My introverted clients often feel their needs are not being met in relationships. Here’s what I tell them.
As a therapist, I hear many of my clients discuss the ways their personality clashes with those of their loved ones. Whether familiar with introversion or extroversion, Myers-Briggs personality types or not, people are acutely aware of the ways in which others do not meet their needs — and this can lead to feelings of frustration and disconnection. Connection with others is absolutely vital to our wellbeing, even as introverts!
Yet I speak to many individuals who believe their relationships are beyond repair. Introverts, in particular, often feel as though their needs are not being met and their voice is not heard.
Strong Relationships Take Work
Before we jump in and discuss how to solve this problem, let me give you some background on me and my family. I’m an introvert and an INFJ personality type; my father is an INTP, my mother is an ISFJ, and my little sister is an INFP. Basically, the only thing all four of us share is our love for time alone. Otherwise, we tend to clash in our approaches to life.
While my sister and I relate to one another’s idealism, I will never understand her head being in the clouds all the time. My mother and I relate on our tendency to make decisions based on our feelings, yet she struggles with my tendency to ignore what’s right in front of me. My father and I relate on our use of intuition, but I find his realism to be discouraging.
You can imagine the conflict and frustration that our differences have caused over the years. My point in sharing this is our commonalities with others do not necessarily sustain connection! Relationships are challenging, and they require us to present ourselves as we really are while also working towards growth.
So, here are six steps I teach my introverted clients that will help you cultivate greater connection when personalities clash.
What to Do When Personalities Clash
1. Identify what you need in your relationships.
You might be wondering, “Where do I start?” I suggest you start by first identifying what you need from your relationships. This can be challenging because many of us have been taught to meet the needs of others while ignoring our own. But if you are not first connected to your own needs, your connection with others will be limited or non-existent.
I used to struggle with this myself, and I isolated myself due to the fact that I believed others did not understand me (how’s that for an INFJ stereotype?). It was an incredibly painful time in my life!
While I still have moments of feeling misunderstood, now I have greater insight into what I need in my relationships. Identifying my needs allows me to calmly communicate with friends, coworkers, or loved ones who don’t share my personality preferences. While I can’t guarantee someone will meet my needs, I can give myself the gift of understanding why I’m clashing with someone.
2. Ask questions.
The steps I’m presenting may appear simplistic, but I know from experience they can be challenging for many of us “quiet ones.” Personally, as someone who avoids conflict, asking questions is a challenging step for me.
Here’s why asking questions helps when your personality clashes with theirs: It gives you space to process the event(s) that led to feeling disconnected from the other person. Additionally, it will allow the other person to present themselves as they are. When you ask questions, you’re offering a gift to your loved one and to yourself.
For example, let’s say a friend makes passive-aggressive comments about your need for time alone. This may lead to conflict where you feel misunderstood and hurt, and your friend experiences and expresses feelings of anger. A question you might ask your friend is, “How does it make you feel when I ask for time alone?” Immediately, you have validated the other person’s experience by demonstrating care for their emotions. This will help you gain insight into their thought process, and open the door to a conversation where you can make healthy compromise.
3. Ask for feedback.
I’ve noticed a trend in which someone discovers their personality type and then expects others to cater to that type. On one level, personality is simply a term for coping skills we learned in childhood as a means of getting our needs met. This is so important to remember in your interactions with others!
When you ask for feedback from others, you’re asking them to inform you of the ways in which they experience you. This can be difficult and painful, so remember to be gentle with yourself when you do this. For example, you could ask, “I want to better understand what it’s like to be my friend/spouse/coworker. What are some feelings you have when you’re around me? Do I make you feel appreciated, loved, accepted, etc.?”
Also, I want to note that feedback should only be sought from trusted loved ones. Or at work, from a colleague or supervisor who has demonstrated compassion in their interactions with you. While it might not be easy to hear what they tell you, this is an excellent opportunity for you to gain insight into how you interact with the world — and ultimately solve personality clashes.
4. Identify how your personality type protects you.
As I mentioned previously, our personality is developed, in part, as a way of getting our needs met as children. So get curious about your personality! Instead of saying, “I’m an INFJ; therefore I…” you can practice saying, “I tend to operate this way, and this helps me feel (important, needed, etc.) or it protects me from feeling (vulnerability, shame, etc.).” This is important because it will help you identify what’s going on within you when someone’s personality rubs you the wrong way.
5. Accept that you cannot change others.
You’ve heard you can’t change people. As someone who tried for over two decades to change and save others, I can confirm this is true. Attempting to change others will result in inner turmoil for you.
It can be helpful to recall times when, as a child, you felt your parent and/or guardian attempted to mold you into their image. Or remember the time a partner could not accept something about the way you operate; remind yourself how this felt. This will allow you to accept others for who they are.
You can also practice having compassion for yourself. Remind yourself how difficult it is to make positive, lasting change in your own life. When you do this, you’ll be able to practice greater compassion for others’ shortcomings. It won’t happen overnight, but this practice can lead to greater acceptance.
6. Implement healthy boundaries.
It probably feels like boundaries get talked about a lot with no clear direction on how to set them. Why are healthy boundaries so important? Boundaries allow you to have greater compassion for other people. When I uphold my boundaries, I choose to no longer engage in unhealthy conversations and toxic relationship patterns.
This is closely tied to our willingness to accept others as they are rather than how we hope they will be. The steps I’ve previously listed will help guide you as you put up healthy boundaries; check out this post for more guidance.
You Deserve Deep Connection
I want to make the disclaimer that these six steps are a guideline: They are not an answer to every scenario in which you find personalities clashing. There are unhealthy relationships in which it may be time for you to walk away. If you’ve set boundaries with a loved one, and these boundaries are not respected, it may be time to let this person know you’ll no longer be able to engage in a relationship with them.
I can promise you that I have utilized these steps in my own life. I still experience frustration with loved ones, but it no longer consumes my thoughts when I don’t understand why someone has reacted to me a certain way.
This is challenging work that can feel unhelpful initially. But ultimately, this work is a gift to yourself. You deserve true, deep connection with others! You deserve having your needs met. You have the gift of knowing your personality, and now you can use this knowledge to create deeper connection and belonging.