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 If you’ve withdrawn too deeply, they may not be there.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
Even though finding out what we need or want comes from silence, manifestation never works in solitude. We need other people. — Claudia Azula Altucher, The Power of No
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.
Even more food for thought. Thank you.
Always awesome when my writing resonates. Thanks for letting me know.:)
I have recently come across your blogs after trying to better understand my significant other. We have been together about 1.5 years, and now that the honeymoon period is over, we are struggling with conflict resolution. I tend to be split between an intro and an extro, however, when it comes to conflict, I’m very extro. I want to deal with it, I want to talk it out, I want to process it, and I want to move on…RIGHT NOW. After our first really big fight (about 2 months ago), someone brought to my attention the differences. So I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can. I read articles, talk to friends, and look at blogs, just like this one that has already helped so much. After our big fight, he retreated and wouldn’t speak to me for a week. It was me that reached out a couple of times before he finally responded. It drove me crazy! I felt unloved, like he didn’t care, etc. But I of course realize now more about why he did it. I’ve been working REALLY hard to be a calmer communicator and do things more his way. I want to be the best partner I can be and I think we really have something here. Fast forward a few weeks and I’m struggling to talk with him. He’s doing things that upset me (and yes, sometimes I’m overreacting, but I need to verbally process that to see it), and it’s so hard. He feels like it’s drama and it drains him. A lot bottled up for me. I feel like I’m being taken for granted and we got in another huge fight this last week. And he’s silent again. I’ve asked him to set up a time with me to talk, but I get met with silence. We even agreed after the last fight that he would try to check in and promised not to ignore me. But he’s doing the exact same thing. I read the other blog where you stated that a considerate introvert will set up a time to come back with me. I just don’t know how to handle conflicts that works for us both, especially when he disappears for an unknown amount of time. I don’t know if he’s just not considerate and a jerk, or if setting up a time is hard to do for him…
As the extroverted (in this case) girlfriend, after a fight, what do I need to do to help get us talking and moving forward? This blog had me thinking about what I’m supposed to do when he needs his alone time. I’d love any thoughts!
First of all, I’d like to give you a lot of credit for humbly looking at where you may be overreacting or at fault and for looking into the intricacies of introversion. That kind of self-awareness and interest in personal growth is great! That will go far in a relationship.
It is hard when you want to process things verbally and quickly and your partner needs a break to mull things over. Keep in mind that relationships are crucibles for personal growth. That is why we often come to an impasse with our partners. This is how we learn how to be mature, wise, well-developed people. We will be out of sync with our partners quite often. That’s OK.
Do your instincts say he wants the relationship to work and he’s taking time to process everything before he gets back with you or do they say he’s OK without you and is thoroughly enjoying not being together?
If your man is a logical guy (most men prefer logic to personal values, intuition or emotions) and you react or speak more from your heart then you are speaking a different language right from the beginning. It does not mean your relationship will not work. It just means you will have to learn to appreciate your different conflict resolution styles. You will have to learn to speak each other’s languages. We are all responsible for our own self-soothing/happiness. I have a feeling your guy could relax and stay present with you more if he felt you were not counting on him to make you feel calm and content. My suggestion would be to give him space and in the meantime do something for you that makes you feel alive and fulfilled. Introverts can smell self-sufficiency. I know it sounds funny but that helps us relax. So does knowing you love us even when you are away from us. Introverts thrive on quality vs. quantity time. If the time you spend together is riddled with conflict that is going to deplete the introvert’s energy tank very quickly and he will need to retreat. Every relationship has conflict. You just have to figure out how to speak to each other without having it escalate into full blown drama. I suggest checking in with a soft “Are you OK?” when you start to sense your man is discontent. I would use that question sparingly. Too often and it will become annoying, but it’s a good way to head off a major blowout.
I just read the other day that one of the things people who are in love say is, “I thought about what you said…”. In a few days you might want to reach out to him via email and start with that phrase and fill in the last part. I think it’s a good non-threatening start to a meaningful discussion. Best of luck. You are obviously a thoughtful partner. Honor your own needs but stay open to his language.
[…] and eloquent way of calming us down if we allow it to. If you or someone you know is going through relationship withdrawal, share this information with them. Be as supportive as you can and if you are going through it […]
I lost my mom the end of June of this year. I’d recently started following your posts and I want you to know that as a fellow introvert, INFJ, your sharing has helped me a lot through these initial weeks of grief and loss. Thank you.
Thank you for letting me know my writing has helped you Cindy. I’m sorry for your loss. I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but the grief comes in waves. My life is busy enough that my mind is distracted from it but every once in a while it creeps up. I am grateful I was lucky enough to have a wonderful mom who I miss so much. Sending you a big hug, peace and strength.
I finally realized that if I withdraw (which I really need to do) but then I also won’t interact with my pets at all that I am probably in depression. This is hard to explain, and yes, I do eventually work out of it, but it is that utter lack of feeling anything. I don’t cry. I feel nothing. I had to look at what my other behaviors were to try and establish some warning bells.
And you are right, if I actually stay connected at some level, it doesn’t make things quite so overwhelming later. It is also a reminder that this world and my experiences are more than me. I never want to lose sight of the importance of others and what they need.
These writings have been so affirmative for me. I swear it took until about 40 for me to learn that I am not abnormal, just introverted. 🙂
I was almost 40 when I figured out the positive traits of introversion. Up until then, I had a subconscious feeling that my way of being was inferior. I needed to meet other introverts who saw the bright side of our nature. That validation and the potential they saw in me changed everything. I want to do that for others.
Good for you for doing enough self-examination to figure out the warning bells of depression. Perhaps your sensitivity calls for your system to go into a state of numbness in order to protect itself from overwhelm? The danger is if the numbness lasts too long. You seem to be highly aware of your needs without losing sight of those beyond yourself. Sending you continued insight, peace and strength. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.
Thank you for sharing this. I really do get a lot out of reading your ideas and they confirm to me that I’m not alone in feeling and needing to take action like I do. Thank you.
I’m glad you get a sense of affirmation through my writing. You are definitely not alone. 🙂