Introverts have it tough in this society. We’re outnumbered 3 to 1 by extroverts and the busy social pace that’s expected is a big ol’ drain for those of us who prefer to recharge in solitude. While recent studies show that there are several types of introverts, and we’ve known for a long time that there’s a spectrum of intensity, there are some general rules of thumb that have worked exceptionally well for me and my introverted clients.
I took my first Myers-Briggs Assessment when I was 15 and learned the language for what I’d always known in my heart: I love being with people, especially one on one, AND in order to recoup my energy, I need to be alone. Decades later, I can still be swayed by the extroverted culture. For many years I hosted a big Thanksgiving dinner, inviting everyone from my ex-husband and his mom to stray international college students, but I finally realized that the aftermath of exhaustion was bigger than my joy for it. I had to admit that I’m not the kind of person who can pull off that kind of social event—unless I’m willing to spend three days in the fetal position afterward—and that was hard. I felt like a failure.
It’s so easy for self-doubt to creep in when we feel we’re falling short of the expectations placed on us as women—especially since we are usually the glue, the connectors, of the family. If we’re honest we sometimes want to say, “No, I just can’t take on that volunteer opportunity. I need some time to hole up in my bed and read a novel." Or how about, “Thanks for inviting all the parents to stay and chat during the birthday party, but I can’t think of anything worse than trying to have a conversation while a dozen 8-year-olds with noisemakers run around.” That kind of honesty is not usually well-received and is seen as selfish.
No matter what we say to protect our need to keep from being totally drained, the message we get back is often “you are not enough”. Or, conversely, we do what is expected at the expense of our own well-being, pushing ourselves too far until we’re running on empty, and in a perpetual state of overwhelm.
We can choose to set ourselves up for success though. It’s not complicated, but it is hard. It means actually putting ourselves first. That’s not something we’re accustomed to doing. If you’re willing to take a crack at it, here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Know yourself and your needs.
No one else can tell you how much alone time you need or how much stimulation is going to fry your nerves. You need to get to know yourself and how you function best. Whether that means actively monitoring the number of evening commitments, the frequency of extended family gatherings, or the number of minutes of meditation to maintain balanced energy, only you know what makes you tick—and what ticks you off.
2. Accept yourself. You are worthy.
Having different needs can make us question whether we are worthy or if we have value in this world. We question whether we are good enough, wanted, and whether what we offer is needed. But your acceptance and worth cannot come from anyone or anything outside of you. It has to come from within. You have to decide that you are worthy. Just as you are, right now in this moment—you are enough. It’s time to understand your own worth and value.
3. State your needs without shame or blame.
It’s essential to state your needs without being ashamed. There’s no right or wrong in the human needs department, there’s only what is. Blaming ourselves for having different needs helps no one. On the other side of things, you must refrain from shaming and blaming your partner, kids, or boss for situations that overtax you. If the kids are playing a loud game and it’s too much, just say, Great game! Take it to the backyard and you can yell as loud as you want. No need to belittle them for their volume level. If your partner wants you to attend a huge company event with them, state what kind of respite you’ll need to have the energy for it—or tell them you would rather spend time together one on one. Don’t go on a rant, just state what you need and find a solution together.
4. Acknowledge that in order to be the best version of yourself you must meet your own needs first.
When we accept that we are worthy of having our needs met and that we’re responsible for making that happen, we open up space to really show up for the people and things that are important to us. When we end a friendship that’s been draining us, we have more energy to be an attentive partner. Or when we set a limit on attending end of the day meetings at work, we can show up more fully for dinner with the family. When you take your needs seriously, instead of feeling selfish, you actually grant yourself and your beloveds the gift of being your best self.
5. Raise your baseline.
We all have an emotional baseline where we normally reside. There are occasional short periods of bliss that take us way up to a peak above that line and sad events or moods that take us far below our norm, but we always come back to the baseline. Once we make it a habit to honor our needs and make having a full cup the rule rather than the exception, we raise the level of our everyday state of being. If you’ve been functioning under less-than-ideal circumstances for years, it will feel amazing to raise this up. It’s like a new lease on life to have your baseline be a place of contentment and calm serenity.
