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This is me. This is me from the day I was born. For so long I felt misunderstood and rejected, even by the people closest to me, because they could never understand my need for solitude, and I had no idea how to explain it to them. Even now that I know more about Introversion and have a more informed understanding of my hard-wired need for solitude, it’s still very difficult sometimes to help my loved ones understand this profound craving for time and space all to myself. This is one of the best…
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I have been dating an introverted man who I am very in love with for almost 2 years.  Reading your posts have helped me to be more supportive and understanding to him especially during the times when he needs space.  I just wanted to thank you for your weekly posts and let you know how helpful they are for someone who is in a relationship with an introvert. C.M. on space2live
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What Happens When Others Need Us Too Much? : The Shadow Side of Sensitives and Idealists



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 cutting-ties-that-bind1beginning 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, annoyed the monkeyreminding 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 twinkling_heart_lights-9287notice 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? 

If this post spoke to you, you may also enjoy:

Introverts Explained: Why We Love You But Need to Get Away From You

Introvert Relationships: Love Me or Leave Me But Please Don’t Need Me (Too Much)

How To Be Lively, Energetic and Vibrant When Your True Nature Is Thoughtful, Introverted and Reticent

I’m Sorry I Hurt You in Order to Save Myself: What Introverts Feel but Don’t Always Say

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  1. […] What Happens When Others Need Us Too Much? : The Shadow Side of Sensitives and Idealists […]

  2. Chelsey October 14, 2014 at 10:17 am - Reply

    Thank you for this! Thank you for your blog! I just randomly came across your site today I am so grateful! It is just what I needed to read, especially this article. It is almost surreal! Thank you so very much! <3

    • Brenda Knowles October 17, 2014 at 8:33 am - Reply

      Happy the post resonated.:) Welcome to space2live. Welcome home.:)

  3. David Wagenfeld October 11, 2014 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    I can TOTALLY understand what you were going through because I went through the same thing. My Mom got really sick back in 2011 (she was in the ER 3 times over a 6 week period each time worse than the last) and for 6 solid months her life was my life. I had zero time to do my work (I am an artist) or have ANY time for myself or my stuff, her life was my life. And all of the stuff you told yourself was all the stuff I was telling myself. And I was totally burned out and exhausted. I made it through and she is better now and living in an assisted living facility. ( I go every week to see her) But one thing that I learned during that time was that as innies/Sensitives we can not do things the same way that non innies/Sensitives can. And that every time we try and measure ourselves by their yardstick we will always come up short. So maybe it is time to put that yardstick down and pick up one that is designed for US. 🙂

    • Brenda Knowles October 11, 2014 at 2:46 pm - Reply

      I agree. We need a new yardstick. The current yardstick diminishes quiet, contemplative solo or collaborative work despite its valuable output.
      I can’t even imagine caring for an elderly parent for 6 months. I know it’s dutiful and honorable to care for your parents but if they take you down with them it’s not worth it. Self-care is absolutely necessary. I do think they are emphasizing that more for caregivers. My mom will most likely end up in assisted living as well. It’s very hard for anyone to take on that work and still maintain their ‘normal’ life.
      Thank you for making me feel not so alone.

  4. lobster October 11, 2014 at 6:23 am - Reply

    Your timing is always so impeccable – how do you do it?!

    Have you been pushed to irritability recently? – Yes! 2 very close friends (who booked their flights to visit us prior to me getting into University) arrived during exam week – my first exams in over 20 years. Plus another freeloader friend who wanted to stay on my couch for a week.

    What do you do when you near your emotional absorption maximum? internalise, internalise, internalise, hide, smile, until…. go all out irrational, can’t cope, flip out.

    Is it better to stick it out and let our tempers/emotions flash or get away from the situation? Mmmmm, not sure about what is better but I did both! From trying to put a smily hostess face on for my guests, to politely inquiring if the couch dwelling friend could find an alternative place to stay after 5 days with us, to downing tools and advising all in the household that I was no longer cooking dinner and they had to fend for themselves. Followed by waking at 4am and going to Mcdonalds (the only place that was open) to do some study before my last exam – because the couch dweller was snoring next to my computer – and not coming home all day even though the exam finished at midday.

    Phew that felt good getting that off my chest – although I am still slightly annoyed at myself for shooting down my husband who tried to ‘toast’ his wonderful wife at dinner on how she was so smart and clever and of course would ace her exams. But in reality I just wanted to say – way to go adding additional pressure and I wish none of you were here right now!

    And timing?? 2 days after my exams, I am home alone. Husband back at work, friends back in their usual places i.e. miles away…..Now, where was that chocolate?

