The Intricacies of Introvert Time

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

What Counts As “Quality Time” With An Introvert?

cuckoo

I thought you were an introvert.  Why do you want to spend so much time together?

-A sincere question from an extrovert to his introverted companion-

There is probably no creature on this planet more misunderstood, stereotyped, and constantly questioned than the mystical introvert.  No, I don’t really believe that we are some rare, magical breed of human that exists as a sort of ticking time-bomb, but I do believe there are many people out there in the world that have this view of introverts. Introverts often feel most misunderstood by the people closest to them, which is both unfortunate and beautiful at the same time.  

Why is being blatantly misunderstood by someone close to you beautiful?  Well, when it’s obvious to you someone is misunderstanding you, there is at least some attempt being made on their part to understand you.  They are actively questioning you, trying to define you, figure you out, and in most cases, ultimately searching for a way that they can make you happy- or at least not tick you off so much of the time.  I’m sure all introverts have an extroverted family member, friend, or partner in their lives with good intentions.  Someone that tries to do things that he or she thinks an introvert would like, but often ends up missing the mark.  Introverts and extroverts are often portrayed in an oversimplified fashion.  As an introvert, I despise the assumption that I am shy, fragile, and anti-social.  Extroverts have to deal with their fair share of negative stereotypes as well.  They are not these loud insensitive beings put here on earth to torment us introverts, but problems can arise if introverts and extroverts don’t attempt to understand their unique differences.

One area that I have had a great deal of trouble with as an introvert in my interactions with extroverts has been explaining my need for “quality time” in relationships.  Not all time is equal in my introverted mind, and if I don’t get the required amount of “quality time” with people I want to connect with, then I get cranky and can come off as demanding and needy.  Just recently, for example, I have been spending an increased amount of time with my favorite extroverted companion.  We went to Las Vegas to meet up with friends.  I have gone to several of his performances.  There was a birthday party I planned and attended in his honor.  Time was spent with the children.  We recorded some podcasts, and we sat side-by-side on the couch together posting and writing.  At the end of this stretch of time, I found myself completely exhausted, yet I still told him that I really needed some “quality time” with him soon.  

If I had a camera ready, I would have snapped a portrait of his expression.  What do you mean?  We’ve spent every day together practically?  How could you possibly see me more?  I thought you were an introvert.  Why do you want to spend so much time together? I instantly felt defeated and sad when that was his reaction, because I swore he’d be craving the exact same thing.  He wasn’t, and I was just as confused with him as he was with me.  It took me a little bit to get over the fact that I had an extrovert telling me that we have had an adequate amount of social time together.  I mean, aren’t extroverts supposed to always want to be around people?  Am I that annoying that the extroverts now want nothing to do with me?

The truth, however, is that neither introverts, nor extroverts exist as stereotypical versions of themselves.  The reality is that introverts need time with people they care about.  They don’t just need time, but they need a special kind of introvert “quality time” to feel connected.  Extroverts are energized by people, but they also enjoy time to themselves.  Extroverts use alone time to regroup and reflect, and it is an important part of the balance they need to maintain in their lives as well. When introverts and extroverts don’t communicate about how time is spent, surely there is going to be a disconnect.  After thinking about my own personal experiences as an introvert, and my definition of quality time, I put together some truths for me that might apply to other introverts out there too  It’s by no means an all inclusive list, but perhaps it can help serve as talking points in your introvert/ extrovert relationships.

