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Introverts and Withdrawal: Why We Do It

social withdrawal

Last week, I had an overwhelming desire to withdraw from everything. Like the mustard-hued sludge the EPA workers inadvertently released down the Colorado River, my emotions colored and flooded my mind. My mother’s recent death; the humbling number of edits necessary to make my manuscript work and the start of the back-to-school shuffle, all put me in a draining state of high-alert.

Non-stop action and endless decision-making wore me out. I needed positive energy inflow and a stoppage of outflow.

I needed to slow down. I needed to read. I needed to rest.

best fiddlehead

Fiddlehead

Like the early spring plants, fiddlehead ferns, I needed to curl up tightly before I could unfurl into the lacy frond capable of freely greeting the world.

This is not the first time I’ve had a deep need to retreat.

At the end of my marriage, I withdrew. I withdrew from my husband and even from my children. The tension and internal conflict I felt in my husband’s presence was almost unbearable. I physically withdrew by hiding out in my home office or by spending extra time at the gym, but withdrawal does not require you to leave the room. One of the hardest things I ever endured hearing was a stranger telling me that my kids said, Mom is there but not really there. Meaning, I was physically present but not really tuned in to them. Ouch. I hadn’t realized how detached I had become.

Why introvert’s retreat

An introvert’s first home is within. According to authors (Intimacy and Type) and marriage therapists, Jane Hardy Jones and Ruth G. Sherman, introverts are always receiving and processing information from two sources: their inner world  and the outer world. Hence, the predisposition to become overstimulated easily. Our best abilities (thinking or feeling or sensing or intuiting) are aimed at our inner worlds. Engaging and negotiating with the outside world with our second-best functions is daunting and draining. We need to be alone in order to eliminate stimulation, process for clarity and replenish our energy.

We need a safe space in order to engage. The less safe and more vulnerable an introvert feels, the less they tend to share. We need to feel especially secure and confident before revealing our personal  thoughts. Critical and judgmental people will push us further into ourselves. It is extremely difficult to be around people who cause us inner conflict. If we dislike or often disagree with someone but have to pretend we don’t (think co-worker or family member), this will cause dire fatigue for the introvert. So much so, that we will want to escape from the place and person involved.

We ourselves are the substance we withdraw to, not from, as we pull our overextended and misplaced creative energy back into our own core. —Julia Cameron via Brain Pickings

Our creative energy exists inside us. Introverts thrive on stillness. Within stillness ideas bubble up and our inner voice whispers vital messages we can hear. These vital messages need expression. They are the basis of our creativity. Withdrawal leads to self-awareness and ultimately our creativity.

We have to clear emotions. Emotions can get the best of a sensitive introvert. They swell and flood our brain. Added stress or stimulation only prolongs the emotional overwhelm. Processing and alone time are crucial to recovery and relief from the flood. We get ourselves together by moving away from the genesis of the emotional tidal wave. Solid sleep goes a long way towards relieving emotional exhaustion as well.

We are navigating change or the unknown. If there is a lot of change going on in our lives, we may hole up for a while in order to sort through what is going on and prepare ourselves for new situations. Introverts like to be prepared. Prior knowledge soothes our sensitive systems. We require space to mentally work through the process of meeting new people, navigating unfamiliar places and surviving different experiences. At first, new situations will feel overwhelming, possibly driving us underground to recharge and sift through all the foreign material filling our minds. But, as Emily White says in her article on QuietRev.com titled, Leave Your House, Change Your Life, newness is only overwhelming in the beginning. After a couple of sessions with a new situation, you will have information to draw from and a much better idea of what to expect.

It’s a challenge to retreat

As many of us already know, it is difficult to ask for and obtain time to re-charge. Almost everyone in your immediate circle will ask and expect you to keep on plugging on. They’ll expect you to get over

It's all good, really!

It’s all good, really!

whatever is bothering you and be there for them with a smile. The message being that self-care is selfish. The message being that work and others are always first. Introverts spend a fair amount of time feeling bad for needing a break.

Although I didn’t get a real break last week, I did spend quality time with generous, positive, and inspiring friends this week. The emotional flooding is beginning to subside.

I know there will be more healing space in my near future.

What needs to happen after the withdrawal? 

I felt extra sensitive and tired last week. I was burned out when my marriage ended. Both times I wanted to fill myself up with swaths of uninterrupted time, positive support, meaningful work and expansive ideas. While it’s vital to take time for self-care, eventually space needs to lead to action. In my follow-up post next week, I will talk about why it is important to minimize withdrawal and re-join life.

 What makes you want to withdraw? How does your need for space affect those you love? What gets you out of this mode?

If this post spoke to you in a meaningful way, please pass it on.

Thank you,

Brenda

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29 Comments

  1. Spinster March 27, 2016 at 9:23 am - Reply

    Wow. This speaks to my current situation. Off to read Part II. Thank you.

