Even introverts can get too much alone time

alone time depression introvert mbti Aug 16, 2018
woman sitting alone on pier

In general, I am a definite advocate for introverts’ need for alone time.  I believe that getting enough alone time is an essential aspect of creating a life in which you can thrive as a sensitive introvert. I therefore dedicate a fair amount of energy to using The Introvert Library as a platform to explain why alone time is a non-negotiable need for introverts.

So I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when I recently realised that I had actually been getting too much alone time.

The fact that I work from home means that I can often go several weeks without speaking to anyone other than my wife or my coaching clients (and as much as I love my coaching clients, my role is to support them so, by definition, it is not a reciprocal social relationship!)

I recognise that in many ways I am in an unusual and lucky position and, for most introverts, getting enough alone time is far more likely to be an issue than getting too much.  And so I am going to continue to focus most of my effort at The Introvert Library to talking about the need for introverts to get enough alone time.

But I do sometimes encounter the assumption that it would be impossible for a true introvert to get too much alone time, and so I do want to spend some time today addressing this myth.

For those of you who work from home or who live alone (and particularly for those of you for whom both are true!), I want to make it very clear that it is definitely possible for an introvert to get too much alone time.  All humans need significant social interactions, including introverts.

Signs that an introvert has spent too much time alone

For myself, I know that an irrefutable sign that I have spent too much time alone is that I start to find it harder to spend time with even the people who are nearest and dearest to me.  In addition to being an introvert, I have also at times struggled with social anxiety and various insecurities – and these symptoms always flare up more frequently when I have been getting too much alone time.  If I find myself questioning whether my closest friends and family actually want to spend time with me, then that is a red flag that I have definitely been spending way too much time on my own.

Those are just my warning signals though.  From talking to other introverts, here’s a more comprehensive list of signs you might want to watch out for if you are in danger of getting too much alone time.

  • You experience intense anxiety when spending time with other people
  • Friends have stopped contacting you to meet up as they presume you won’t agree
  • You are more critical or judgemental of others than you used to be
  • You find it more difficult to regulate your emotions
  • You’re letting your personal hygiene go
  • You get stuck in overthinking and can’t move on when things go wrong
  • Your self-esteem is getting worse
  • You use food or alcohol (or something else) to numb your loneliness
  • You’re noticing an increase in feelings of paranoia
  • You long for a deep conversation with someone
  • If you have perfectionisit tendencies, they are getting stronger
  • You feel bored a lot
  • When alone, you are talking to yourself more than usual
  • You suspect that your social skills are worse than they used to be
  • You leave the TV or radio on for company

Many of us will probably tick some of the items on this list.  But if you found yourself nodding along to most of the list or if you could tick one or two behaviours that you know are particularly significant for you personally – then that’s probably a sign that you have been spending too much time alone.

The solution

It’s one of life’s great frustrations that the more we need to get out of our heads and into the extroverted world, the harder it can feel to let go of the alone time that feels so safe and familiar. But hopefully the following tips will help.

Take care of your mental health

You’ve probably already noticed that many of the signs that you’ve spent too much time alone can also be signs that something is off balance with your mental health.  If you suspect that you might benefit from it, then I would strongly encourage you to seek professional support.  I would never have been able to build the life I have now, were it not for the fact that part of my journey has involved hours of counselling and years spent on anti-depressants.  There is no shame in asking for help when that is what you need.

Take it slow

If the thought of going to a party fills you with dread, don’t do that first! Instead, maybe you could start with reaching out to one friend who you know well.

If the thought of reaching out to a friend fills you with dread, don’t do that first! Instead, maybe you could start by going shopping or going for a walk in a busy, public place.

Your version of baby steps will be specific to your situation, but give yourself permission to start with small steps that push you a little out of your comfort zone but don’t feel too overwhelming.  Lasting change is far more likely to come from several, small, incremental changes than it is from pushing yourself too far too soon.  So be gentle with yourself, talk kindly to yourself on this journey, and afterwards don’t forget to reward yourself for a job well done before you move on to the next step outside of your comfort zone.

Work with your personality type rather than against it

For this section, I am going to use MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) theory to explain how to find ways of engaging with the extroverted world that are best suited to your particular style of introversion.  If you’re new to Myers-Briggs then you might want to check out this blog post before reading any further.

The most important thing you need to know about your personality type is that everyone has an introverted and an extroverted side to them.  As an introvert, your favourite way of interacting with the world is an introverted process (the system that I use nicknames this your driver process).  But you also have a favourite way of extroverting (this is nicknamed your co-pilot process).  Your co-pilot process is an area of natural talent but it doesn’t feel quite as good to use as our driver process and so we have a tendency to neglect our co-pilot and leave it undeveloped.

If you have been getting too much alone time then, by definition, you haven’t been exercising your co-pilot process very often.  Consequently, part of the solution has to include spending more time using this process and building skill in this area.

Different personality types will have different co-pilot processes that they should focus on developing. I’m going to be publishing some new resources soon for those of you would like to go deeper with this work. But for now here’s a very basic introduction to the types of things that the different types should be focussing on.

ISFJs and INFJs both have a co-pilot function of extroverted feeling (nicknamed Harmony). This means that they should really focus on relationships as a way of getting out of their own head. Baby steps could involve reaching out to existing friends more. But they will eventually want to progress to creating new and deeper connections.

INFPs and INTPs both have a co-pilot function of extroverted intuition (nicknamed Exploration). This means that they should focus on new and novel experiences as a way of getting out of their comfort zone. Baby steps could involve tweaks to their routine, a change of scenery or learning a new skill. But they will eventually want to progress to a more adventurous approach to life in general.

INTJs and ISTJs both have a co-pilot function of extroverted thinking (nicknamed Effectiveness). This means that they should focus on achieving measurable outcomes as a way of avoiding over-thinking and paralysis. Baby steps could involve making and keeping commitments to yourself or others about things that you will get done.  But they will eventually want to progress to putting their brains to work on creating change in their world through building sustainable systems.

ISFPs and ISTPs both have a co-pilot function of extroverted sensing (nicknamed Sensation). This means that they should focus on engaging with the physical world as a way to avoid the temptations of anxiety and paranoia. Baby steps could include getting into nature or getting into their body by going for a run or something similar. But they will eventually want to progress to more challenging ways of learning kinaesthetically and engaging more deeply with the physical world.

But what about you?

I’d love to hear about your experiences. Have you ever found yourself getting too much alone time? What do your warning signs look like? What ways have you found for getting out of this rut that it can be so easy for introverts to get stuck in?

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