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Solitude of a person means seclusion or isolation, i.e. lack of contact with other people. It may stem from deliberate choice, contagious disease, disfiguring features or repulsive personal habits, or circumstances of employment or situation.
Short-term solitude is often valued as a time when one may work, think or rest without being disturbed. It may be desired for privacy.
Long-term solitude is often seen as undesirable, causing loneliness or reclusion, resulting from inability to establish relationships. However, for some people solitude is not depressing. Still others (e.g. monks) regard long-term solitude as a means of spiritual enlightenment.
A distinction can be made between physical and mental seclusion. People may seek physical seclusion to remove distractions and make it easier to concentrate, reflect, or meditate. However, it's not the end in itself and once a certain capacity to resist distractions is achieved, people become less sensitive to distractions and more capable of maintaining mindfulness and staying inwardly absorbed and concentrated. Some highly developed people (e.g. some Buddhist monks) can maintain very high concentration levels almost regardless of external circumstances. Such people, unless on a mission of helping others, don't seek any interaction with the external physical world. Their mindfulness is their world, at least ostensibly.
Symptoms from isolation often include anxiety, sensory illusions, or even distortions of time and perception. Young humans tend to adapt better to isolation than older humans do. Pioneering research in this area was done by McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
There are two different common types of human isolation. These are known as Protective Isolation and Source Isolation. They are different in that one is voluntary, while the other is not.
Protective isolation is the type of isolation created in tests. This can usually be classified by the fact that one can opt out of the experiment, or the isolation. It can often be prepared for, and is generally not a negative thing. (More often than not, there is a reward for the subject's time as an experiment.)
Source isolation includes no benefits, and cannot be prepared for. Thus, it is usually undesirable, and is not very common among humans.
As a punishment
Isolation, in the form of solitary confinement is a punishment used in many countries throughout the world for prisoners accused of serious crimes, those who may be at risk in the prison population (such as pedophiles), those who may commit suicide and those unable to participate in the prison population due to sickness or injury.
As a treatment
In addition, psychiatric institutions may also institute full isolation or partial isolation for certain patients, particularly the violent or subversive, in order to minister to their particular needs and protect the rest of the recovering population from their influence.
- The Call of Solitude - How spending time alone can enhance intimacy, by Ester Buchholz (Psychology Today Magazine, Jan/Feb 1998)
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