The Intricacies of Introvert “Quality Time”

  1. Group time does not get to replace Introvert “Quality Time”- I don’t care if I spend two weeks traveling Europe with you and five of your closest friends, this does not equate, in my mind, to spending quality time with you.  That may sound petty and ridiculous to an extrovert, but introverts often don’t feel comfortable, or able to fully connect, when there are a lot of people around.  I am miserable with conversation and maintaining focus once a group gets larger than three people.  I start feeling like I’m neglecting someone, and I end up feeling terrible about it.  I also don’t always get to talk as long with the people I’d like to in these settings.  I prefer to get into three hour, intimate conversations with people one-on-one when I care about them, and group events are not conducive to this type of connection.  I tried to make these connections last week at a birthday party I planned, but I ended up pulling people away one at a time off into a corner to talk privately.  I’m sure I appeared scattered, and I later realized I hadn’t even spoken to one woman at the party.  I had to message her apologizing a couple days later, because I was just so overwhelmed.  This is why we still need more time with people individually after such events.
  2. Daily tasks needed for survival do not count as Introvert “Quality Time”- Being in my space is not the same thing as spending time with me.  Now, I have to clarify, because introverts do like doing separate things with someone in the same space.  It’s just that I wouldn’t necessarily count this as deep, meaningful connection time.  This is more my time to be alone while sharing space at the same time.  If I am letting you share my space like this, you are definitely a trusted person in my life.  I’m letting you in on my recharging time, but understand I will not feel like I have spent any time with you after this.  I will want to connect with you probably even more after this.  If you are sleeping, eating, doing laundry, checking your email, or other routine day to day tasks in my presence, I am not necessarily going to be excited by this.  It’s not going to feel like we were present with one another.  I am going to want more connection than that.
  3. Watching movies together may or may not count as Introvert “Quality Time”- If you come to my place, turn on what you want, and don’t talk to me, then this does not count as introvert quality time.  If we pick out a movie together, and then one of us starts getting on our computer, phone, or leaves the room multiple times, then this does not count as introvert quality time.  If we select a movie together, or you suggest a movie you want me to see, and we sit there, watch it, and share our thoughts about it afterwards, then this is definitely introvert quality time.  It’s really about making meaningful connections for introverts, and not just merely about being together in the same room.  As a side note, bringing popcorn and candy to share over conversation, will definitely earn you some introvert bonus points.
  4. Working on projects together may or may not count as Introvert “Quality Time”- Introverts, and especially highly sensitive ones, bond over mutually shared goals and outcomes.  If the time working together is enjoyable and balanced, without one person being a control-freak or overly critical, then this is precious time spent together.  Conflict and negativity, however, can zap the fun and energy out of an introvert in these situations. Artistic projects, building things, and even home improvements can be rewarding time together if both parties are fully vested and share a mutual vision.  
  5. Car rides to social gatherings count as crucial Introvert “Quality Time”- It is a myth that introverts never want to socialize.  We love people just as much as any outgoing extrovert, but in general, being social requires more energy from us than it does from extroverts.  Introverts that put themselves in social environments, and allow beloved extroverts to take them out of their comfort zone, require buffer time.  Buffer time shared with one other person on a long car ride to a social event is very important to an introvert.  This is an opportunity to have some meaningful, intimate conversations before all “hell breaks loose” so to speak.  I have found that this is a simple area in a relationship many introverts and extroverts fail to discuss, which can lead to unnecessary conflict.  Extroverts want people entertained, and if they are focusing on driving, or thinking about being entertaining to a larger group of people, they may want to bring extra people along for the ride to take some of the pressure off.  The introvert, however, may have been looking forward to the car ride even more than the event itself, because he or she was counting on some quality time together. This time is viewed very differently often, and it’s definitely a point worth discussing.
  6. Pre-planned alone time together is sacred Introvert “Quality Time”- If you even mention doing something with an introvert in passing, and they don’t immediately make a bunch of excuses and run the other direction, then it is a done deal.   DO NOT alter the plan or think it will be no big deal to just do something else.  Because of how socializing impacts us, we carefully plan out the who, what, where, when, why, and how of all our social experiences.  We know we annoy our more spontaneous counterparts at times, but we are doing this out of love for the people we care about.  If we have three social engagements, a work project, and one special night with you, then we are carefully structuring our entire week to be the best version of ourselves in each of those moments.  We don’t always have the extrovert’s gift of easy energy with people.  We know we have to work harder in our interactions with people, and we definitely want our energy reserves piled high for a special night with someone we love.  It’s probably not the best idea to plan a dinner and movie with your introvert, and then at the last minute ask if you can invite a few of your friends.  Your introvert will gladly meet your friends, but at an agreed upon time.

