Introversion and Loneliness: Achieving Balance Between Self Care and Social Engagement – Sage de Beixedon Breslin

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Normally, I consider Friday the 13th sort of special- lucky even.  But, on March 13, 2020, after a long work day, I didn’t really know what to feel as I read the email from my children’s school.  While we’d been hearing hints about a possible school closure as a result of some potential pandemic, we’d all held it at bay, not wanting to even consider that it might become a reality.  And then, in an instant, life changed immeasurably and we entered what became a year of lock-down(and counting). 

During the first days sheltering in, I noticed a sense of peaceful determination.  I had a purpose and I was driven to ensure the welfare of my family and even to a certain degree, of my neighbors.  I cleaned, organized, baked and gardened.  I felt lighter, and weirdly, calmer than I had felt in a long time.  I realized that it wasn’t all the fresh air- it was that social interaction had nearly vanished.I am, by nature, an introvert. I refuel on my own, rather than in the presence of or with others.  For me, unless I maintain a strict connection with the Divine, interaction with others actually depletes rather than refuels me.  

But all of us desire to be heard, seen and loved.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t hunger for social interaction and companionship.  It doesn’t mean that I, like most people, don’t get lonely from time to time.  But, for me, there’s got to be some sort of balance between the self-care I require and the social engagement that I enjoy. We introverts are not one-size-fits-all and the degree to which we want to engage with others varies.  For those of us with high interaction jobs, perhaps we value more quiet time and less interaction with others.  For those of us who spend our days engaged in research, we may have a stronger hunger for interaction at the end of our work days. For those of us who have histories of trauma, we may feel more comfortable alone. 

As weeks turned into months in COVID-time, and as major decisions arose to be made, the initial comfort that I experienced at no longer having to engage with others was replaced by an ache- a hunger to have someone else with whom I could share the burden. Most of the time, managing the home, family and practice distracted me sufficiently from the sirens from my interior.  But, at night, when the children were finally asleep, and my mind quieted, the deep longing for connection with an intimate- a partner- visited me like a nocturnal curse.

All of us experience loneliness from time to time, and how we manage that depends not only on our level of introversion, but on our personal histories, on our lifestyles, on how we were raised, on our resources… and so much more.  For each of us, the path through loneliness to self-fulfillment and relational joy is a sacred, personal journey filled with challenges and rewards.  And, hopefully, the opportunity to share our lives (to the extent that we desire) with people who get us.

While my children learned to be generous with hugs, it never quite filled my need.  My friends offered to Zoom and Houseparty with me, but given the hours already spent on Zoom for work each day, more screen time wasn’t the answer.  Weekly chats by phone with my mum raised my spirits, but I still found myself missing the connection that I gained from selectively chosen social interaction.  In a moment of weakness, I even attempted online dating, but that, like so many other efforts, fell flat. When the kiss goodnight can kill you, it really takes the magic out of things.

As I look back at it all, I have a funny feeling that my experience hasn’t been all that unique.  As time passed, my neighbors started hanging out in front of their homes, and eventually, when it was clear that we were all deeply longing for connection, we started gathering monthly on a “host” driveway, wearing our masks, sitting six to ten feet apart, to commune in the face of the pandemic.  I won’t lie- eventually, we became “driveway drinkers” who sipped wine and swapped stories.  We even bought t-shirts to memorialize it all.  And somehow, that made a difference (the gathering, not the drinking).

“Distant socializing” has a powerful impact on minimizing contagion, but the mandate for social distance- for social disconnect- has been devastating for us emotionally- even those of us who are introverts.  Without the option to engage, loneliness ensues. And loneliness, combined with the global trauma of pandemic and loss, can lead to depression in a heartbeat.  

What I’ve discovered this year, is that I have a beautiful community right here in my neighborhood. We’ve all learned to lean in (to about six to ten feet!), to share what we can and to support one another.  I still have to work at balancing my need for quiet isolation in order to refuel, with the desire for social engagement to quell my loneliness, but it’s becoming easier.  I’m still savoring hugs from the kids, and looking forward to a time when we Ladies of Landquist can share a lasting embrace rather than just a glass a wine.

Sage is a Life & Business Breakthrough Coach and Transformation Psychologist. “I bring together powerful leaders and entrepreneurs to experience connection, vulnerability and intimacy in order to embrace authenticity and true empowerment. I help entrepreneurs and leaders lay down their armour and embody authentic, heart-driven leadership.”