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Knowing this one thing about yourself can change your life

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Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy fix for problems?woman with hands on head

Some little thing you could do that would help you bounce back in a big way from a rough patch in your life?

Occasionally, there is.

Here are a couple stories from my private practice (names and identifying details have been changed) of people who changed one small thing in their lives that ended up making a big difference in how they felt.

See if you can spot what they did.

 

Dealing with physical and emotional pain

Celeste came for counseling because she had an injury she was dealing with that arrived out of the blue. One day she was fine and the next she was in excruciating pain from a back problem.

She had seen several doctors and was receiving physical therapy that had decreased the pain, yet she was still very depressed.

She wept as she told me her story about the injury, her frustration with the medical indecision about how best to deal with it, and the disruption it brought to her life including a lengthy absence from work.

She was quite depressed – a very different experience for this normally vivacious young woman.

After a long conversation, I made a suggestion to Celeste. She looked at me with hope and said, “I think you’re right. I’ll try that.”

The following week, Celeste arrived for her appointment with a smile on her face.

“I’m feeling much better!” she said. “I even went back to work this week.”

At the end of the session, Celeste said her depression had lifted to the extent that she was ready to come in for therapy every other week rather than weekly.

What do you think I suggested to Celeste? Was it just going back to work that helped her feel better?

 

Let’s look at another story.

 

“A snowball rolling downhill”

Bill sought counseling because he, too, felt depressed.

He was tired all the time yet had difficulty sleeping. He was short-tempered with his wife and kids – a behavior unlike this very loving middle-aged man.

Bill described his life as “a snowball rolling downhill of people, work, family, classes . . . it just seems like everything is picking up speed and getting bigger and bigger. I feel out of control.”

He gave me some details.

His job in sales involved meeting with people on a daily basis and much conversation.

“I really love sales,” Bill said. “Even though I’m actually shy, I do love to talk! But I still feel drained when I get home.”

He also loved his family very much. But the kids were all in different activities which involved time to support each child in their activity as well as interacting with the other parents of kids in the same event.

Finally, his wife really enjoyed taking classes in the community and loved to have Bill participate with her. However, the classes were two nights per week and, while Bill also liked the classes, he ended up feeling exhausted afterwards.

Eventually, I made a suggestion to Bill that was similar to the one I had given Celeste.

Bill’s response was, “Really? I didn’t even think about that since I’m in sales. Maybe you’re right . . . I’m going to try that.”

At our next session, Bill said, “I made some changes and I’m starting to feel better already. Who knew such a little thing could make such a difference?”

What changes do you think Bill made?

Energy drain and depression

Did you figure it out?

Celeste and Bill were both experiencing one key thing that was contributing to their depression: energy drain.

Depression itself can be draining, but both Celeste and Bill were unaware of a particular aspect of themselves that added to the sinking of their emotional and physical vitality.

Celeste is an extravert and Bill is an introvert.

Before we go any further, we should define these terms because their popular definitions are a bit different than the actual experience of them.

Both have to do with where we get our energy. Does it come from the outside world or the inside world?

Extraversion is about relating to things outside of us. People who are extraverted recharge their emotional batteries by being around other people.

Introversion is about being attuned to what’s going on inside of us. People who are introverted recharge their emotional batteries by being by themselves.

While Celeste’s injury was frightening, it only partially created her experience of depression. The more we talked, the more we both discovered her extraverted nature.

Since her injury had her spending a lot of time home alone, Celeste’s energy was on a constant drain cycle.

My suggestion to her? Make sure you spend some time around other people on a daily basis.

At first, Celeste started taking walks with friends.

This was so helpful, she decided she would try to return to work part-time, even if only to be around the energetic and outward-thought-processing of her colleagues in the marketing department.

She loved being back so much she returned to full-time work within a few days after having a discussion with her boss about her physical limitations.

 

For Bill, his energy was drained by being around people too much.

Between his sales job, activities with his kids, and classes he took with his wife, his energy was being quickly sucked out of him.

The basic problem for Bill was that he didn’t have any time to himself to recharge his emotional batteries. He ran from place to place, activity to activity, always filled with people that he had to interact with.

My suggestion to Bill? Make sure you carve out some time just for yourself every day to get recharged.

Bill immediately acted on my suggestion. He spoke to his wife, who was more than supportive of his new insight, and dropped one of the classes he was taking with her.

During the time that he would have been at class, he spent time by himself in his study at home, reading or listening to music.

Instead of watching television with the family until it was time for bed, Bill explained to them that he needed 30 minutes to wind down before he went to sleep and excused himself from watching the last half-hour sitcom with them.

Even his kids told Bill that it made sense to them that he needed some time to himself. One of the kids decided to do the same thing and she, too, went to her room while the others watched that last show.

 

Both Bill and Celeste immediately felt their depression decrease as their energy returned to them. There were still other things to work on, but they found that this one insight was enough to help them start bouncing back almost immediately.

 

You and your energy

What about you?

Where do you get your energy?

What drains you?

Take a quick look below to see if you prefer extraversion or introversion.

 

Extraversion

People who prefer extraversion are focused on the outer world of people and events.

Ask yourself: Do I . . .

  • feel energized from being around people?
  • feel bored or depressed or restless if I’m alone for too long?
  • think out loud and enjoy bouncing ideas off of other people?
  • enjoy meeting new people and learning about them?
  • tend to act or speak before I think?
  • like to work on a team?
  • find it hard to concentrate if I have to work from home?
  • feel at ease in social settings?
  • take the initiative to introduce people who don’t know each other at a party?