Last year instead of hosting a big Thanksgiving celebration, I chose to spend time at a cabin in the woods with my daughters. While I was a little sad not to provide a place for everyone to have dinner, it was far outweighed by the joy of recharging with a book by the fire, cooking with my kids, and long walks in the forest. It met our needs perfectly—and the world didn't fall apart because I wasn't hosting.
I hope these ideas are helpful for you!
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With warmth and love,
Bold, imperfect action. Lately, I’ve been taking a lot of that. It’s a phrase coaches use to mean testing things out without knowing the outcome. This used to be hard for me because I have anxiety and not knowing the outcome freaked me out, but it’s easier now that I know what’s going on in my brain. Over 40 million adults in the US have anxiety—and women at double the rate of men—so see if you find yourself in any of the "assumptions" below.
Looking back, I’ve likely had anxiety since I was small, though I wasn’t diagnosed until my late forties when I had panic attacks that were nigh on debilitating. Up until that point I thought everyone experienced life like I did: difficulty making decisions, desperate to stay in others’ good graces, and extreme fear of making a mistake or failing.
Since learning what makes me tick I’ve developed a recipe for self-care that includes plenty of anxiety-reducing measures: daily meditation, medication, yoga, acupuncture, time in nature, regular body work, blocking out open space in my schedule, and knowing what triggers me. This delicious mix allows me to take bold, imperfect action and actually enjoy it!
Learning about the triggers has been key. In Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind: How to Stop the Cycle of Anxiety, Fear, and Worry, Jennifer Shannon gives a fabulous explanation of the assumptions that all people with anxiety share in some combination. They are:
Shannon states, “These assumptions are impossible standards. The more we attempt to live by them, the more anxious we will be, and the less likely we will be to take the risks that are necessary… to live freely and follow our dreams.”
Here’s how these assumptions might show up in a person’s life.
When we believe we have to make the right decision about every single thing every day it can feel paralyzing. The fear that something awful could be brought on by a bad decision means that we’re more likely to spend our days worrying about what might happen than taking bold, imperfect action.
Perfectionists are not just people with high standards as some might think. True perfectionists have to hit exactly what we’re aiming for—anything else is a failure. The motivation to do this is not challenge, higher purpose, or fun, but fear of failing. This includes a fear of losing our status in the group we identify with—perhaps by saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong clothes, or arriving at the wrong time. Those may seem like trivial reasons to fear excommunication, but for those of us with anxiety, they are real thoughts. We may even refuse to take risks or be highly creative because that would involve an unknown outcome and possible failure. Instead we play it safe and stick to things we’re good at. No bold, imperfect action here.
Over-responsible people go far beyond just being a reliable person. We fear losing connection with those who are most important to us and who we feel we cannot risk displeasing. The over-responsible mindset pushes us to bend over backwards to accommodate others’ expectations in order to preserve the connection. We may take on other people’s problems, have difficulty setting limits, and experience constant worry and rumination about others. Definitely no bold, imperfect action when we might risk losing our people.
Shannon says our minds can become hijacked by the possibility of threat and we go into fight, flight, or freeze hearing “Something is wrong! Do something!”. Alternately we chant, “As long as I am certain, as long as I am perfect, and as long as others are okay, I will be safe, able to relax, and happy.”
In order to move toward our dreams, grow our businesses, or try something with an unknown outcome, we have to recognize our fear and anxiety for what it is, feel it, thank it, and let it go. This mighty trifecta of assumptions can be huge roadblocks to personal growth unless we understand how to work with our thoughts.
Many of my clients experience these roadblocks, so I now specialize in coaching women to break the cycle of certainty, perfection, and over-responsibility that paralyzes so many of us. By shifting the pattern they can feel more confident and authentic in taking bold, imperfect action and moving toward their dreams.
If that describes you, or if this post speaks to you in some way, I invite you to contact me via email and tell me what your main obstacle is. The next step will be to schedule a time to talk so I can support you in gaining clarity. We can also see if we are a good match to work together.
I currently have just two slots open for new clients. Are you ready to transform your life to the one you dream of? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
With warmth and love,