When you take time for yourself, you finally start enjoying time with your kids and can be the parent you want to be.
Last night at dinner, my five-year-old asked if she could sit somewhere else.
“I just want to eat somewhere I can be alone,” she said.
So she took her dinner into the other room and ate at my desk. Earlier that afternoon, she had gotten tired of playing with her younger brother and retreated upstairs to play in her room, saying, “I just want to play alone.”
She ended up coming back to the table that evening to finish her dinner and, after a moment, looked at me and asked, “Mom, why do people want to be alone?”
I had to laugh at the irony of a child who spent all day wanting to be alone, asking why people want to be alone. Though I think a lot of us who need that extra “me time” often wonder why, exactly, we need so much of it.
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Is It All in My Head?
Being married to an extrovert seems to highlight just how much more alone time I need than others. There has been more than one occasion in which I questioned myself. Why am I like this? Why can’t I go to all the events and do all the things and talk to all the people without needing a week to recover? Why am I so mentally and emotionally tired at the end of every day?
Again and again, I’d wonder: Is it all in my head?
Well, as it turns out, it might be. In my brain, to be more specific. Highly sensitive people (HSPs) have what’s referred to as sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), the tendency to process stimuli and information more intensely and deeply than others do. This makes us more susceptible to overstimulation and overwhelm.
Studies have shown that we, as HSPs, don’t respond the same to dopamine. If you’re also an introvert, your brain will process information differently, too. Research has found that introverts have a higher sensitivity to dopamine than extroverts, meaning we can get overstimulated faster by those dopamine hits than our extroverted counterparts.
But wait — there’s more. Not only do we respond more strongly to stimuli and have a greater sensitivity to dopamine, but research has found that sensitive people have higher levels of activity in the part of the brain related to social and emotional processing.
Functional brain imaging research has shown this activity as super active mirror neurons. This was shown to be the case involving both strangers and people we know well and are close to. This gives us an incredible capacity for things like empathy and compassion, even to people we don’t know. It also means we end up feeling things and holding emotional space for people in a way that others might not. It can be a double-edged sword in that it’s genuinely what this world needs, but it also drains us if we aren’t careful to refill our cup.
What Does This Mean for Sensitive, Introverted Parents?
Before we had kids, my husband and I would laugh at how different we were, and I’d head off to do my own thing, in search of quiet solitude. I would relish the nights when he went out with friends, leaving me alone in a quiet house (oh, the bliss!).
And then… we had kids. Suddenly, I couldn’t just trot off to be alone and recharge on a whim. Let’s be real — I couldn’t even use the bathroom alone. There was always someone touching me, crying, asking for something, noisy toys in the next room, exuberant children’s shows on TV… and it didn’t take long for me to feel overwhelmed (which feels like the understatement of the century).
Less sleep. Fewer breaks. More noise. More people. For a sensitive introvert, it’s a recipe for disaster. Or, more to the point, burnout. Which, to state the obvious, is as bad for your kids as it is for you. The old cliche is true: You can’t pour from an empty cup. And if you have kids, you know, they need you to pour into them. Like, all the time.
Is the chaos of life overwhelming you as a highly sensitive person?
Sensitive people have certain brain differences that make them more susceptible to stress and anxiety. Thankfully, there is a way to train your brain so you can navigate the challenges of sensitivity, access your gifts, and thrive in life. Psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland will show you how in her popular online course, HSP Brain Training. As an Introvert, Dear reader, you can take 50% off the registration fee using the code INTROVERTDEAR. Click here to learn more.
If Our Brains Function Differently, Then We Need to Function Differently, Too
Simply put, we cannot compare ourselves to other people and expect all of us to be able to function the same way. It goes without saying that I can’t get up tomorrow morning and run a marathon (in case you were wondering, I am not a runner in any capacity; I’ve tried, and I’m pretty sure it’s just not in my DNA). I know people who run every day like it’s nothing, and I am in awe.
My husband might not be a runner in the physical sense, but he can flex those social muscles like no one’s business. I am tired just thinking about it. And, yes, I am in awe of that, too. The point is, we’re all different — and to expect us all to need the same things, or be able to function in the same ways, is ridiculous.
Yet we do it all the time. We guilt and shame ourselves for needing extra time to rest or process after a long day (or after a totally normal day). We feel like we can’t say no to an activity we know we don’t have the energy for. We try to live our lives as if we have someone else’s brain. When you think of it like that, it’s easy to see how silly it is.
But when we slow down, accept ourselves for who we are, understand how our brains function best, and give ourselves what we need to thrive in life, everyone wins.
Julie Bjelland, a psychotherapist specializing in high sensitivity, says that in her studies, when sensitive people practiced daily, intentional self-care and downtime, “many parents shared they finally could enjoy spending time with their kids and be the type of parent they wanted to be, rather than feel like they were in survival mode all the time with short tempers.”
How to Thrive as a Sensitive, Introverted Parent
I’ll be the first to admit that finding adequate downtime as a parent is hard… though I am learning how incredibly vital it is, if I’m ever going to be the kind of parent I want to be. Finding that “me time” to recharge, alone, allows me to give my brain a break and regulate my nervous system. It allows me to move from a place of burnout and overstimulation to a place of wholeness and peace. It’s from there that I can parent in a positive, healthy way.
Maybe I won’t attend every single PTA meeting. Maybe I’ll ask my husband to chaperone the next field trip. I might not take the kids to every single activity on their summer wish list. I’ll embrace the fact that “busy” doesn’t equal “love.” And I’ll start to carve out more time for myself each day.
Hopefully, in doing so, I’m teaching my kids — by example — what it looks like to take care of myself, according to who I am and how my brain functions. I’m giving them a blueprint so they can do it for themselves eventually, too, just as my daughter already seems to be doing.
You might like:
- Are You an Introvert, a Highly Sensitive Person, or Both?
- How to Reclaim Your Alone Time as an Introverted Parent
- An Introvert’s Guide to Thriving: Simple Life Hacks to Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed
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