  2. Holly February 24, 2016 at 6:55 pm - Reply

    Such an excellent article!!

  3. […] This article was originally published on BrendaKnowles.com. […]

  4. Morena November 13, 2015 at 8:03 am - Reply

    “Rejoin life”…. it is quite draining..its great to be around people but I’m the type of person people ALWAYS……ALWAYS come to. I can be very social at times but sometimes I’m afraid to comment or speak on certain topics because as soon as I do. My inbox gets flooded by both men and women… men want to know more about me, and they always say they never heard a woman say this and that…I hide my pictures and use different names on social media because I value my privacy…people take it personal when I need my space and you’re right they do expect that whatever is going on in my life for me to just get over it. A friend of mine that I cut off after 22 years of friendship just became very toxic. She was not willing to grow, learn more about herself, love herself and she always cared about what others wanted and put everyone before her even her new abusive lover. She went from having men abuse her to now a woman. I’ve always been there, but everything I said and did that came come a loving place, she act like I was the one abusing her. She cared to much about what her lover wanted and everybody else. All I wanted her to do was love herself and she said some pretty mean words to me. Words she would never say to her lover. She got upset when I told her I needed space and will be in touch that I was going through something and she judge me and said what I’m going through is depressing and that nobody wants to hear that. Friends are suppose to listen and be there. So I just don’t tell anybody what I’m going through. If I feel the need to take a break and disappear then I will… I’m always ON all the time. I get so tired of making decisions all the time. I’ve been doing it since I was 14. I’m exhausted but still will keep going. because I’m all I have. I read a quote by Iyanla Vanzant that said “when you are the strong one, no one gives you permission to hurt” People act like I’m made of steel and I don’t need help. They act like I can’t hurt.

    They’ll say anything to prevent from helping me, even if its the smallest thing…people like that I just slowly let go. I’m exhausting from always being there and being ON all the time and being STRONG. Being STRONG is exhausting. My last relationship ended because I was tapping to much into masculine energy and the guy that I was with became dependent on me. I felt suffocated. He just wanted to trap me and needed a place to stay. I never wanted to live with him and he knew it. I dumped him. I tried to help him get back on his feet,. but thats not what he wanted… he was purposely trying not to do better.. but after I kicked him out, he got a car, apt and a job…When we were together I never wrote. My creativity was stifled… I was always working, always busy and in the end I lost it all. Best thing that ever happened to me. God knew I was drowning and rescued me! When I ended it, my creativity came back, I could see my future, I could write again. I could finally breathe…this guy didn’t support anything that I wanted to do I never knew how much, until I dumped him and looked back…People always take it personal when I need my space, this is why I don’t know how I’m going to be in another relationship again. I keep meeting needy and clingy men.

  5. Minuscule Moments August 22, 2015 at 3:37 am - Reply

    Brenda I could relate to this post. I am an extroverted, introvert. I need quiet and time away from the world to regenerate after such things happening in my life. I thrive on alone time and there I find strength. Some people need to surround themselves with people. Not me. But at the same time I love meeting new people when I have the energy. Sorry to hear of your loss and nice to meet you. Sent over by Jennifer. Good luck with your edits.

    • Brenda Knowles August 22, 2015 at 2:50 pm - Reply

      I’m so thrilled to have new readers compliments of Jennifer. I am grateful she shared my post. I am very much like you, an extroverted introvert. I sometimes say I am an expressive introvert. For me it depends on my energy levels and how enthusiastic I am about the people and topic at hand. When I am in my element, I am hard to shut up.;) You could be an intuitive feeling extrovert, in Myers Briggs terminology. I am as well. We make judgments and decisions based on our personal values and how the decisions affect the people involved. We can get peopled out because of this empathetic trait. Hence, our need to retreat to solitude. Thanks for commenting. Nice to meet you!!

      • Minuscule Moments August 22, 2015 at 5:01 pm - Reply

        Brenda I am such an empath, I feel and sense people’s issues even when they have not said anything, it can be very draining. But I have learned to chill out when I need to.

  6. dianasschwenk August 21, 2015 at 9:01 pm - Reply

    I relate to some of the things you shared here even though I’m an extrovert. I withdraw when I am unsure of a situation and think it through, perhaps even over think it sometimes. They say extroverts need to turn inward for a spiritual experience and introverts need to turn outward for one. What do you think?

    By the way, I come here via Jennifer today. <3
    Diana xo

    • Brenda Knowles August 22, 2015 at 2:41 pm - Reply

      I’m grateful Jennifer shared my writing and brought you to space2live.:) Hmmm. That’s an interesting thought about introverts/extroverts and spirituality. When I think about the times I have been spiritually moved they are usually brought about by other people, either through their words in a book or their sharing of spiritual thoughts with me in person. Music and nature can also tip me in a spiritual direction so I guess maybe the initial spark may be external but I feel the spiritual glow inside. Thanks for making me think. Extroverts are awesome too.;)

  7. Amy August 21, 2015 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    I always think of myself as being an extravert but I can relate to so much of what you are saying here, and it makes me re-think it.

