I started the Healthy Introvert Blog as a giant reminder to myself.
Reminder to self: Healing and well-being comes from listening to and giving to yourself. Conversely, suppressing your true self hurts the mind, body, and spirit.
This was a tough lesson for me to learn and required many bricks to the face, like repeated cycles of burnout, anxiety, depression, loads of self-doubt, and the inability to excel at things that weren't a good match for me, but that I thought I was "supposed" to do.
We all have multifaceted identities. For example, I consider myself to be a woman, a person of color, a nerd, a highly sensitive person (HSP), an INFJ, a creative, and an advocate. I must listen to and give to all these parts of myself in order to achieve ultimate well-being.
But here's what I noticed: I often ignored my needs as an introvert because that was the part of myself that I thought was the most "wrong".
For the longest time, I thought introversion was a defect. And yet, after years of trying to mask or deny it, I could no longer ignore how my introversion--and also my attempts to suppress it--was seriously affecting my job, my physical health, my mental health, and how I interacted with others.
I also had to acknowledge the fact that the other parts of myself that I loved--like being an HSP, advocate, and writer--were intricately linked to being an introvert as well.
Ironic, how a trait that's characterized by quietness can make itself so loud when it is not being respected.
Being an unhealthy introvert means that you're suppressing your natural needs and preferences as an introvert, even when you're doing it unconsciously. Unfortunately, Western culture values extroversion, and often interprets things like impulsive action, being outgoing, and being aggressive as "good" qualities. So if you grew up in such a culture like I did, it's easy to understand why you might push your natural quiet tendencies to the wayside--and end up experiencing these 5 unhealthy signs as a result.
Saying yes when you really don't want to
We're told that saying yes to all invitations, adventures, and opportunities is the way of the warrior. It's for the brave, the strong, the daring. Saying yes is how we grow, right?
Well, kinda. But I've found that saying no is sometimes even more daring--precisely because everyone and their mama seems to think that you should say yes!
Of course, there are times when you might really want to say yes on an ethical level, like going to your significant other's birthday party or visiting your nephew, who's forgotten how you look like. But if you're saying yes to invitations or favors even as your mind and body are screaming "STAY HOME, DAMMIT! I DON'T WANT TO GO OUT!" then... you should probably respect their request.
Be the independent warrior, be the rebel: say no.
Be discerning with your time and energy, as grown folks are: say no.
It's common knowledge that introverts are often drained by social interaction and energized by being alone. Exhaustion and fatigue happens when you feel pressured to always say yes, even when you're not feeling it.
It's ideal if you can recharge between every social event, or at least once a day. But if you find yourself running a proverbial marathon of one event or overstimulating interaction after the other, with no downtime in between and no end in sight, you will not be able to sustain yourself for long. You will soon be running on empty, and this will mess with your physical and emotional health.
What happens when you ignore your mind and body's urge to say no, and push yourself to act like the extrovert that you're not? You eventually crash. This is what I call "introvert burnout".
After taking on way too much at work and in caring for my loved ones, I found myself saying no to every single invitation for a span of 2 months. I'd lock myself in my apartment in the evenings and on the weekends, exhausted at the mere thought of having to engage in small talk or follow group conversation, or even listening to someone else's problems.
This is unhealthy because human beings--yes, even introverts--are born to be social.
Plus, as a HSP who believes empathy is one of her greatest gifts, avoiding people runs totally counter to what I consider my life purpose to be.
Even introverts, who function best when given plenty of alone time, are not wired to be complete hermits.
It's a red flag when you start resenting others for "taking away" your alone time.
When you're taking your kids hiking or guiding clients in new artistic endeavors, and all you can think about is how you wish you could do these things for yourself instead of them, that's a red flag. When you realize that you're spending more time and energy helping others to do what they enjoy instead of doing what you enjoy, that's a problem.
It's especially difficult for empaths or naturally caring people to give themselves the same time and attention that they give others. Sometimes, life requires this, especially if you're a caregiver, parent, or dealing with a client or friend who's in crisis. But this should not be the regular state of affairs.
If you get to a point where you think you're "always" doing things for others, or that others are "always" sucking up your time, it's time to make a change. Resentment can be lethal for your relationships with others--and your relationship with yourself.
Resentment can hurt your own self-worth because of guilt.
We start feeling guilty because we "should" have said no more often (otherwise we wouldn't be feeling so shitty right now!), we "should" have set better boundaries, we "should" just suck it up instead of low-key blaming our loved ones or clients, we "should" be stronger than this, we "should" be an energetic social butterfly like everyone else.
The idea that you "should" be or do something else in this case implies that you're somehow wrong or defective in who you are and what you need. This is why I tell people to stop should-ing on themselves.
You do not need to feel guilty for wanting or needing alone time, peace and quiet, or whatever else it is that helps you stay sane and healthy.
I've cycled through these five signs more times than I can count. They're very uncomfortable--because it's always uncomfortable when you try to hide who you are.
Anais Nin said it best — 'And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.'
I'm rooting for you to blossom into your full self, especially if your culture or community doesn't "get" you just yet. Just because they don't understand you doesn't mean you can't celebrate who you are.
In the meantime, be a healthy introvert by setting healthy boundaries and surrounding yourself with people who genuinely care about you. Now that you're clearer about the signs of an unhealthy introvert, you're probably wondering about the signs of a healthy one! I've got you covered.
Enter your information below to download "8 Factors of a Healthy Social Life", a reflective worksheet that will help you assess whether your social interactions are actually a good match for your needs and preferences.
This worksheet is strengths-based and action-oriented. It's well worth your time.
You might also like this blog post where I detail the more immediate warning signs of overstimulation and oversocializing. These are the warning signs I heed so I don't fall into that whole isolation-resentment-guilt cycle!
As always, the healthiest thing you can do is to just do you. You're a naturally quiet, creative, and compassionate being. How awesome is that?