The imagination is a wonderful escape that allows us to detach from the real world and entertain ourselves when alone. In this respect, one should not be lonely when you are alone, if your imagination is good enough. However, an inquisitive mind may come up with theories and theses that prove interesting at first, but after some time will become boring, as a one-sided debate does not always work. You cannot expand your own ideas fully without talking to others. In this sense, you may be lonely whilst you are alone but only to a certain extent. Satre believed that man wanted to bring loneliness and nothingness together with knowledge and the fullest sense of being. It is in itself paradoxical as isolation for prolonged periods of time cannot bring out the best in you. In order for Sartre’s theory to work we must assume that said person does have regular contact with others and is not confined to their own company the whole time.
Humans naturally want to be part of a crowd, or to be surrounded by other people, of whom they appreciate the company. Throughout history, the justice system’s worst punishments were isolation, exile, or solitary confinement. It is estimated that in the USA there are around 80,000-100,000 prisoners being held in solitary confinement (study done in 2014). A study done in 1993 about prisoners kept in solitary confinement held in Pelican Bay prison in California were more likely to experience mental health issues, hallucinations and paranoia. (Casella J. and Rodriguez, S. 2016, What Is Solitary Confinement?). It was therefore a punishment to be left to your own devices, but perhaps more importantly, your own thoughts. In this case, it would be natural to feel lonely whilst by yourself, because as humans we crave contact with others and so, you cannot be without human contact for long.
This is not because you are in ‘bad company’ by yourself, but because we feel the need to be accepted somewhere in society. Perhaps, this is why we feel the need to put labels on almost every aspect of society. It can start simply: man, woman, gay, straight, bi-sexual, liberal, conservative, theist and atheist. The list could go on and on, but when people do start adding to the already extensive list of labels, it becomes a whole haze of confusion. Everyone is different and unique – something you are taught from an early age in most societies. So why do we feel the need to put umbrella terms over everything in society? It’s because we want to feel accepted. We want to feel like we belong, like we’ve found our ‘family’.
We do not want to be alone, because we do feel lonely and this is not necessarily because we’re in ‘bad company’; it’s as a result of our human nature. If we feel like we belong in society, or an aspect of society, we start to feel less alone. When you are physically alone, you are more comfortable in your thoughts (most of the time), because you know that somewhere, there are people, who have similar ideas to you. You feel less alone, because you have established that you belong and will not always be alone. Perhaps this is why as children we crave attention and to be surrounded by those we know, but as we get older we feel less need to constantly be around people. Adults, in theory, are more comfortable in themselves and their thoughts, so being alone is not always lonely. Age, therefore, plays a large part in our loneliness because as we become more accustomed to the world around us, and more secure in our ideas and ourselves we do not need the constant reassurance of people around us. Thus adults, in theory, do not feel as lonely as a child would whilst they are alone.
Mental health is in the media a lot and is, quite rightly, being talked about more. Feeling alone when you are by yourself can very well put you in bad, and frankly dangerous company if you suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, or schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder. The latter two are perhaps where the idea of being alone and lonely becomes hazy. Gollum, or Sméagol as he was also known, is a Stoor Hobbit and is famous for obsessing over The Ring in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He is possibly the most famous depiction of a character with dissociative identity disorder. These disorders can cause a person to have more than one personality or hear voices in their heads, so does that mean they are alone? Technically, yes it does, as alone means to have no one else present, coming from the Old English “eall āna” meaning ‘solitary’. Yet it will not necessarily feel as if they are alone and so they are not ‘lonely’, but they are in worse company than if they truly felt lonely.
Although, generally, people who are alone and lonely may be in bad company, it is a sweeping generalisation as, like most things, it is all relative. I believe it depends on a number of things as to whether the person feels lonely when they are alone, and on whether that constitutes as meaning they are in bad company. Whilst Sartre’s theory is true in some circumstances, I do not believe it is applicable to all.