This is all just my perspective on how I operate as an introvert.  I don’t think that I am 100% right, and I definitely don’t think my way is any better, or worse, than that of an extrovert.  I just know that I have a lot of extroverts in my life that are constantly trying to figure me out and make me happy.  I put this together as more of a way for introverts and extroverts to start conversations about preferences and needs in relationships.  I know that there are going to be times when my extroverted companion will want to pool together a group of friends for a car ride, or maybe he will forget that he promised to spend a quiet evening at home with me and end up doing something else instead.  I have to understand that extroverts operate and think differently than introverts, and we don’t have to be adversaries.  We are people, not labels.  Personality typing is really only useful if you are using it to be a better version of yourself and as a means to better understand and interact with others.  I think the saddest thing in the world is seeing a well-meaning extrovert suddenly realize that something has gone terribly wrong.  Whether we identify with being an introvert, extrovert, or even an ambivert, common ground can be found through open and honest conversation.  Bottom line is that introverts really do like people.  We want to spend time with people, but how that looks to us might not always look the same or make sense to everyone else.  

Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts.  Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website, and Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos.

The INFJ as a Mirror

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

How And Why We Mirror In Relationships

mirrir

When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside of you as fate. -Carl Jung

As a follow up to my article Mirroring in Relationships: Making the Invisible Visible, I want to more specifically define what it means to be a mirror in a relationship for an INFJ.  Many intuitive and highly sensitive types can undoubtedly relate to the mirror analogy, but the tendencies of an INFJ make it so understanding the reasons, reactions, repercussions, and remedies for mirroring just might make the difference between a harmonious or miserable romantic experience.

What is Mirroring in a Relationship

The term mirroring has a couple different meanings.  It can simply mean mimicking someone’s actions back to them, in a sense copying their behaviors and actions.  It can also be a more complex act like trying to align yourself with a person’s interests, communication style, or personality preferences.  People often mirror one another early in a relationship to establish commonalities and build connections with a potential partner.  Mirroring can be positive.  It can let romantic partners know that the other person is paying attention and interested, and it can create a sense of familiarity and comfort that in turn fosters a willingness to open up.  The problem, however, occurs when the person mirroring loses his or her sense of identity in the process, or the person being mirrored can no longer see who is behind the mirror.  INFJs make excellent mirrors, but they need to consciously work at remaining reflective- otherwise they run the risk of feeling like fragmented shards of glass.

How Do INFJs Become Mirrors

For anyone not familiar with the term INFJ, it is an initialism used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to refer to one of the sixteen personality types.  The MBTI assessment was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katherine Myers, from the work of prominent psychiatrist Carl Jung.  The individual letters stand for various functions of personality.  INFJ, for example, indicates the following personality functions:  Introversion (I), Intuition (N), Feeling (F), Judgment (J).  INFJs make up Only about 1-3% of the population, so they are quite rare.  These individuals are intuitive, and they seem to have a way of seeing through people.  They are skilled at recognizing what others are trying to keep beneath the surface, and due to their wise, gentle nature, INFJs live to help others reach their full potential and better themselves.  As I explain in I Will Rain On Your Parade, the INFJ is often misunderstood and seen as being too intense in the continual pursuit of improvement at all costs.  Overall, however, this personality type is accepting and understanding, and they have a unique talent for making people feel at ease.  This in turn results in situations where people are willing to tell an INFJ their deepest and darkest secrets, and these conversations often start the mirroring process for the INFJ.  Here are some of the reasons that INFJs so often become mirrors in relationships:

