With their talent for identifying with the other person, for slipping into another’s skin, Idealists find that building close, loving relationships is the most natural thing in the world… And yet such emotional sensitivity (some would say hypersensitivity) can take its toll, and Idealists have been known to become upset when these affective ties begin to bind, as they do when the amount of emotional input from their mates becomes a psychological overload… At this point NFs can turn irritable, insisting unexpectedly that their mates stop hanging on their approval and learn to stand on their own two feet.
— David Keirsey, Please Understand Me II
What is an Idealist?
If you are an Idealist like me, you probably rely on intuition to take in or see the world. You are a big picture person with little energy for details. You see what could be more than what is. You read between the lines and are always looking for meaning (more than facts). You also make decisions by running them past your values and those of other people involved. You care about harmony within your circles and have a desire to be 100% authentic and self-aware. You want to be a good person and enhance the well-being of others. You see potential in people and projects. It is almost impossible to not be aware of others’ emotional needs or feelings and subsequently offer empathy.
The ties begin to bind…
I spent the last 11 days devoted to the care and companionship of my mother. She has Progressive Bulbar Palsy (a deterioration of the neurons that speak to the muscles in the head and neck region) which is a beginning manifestation of ALS. This is a relatively new diagnosis for her so naturally her emotional well-being was threatened and her mental state was overwhelmed. Due to all of these factors she needed/wanted my presence and attention continuously. I have no family in the area so there was no respite care option.
Her fears, worries and depression seeped into my being like a pervasive disease, a heavy debilitating disease.
I have been known to lose it if one of my kids is sick and home from school for more than a day or two.;)
I was going down. Isolated. Emotionally strung out.
Of course, I felt enormously guilty about such feelings. My mom has always been my biggest supporter and provider of unconditional love. It’s so much worse for her. I should be able to handle this and do my duty.
Reading for self-preservation
While homebound, I managed to squeeze in three movies (with Mom) and piece-meal reading in David Keirsey’s book on temperament, Please Understand Me II.
If Idealists are forced by difficult circumstances to become estranged from themselves and others, they do so as if beset by negative feelings that overwhelm them and numb their will. — Ernst Kretschmer via David Keirsey in Please Understand Me II
The above quotes from Keirsey’s book leapt out at me as I read them. I not only felt estranged from others (I missed my kids’ sporting events, my monthly writing group/support system, talking with neighbors, dating), I also felt deeply removed from myself. I had no time to write uninterrupted, no deep reading sessions, minimal exercising, even my sleep was fragmented.
I couldn’t have any more pulls on my attention. I was disappearing. I became short and impatient with my mom. I wanted her to be more self-reliant. Helplessness was particularly grating.
Why I couldn’t just shake it off
Like a prisoner waiting out his sentence or a kid counting the days of school left, I marked off the time in my head. Telling myself I can do this. I should do this. I need to be helpful and caring. Mom deserves my patience and best self.
But another trait of sensitive Idealists is an inability to put feelings on hold. We have to be authentic, now. My irritation got directed at my kids, my mom and myself. I started nit-picking with the kids, reminding them of how much I have on my plate (a big no-no I know). I made my mom do more on her own. I gave her tough-love talks about not being helpless and giving up. My own negative self-talk started — Other people could manage this. Why can’t you be more light-hearted? You need to laugh more and not get so overwhelmed. No one is ever going to love you if you’re so emotional.
What I know now
My mom left yesterday. I had her walk through the security line at the airport and to her gate (with me by her side) rather than pushing her in a wheelchair. It’s a small airport dear readers but I still wonder if I was helping her build up strength and confidence or if I had just had it with her needing me/extra attention.
Since she’s been gone I’ve vowed to relish the lightness of not being tied to my house and someone else’s every need. I want to return/instill a sense of joy and levity in the home. I used to have more fun with the kids decorating the house for holidays, making yummy food, acting silly and light-heartedly doing impressions. Life has felt complicated and debilitating lately. I hope through self-discovery I can learn to notice such frustrations but also rise above them. I know I need to lighten up. Less seriousness, more fun.
It takes energy to be fun. Sometimes the only way to re-generate energy is to get away from people and busy-ness. This is not only a challenge for Idealists but also for introverts. We’re going against cultural norms when we preserve ourselves and our congeniality by distancing from people and stimulation but I believe it’s for the better of all.
Have you been pushed to irritability recently? What do you do when you near your emotional absorption maximum? Is it better to stick it out and let our tempers/emotions flash or get away from the situation?
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