Then, a few years ago, I read something that caused me to gasp, smile, do a happy dance, and relax all at the same time. It changed the way I looked at being an introvert, and each time I’ve read it elsewhere it has spurred a deeper understanding of myself.
At the most basic level, being an extrovert means you get energy from being with other people, and being an introvert means you get energy by being alone.
And, being a person who appreciates making things visual, I tried to figure out what that would LOOK like.
For introverts, when we are with others our energy is directed towards the other person, but either it evaporates or is soaked into some field between us or the other person gets all of it or, something. I don't know. But we don't tend to get a return of our energy or an exchange of energy with the other person. Each person is different, of course. The feeling of the energy being sucked out of you can be really intense with some people and less noticeable with others. Being with other introverts tends to lessen the effect.
But for introverts, it feels to me like our energy becomes sort of a cocoon. As it swirls around us, it increases in intensity and recharges our stores in that way. When we're around others our energy just naturally is pulled towards them, but when alone it almost creates a nice soothing energetic whirlpool effect.
Please notice that in both sets of pictures, the people are smiling. (Okay, the extrovert with the short brown hair looks kind of angry, but I didn't intend it that way!) Introverts can be happy to spend time with others and can even want to and crave the interaction. They just need to spend time alone afterwards to bring them back to their place of balance and readiness for whatever comes next. Extroverts can be happy to be alone and may even want to and crave the silence. They just need to spend time with others afterwards to get back to their own place of balance and readiness. Neither is better than the other or needs to be changed. They're just different mechanisms for increasing energy! Whew!
So after I understood that I started to rethink how I live my life. And I could see how, after a big social event or lots of running around here and there, when I would just want to stay in my bed all day and not interact with my kids, I wasn’t being lazy, I was actually doing what I needed to do to take care of myself. And I started to pay more attention to those times when I felt like the energy was being sucked out of me even though I wasn’t physically doing anything. And I started wondering how I could support myself and my energy rebuilding needs. It was really interesting to hear the judgments and resistances that came up when I started coming up with ideas of things I could do to take care of myself. “When are you ever going to have time for that?” “Like they’ll ever leave you alone long enough.” “That’s just wasting time.” And the biggest-
“You’ll hurt them.”
Oh boy. Those are definitely biggies! And the funny thing is that I had gotten to the point where could see how going somewhere and doing yoga was taking care of myself and okay, but that was because it was around other people and DOING something. Taking care of me was okay if I was doing something and especially if there was some good, worthwhile product at the end. But if I was just sitting in my room on my bed or on my rock in the garden, or in the bathtub and I wasn’t DOING anything other than at the most scribbling in my journal or indulging some creative idea (that could easily be a flop) that had swept over me, well. That was being selfish. And if I was at home why wouldn’t it be better to have the kids painting or writing with me? Then I wouldn't be abandoning anyone. I would try to fit in my alone time during the day by first engaging with my kids, trying to get them filled up so I could run away while they contentedly did something else. Which quite frankly didn't always work. I tried to be social and smile and be present with others like they needed me to be even though inside a voice was yelling “RUN! Leave me the EFF alone!!!” At times I was so depleted that being around some people would bring on this extremely uncomfortable feeling of having something slowly pulled out of me while I dried up like a prune. And my loved ones would ASK me what I needed or if I wanted to be alone and I would lie and say they were fine being with me because I was sure that if I SAID I wanted them to go away their feelings would be hurt. So I just tried to fill them up to the point that they CHOSE to go away, and then I’d breathe again. I couldn’t ask for what I needed, I just had to wait for it to show up sometime.
This fall, a few months after my health crash when quite frankly I still wasn’t doing a very good job taking care of me in the way that I needed, I found myself waking up exhausted. I didn’t want to be around anyone at all. Being touched made my skin crawl, especially at night. But, I still wouldn’t tell them that for fear of their response. Much better to be upset myself than make someone else upset. But sometimes I couldn’t hold it in any more and I HAD to say something. I’d get right to the edge of cracking and then I’d say something but because I was in a desperate place the tone would not be kind and then the person WOULD feel hurt. So I did some tapping on it being impossible for my needs to get met without hurting others, and once I felt that it WAS possible we had some conversations. I realized it’s just as impossible for an extrovert to understand how me being alone helps me recharge as it is for me to understand how being around lots of people (*shudder*) recharges an extrovert. Even though that’s what our society pushes and it’s what I’ve tried to force myself into, I still can’t understand how that feels. So it’s even harder for the extrovert to understand how it feels to recharge while alone because no one ever talks about it! The thought may never have even occurred to him/her! Unfortunately our conversation included many hurt feelings and me jumping up and down and screaming about how I hated that I am the way I am and needed to ask for what I was asking for, but I let out what I needed to and we did come to an understanding that is continuing to develop.
And then a few nights ago I realized that in general, when we talk about “taking care of someone” (in the nurturing way, not the assassin way ;) ) it’s all about doing and being present. Visiting and sitting with them, touching, talking, doing activities with them, etc. are all ways we’re taught to take care of others. When extroverts are ill, being with others helps them recover because they are regaining their energy with others more than they would be alone. But taking care of an introvert often involves a lot less doing and being present. We actually need a whole lot of time alone. Maybe with a few of our favorite people, but maybe not. And if not, it has nothing to do with our relationship with those people. It has to do with the physical need to only use our energy on ourselves for the time being. And the doing that is helpful is the kind that takes care of the other people and things that we normally use our energy on like cooking and cleaning and spending time with our extroverts so they don’t feel rejected. That was a huge "AHA" for me and one that has helped me communicate my needs even better.
I hope that my process here is helpful for someone else. I’m still just learning how to get my needs met in this way. It is happening more than it did before. I think the most important thing, however, is that now I feel that my needs are valid and are working to get them met. I’m speaking up and expressing my needs. I’m working to support myself. And that, my friends, is a huge step for me!
(I find it humorous that as I’m sitting here writing this people have been coming and touching me, and I’ve had the choice to suck it up and not say anything, or say something and risk hurting their feelings. I chose to say something (because not to would be hypocritical at this point!) and there is now a conversation happening about how they need to not touch me or they’ll suck out all of my energy and I’ll turn off. *Sigh* At least now it's part of the conversation which is progress!)
I'll write more about specific things I do to take care of my introvert needs in a different post because this has gotten long enough!
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you experiencing your energy recharging differently than I tried to explain it? I'd love it if you shared your experience!