The Intricacies of Introvert Time

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

What Counts As “Quality Time” With An Introvert?

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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.

Mirroring in Relationships

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

Making the Invisible Visible

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Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. -Jonathan Swift

We had been together for almost six years that rainy November afternoon he pulled the car off to the side of the road and began weeping uncontrollably.  I had known for over a year that things had gone off course, and the man that once looked at me with love and admiration could no longer look me in the eyes, let alone have a meaningful conversation.  This sudden stop and outburst were completely out of his character, so I sat quietly waiting for him to speak.  He wanted to tell me that he had been lying about going to grad school for the past three months.  He had dropped out of class, but he couldn’t tell me.  He knew I would overreact and be disappointed.  It didn’t upset me that he had dropped out of school.  It didn’t matter to me what he ended up doing professionally.  I was more upset that he felt like I wouldn’t understand his decision, or that I would in some way think less of him for this decision.  The conversation continued, and it ended with him telling me that our relationship was the very reason he didn’t want to become a psychologist anymore.  He couldn’t imagine having conversations as emotionally intense as ours everyday for the rest of his life.  It was at this moment, he also stated a need for a separation.  I was just too much for him to deal with.  I was blindsided by the reason of the breakup, but not so much the breakup in itself.  I was surprised at how angry he was at me for a disappointment I had never expressed and that he never even gave me a chance to explain my actual thoughts.

Later that evening, I stood for three and a half hours staring at myself in the bathroom mirror.  This was my first major heartbreak, and I was having a difficult time making sense of what I had done wrong.  I felt completely misunderstood and voiceless in the final outcome, and I could not fully process the hurt.  Standing there on chipped linoleum, I wanted to look into myself.  I wanted to understand myself, see myself as others saw me, and hopefully identify what it was about me that made people always want to escape me.  I stared so long that I could no longer distinguish the individual features that formed my appearance.  I don’t know what I was waiting for, or what I wanted to happen, but after gazing at my reflection for over three hours, all I felt was invisible.  Continuing to look at myself in the mirror could not remedy my confusion one bit, so I stopped. 

That was over two decades ago, and I’d like to say that was the only time I found myself so lost in a relationship, but it was actually only the start.  I have noticed a pattern of people enjoying certain aspects of my personality initially, but growing tired of my intensity over time.  I have experienced more than one person telling me that he loves me more than he has ever loved anyone else in his entire life, but I am probably better off with someone else.  I have been told that I am angry, disappointed, jealous, bitter, resentful, judgmental, too demanding, too intense, unstable, and self-centered from the same people that tout me as the most understanding, loving person they have ever met.  Sometimes these mismatched descriptors come within minutes of one another, and I am always left at that point where I am standing alone staring at myself in the bathroom mirror wondering if I really am this difficult to love.

I am not writing this to air my dirty laundry as a forlorn lover.  I am writing this to reach out to other HSPs, INFJs, or empaths that might have ever felt this way in relationships themselves.  I inadvertently came across something not long ago that helped me understand what might be going on a little more clearly.  It helped me feel a little less unlovable, so I want to share that feeling among friends.

A shift in perspective occurred when I came across two images I found while talking in various groups online.  One said, intuitives are like mirrors that people can’t bear to look into too long, and the other said INFJ love story?  Everyone will hurt you. My response was less than enthusiastic at first, because let’s be honest, sometimes the truth hurts.  The everyone hurts you comment seemed like a harsh reality I wasn’t quite ready to accept, and the being a mirror concept was one I had to toss around in my mind a bit before fully grasping what it fully meant.

Over the next couple of months, the pieces of my past began to fall into place, and both phrases began to make sense.  The premise of the conversations where these images were originally posted was that people love highly intuitive and emotional people intensely, but because we are so good at unearthing what is holding people back, and exposing it, we become too much for people close to us to cope with at times.  We become a mirror, and people cannot look at us without seeing a reflection of themselves.  Our personality type does not necessarily focus on negative aspects and draw them out of people, which is why people are drawn to us initially.  We always start by illuminating the good, because we see the beauty in people when we first meet them.  If they are down on themselves, we reflect back what is good about them.  Over time, and repeated exposures to the mirror, however, we get a glimpse into the onlooker’s eyes and what is causing them to see themselves in a negative light.  With strengths, we see weaknesses.  A mirror is honest.  If you have a blemish, the mirror reflects it.  The mirror doesn’t tell you that the pimple is ugly, but you might make that connection and begin to feel self-conscious upon seeing it.  You might then choose to avoid looking at yourself in mirrors for the day or longer until the image of the imperfection has faded from your mind. 

