Don’t fall for the hype, you need a little of both!
“Introversion” is the trendy word right now. Or should I say the non-trendy word?
Often, when I am working with a client and we discover that they are truly an introvert (as determined by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Personality tool) I get some sort of scrunched-up facial expression from them, as if they’ve just smelled something undesirable.
This is generally followed by some kind of response similar to, “But I like people and I like doing things,” followed by all sorts of facts and arguments about why this cannot be true as if they’ve just gotten some sort of terminal diagnosis that spells the beginning of the end for them.
And the exact opposite happens for those who are determined to really be extroverts by the MBTI personality tool (in my experience, everyone wants to be an extrovert but far fewer actually are than statistics show).
As I sit across from them, they look as if they’ve just won the lottery.Like someone has just told them they have found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I generally get some kind of comment like, “See, I knew I was an extrovert — I am really social!” followed by an enormous smile on their face.
The truth is that even introverts require a connection in the world and with others, and all extroverts require solitude to some degree. These are signs of being human, moving toward and away from connection according to one’s needs. And is also a sign of living in balance and harmony with one’s needs.
The problem is that as a society, we often get fixated with only one end of the connection spectrum: either totally connected all the time and unable to easily move into solitude or totally immersed in solitude and unable to easily move toward connection.
Finding the balance between solitude and connectedness is an age-old concern, that often gets muddied up when we are living from anything other than our true self and needs.
Trying to find a healthy balance between being happy on your own and with yourself and how to connect in meaningful ways with others is not something we can “figure out” with our brain — we have to live the experiences and learn from how they impact us in order to determine what we need at any given moment.
Here are 5 suggestions for how to resist the temptation to believe you are either all-introvert orall-extrovert, and begin to find your own unique balance between solitude and connectedness:
1. Know thyself.
Seriously. Even Socrates was on-board with this idea.
He observed that people were trying to know obscure or hard things before they knew about themselves. He called them ridiculous. So did Plato. Even St. Augustine supported this notion when he stated that “People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.”
The ancient philosophers were on to something a long time ago that we have a hard time remembering today.
How many people dedicate extensive amounts of time, money and energy traveling the world or immersed in the pursuit of knowledge about topics outside of themselves? Lots. But very few people put the resources or efforts into knowing themselves, which is perhaps the most important knowledge we can acquire.
And then they complain that they’re not happy. They isolate and avoid relationships. And then they complain about that.
Or else they cannot be without “doing” or “producing” or “socializing” lest they have to begin to feel things that they have kept running from feeling their whole lives. And they complain how they are too busy and stressed-out.
Self-knowledge and deep understanding of our true needs and desires, as well as deeplyunderstanding the habitual ways we all have learned to unconsciously protect ourselves emotionally, leads to greater satisfaction in life.
Because for those still living out of protection mode, life is much more limited and dissatisfying. And for those who are interested in learning how to find a balance between separateness and connectedness, here’s a place to start.
2. Find and build the community that will support who you really are — not who they want you to be.
I love this one because it is so simple. Not easy, but simple.
Find a way to do what makes you happy and not to do what doesn’t make you happy. That’s it.
And in order to be able to do this, you have to know who you are and what makes your heart sing. What brings satisfaction. And the only way to know this is to begin to dive deeply into building awareness of who you were designed to be. Once you have that a deeper understanding of who you really are, you can begin to notice more quickly when you are doing something you want to do and when you are not.
Some people are even so dedicated to supporting their true self that they have learned how to track on an energetic level when they are moving towards something that will be satisfying or when they are in protection mode and following the steps outlined for them so that they don’t rock the boat.
In fact, some of these people are so astute that they can tell the distinction between isolation and solitude — which on the surface can look the same — by deeply connecting with a physiological experience inside. Talk about having a GPS that will never get you lost.
And when we begin to be able to deeply discern those people, places, and experiences that are supportive of who we really are from those experiences that are not, then we naturally begin to gravitate toward what feeds us and what does not. It’s kind of like having super powerful emotional taste buds.
3. Clear out the emotional debris that gets in the way of easily moving in and out of separation and connectedness.
About those people who are molecularly-connected toward a deep wisdom inside that guides them toward satisfaction and away from dissatisfaction: These are people who are deeply committed to their own personal growth and have spent years working on their emotional process.
Rest assured, though, that even those of you who are just getting started can build a beginner’s awareness of what gets in the way of being able to find balance. And it doesn’t take an incredible amount of time. But it does take commitment to yourself and to your discovery of what you really want.
