Why Do Sensitive Introverts Withdraw?

This article was originally published on BrendaKnowles.com.

Last week, I had an overwhelming desire to withdraw from everything. My emotions colored and flooded my mind. My mother’s recent death, along with the humbling number of edits necessary to make my manuscript work and getting my kids back to school, put me in a draining state of high-alert.

As a sensitive introvert and INFP personality type, the non-stop action and endless decision-making wore me out. I needed positive energy inflow and a stoppage of outflow. I needed to slow down. I needed to read. I needed to rest.

Like the early spring plants, fiddlehead ferns, I needed to curl up tightly before I could unfurl into the lacy frond capable of freely greeting the world.

This is not the first time I’ve had a deep need to retreat.

At the end of my marriage, I withdrew. I withdrew from my husband and even from my children. The tension and internal conflict I felt in my husband’s dominant presence was almost unbearable. I physically withdrew by hiding out in my home office or by spending extra time at the gym, but withdrawal does not require you to leave the room. One of the hardest things I ever endured hearing was a stranger telling me that my kids said, Mom is there but not really there. Meaning, I was physically present but not really tuned in to them. Ouch. I hadn’t realized how detached I had become.


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Why Introverts Retreat

An introvert’s first home is within. According to marriage therapists Jane Hardy Jones and Ruth G. Sherman, in their book, Intimacy and Type: Building Enduring Relationships by Embracing Personality Differences, introverts are always receiving and processing information from two sources: their inner world and the outer world. Hence, the introvert’s predisposition to become overstimulated easily. Our best abilities are aimed at our inner worlds, so engaging and negotiating with the outside world is daunting and draining. We need to be alone in order to eliminate stimulation, process for clarity, and replenish our energy.

Sensitive introverts need safe spaces in order to engage. The less safe and more vulnerable an introvert feels, the less they tend to share. We need to feel especially secure and confident before revealing our personal thoughts. Critical and judgmental people will push us further into ourselves.

It is extremely difficult to be around people who cause us inner conflict. If we dislike or often disagree with someone but have to pretend we don’t (think co-worker or family member), this will cause dire fatigue for the introvert. So much so that we will want to escape from the place and person involved.

We ourselves are the substance we withdraw to, not from, as we pull our overextended and misplaced creative energy back into our own core. —Julia Cameron via Brain Pickings

Our creative energy exists inside us. Introverts thrive on stillness. Within stillness ideas bubble up and our inner voice whispers vital messages we can hear. These vital messages need expression. They are the basis of our creativity. Withdrawal leads to self-awareness and ultimately our creativity.

We have to clear emotions. Emotions can get the best of a sensitive introvert. They swell and flood our brain. Added stress or stimulation only prolongs the emotional overwhelm. Processing and alone time are crucial to recovery and relief from the flood. We get ourselves together by moving away from the genesis of the emotional tidal wave. Solid sleep goes a long way towards relieving emotional exhaustion as well.

If there is a lot of change going on in our lives, we may hole up for a while in order to sort through what is going on and prepare ourselves for new situations. Introverts like to be prepared. Prior knowledge soothes our sensitive systems. We require space to mentally work through the process of meeting new people, navigating unfamiliar places and surviving different experiences. At first, new situations will feel overwhelming, possibly driving us underground to recharge and sift through all the foreign material filling our minds.

But, as Emily White writes, newness is only overwhelming in the beginning. After a couple of sessions with a new situation, you will have information to draw from and a much better idea of what to expect.

We Feel Guilty When We Retreat

As many of us already know, it is difficult to ask for and obtain time to recharge. Almost everyone in your immediate circle will ask and expect you to keep on plugging on. They’ll expect you to get over whatever is bothering you and be there for them with a smile, the message being that self-care is selfish. Work and others should always come first. Introverts spend a fair amount of time feeling bad for needing a break.

Although I didn’t get a real break last week, I did spend quality time with generous, positive, and inspiring friends this week. The emotional flooding is beginning to subside, and I know there will be more healing space in my near future.

What Needs to Happen After the Withdrawal?

I felt extra sensitive and tired last week. I was burned out when my marriage ended. Both times I wanted to fill myself up with swaths of uninterrupted time, positive support, meaningful work and expansive ideas. It was vital for me to take time for self-care, and eventually space led to action. Eventually I re-joined life.

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Read this: 21 Undeniable Signs That You’re an Introvert