuli to forget it. “We want distraction, a landscape of sights, sounds, emotions and excitement in which to accumulate as many things as possible in the shortest time possible,” said Alan Watts.

But loneliness always comes back, it follows us when we let our guard down because we can't escape ourselves. And when those stimuli go out, when we are no longer surrounded by people, nor watch television, we close the book and the mobile phone is off, we are alone with ourselves and what we see - or perhaps what we do not see - scares us or us. condemnation to the deepest boredom. This is why Seneca said that "loneliness is not being alone, it is being empty".



Choice loneliness vs. imposed loneliness

There is no single loneliness. Enforced loneliness is that which we do not seek or desire and is linked to negative feelings of sadness, melancholy and / or inner emptiness. This type of loneliness triggers the same physiological reactions as pain, hunger or thirst. Because our brains perceive that being separated from the community, socially isolated, is an emergency. If we continue to descend into that spiral of loneliness and don't learn to enjoy our company, we will likely fall into depression.

On the contrary, chosen solitude is not harmful, it is pleasant and beneficial. Loneliness is a sine qua non for introspection, for finding ourselves and clarifying our ideas and feelings. This is why Seneca differentiated the solitudes:

“We tend to protect the afflicted and the terrified so that they do not abuse loneliness. No thoughtless person should be left alone; in such cases, he only plans evil intentions and patterns of future dangers for himself or others because his most basic desires come into play; the mind displays the fear or shame it used to repress; stimulates his audacity, stirs his passions and stimulates his anger ”.



This philosopher believed that not everyone can be alone - or that we cannot be alone in all circumstances of life. If we are mature, have good mental balance and a rich inner world, enjoying our company will make us happy because we can stay in control and discern what is good for us. But if we are going through a period of emotional ups and downs that prevent us from distinguishing the beneficial from the harmful, it is better to rely on that external point of view that helps us to put everything in perspective.

The inner emptiness that causes the feeling of loneliness

In “Letters to Lucilius”, Seneca narrates that Crates seeing a man who was walking away, asked him what he was doing alone.

He said: “I am not alone, I walk with myself”.

To which Crates replied: "Be careful, because you go in the company of a bad man."

Therefore Seneca draws attention to the fact that we are never completely alone, because when the social environment is extinguished, when we are left without stimuli with which to entertain - or drug ourselves - we remain with ourselves. And if we feel lonely in those moments, it means we are in bad company.

The experience of loneliness implies a disconnection of people to immerse themselves in a state of social inhibition that forces us to look within. Sometimes, that look inside can generate fear because we don't like what we see or just don't find it too interesting. This, without a doubt, is the worst loneliness because it arises from an unbridgeable void in which inner peace has no place.


Feeling empty is a strange and uncomfortable feeling. Some people perceive it as a kind of emotional and intellectual numbness where boredom feels at home. Without a doubt, the feeling of emptiness is not pleasant. We are likely to feel dissatisfied, confused and even upset. But trying to fill that space with external stimuli will only further increase the inner emptiness, condemning us to unwanted loneliness.



That emptiness usually comes from a lack of purpose in life and, of course, a loss of connection with oneself. When you live too focused on the outside, the connection with the inside is lost. So you run the risk of looking inside and discovering that there is nothing interesting. As Watts said, "when life is empty with respect to the past and without purpose with respect to the future, the present is full of emptiness."

What is the antidote? First of all, get to know yourself. It is no coincidence that this was the imperative engraved on the doors of the temple of Apollo in Delphi. The second essential step is to feed your inner world. Only when you stop running away from yourself can you make sure you are never alone again.


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