Jeannie Campbell

Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and enjoys working mainly with children and couples. She has a Masters of Divinity in Psychology and Counseling and bachelors degrees in both psychology and journalism. Jeannie started doing character therapy in March of 2009. Her Treatment Tuesdays feature assessments of fictional characters and plot feasibility while her Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts take a psychological topic and make it relevant to writers. She can be found at her blog, The Character Therapist, at

Character Stereotypes: The Lone Wolf

The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue,
but that they are incomplete.

—Chimamanda Adichie

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How many of us have read novels about a lonely, brooding hero who is emotionally unable or physically unwilling to engage with others in the story? The ranch hand who prefers his horse to people, or a business tycoon who rarely comes down from his penthouse to interact with the masses?

I’ve read tons of them. The most popular motivation behind the lone wolf’s preference for solitude is some crime committed or action taken in his past and that he now regrets and just wants to live solitarily to try to forget it ever happened.

Nod your head if this rings a bell.

(You’re nodding, aren’t you?)

I will break this stereotype yet stay true to the loner mentality. After all, we read books with loner heroes just so we can cheer them on when they come out of their self-imposed boundaries, usually to hook up with the heroine. (I hope you’re still nodding.)

There are two different types of lone wolfs, the imposed loner and the preferred loner. The first type doesn’t wish to be alone, but because he is rejected by society, he is alone. The second type prefers solitude and derives contentment, even pleasure, from it.

Below are nine reasons (read: motivations) why a person might seek solitude as a preferred loner or why solitude might seek a person as an imposed loner. You’ll notice that a history of breaking the law is refreshingly absent.

1) Introverted

At the risk of offending extroverts, introverts find being around other people tiring. They absolutely have to recharge from social interactions by getting away and being alone. This restores their minds much as eating and sleep restores their bodies. They are not antisocial, but may just have a low need for affiliation.

Some introverts mask their introversion with extroversion—if the motivation is high enough or the cause worthy enough to do so. For example, Guy Kawasaki, the “Godfather of Silicon Valley,” tweeted, “You may find this hard to believe, but I am an introvert. I have a ‘role’ to play, but I am fundamentally a loner.”

2) Insecure

When a person is unsure about how she will be received, or she is overly critical about herself, this insecurity can definitely manifest in a preference for solitude. The fear of being negatively judged for her perceived imperfections both personally and professionally can cripple this type of lone wolf. She’d rather not go to a social mixer than risk amusement or derision due to her inferiority complexes.

3) Pathologically Shy

These poor souls are most definitely imposed loners. They might (and likely do) crave interaction from the bottom of their hearts, but because of overwhelming anxiety or fear, this outcome is impossible. As a side note, shyness begins in childhood for many.

4) Don’t Want Distractions

Some lone wolves need solitude with their thoughts. Other people are often tiresome or troublesome in that they interfere with this process. Many lone wolves find socializing tedious, and prefer to hunker down in their basements or workshops to put their noses to the grindstone and develop the latest and greatest technology or theorems. They may also feel that they can focus better, mature faster, avoid peer pressure, and be more reflective and introspective alone.

5) Celebrities

Perhaps a close second to the lone wolf stereotype of the ex-CIA who is trying to move on from his sordid past is the movie star who just wants to get away from paparazzi. Valuing privacy, for whatever reason, is a valid motive for wanting to live a life of solitude. Famous leading lady Greta Garbo said, “I never said, ‘I want to be alone.’ I only said, ‘I want to be left alone.’ There is all the difference.”

6) Survivalism

John Krakauer wrote a national best seller, Into the Wild, about a young man, Chris McCandless, who shunned society in favor of living in the woods. But you don’t have to go to the Alaskan wilderness to want to be this way. I’ve encountered many homeless youth and adults who just want to “travel” and “live off the land” (i.e., steal or trade a day’s labor for food) in the alleyways of major cities. The reasons behind this chosen lifestyle are many: activism, anarchism, environmentalism, or separatism...the list goes on.

7) Religious Convictions

Some people want to live the reclusive life of a hermit for spiritual reasons. Different faiths espouse withdrawing from society to focus on God or enlightenment or various equivalents. Removal for religious contemplation might be spurred on by a bad choice or regret over committing a crime. These loners might feel unworthy to be around others in civil society.

8) Creativity

There seems to be a correlation between creativity/originality and solitariness. Artistic types enjoy their time immersed in paints, pastels, oils, clays, and canvasses. According to research by San Francisco psychologist Elaine Aron, withdrawn people have a high sensory keenness and are good at noticing subtleties that other people miss. What better way to channel this creativity than through the arts?

9) Mental Disorder

Many disorders could play into a person’s desire to live a life of solitude. For example, a person with body dysmorphic disorder may so dislike one or several physical attributes that he wants to squirrel away and hide from others. Schizoid Personality Disorder is characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, and people who suffer from Avoidant Personality Disorder show a pervasive pattern of social inhibition/avoidance of social interaction and extreme sensitivity to negative evaluation. People can also have social phobia, where they are fearful of social situations.

There you have it. Nine out-of-the-stereotypical-box motivations for your lone wolf characters.


The Character Thrapist