I'm a mom who needs more solitude

Is there something wrong with me? Why can't I just be lovable and outgoing?

By Cary Tennis
May 27, 2008 2:36PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I am selfish. There's no way around it. I'm a mom to a 6-year-old, and I love my child more than anything. And still I know: I'm a lazy, often crabby, selfish person, and not at all easy for him to get along with.

Here's my dilemma. The more unselfish I try to be, the worse I usually get. I am a solitary, highly introverted person, exceptionally sensitive to any and all stimuli. I'm also a writer, which may explain this to some extent.


Stimuli include other people. Stimuli include my son. I need a lot of personal space and a lot of time just by myself doing nothing, recovering from the shock waves that even very low levels of stimulus can bring about in my inner world. I need a lot of time returning to base line. Otherwise I'm just an overstimulated, agitated, angry, bitching, nervous wreck.

I barely make it to the end of each day as a single mother. Play dates are nightmarish necessities planned weeks in advance. Grocery shopping is a survival trip. I hope you get the idea.

People, even family and close friends, don't get this. I know my needs are pretty freakish. I try to respect my needs and not apologize for them, but I'm just not pulling it off. I am worn out, either by doing everything alone or by trying to reach out to others.


My sign is Leo, too -- I love attention, I love people, I love the entire universe! I want to share, I want to communicate, I want to feel connected. It's just the practicalities that baffle me. How do I socialize without feeling utterly agitated and drained and depressed for days afterward?

How do I get out of myself without losing the way home? How do I give to others without giving myself away? How do I get out of this bubble?

Writing, obviously, would be one way, and if through my work I was being helpful to others, which is my sincerest intention, that would redeem, I reason, some of the selfishness in my private sphere. However, even my writing seems to have gotten stuck in the bubble over the last decade. I used to be a rather successful journalist in my native country. I gave up my career to become a novelist. I have not managed to reach an audience in the last 10 years, not through lack of effort.


I feel stifled. Locked inside myself. Like I have somehow silenced myself and keep on drifting further away from the rest of us. How do I connect?

Bubble Girl

Dear Bubble Girl,

I'd sum it up like this. Being a journalist gave you what you needed: an orderly path of service in the world that let you exercise your gifts and maintain your high standards. Journalism also justified your need for and provided you with a sufficient measure of solitude. Without the solitude you could not perform this service to the world. So journalism gave you what you needed.


It is understandable that a person of your type would want to continue the inward journey by writing novels, and also that you would want to become a mother. But the perils of such choices may not have been apparent. Perhaps the rareness of your type was not apparent. You are a Leo, yes, and I suppose for those who understand astrology that carries a great deal of weight. But more important, I think, as a type you are that most rare and complex of individuals, the INFP.

It isn't that you are selfish. It is important to draw a distinction. The force of your emotional energy may be directed inward, but that does not mean you are ungenerous or uncaring. Rather, your conflict lies in the paradox of the service-oriented introvert: Your energies are focused inward because that is where your resources are. Your resources, the raw materials from which you will fashion and refine your gift and offer it to the world, are not out here in the buildings and the money, in the loud sunshine where the extraverted sensing types thrive. Your materials are within you. So naturally you turn inward to find them. And if in doing so you need more time alone than others, then we might say that what you are offering simply takes longer to bake.

So do not attempt to adjust yourself to others. It won't work, and it won't help. Rather, however difficult it may seem at first, you must adjust your circumstances to suit your nature. To do this, you will have to turn your energies outward to change your situation. It will not be easy, for changing your outward circumstances is not a natural strength. So visualize where you are trying to get to. Visualize the solitude and order you crave. Work toward it. Recognize, when you reach difficulties, that this is not something you can do alone. Recognize that you must reach out for help. Recognize that not everyone is going to understand what you are trying to accomplish, or why -- but creative people will. Forge alliances with other creative people who can help you. They will understand your need for solitude and your need for service.


In order to begin, you will have to first abandon whatever is left of your former complacency. Face it: You've reached your limit. Stop fighting who you are. Insist on having what you need. There's nothing wrong with you. Everyone has different needs. You may have to fight harder to get your needs met because your needs are more specific and rarer than the needs of others. But there is nothing wrong with you. You need what you need.

So what concrete, measurable steps can you take? And how can you become motivated to take them? How can you find the courage to take them?

Well, there are steps and then there are the courage and motivation to take them. And these are intertwined. Can you get somebody to help you? An ally, a therapist, a life coach, somebody to help you focus on the concrete steps you need to take, somebody to help you forge solutions? You need allies. You may need, in a sense, permission. So you may have to form a relationship with an ENFJ or ESFJ. As with other tasks in changing your life, that may not be easy. But find a way.


Forge a path through this.

You could probably use some encouragement. So let me say this to you: You are a certain type of person and that is that. There is nothing wrong with you. You simply have to make a world for yourself that suits your being. How do you do this? You exert the pure power of your personality and let others come to you. You insist on being who you are. It may feel counterintuitive or self-involved to do this, because you care about how others feel. But you do it for a reason: You do it because you must become the good steward of your own vast resources. You do this stewardship as service to the world. You become like the night guard at the gold depot. You know the value of what you guard. You do whatever you have to do to protect it. Others may not understand. No one can see the gold you are guarding. You are not wearing a guard's uniform. So misunderstandings will occur. And like most INFPs you are probably not a great fan of heated personal conflict. There is not much you can do about that. But this is the model that I suggest you follow: You are guarding something of immense value, even if its value is not apparent to others. You know how valuable it is. It is as valuable, one might say, as a human soul.

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