Last week I wrote about my deep need to withdraw . It’s been an especially difficult summer with my mother’s illness and eventual death, but this season is often stressful for me anyway because my children are home from school. I would not trade the quality time with them for the world, but there is no structure and very little time to do contemplative work or to restore my energy in solitude. Since I could not fully withdraw, I stole an hour or two here and there to read, write, exercise and selectively socialize. As much as I needed the long personal retreat, I know it is crucial to keep myself connected to the outside world.
I am not saying it is wrong to set boundaries and take time to process your thoughts and restore your spirit. I am all about that. I am saying it is important to be true to yourself while maintaining interpersonal connections.
Withdrawal and our relationships
Eventually we will need to come out of the safe cocoon of solitude to put our new-found knowledge and restored energy to use. This emerging involves reaching out to others. If you’ve withdrawn too deeply, they may not be there.
I have learned from my past withdrawals.
At the end of my marriage, I zoned out in order to conserve energy. The conflict I felt inside regarding my relationship with my husband, drained the hell out of me. I could use my introversion as an excuse but it does not erase the guilt and shame I feel now for leaving my children somewhat emotionally unattended. There is a difference between honoring your needs by retreating to a space where you pull your creative energy back into you and slipping away emotionally and psychologically from the people you love. One is intentional and can lead to positive restoration. The other is more subconscious and detrimental.
Rather than allowing myself to go deeper down the rabbit hole of emotional detachment, I should have owned my need for quiet reparation. I should have further enlightened my family regarding introversion and found restorative ways to be present with them.
The main point of relationships is to foster personal growth. Partners need to have each other’s backs and encourage personal development. Withdrawal stunts growth by reducing the relationship to a one person endeavor. There is no friction to learn from and no security to promote confidence.
Be conscious of the messages you send
I know introverts who put locks on their bedroom or home office doors. They send a hard and fast message to those in their orbit. To a child or lover, locks say I don’t want to share with you at all. I believe locks are unnecessary. A closed-door is a sufficient signal of a need for privacy. I suggest firming up your boundaries if this is not the case.
Many of us wear headphones to avoid contact with other humans and to reduce outside stimulation. This is a conscious decisions. I am not completely opposed to headphones, but I would make sure loved ones who feel shut out by them (or the closed-door), know when and where I will be available next.
“I just wish he could text at least and say he is tired and will be in contact soon. The total withdrawal really hurts me and even though I don’t think it is about me, I struggle with why he isn’t able to do this and I get to feeling really unimportant to him.”
I receive reader comments like the one above all the time. People feel rejected when we pull away without explanation or for extended periods of time. Even when they know the space is necessary for our introverted well-being, they feel sad. A short text every now and again is not that much to ask, is it? I know even when I am in the throes of emotional exhaustion, introvert retreat or frenetic scheduling, I can muster a quick message to my kids or my guy. If I can’t, then there may be something more serious going on, like depression.
Is it depression?
One reader on Positive Introverts (a lovely closed group on Facebook you should check out), commented that my withdrawal sounded like depression. I would be lying if I said, I hadn’t considered this. All I know is, I’ve never been on any medications for depression and I’ve always bounced back after a period of processing and/or solitude. My recovery is delayed until I get that precious time. The burned out feeling is temporary and I know what to do to get myself out of the funk. The overwhelm and anxiety take reflection, positive supportive people and meaningful work to be resolved. I always emerge wiser and mentally stronger after such self-care.
The longer I remain isolated and do not reach out to friends or do the work that makes me feel connected (writing, coaching, helping others), the more stimulating and overwhelming the world feels when I do re-emerge. Too much alone time also allows negative thoughts to creep in. I become my own worst enemy by letting analysis paralysis set in. It is good to have at least one person who can connect our inner world with the outer world and give us perspective.
Manifesting our work
We get our ideas, process our emotions and find clarity in solitude but then what? We need to complete the circle by sharing what we’ve learned with others. I could write and write all day but if I never put my words out into the universe, they may aid me with my self-examination, but they don’t help anyone else. The clarity I’ve worked so hard to achieve, stops dead within me. I get tired of myself. I want the feedback, growth and sense of fulfillment that comes from creating something and releasing it into the world.
Would you come up with the most incredible new gadget and then keep the idea to yourself? No. You’d want to see it out in the external world. Test it. Experiment with it. See how others react to it. You may come up with the idea while retreating in solitude but in order to test it out, you have to put it into practice with others.
Ideas and support
We have to leave our nest in order to fill our minds with new images and ideas. Our own home or even our own brain, can become uninspired or worse, self-critical. Getting out of the house feeds the idea generator. New places, people and things give us perspective and stoke our creativity.
Too much withdrawal and you may lose friends. As I mentioned above, one of the things that pulls me out of a withdrawal funk, is positive supportive people. These people witness my wounds and remind me of my potential. They connect with me and help keep my dignity in tact. They show me the opposite of what negative people show me. Negative people may cause me to withdraw, but warm, caring people lift me from the gloom.
A real life example
As I said, I recently had a deep need to withdraw. Last weekend, I wanted to hide away, relax, read and work but I knew quality time with my kids was in order and I missed my man. My mind was weary and I couldn’t think of anything to do. One of my kids suggested bowling. My mind and body felt heavy as we headed to the bowling alley. Once there, laughing and positive encouragement flowed out of everyone. Bowling is an exercise in humility for me and my people. None of us is good at it. In fact, we are equally terrible which makes it the perfect environment for levity. It provided a safe space to laugh at ourselves. My man cheered each of us on and offered a kiss or high-five to me after each turn, even when I didn’t get any pins (yes, it happens). I left the bowling alley a changed woman. My step was lighter and so was my heart.
What happens if you withdraw for too long? How is your life better when you stay connected with the outside world?
If this spoke to you, please pass it on to someone else it may benefit.