  • INFJs observe first and talk later.  Since this personality type loves to listen, people find themselves talking more to an INFJ than perhaps to other people they know.  As a person talks to the INFJ, it is almost like talking to a therapist.  I’m sure many INFJs are familiar with the phrase, “I didn’t realize this about myself until I said it to you just now.”  People typically like conversing with INFJs, because they may feel like it’s the first time anyone has every really taken the time to listen to them.  Being in a relationship with an INFJ is a process of self-discovery through deep conversation.  The INFJ, however, doesn’t remain silent forever.  Early listening is like research.  The INFJ is gathering information about this person, and when the information gets processed, the INFJ often has practical and useful advice to offer.  Some people, however, don’t necessarily want advice.  There are many people that would prefer the INFJ to remain the silent listener, so when the INFJ remembers and uses information in past conversations to help guide the future, this is not always well received.  
  • INFJs often feel other people’s pain more profoundly than their own. If INFJs aren’t careful, they can easily focus more on their partner than themselves.  A lot of INFJs are comfortable listening to other people’s problems, because it is in their nature to genuinely want to help.  They don’t, however, open up very easily themselves, and you will rarely hear an INFJ going on and on about personal issues.  It isn’t that this personality type doesn’t like talking through things with another person.  It is just that they are so intuitive that they know when something is bothering someone.  Most INFJs will feel like their own issues aren’t that big of a deal.  This can backfire on the INFJ, because it forces most of the relationship talk to be about the other person.  Over time, it can make the INFJ feel invisible
    and their partner might feel like he or she knows nothing about the person that’s been quietly listening for so long.  It’s not unusual for an INFJ to come out of a relationship wondering where he or she has been for the past several months or years.  Standing too long behind the mirror will make one’s sense of identity vanish over time.
  • INFJs have a deep need for harmony.  INFJs value peace and balance, and they will tell you that this is achieved only through continual growth and self-reflection.  They are not afraid of enduring pain in the process of growing, as a matter of fact, they kind of expect it.  This personality type has a wonderful ability to see the big picture, and they view a lot of the everyday problems people get worked up about as no big deal. That being said, they still compassionately help their loved ones through even the littlest of issues.  INFJs want their partner to be happy, and they know that their partner needs to find harmony in the day to day in order to do so.  To make this happen, the INFJ might take on roles like personal assistant, trainer, therapist, doctor, or life-coach.  It becomes an intense relationship where the partner is ever immersed in self-work and reflection.  The INFJ sees this as a good thing, which will bring his or her partner harmony in the end, but sometimes this all becomes too intense for the person involved in the self-work.  Other personality types cannot necessarily endure the same level of intensity as an INFJ 24 hours a day, so there may be times when the partner feels like the INFJ is too serious, too harsh, too demanding, or just plain not satisfied in the relationship.  The reality, however, is that the INFJ is just trying to ensure ultimate happiness and harmony for both partners.
  • INFJs process out loud sometimes. Processing time is important for this personality type.  While listening to someone, an INFJ might be inclined to say out loud what is being observed or repeat back what a partner says as clarification.  It is like the INFJ is talking to him or herself in order to fully grasp what is being observed or heard.  This may, at times, feel odd to a partner like they are always being watched, or that the INFJ is describing the behavior out loud as a form of judgement.  The INFJ is rarely apply a judgement or trying to criticize the partner in these moments of processing.  It is just how the INFJ is trying to make sense of the input, but it can make the partner definitely feel like everything said and done in the relationship is subject to the reflection of the mirror.
  • INFJs do not accept anything other than absolute truth.  There is no such thing as fooling an INFJ with smoke and mirrors.  This personality trait is not easily deceived.  Even if a partner wants to ignore something troubling, the INFJ will see beneath the surface and want to expose the truth.  Actually, the more a partner doesn’t want to address something the more the INFJ feels the matter needs to be tended to, the more the INFJ will want to force a partner to take a long, hard look into the mirror.  This isn’t the INFJ trying to be pushy.  This is more likely the INFJ worrying that his or her partner is losing ground in the battle of ultimate self discovery.  INFJs aren’t big on distractions or putting problems aside.  They would much rather deal with the issue, so they can experience harmony as soon as possible.  It is challenging for INFJs to recognize when it might be a good idea to put down the mirror in order to let their partner take a break or recharge.