    • Brenda Knowles August 21, 2015 at 1:46 pm - Reply

      You may be a very empathetic extrovert, which can cause you to feel drained when around people or conflict too much.

      • Amy August 23, 2015 at 7:54 pm - Reply

        I hadn’t heard of that but it sounds right.

  8. […] Introverts and Withdrawal: Why We Do It […]

    • Brenda Knowles August 22, 2015 at 2:34 pm - Reply

      Thank you for sharing!! I appreciate what you said. It would be awesome if we could all understand and value each other’s way of being. 🙂

      • Jennifer's Journal August 24, 2015 at 11:37 am - Reply

        You’re welcome, Brenda. 🙂 Your blog speaks to me as few others do, allowing me to accept my introversion and sensitivities instead of always viewing it in a negative light.
        Yes, it would be an awesome world if only we valued each other for our differences. Each of us has something original to bring to the table, but we need open minds, and hearts, to see it fully.

  9. Mariachristina August 16, 2015 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    Loved your suggestions!!! Thank you!

  10. TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo August 15, 2015 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    This post came at a perfect time for me! I’m gearing up for a big ballroom dance competition and I don’t feel prepared because I don’t know all of the steps on my own. People don’t understand why it’s such a big deal when I’ll be dancing with a partner who will lead me.
    Reposted on thegirlwiththetreetattoo.com

    • Brenda Knowles August 16, 2015 at 10:10 am - Reply

      That feeling of preparedness is so important. I took dance lessons with my boyfriend recently. When I couldn’t get the steps I felt so disappointed in myself. I wanted to practice and practice but our teacher just kept moving forward. May you get the time you need to feel ready. It is a big deal to be able to do your best. Be yourself. I hope you have a partner who is on the same page (in step?;) with you. Good luck!! Have fun as well!

      • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo August 16, 2015 at 10:40 am - Reply

        Thanks Brenda! I dance with my teacher and he’s very good at listening and at least trying to understand my concerns. 🙂

  11. idgyedgy August 15, 2015 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    (I tried posting this once, but it got lost somewhere in the great beyond. I will try to recreate what I said here, and if my other reply appears, my apologies)

    “Emotions can get the best of a sensitive introvert.” Yes! I wasn’t sure if this was just me. They often do get the best of me. And I have learned to “stuff” my emotions, which makes living in my stillness overwhelming and can make alone time feel more like loneliness. It also interrupts my creative process. I think my biggest fear is to be vulnerable. Some emotions are meant to be shared, but I find that very scary.

    How do you handle the emotional side of things? Is there anything specific you do to process emotions? I’m looking for ideas to get me through a very difficult time.

    And as Catherine said in her comment, I too find it very difficult to share myself or my ideas and opinions. Criticism can make it very hard for me to share again.

    It is very difficult to explain the world and life of an introvert to non-introverts. Thank you for doing it so eloquently.

    Peace to you,
    Brenda Young

    • Brenda Knowles August 16, 2015 at 10:05 am - Reply

      You raised so many good points and questions Brenda (lovely name!:). I too, have learned to stuff my emotions in order to prevent others discomfort and to not appear weak. Stuffing feelings only makes us feel overwhelmed and unheard. You’re right, alone time can become a nightmare of rumination and loneliness if we are swelling with unresolved emotions.Too many emotions and too much stress definitely stymie creativity unless you use them as fodder for expressing yourself. I use my feelings/experiences as material for my writing. This has been incredibly therapeutic. I believe other artists do the same. As you said, expressing your ideas and admitting vulnerability are scary and leave you open to criticism. This is true, but I have found that in most cases, the resonance and understanding from others outweigh the negative feedback. There are many who feel we should just tighten our bootstraps and marshall on but there is a huge community of sensitive individuals who feel differently and want to be heard.
      I am always working on how to manage/navigate my emotions. Some of the best sources of relief from emotional overload for me are:1. Writing/Meaningful Work. Communicating with and simultaneously helping my readers gives me a sense of purpose. Meaningful work is a great soother of jangled nerves. 2. Getting together with supportive, non-judgmental friends or family. I have beautiful relationships with people who love and accept me at my weakest and worst. I do the same for them. After an evening with them, I feel less bruised.I also try very hard to remove myself from the presence of negative critical people. This is not always possible so I self-soothe by reminding myself I shouldn’t take their words/actions personally. They have their own problems. Establishing boundaries with them is also crucial. Saying No. 3. Fitness. I workout and try to fill my brain with positive endorphins vs. the stress hormone, cortisol. 4. Reading. Like my work, it takes me beyond myself. Whenever I can’t sleep, I get up and read. The perspectives available to us through reading grant a certain freedom. My mind stops focussing on my worries and let’s me see other ways of living. I read both fiction (for pure leisure and a mind break) and non-fiction (offers possibilities and solutions to issues I am stewing over and ideas for my work). 5. Sleep. I do whatever possible to make sleep a priority. The more tired and wired I am the more emotions take over.6. Gratitude. I remind myself of what I have instead of what I don’t have. Stop my negative thoughts and list 10 things/people I am grateful for. Writer, James Altucher, recommends this. Basically,taking action is key. I get out and find joy or purpose somewhere. I establish boundaries. Talk to friends. Stewing and stewing only perpetuates the downward spiral. I will write more about withdrawal next week on space2live. I hope you find some of this helpful and soothing Brenda. Thank you for being brave enough to share your thoughts. Know you are not alone. I have started to coach individuals regarding moving through transitions, sensitivity and difficult times. If you are interested please contact me privately at space2live@yahoo.com.