You can start by simply paying attention to how your body responds to the meaning of the different words “solitude” versus “isolation”, “connectedness” versus “socializing”.
Generally speaking, the things that we want and need create a softening or relaxing experience in our body and energy, and the things that are against our grain tend to create a hardening or tensing physically and energetically.
And for some of you, it may take the help of a therapist to begin to be able to see how your defensive structure differs from your true spirit. A defensive structure is always about protection and survival emotionally. Isolation is an example of a protective or defensive behavior. Especially if the isolation does not feel like a choice.
Separateness is an example of a healthy behavior, a boundary that is creating space for you to get your needs met. It is always about choice, although we may have some strong feelings about needing to be separate from others for a while to regroup. And although on the surface they can look similar, they originate from two very different energies and motivations in our body.
Simply speaking, isolation leads to dissatisfying experiences and separation tends to move us toward satisfying opportunities. It may take some help to begin to see the difference between these two experiences and what gets in your way of being able to easily distinguish between these two experiences. You’re probably going to have to do some work to learn more about this and to solidify your knowing deep inside.
4. Keep in mind that balance doesn’t look the same for everyone.
Balance is not always a 50:50 split between things. In fact, it’s defined differently for everyone, and will look different for everyone.
Some people need more time on their own to recharge their batteries, but for others, they may need more time with others in order to regroup and rebalance. So we have to keep an open mind that your balance is likely going to look different from another person’s balance, and that is OK.
What we’re talking about is the difference between extroversion and introversion — as well as differences between things like being a feeler or a thinker — all preferences on the MBTI personality tool.
There are also differences in defensive structures, as well as leftover needs from childhood. Many factors play into how everyone determines what feels like enough alone time and how much contact they need with others.
When I start working with a client in therapy, one of the first places that we start is by using both the MBTI and Enneagram personality tools to gain a beginning understanding of how they were truly designed to be, and how they’ve protected that vulnerable child inside from heartbreak and disappointment.
Over time, with the use of this self-knowledge, people can begin to see when they are off balance or out-of-center when it comes to a need, and when they are right in line with supporting themselves. And it does not generally take that much time to begin to be able to do this. And the wonderful thing about this work is that in this process, they organically begin to move toward what makes them feel good and away from what doesn’t bring satisfaction.
Remember that your balance is going to look different from another person’s balance, and that is OK. Sometimes it can help to create daily reminders that it is your right to be alive in whatever way that you need. And to call on your support, both inside and outside of you, to back yourself up on this.
5. Commit to yourself, not to behaviors.
One of my favorite quotes is the old saying that goes something like this: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” I like this because it is all about teaching someone how to be self-sufficient over the long haul — not just how to acquire immediate change, which is never usually sustainable for very long.
This is the idea behind committing to yourself, not to behaviors.
Changing your behaviors, although perhaps helpful in the short term, is not going to be very sustainable as you go throughout your life.
All it is going to take is one or two hard days in a row, and fairly quickly you’re going to find yourself back in old behavioral patterns. This is old safety and because it is so familiar, it is the default.
So, if you have a tendency to isolate, it is not going to be very long before you run out of support inside and find yourself back into your isolation no matter how hard you promised yourself you were not going to do that again. Or for those of you who cannot be alone no matter what, it’s only going to be a matter of time before you find yourself back out in the world again because the solitude was unbearable.
But committing to yourself means that you will learn not only how to be more in touch with your true needs and desires, but also how to discern more easily between your true need for separateness or connection or hiding out in isolation or socialization when that arises.
By committing to you and not just to a behavior, you will build a skill that will last for your lifetime, and if you’re committed to it, get passed down to your children and their children and so on.
This will also allow you to experience greater freedom in your life, as you learn to depend less on environmental feedback about what you need and more on the messages inside of you. And this is what emotional maturity or “growing up” is all about.
Being unable to easily move toward or away from others is a sure sign that there are deeper issues going on that are motivating the fixation in either place. If you find yourself getting stuck on either end of the continuum of connection, then it is time to go get some help to discover what is in the way of easy movement back and forth.
It is also important to also remember that balance doesn’t always reflect a 50:50 split. The balance between solitude and connectedness is different for everyone, and it is important to discover what that balance looks like for you. Keep working on deepening your understanding of yourself — in this manner, you’ll be able to deepen your connections with others and find meaningful relationships in your life whether in solitude or connectedness.