In his post, Why Introverts Struggle to Figure Out Who They Are, Dr. A.J. Drenth says introverts often start from the inside when seeking our true identities. We reflect on who we are and what purpose we serve. We defer to our inner voice to guide us to our destiny. We introverts are aware of most of that. Where we struggle is finding the opportunity and acceptance to do such soul-searching and identity identifying. Most of society expects us to finish school and jump into a career and mate/family search — which are more outside approaches to identity development.
Develop that outer success
As a young woman in Chicago in my early twenties, asking myself questions like, Who am I? or What do I have to offer the world? was not part of my everyday existence. Those questions had not fully occurred to me. I had not met anyone who encouraged such self-reflection. I did not value such introspection. It would have been too deep, hippie and weird. I was trying to fit in to the corporate, driven world. I was building an identity from the outside in by doing my job well, living in an acceptable neighborhood, dressing appropriately and socializing like everyone else at bars, clubs and work parties. I wanted to be an independent, urban, cool, corporate chick.
At that time, I believed outer success was the way to happiness, but there were little signs of, I want more. I am not home yet. In Chicago, I used to walk down to the lake almost every Sunday by myself. I’d sit on the rocks and look over the water at the skyline with music from Sting or The Gin Blossoms in my ears. I think I wanted the vastness of the scene to speak to me. Tell me more about myself. I think it did, subconsciously. Sitting there in the sunshine, I felt at home. My mind could wander. I was not pleasing or trying to impress anyone. I could go internal.
Sleeping in suburbia
I later slipped on another externally generated identity —married, upper middle class suburban mother and home manager. As a married mother of three, I had a great need to be alone, read and think. I know many mothers and fathers crave time to themselves, but I could feel myself wither and withdraw when I had no time to go inside my mind and heart. I had a dire need to find my inner identity. It called me during nap time and during my alone time at the gym. I started to notice my character and my day-to-day living had no depth. I had little self-knowledge or understanding of my inner spirit. I did not have a partner who asked about what went on inside of me. There was no teasing out each other’s feelings or dreams. I think he thought I was living my dream. It would be easy to believe that given the outer behavior I exhibited and agreements I made. We both were more or less resources for each other to benefit the outside world we created.
But, what are you really thinking?
Then one day, someone outside my family did ask me what goes on inside my head. They did ask me questions about my spirituality, my interests, my sense of self. Several people asked me such questions consistently for years. I became more clear on what I valued and what I found intriguing. Over that time, I developed an inner identity alongside my outer one. It was easier to answer the question, Who am I?
Once tapped into my inner realm, it was easier to follow my curiosity and create inner depth, by exploring new places and having new experiences. I gained perspective. I created a new interesting outer identity while figuring out what truly flipped my switch, what really aligned with my inner world.
What about your family?
Lest you worry about what happened to my family while I was “finding myself” I feel I should say, it was not easy living true to myself while entrenched in old corporate/suburban mindsets. It was the biggest problem when I cared terribly about what other people thought and when my husband had no interest in thinking differently. The marriage ended and I started to be less bothered by being different and pursuing more non-traditional endeavors like writing. I did let my parenting presence slip for about a year. I was there, but not fully there. Some might have called it depression. A good therapist let me know my children noticed my lack of presence. I became obsessed with learning how to be present in relationships while honoring my nature. Thus, space2live and my current career were born, which answered the question, What do I have to offer the world?
We need to look to the world and ourselves for guidance
Now I feel a sense of wholeness. There are definitely times of imbalance when the inner or outer identity dominates and leaves the other part of me feeling insecure, but over the long run I hope to represent each fairly equally.
Even though I did the search backwards, I wound up with an authentic identity, within relationships. Interdependence. I needed to know myself to fully engage with the world and contribute at my highest level. It is OK to do it backwards. Do not fret if you are buried in an outer world identity. Think about where you feel at home. Give yourself time to reflect and go internal. Let your inner voice guide the revealing of your inner identity. Keep the relationships you value, close and forefront in your present and future plans, but honor your integrity as you grow within those relationships.
How well do you know yourself? Does your inner voice or outer world give you your identity? Do you take time to know your inner longings?
If you would like someone to help you reveal your inner identity, contact me for personal coaching. I’d love to validate and encourage what you value.