Loner Solidarity

I’ve usually found the CNN Web site a good source for catching up on daily news, but lately I’ve been disappointed with the sensationalistic tone it often employs. One example of this trend was a “Commentary” article written this week by James Alan Fox, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston, regarding the recent mass shootings in Alabama and Germany.

To be fair, the article does include some insightful commentary about the dynamics behind such mass killings, but that insight was undercut by the title given to the piece: “Loners, losers — and killers.” As I wrote a few years ago after the Virginia Tech murders, using the term “loner” as a key descriptor of the perpetrators of such atrocities is unfair to the vast majority of self-proclaimed loners who are not violent. Plus, it makes no distinction between those who choose solitude, and those who “lack emotional support from friends or family,” as the article describes them.

However, I was glad to see that many of the commenters on the article took issue with the use of the word “loner,” and offered their own experiences as well-adjusted and healthy “loners” as a challenge to this type of characterization. It made me hopeful that the message may eventually be heard by the mainstream media and society at large, and that one day the term “loner” will not be carelessly applied, or used to stigmatize a behavior that is second nature to so many.

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10 Responses to “Loner Solidarity”

  1. William said:

    Interesting point! I hope you’re right, but I think there’s something big pushing against that. People like and trust the sorts of people that they are familiar with. By definition, few people are familiar with loners, so it will always be a group that’s easy to suspect.

  2. frustrated Introvert said:

    I hate to say it, but I think that the word “loner” will always be viewed as a negative term. Most people just don’t understand the fact that some people really do like and would prefer to be alone. I prefer to be alone the majority of the time, so I definitely see myself as a loner and I understand other people who need their space. But many people will view that behavior as weird. Much of the time, I would prefer to be by myself not only because of my temperament but also because of the expectations that other people apply to me because of my temperament. I notice that people seem to think that I am the “nice” girl simply because I am quiet. If I have a problem with someone, they don’t take it seriously because they think that the “quiet” and “nice” girl couldn’t possibly have a problem with anyone. I also find some extroverts to be weird. Some of them also have personality disorders and are downright sociopaths, but most people attribute creepy behavior to the solitary types. In fact, I have read that many extroverts are narcissistic and use their outgoing personalities to fool people. So while they are able to charm people and get away with bad behavior, everyone is throwing stones at the loners. It’s funny because I have been around a few extroverts who were downright certifiable and the reason why I picked up on it is because they talk all the time and some of the things that they say about themselves and how they view others are definitely red flags. These are the kinds of people I try to avoid.

  3. spectatrix said:

    I hear what you’re both saying about the “PR problem” that loners have. If you’re not outwardly directed and actively promoting yourself, of course people will have a difficult time understanding your position. But I get great joy from the fact that there are loners who deal with that problem by writing about their experiences, and who become wildly successful in the process. I think Thoreau is a prime example of this; I’m sure his contemporaries thought he was a little odd, and couldn’t understand what he was trying to accomplish, but now he is considered a visionary.

    Maybe we need to come up with a new term that doesn’t have the negative connotations that “loner” has, something that reflects the unique gifts (and challenges) of solitary-minded folks. Suggestions?

  4. William said:

    Having thought about this further, I think part of the dynamic has to do with something at the root of a lot of social punishments: shunning. We put bad kids in the corner and give them the silent treatment. Bad adults, we imprison, exile, and excommunicate.

    If you want to rebrand this, I think a good angle of attack is highlighting the agency of the solitary person. Brave explorers, for example, are alone, but they are seen as doing it by choice, and going toward something rather than moving away from society.

  5. Frustrated Introvert said:

    Yeah, I see where William is coming from. It’s kind of funny that if a parent has an introverted child and the child misbehaves in some way, then punishing that child by prohibiting them from doing things with others, might not always have the desired affect as it would for a more extroverted child. I mean, in my childhood, I loved to be by myself and play by myself in my room. So if my parents asked me to go to my room if I had done something wrong, I wouldn’t have been bothered by that. Now, if they forced me to be around others, I would see that as punishment. It kind of reminds me of the coworker that I worked with a couple of years ago. Well, she and I had a falling out because I had said something rude to her when I could no longer tolerate her loud behavior and imposing extroversion. So she decided to give me the silent treatment as some sort of punishment. I didn’t see it as punishment though, because I really didn’t want to be around her all that much to begin with. And a lot of extroverts have that mentality that their presence is always welcome. It makes me laugh just to think about it sometimes.

  6. Gluon the Ferengi said:

    The majority of people are extroverted so extroverted traits are what society selects for as a simple tyranny of the majority. More people still can be formed into extroverts by growing up in a society that values extroversion. There is however, a small percentage of the population who cannot be ‘salvaged’. That would be people like us. In a society that values aggressive self-promotion, the exact opposite is of course to be disparaged. There is no place for loners in Western industrial civilization.

    The title of this article, ‘loner solidarity’ caught my eye. Indeed, I am a introvert with a blog devoted to introversion and I have put you on my roll.

  7. spectatrix said:

    William and Frustrated Introvert,

    I think you both raise an interesting point about how solitude (or silence) is used as a punishment in society, when in fact (as illustrated by FI’s co-worker story) there are those of us who may welcome this condition.

    What I further get from William’s comment is that there is an element of shame attached to these punishments; the transgressor is not fit to share the company of others. Maybe that is the difference between a positive experience of “lonerdom” (such as the explorer may encounter) and the negative one, being an imposition and a judgment on an individual’s worth. Choosing solitude sounds a lot better than being shunned.

  8. spectatrix said:


    I guess I’ll admit to being part of the “unsalvageable minority.” 🙂 Thanks for commenting, and for putting me on your blog roll.

  9. Frustrated Introvert said:

    Hello, spectatrix. I just wanted to let you know that I have created a website for introverts. It’s theseriousone.webs.com. I would like for you to check it out when you get a chance.

  10. Jennifer said:

    Loners ARE misunderstood. Most of us aren’t troubled until we’ve had enough people go out of their way to make their problem with our way of doing things OUR problem, and I’m talking about authority figures and people we trusted. We’re not stuck in some primitive stage of development, we’re not some sort of lonely and friendless types, we do know that others exist, etc. For many people, being a loner isn’t a relational issue, just a personal preference. Maybe the reason why a lot of these killers are loners is because the introverted loners are the ones who can keep it a secret long enough to pull it off. Anyway, we loners are not “underdogs.” If you go up to us when we’re alone in a full room and start talking to us, please do it because you’re genuinely interested in us, not because you think we’re to be pitied. If we think you’re genuine and then find out that you were only friendly because you thought we were objects of pity, then there are going to be hurt feelings. There are a few loners who live up to the stereotypes, but as one who doesn’t I’m asking people not to assume.