Signs That People Are Viewing You As A Mirror

Reasons for mirroring in a relationship might stem from a good place, but if the INFJ isn’t working overtime to remain self aware, trouble can arise fairly quickly.  Many INFJs feel like people always like them in the beginning of relationships, but they lose their enthusiasm for them in the end.  Perhaps their partners feel like the INFJ  is too intense to be around all the time.  It takes a while for this personality type to open up if they’ve been hurt in the past, and sometimes by the time the INFJ realizes that there has been a loss of identity as a result of extensive mirroring, both partners are frustrated, confused, and believing the relationship is too far gone to ever recover.  Relationships are not easy for INFJs, and the tragedy is that this personality type is more loyal, lovable, passionate, determined, and strong than anyone could ever desire.  Having an INFJ as a partner can be pretty magical, but too often this personality type doesn’t practice enough self love to maintain the appropriate balance of give and take in a relationship to make the partner feel like an equal.  The partner may feel loved, but they also can get overwhelmed with the whole process of mirroring.  Many INFJs report partners suddenly needing out of the relationship at a point when they thought things were going quite well.  This is why it is essential for INFJs to recognize when they are mirroring too much for their partner.  Here are some common signs that mirroring is beginning to take its toll on the relationship:

  • Partner doesn’t want to be looked at. If you used to stare lovingly for hours into each others eyes, and now every time you even glance at your partner you are asked, “Why are you looking at me?” this might be a sign you are mirroring.  More likely than not, partners feel guilty or overwhelmed from constantly viewing themselves so clearly through the INFJ’s observations and reflections.  Even if an INFJ is not openly criticizing or judging them, they feel uncomfortable confronting something they have kept beneath the surface so long. 
  • Partner communicates inability to think clearly in INFJs presence. Because partners of INFJs are still trying to have a relationship with an INFJ while the INFJ is mirroring, they rightfully get confused when they feel like every conversation somehow goes back to what is going on with them.  They may be trying to connect with the person behind the mirror, but all they can see are constant reminders of themselves.
  • Partner repeatedly reacts to INFJ in a way that does not match how the INFJ is feeling.  People react strongly to what they do not like about themselves, or when they feel like they are being criticized.  It may seem like partners are having a lot of emotional ups and downs when the INFJ is mirroring.  Maybe they are fine one minute, and then the next minute something seemingly small sends them spiraling.  A simple question like asking “what do you want to do tonight?” could turn into an argument about the INFJ never being satisfied and bored.
  • Partner tells the INFJ that it is impossible to make the INFJ happy. Serious self reflection is not easy.  When partners are able to see all of themselves through the INFJ, they don’t always like the reality of what they see.  They might initially feel like the INFJ is just picking apart all their flaws, but over time partners cannot help but see the truth. While the INFJ may be perfectly content in the relationship, the partner may not be able to believe it during the mirroring process.  If they are only seeing their flaws, then they can’t understand how they can ever make someone happy.
  • Partner appears frustrated and pressures the INFJ to speak his or her mind.  This happens when INFJs become overly focused on their partner’s needs and neglect their own.  When INFJs hear this, it is time to make sure they have not lost touch with themselves in the mirroring process.  This is said when partners feel like they have no idea what the INFJ is looking for in the relationship or needs.  This should be interpreted as a sign of love from a partner, as it is an expression of wanting to know and honor the INFJ’s needs as well as their own. 
  • Partner tells INFJ that he or she may be happier with someone else.  When INFJs continue to mirror, without taking the proper steps to ground themselves and establish clear boundaries with their partners, people often feel a great need to escape.  It could be that they need to just break free from the constant reflection of the INFJ, but it could also be that they need to just break free from themselves.  They may feel not good enough for the INFJ, or they could just feel like the INFJ can never be pleased. 
  • INFJ begins to feel confused, unappreciated, desperate, and lonely.  In the final stages of mirroring, partners try and break free from the constant mirroring.  They may become angry, frustrated, or confused with the INFJ, and they may even lash out at the INFJ.  All of this typically blindsides INFJs, and it is difficult for them to understand how their partner could be so upset with them.  This is the point where a lot of relationships end for INFJs.  There is a sudden moment where both the partner and the INFJ wake up so to speak and wonder how they even got to this point.  The partner definitely feels like something needs to change.   It could be that they need to just break free from the constant reflection of the INFJ, but it could also be that they need to just break free from themselves.  They may feel not good enough for the INFJ, or they could just feel like the INFJ can never be pleased.  Regardless of the reason, the INFJ gets that all too familiar feeling of being alone and misunderstood.