      • idgyedgy August 16, 2015 at 8:17 pm - Reply

        Hi Brenda,
        I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful response. 🙂 It will take me a while to process it all, but you had some wonderful suggestions.
        Can you explain a bit about how you assist people? I’m intrigued… 🙂
        And I like your name too 🙂
        Thanks again,
        Brenda

        • Brenda Knowles August 17, 2015 at 8:29 pm - Reply

          Hi Brenda,
          I do private coaching via video chat, phone call or in person if you live in the Minneapolis area. I help individuals or couples. I help them understand and embrace who they are. I may use Myers-Briggs or David Keirsey’s temperaments to increase self-awareness. If I am working with a couple or an individual working on a relationship, I help them navigate and appreciate their differences. My goals are to increase self-awareness (who are you? what do you love?, values), self-empowerment (boundaries,self-confronting) and to create exquisite intimacy within relationships. The heart of my work is to listen gently and give others a safe place to tell their story and then help them learn and grow into the best human and/or partner they can be by giving them material to read, exercises to try and suggestions based on my personal and professional experience. I don’t delve into the past as much as a therapist might. I meet the person where they are right now and then help them move forward. I specialize in working with introverts/sensitive individuals and those who love them. I could say so much more. If you really want to talk email me at space2live@yahoo.com and I’ll give you my phone #. 🙂

  12. Terry August 15, 2015 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    Your statement about judgmental people really hit home for me. Some years ago I had to end the relationship with my closest friend of many years because her entire worldview had come to consist of negative judgments about everyone, including me. Her self-perceived superiority seemed to give her energy, but it sucked the life and joy out of me, so I had to go my own way. It’s good to see I’ve not the only one so affected.

    • Brenda Knowles August 15, 2015 at 10:22 pm - Reply

      Oh my gosh no! You are definitely not alone in your reaction to judgmental people. They are one of the biggest drains in my book. Glad you freed yourself from your depleting friend.

  13. Catherine North (@NorthCat75) August 14, 2015 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    As usual, I completely relate to this. I spend a lot of time trying to balance my need for connection with my need to withdraw. Sometimes I get the courage to share my opinions, and I absolutely love that feeling of real communication, but then one harsh or critical comment can cause me to retreat back into hiding.

    I can imagine it must be a difficult time for you at the moment. Take care and thank you as always for your thoughtful words.

    • Brenda Knowles August 15, 2015 at 8:29 am - Reply

      Thank you for sharing what makes you withdraw Catherine. I completely understand the need to retreat after critical feedback. We flourish in warmth and appreciation. I guess that’s why I am always looking for open-minded non-judgmental kindred spirits.:)

      • Mariachristina August 15, 2015 at 12:05 pm - Reply

        So great to see in print exactly what occurs within. Simply puts it all in perspective . I’ve accepted it, understand it, but my issue with it is the constant invites I receive and turn down since I am “recharging” or simply don’t feel “safe” with the people or situation. I do go to many gatherings,events, etc but I find myself giving made-up excuses to the ones I don’t attend. And THAT bothers me. Not being truthful…. I feel they wouldn’t understand if I said, “No thanks, I’d rather stay home”

        • Brenda Knowles August 15, 2015 at 10:19 pm - Reply

          If you’re an intuitive feeling (NF) introvert Mariachristina, then it would be nearly impossible for you to be anything but authentic, hence your difficulty with making up excuses. A friend of mine told me a long time ago he uses, “Sorry, that doesn’t work for me” as his excuse for not attending gatherings. I think if you gave a casual glance at a calendar and then said that, it would be even better. It gives the appearance that there is a scheduling conflict. I often say, “I’ll have to look at my calendar and see how busy my week is”. Your true friends will understand if you need downtime. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.:)

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