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Healthy Boundaries for Introverts
Creating emotional and social space when you need privacy and alone time is a delicate task.
As discussed elsewhere on Introvert UpThink, introverts have less need of social excitement than extroverts. In a society dominated by extroverts, this means that introverts achieve psychological well-being by holding off social pressure, knowing our limits and finding sanctuaries of various sorts that restore our energy and sense of self. Ideally this involves setting boundaries that protect us without walling us in or barricading others out.
Self-awareness represents the foundation of this process. What situations and durations do you tend to find draining or overwhelming? What feelings and reactions signal that you’re going to need to back off and recharge? How much solitude puts you in the happiest mood? When you take your inventory of such factors, remember that needing something that others don’t or vice versa doesn’t make you weird or abnormal. You’re simply a unique individual – as everyone is.
Next, find your words. Figure out how to explain your boundary needs politely, unapologetically and unaggressively. For instance: “An hour of party time is just right for me.” Or: “During the all-day seminar you’re hiring me to lead, I’ll spend the lunch break by myself so I can teach as well in the afternoon as in the morning.”
Practice being firm about your needs and saying no when necessary. For many, this is the trickiest part. Others may not understand, and some may not want to understand. In my thirties, I learned the “broken record” technique and still pull it out when someone tries to guilt-trip, undermine or override me. You just repeat what you said before someone started arguing with you, repeating it until the other side realizes that it’s useless to try to browbeat or shame you into doing what wouldn’t be good for you.
Find or create allies. A few years ago, my best friend, who lives thousands of miles away from me, came to a multi-day reunion of her family in my neck of the woods. I drove over to meet her and her husband and quietly suggested the three of us duck out for a short time to the local Chinese restaurant so we could talk. My friend’s cousins, whom I like in small doses, clamored to come along. It was so much easier to ask my friend to beg off to her cousins than for me to explain to them that with 10 boisterous people along in the restaurant I’d clam up and have a terrible time. For you, the ally strategy might mean developing a code word or unobtrusive gesture that asks a friend, spouse or colleague to meet you outside for a restful break.
Shrug off pushback. Learn to recognize the subtly disrespectful protests against your self-care, especially the moves that push your buttons, which might be “Don’t be a spoil sport,” “Everyone else is doing it,” “Don’t even start with your excuses” or “You need more fun in your life.” Realize that well-meaning people may get disappointed, scornful or downright angry when you resist their expectations. Understand that you don’t need to lend credence to others’ judgments. Ask yourself whether it’s worth sacrificing your right to be in a good mood so that others feel comfortable.
Plan ahead to take care of yourself. If you have a five-hour family wedding coming up, don’t also bunk in at your in-laws’ place. Make sure you’ll have a quiet place to unwind before and after the event. On an everyday basis, deliberately insert hobbies that relax you into your routine, and engineer the amount of open downtime that you need.
None of this is easy! But when you’re feeling your best, your relationships sparkle with energy and caring. And you’ll be primed to live the life that fits your talents and preferences.
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