That analogy for me explains everything I have ever misunderstood in every relationship I have ever had, including the one with my own mother.  There was a time, for example, when my mother had been drinking too much, and without me saying a word, she knew I was aware of what she had been doing behind everyone’s back.  She looked at me and said, “I will be so happy when you get out of my hair next week, so I don’t have to keep being judged by you.”  I wasn’t judging her.  I was actually keeping quiet, because I could sense the severity of the situation for everyone involved.  She, however, was judging herself in that moment.  My silent, reflective eyes produced so much shame that all she could do was lash out at me, but really it was the reflection of herself that upset her the most.  At the time, I hurt so much that I sobbed for days.  I was about to move out of my childhood home of 22 years, and those were her parting words.  I have always had this sense of people being relieved when away from me, which is a big part of why I keep my distant until I am sure people are ready for me. 

I have a history of mismatched experiences and emotions with the people I love.  When I get really close to people, they are forced to look at themselves more than they would like to I guess.  They in a sense, are being forced into a relationship with themselves by me, because I have a way of seeing the less visible aspects of most people’s personalities.  I consciously, and sometimes unconsciously, bring the invisible to the surface.  It is as if I am standing there holding up a mirror, forcing them to look at themselves, refusing to tell them what to do, trying to be supportive and understanding, and the reactions aren’t always what I expect.  I guess that’s because I am still thinking in terms of their reactions in relationship to me.  When someone I love tells me that they need time away from me, that can be a hard pill to swallow.  I dislike that I cause people I care about such distress, even if I know it is what needs to happen for them to grow. 

I have tried to be less intense or real, but telling that to someone like me is like telling water not to be wet.  You can throw a towel over everything to hide, or dry off the situation, but everything is going to get absorbed eventually.  Does this mean that I can never have a meaningful relationship with another person, or that I am better off from a distance?  No, but that does explain why I am cautious with my feelings and sometimes build walls.  It’s not just to protect myself, but many times it is to protect everyone else around me.  Will everyone hurt me?  Probably yes, but that’s because people respond unpredictably sometimes to being exposed to what they have worked hard to keep hidden.  I think the hardest thing for me is when someone leaves me, or thinks I am better off without them, because they believe they are hurting me.  I am just holding the mirror, but I see the hurt in others.  When they leave me, I feel like they are leaving at the most crucial moment of their healing, so I become desperate to bring them back to the mirror. 

I have to realize, however, that everyone needs to heal at their own pace.  I am used to holding hurt, and I recognize the interconnected relationship between hurting and healing.  It can be scary, and I have to remember that for the people I care about.  I have to work harder at helping myself, as well as my loved ones, to see where they end and I begin.  There is someone standing behind this mirror, and that’s the person I want people to ultimately see.  I think deep down that’s what every INFJ, HSP, or empath wants, someone to really see them.  People do see me sometimes, and I think when they do, they realize what’s been going on.  They do start to see their own parts, as well as the parts that have all along been mine.  Perhaps this is why, every time a relationship has ended for me I’ve been told that I’m better off without that other person in my life.  When I hear that, I hurt, because I don’t honestly feel that way myself.  While I hold other people’s pain sometimes, I rarely keep it as my own.  The hurt isn’t from what that person thinks he has inflicted upon me.  The hurt is that this person can’t recognize how much I have learned and enjoyed our experiences together.  How much I value the light, as well as the dark.

A person really close to me once explained why sad songs are the most beautiful, and that was one of the first times I ever felt like someone could reflect something of myself back to me.  Hurt is acknowledgment, concern, and care for how things should or should not be in this world.  Even when people are hurting, and they choose things you do not agree with out of love for you, or themselves, that is far better than apathy.  Every hurt has taught me a great deal about myself, as well as forced me to continue along my path of healing.   As an INFJ everyone I love hurts me, but everyone I have ever loved has also helped to heal me.

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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