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

This article was originally published on BrendaKnowles.com. It is republished here with permission from the author.

He tentatively reaches across the bed with a warm gentle hand—and I recoil. I just need a few more delicious moments of morning mind. I need that gauzy, thought-weaving space of nourishing idea play where I breathe fully and smile involuntarily. I need that space where I belong solely to myself.

He rolls away, stares at the ceiling and blinks back rejection. With a sigh, he heaves himself out of bed and leaves me in my space.

I am so sorry. I can’t give to you right now. I’m so sorry.

The above scene is from the end of my marriage. I appear selfish and cold but what you don’t know is that at that point I was so raw and over-stimulated from years of exposing my introverted nature to the harried, competitive demands of externally-driven living that I couldn’t bear the softest touch of a lover’s hand. I spent my days tending to the intermittent needs of three children, a house with never-ending upkeep and the demands that come with integrating into a community (school, neighborhood, and social circles).

I couldn’t slow down, because no one else did. I had to thoroughly care for everyone and everything. I was desperate for permission to go internal; to slough off the scabs and injuries from unnatural striving and become smooth again.

Sorry I’m Not One of Those Moms Who Lives Solely for Her Children

It’s August and I’m awake at 7 a.m. on a Sunday in order to get writing time in. I should have until 9 before anyone needs me.

Knock, knock, knock.  It’s 8:20 and my daughter is outside my office door. She comes in and starts talking. My mind goes wild as it ping-pongs back and forth between her detailed description of a Disney tween show and the unfinished work that taunts me from my Mac Book.

I’ve spent every weekday this summer with the kids. We’ve traveled, lounged and co-existed for much of the summer. I adore these relationships but desperately need time for clear-headed dreaming. I need open and untamed blocks of time in order to think, create systems, and ponder my people (yes, a large part of solitude is spent thinking of others). It’s vital to me that the individuals in my life feel secure and cared for but I also have to preserve me.

Torn, always torn.

My boundaries are mushy. I feel I owe her my full attention but also have a deep desire to complete my work. I ask her to watch TV for a bit while I finish my writing. Her eyes well up, she nods silently and leaves.

I am sorry. Sorry I renew in concentration. Sorry I can’t recharge with you in the room, like you do with me.

The Receiving End of Introvert Rejection

He tells me he wants time alone, to create, explore, and thrive. At this point in his life, he can’t give back enough for a high quality committed relationship.

My ears ring, my eyes fill instantly, my heart aches deeply.

The introversion I know so well betrays me.

I go through all the emotions I imagine others who have been turned away by an introvert have felt: confusion, frustration, anger, disbelief, sadness, even loneliness.

If you loved me enough you wouldn’t want time away from me.

I can be quiet in your life, give you space. You won’t even know I’m here.

And yet… I get it. I know he needs that freedom.  He needs that space to return to himself. I know he is sorry for hurting me.

It is not in my nature to bloom within a greenhouse. I am a wildflower, a weed perhaps. I need open and untamed spaces to sprout. I need to ask the questions and think the thoughts that others overlook. —Dawna Markova

Have you begged for alone time lately? How do you ask for alone time without hurting someone’s feelings?

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Read this: Why Do Sensitive Introverts Withdraw?


  • Vanessa says:

    Chillingly true. If I am interrupted and choose to engage I might feel disrespected, but if I choose not to engage, even if they get the hint (not a given) and if they leave me alone, I feel so guilty that I can’t go back to my focus anyway.

    • Avery says:

      I totally know what you mean. The emotional pushes/pulls, and when you’ve barely had the energy to say “I need to recharge”, they leave the room with tears in their eyes – and expect you to recharge. Yet, you can not recharge. Instead, you end up lying on the couch staring at the ceiling wondering if they’re ok, why you were born this way, and if you’re asking for too much. To make matters worse, you know somewhere deep inside you that tomorrow you’re expected to be recharged and able to talk things out.

  • Victoria says:

    I feel this so hard, especially when it comes to roommates in a tiny dorm where none of them ever leave. Sometimes you really just wish there was a way to kick them all out. It’ll get to the point where just having people nearby who aren’t even talking to you can be chafing.

  • I’ve learned for myself, and also teach others to negotiate that space to recharge. I have an 8 year old who now understands Mom in a way that we both get our needs met. I’ve helped her recognize how much Better my attention is with her when I’ve recharged my battery. I’m also so much better at recognizing when she needs to recharge by connecting with others! Learning to trust myself and my inner knowing in setting these very difficult boundaries with my loved ones has been a delicate dance, but well worth it. As Extroverts draw energy from an Introvert, recognizing who is around you is a significant tool in saving ones self. Self monitoring your battery level throughout the day for a while (and around specific people) will increase your awareness so you can manage Introversion more effectively in this Extrovert-oriented world.

  • M. says:

    I think one of the reasons I don’t want husband and kids is this. My biggest fear when I think of what my life would look like as a wife and mom is pure pain. Because I feel hard enough as it is now to find time to my friends and family after work and in weekends, cause I’m exhausted just thinking that I need to spend time with them. It’s not like I don’t want to. I just get overwhelmed so easily. Just a single touch by other people in these situations makes me feel like I’ve lost something valuable. It takes days to recover. And I feel so guilty all the time, because I can’t be like I want to be. To give them the time and attention they deserve from me. Ugh, it’s so hard.

  • Myra Moses says:

    This is so profound… I can truly identify. Thank you for such a insightful article.

  • A. says:

    This hit home with me as well. I live with my long time boyfriend in a studio apartment. I work from home, and he works only a couple nights a week; when he’s not working, we are together. I feel like I’m getting worse, more frustrated, as time goes by. He wants to spend all his free time with me, and I look forward to the few hours of quiet I get when he goes to work. I feel absolutely terrible about it.

    I didn’t think the theory of lack of introvert-recharge time accumulating over the years was something that actually held water. Quite frankly, I thought it was something I told myself to try to feel like less of a jerk. Though it’s a rough situation for introverts, I am still glad to see that it is indeed a thing (though it doesn’t make me feel less bad about wanting more time to myself).