    • Brenda Knowles October 11, 2014 at 2:36 pm - Reply

      Oh Lobster I’m stressed out just reading about your ordeal.;) It never fails when you really need time to yourself to focus, all hell breaks loose. I’m trying to learn how to live in that constant state of flux and people chaos. There’s a line in a Michael Jackson song (Jam maybe) where he says, ‘You can’t hurt me I’ve found peace within myself’. I’ve felt that peace but keeping it accessible has proven to be difficult.

      I totally understand the self-annoyance for shooting down your husband’s nice gesture. That’s that irritability we can’t seem to stop from surfacing but nevertheless we are not without remorse. You tolerated a lot of boundaries being crossed. Give yourself credit for that.

      Thanks for sharing your story. Consider yourself heard and validated.:)

  5. Michaela Chung October 11, 2014 at 4:40 am - Reply

    This post really resonates with me. I was feeling similarly heavy and disconnected from myself during my recent trip to Europe. I stayed with friends for most of the time, and was very affected by the lack of alone time and opportunities to be completely absorbed in my work and rituals. It was a BIG lesson for me on how important my environment is. xo

    • Brenda Knowles October 11, 2014 at 7:36 am - Reply

      Yes, even when we are doing things we enjoy if we don’t get enough self-recovery time we are weighed down and not fully ourselves. I often wish for more energy to be able to go-go-go but that is not in our nature. The ability to empathize and help heal others is. If we are mindful of our spirits we can make a difference. It’s a trade-off. I love traveling but you’re right it is best done with a mix of exploring/experiencing and downtime. Staying with others is fun but also low on alone time. I hope to hear more about your trip through your writing.:)

  6. Clark Roush, Ph.D. October 10, 2014 at 5:34 pm - Reply


    Thank you for your typical self-awareness! It’s helps us try to be likewise. I wish ther was a way to describe my spirit when I read your words. They are so often like salve to the soul. Bless you – and please, dear one – allow yourself moments of being human! Don’t be too hard on yourself for not having it all figured out yet. Demanding times often catch us in the middle of handling many others things. Allow some grace to find you as you reflect! I appreciate you!

    • Brenda Knowles October 11, 2014 at 7:26 am - Reply

      Clark you are always so genuinely kind. Thank you sweet man. It does seem like demanding times always hit all at once. I had other issues I was settling during my mom’s visit. Grace is a beautiful thing. I will make space for it.:)

  7. Irene October 10, 2014 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    I understand your story.
    It’s not in my nature to open up to people and tell them my problems. On the other hand the people around me have no trouble to overwhelm me with theirs. From friends who like to complain about their daily issues to family members who depend on my help.
    And I started having negative feelings about them, because they seem selfish in thinking only about their problems and ignoring the possibility I might have my own. I feel that if they really cared about me they should sense I have my own troubles, even if I don’t talk about them.
    And I started to put distance between me and the others. By actually saying to my family to stop telling me all their problems and limiting the time I spend visiting them, by putting distance between me and the friends that turned out to be energy vampires to me and by actually ignoring the news on tv and not taking in the tragedies of the entire world.
    I feel that for my own sake I need to be selfish, because it seems that nobody in this world will think about my well being and my happiness if I don’t. What I fear is that I’ll lose my ability to feel and empathize.

    • Brenda Knowles October 11, 2014 at 7:22 am - Reply

      I don’t think you will lose your ability to feel and empathize. It’s innate dear lady.:) Putting distance between you and negative energy is self-FUL in my book, not selfish. I have learned to ignore the news as much as possible too. I have found silly things like humor on Pinterest to give me a boost instead. Take care of yourself and I think you will find energy to feel and empathize for/with others. At least that’s what I’m hoping.;)

  8. October 10, 2014 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    I used to try to push through it and then I always hit the wall of complete exhaustion and burn out. Now when I feel myself in the red zone I make myself say “no” as much as I possibly can or I know I’ll snap. Of course, it’s still uncomfortable for me and the people I’m saying no to never want to hear it 🙂 But I’m better with it now than I was five years ago.

    • Brenda Knowles October 11, 2014 at 7:18 am - Reply

      I am trying to figure out how to avoid the ‘snap’ or the complete consumption of me. I do say no to a lot of things but I have found myself in a position where many people need me and there aren’t other options. Like you, I’ve learned to assert my needs and boundaries but for an introvert that is tiring too. At least I know better what to do to recharge and who to keep close to me (encouraging friends and enlightened writing coaches;). Every day, a learning experience. Thank you for your wisdom Lauren.

  9. Ruth Rainwater October 10, 2014 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    It has taken me months to decompress after retiring. Always being ‘on’ was exhausting. I am much less irritable now – except on days I’m not feeling physically well.

    • Brenda Knowles October 11, 2014 at 7:10 am - Reply

      Deeply enjoy your freedom Ruth! I’m sure you are.:) I’m trying to figure out how to decompress before I retire.;)

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