Ways to Reflect & Retain A Sense of Self 

Learning to recognize and manage the mirroring aspect of the INFJ personality, as well as understanding how it impacts loved ones, is an important relationship skill for INFJs to master. INFJs don’t need to deny who they are, but it is important for them to look at themselves from a different perspective.  INFJs are really good with figuring out what is going on with other people a lot more than they are about figuring out what is going on with themselves.  These mirroring skills can be quite useful, and there are times when it can help others.  It is just a matter of staying grounded and remembering not to lose sight of one’s self.  Here are a few items for an INFJ to keep in mind when it comes to their relationships:

  • Make sure your partner wants help before you help, and if he or she does, then set clear boundaries. Just because you can see what’s beneath the surface, that doesn’t necessarily mean your partner wants you to grab a shovel and start digging it all out.  With loved ones in particular, it makes a lot of sense to set boundaries.  Have a limit to the “therapy” sessions.  Talk about subtle ways your partner can let you know when they need some time or space.
  • Hold partner accountable for his or her own feelings, and make sure you clearly know how you feel separate from your partner.  If you notice a partner projecting his or her feelings onto you, or you don’t feel like your partner has an accurate understanding of how you feel, speak up.  Have this conversation when you both feel more at ease, and approach it in a loving manner.  Also regularly check yourself for a clear understanding of your own feelings.  It isn’t uncommon for an INFJ to absorb the feelings and emotions of loved ones.  It is just as easy for the INFJ to get confused about individual needs when mirroring becomes excessive in the relationship.
  • Take breaks.  Remember to take time off from the deep analysis every once in a while for a little fun.  Do things together that are lighthearted, and don’t forget to participate in activities independent of one another.  It is also necessary to take breaks from each other.  Stepping away from a misunderstanding to regain focus is often helpful.  It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the relationship to pause every now and again.  It is just something that you may need to do in order to remain happy.
  • Respect your partner’s processing style.  We all have communication style preferences.  Even if you are ready to talk about something, that doesn’t mean your partner feels the same.  Make sure to discuss communication preferences before you are in the heat of a heavy conversation.  If processing styles are extremely different, discuss healthy compromises you both would be willing to make in order to ensure the lines of communication stay open.
  • Remember it is not your responsibility to heal the world.  Someone else’s self work is not your self work.  INFJs will take it too far, neglecting their own interests, in the name of “helping” someone else.  A loving partner, does not like seeing you exhausted or frustrated.  They don’t want you getting so worked up about their issues.  If they are struggling, this can sometimes make it worse.  They also don’t want you taking away their control over their own situation.  Offer a helping hand when asked, but respect when your partner firmly tells you that they don’t want you to get involved.
  • Step out from behind the mirror so that others can really see you. This is probably the most important action an INFJ can take.  More likely than not, your partner fell in love with you not your mirroring abilities.  A suitable partner will appreciate your intuitive capabilities, but they will also recognize the need for you to allow yourself to shine and be nurtured as well.   A loving partner wants you to be as happy as you want them to be, and if you are always hiding behind a mirror, they will never be able to see you and understand you in the way you deserve.

Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts.  Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website, and Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos.

 

 

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