Fantasy appears to have a higher probability of leading to a dialogue with oneself that can lead to change. What would seem necessary is the ability to examine the theme of the fantasy in terms of the needs, wishes, fears, or other central cognitive-affective states. From this perspective, it is the examined fantasy that has the potential to be productive.
The type of internal conversation with oneself that appears to have the strongest propensity for inducing maturational changes during solitude is that in which one’s contradictions are examined. “Why did I say something hurtful to one I love so much?” “Why didn’t I tell my friend what I really thought about his remark?” “Why do I often push myself beyond my current level of endurance?” These and other questions can be the beginning of a dialogue with one’s self about internal contradictions. Levinson4 has suggested that there are 4 fundamental contradictions: young-old, separate-connected, masculine-feminine, and loving-hurting, but his list is almost certainly not complete. It is the ability to recognize that one’s self is complex and contains such opposites that is a basic developmental challenge of the adult years. Solitude offers a context in which such a challenge may be faced.
Several other issues need to be raised. Facing one’s complexity with its contradictions must alter brain circuitry in order to lead to lasting changes in the self. Contemporary neuroscientific research suggests that repetitions are crucial for synapto-genesis. Thus, internal dialogues focusing on contradictions would have to occur on multiple occasions.
Another issue is that psychological maturation arising from periods of solitude may be similar in some ways to that responsible for growth through relationships. The internalization of those we love may be facilitated by the formation of an intense bond, its rupture, and the repair.5 Is it possible that growth that may come from the type of solitude described here also involves the experience of a period of deep connection to one’s self (the bond), facing the inevitable contradictions (the rupture), and coming to accept that one is both—and not either/or (the repair)?
It seems clear that we need to better document and understand that periods of solitude in which certain types of mental activity occur may lead to lasting and positive changes in the self. The evidence that such does occur is anecdotal but, I believe, compelling. What is needed are systematic approaches to its study, particularly in longitudinal designs. This would enable us to better understand the multiple factors that determine in whom this maturational change occurs and how it comes about.