A loner is a person who avoids or does not actively seek out human interaction or relationships. There are many reasons for their solitude, intentional or otherwise; intentional reasons include being introverted, spiritual, mystic, having religious considerations, or personal philosophies. Unintentional reasons involve being highly sensitive, shy, past trauma or events, or having various mental disorders. More than one type of loner exists, and those who meet the criteria for being called loners often actually enjoy social interaction but display a degree of introversion which leads them to seek out time alone.
The modern term "loner" can be used with a negative connotation in the belief that human beings are social creatures and that those who do not participate are deviants. However, being a loner is sometimes depicted culturally as a positive personality trait, as it can be indicative of independence and responsibility. Someone who is a recluse or romantically solitary can be referred to by terms including "singleton" and "nonwedder", as well as more gender-specific and negative terms such as "dried-fish woman" or "incel". Loners are often mistakenly perceived as having a hatred for other people and can face the ramifications of such a perception, such as being viewed as an outcast or misfit.
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There are different types of loners, including individuals who simply prefer solitude and are content to have very limited social interaction. A second type includes individuals that are forced into isolation because they are, or feel as though they are, rejected by society. This individual typically experiences loneliness. A third type of loner includes those who like to be social and have lots of social interactions, but who can also spend extended periods of time in solitude without experiencing feelings of loneliness. Those who fall into this third category are often colloquially referred to as people who "enjoy their own company".
The first type of loner often does not feel lonely when they are alone, at least not in the same way as a social person who found themselves forcibly isolated would. However, these are very broad generalizations, and it is not uncommon for loners to experience both of these dimensions at some point. Being a loner can sometimes be indicative of certain mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, or autism. The latter, for instance, may have difficulty with social interactions and prefer limited hobbies and routines which make it more likely for them to be a loner. Being a loner is also sometimes associated with fully functional individuals who have unusual personality traits, such as the inability to identify and describe emotions. The characteristics of loners are sometimes attributed to non-human animals such as the leopard, an animal whose behaviour is usually defined by being solitary.
When expressing a desire to be alone, loners may not reject human contact entirely. A common example is that of the person who shuns any social interaction with colleagues beyond what is necessary for fulfilling their work or school responsibilities, mainly for practical reasons such as avoiding the complication of their non-personal life, but who is also highly charismatic during social gatherings with people outside of work or school—or vice versa. Somebody who can be a loner would also fit the criteria for introversion, possibly due to both their innate personality traits as well as their life experiences.
- Avoidant personality disorder
- Byronic hero
- Dysfunctional family
- Hedgehog's dilemma
- Lone wolf (trait)
- Major depressive disorder
- Schizoid personality disorder
- Social phobia
- Social rejection
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