Introversion

People who prefer introversion are focused on the inner world of thoughts, feelings, and reflections.

Ask yourself: Do I . . .

  • feel energized from spending time by myself?
  • feel drained and tired after interacting with people (especially people I don’t know?)
  • need time to gather my thoughts and process ideas before speaking?
  • prefer to interact with people I know (rather than meet new people?)
  • reflect and think before taking action? (Most of the time!)
  • prefer to work on projects by myself or, if I’m on a team, prefer a lot of autonomy?
  • find it hard to concentrate in a busy office?
  • feel uncomfortable or a little strained in social settings?
  • prefer to stay to myself rather than introduce people who don’t know each other at a party?

There is not really a formula here; if you find yourself nodding in response to one set of questions more than the other, it’s likely you prefer that type of energy and interaction with the world.

 

Okay . . . now what?

What do you do now that you know if you’re extraverted or introverted?

Much like the suggestions I gave Celeste and Bill, the important question to remember when you’re in a tough spot is:

How can I get my energy back? (Or, create more energy.)

If you’re someone who prefers extraversion, try to be with people at least once each day.

For some people, this may involve just being in a place where people are, not necessarily with people you know.

For example, I often take my extraverted self down to my favorite restaurant where everyone knows my name. I may not have a conversation with anyone, but just being in a space with other people and feeling their energy often perks me out of my doldrums.

But the best solution is to be with people you know who you can talk to and relate with.

 

If you’re in a situation where you need to solve a problem, get together with friends or family and talk it out.

Talk it out loud.

That’s how extraverts roll: they bounce ideas off of each other and think out loud.

It will help you to create new ideas, get energized, and feel connected to other people – all things most extraverts want!

 

If you’re someone who prefers introversion, make sure to get enough time to yourself each day.

This can be hard if you have a family or roommates or long work hours.

But it’s essential for your peace of mind and your energy level to get even a few minutes at a time alone.

Follow Bill’s example and explain to loved ones that you need time to unwind and rejuvenate and, for you, that time needs to be by yourself. You’ll have plenty of other time to be with them!

 

If you’re in a situation where you have a problem that needs to be solved, create some long stretches of time where you can process the problem and possible solutions by yourself. Then, get together with trusted family and friends and have them hear your ideas.

Remember that you tend to process ideas quietly and internally rather than externally like a boisterous extravert. But it’s still important that you get feedback on your thoughts.

 

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Dr. Seuss

 

Let’s celebrate You! Whether you’re an extravert or an introvert, be proud of your preference!

And remember that honoring your extraversion or introversion can help you bounce back sooner than you thought!

 

As always, I’m interested in your feedback about this topic! Let me hear it in the comments below – do you think you’re an extravert or introvert? How does that impact your life?

 

 

Interested in learning more about yourself and your personality preferences? I’m a Certified Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Practitioner – contact me to take the assessment and get a professional consultation by yours truly!

 

 

Comments

23 Comments

  1. Sanjay Tripathi says:

    Dear Bobbi, you are able to say and find out things we observed but could not really relate as you do. I for one look forward to each of your mail with anticipation and you never let me down .thanks. Keep it up. Sanjay India

  2. Christy says:

    Dear Bobbi,

    This was a great article, I am an introvert and I am currently also in sales and in school. My problem is not really being able to find time alone because my spouse is not working right now so he is always at home. I am mentally and physically drained so I definitely agree and I totally understand how “Bill” felt because I feel like I just walk away from everything. Thanks for the article.
    Christy recently posted…Knowing this one thing about yourself can change your lifeMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Hi Christy,

      It’s pretty tough for anyone – extravert or introvert – when they don’t get any time at home alone. I wonder if it’s possible to explain to your spouse that you’d like some time alone at home occasionally and see if s/he can go for a walk or visit a friend or something so you can have some space?

  3. Hi Bobbi:

    Great topic. I’ve been focusing on this a lot in couples work. It’s really important for couples to understand how their partner receives energy—some need to be around others a lot, and some need a lot of down-time. It doesn’t mean one is right, and the other is wrong. Have you seen the Susan Cain-ted video-The Power of Introverts? It is wonderful, and really drives home the need to provide space for introverts in a society that very often rewards extroverts. There are many colleges and companies that cater to extroverts, so just knowing introverts are valued and have a place is very empowering (for us introverts :))

    Thanks as usual, for sharing a great topic. Happy Summertime to you!

    ~Raelene

    • Bobbi says:

      Hi Raelene – great to see you here!

      Yes, I have seen Susan Cain’s TedTalk. It’s wonderful and you’re right, our U.S. culture definitely tilts toward the extraverts. I think it’s super important – as well as just plain smart – for businesses and companies to ensure that everyone gets the kind of space they need for processing ideas and for energy renewal. So that may include brainstorming meetings for extraverts and time for introverts to internally process their thoughts.

  4. Aunt Arlen says:

    Hi Bobbi, your 76 year old aunt here. I think I have been both extroverted and introverted by turns over my life. Guess when the extroverted energy kicks in I love it, but also will be soon drained by it, (not unusual and to be expected) I have to recharge by spending a fair amount of time, not just a few hours or day away, but maybe months in introverted activities. Unfortunately it keeps my friends and relatives often confused, wondering what is on with me and me too.

    There were times when I thought I might be manic depressive, with the depression side a real thing. When I accepted that I needed to pull away now and then, and even indulge in a few tears, the depression took on a whole different look, like hey, this is normal self protection. I think.

    So maybe (?) assigning one or the other, introvert or extrovert, could be a limiting factor?
    The Aunt.

    • Bobbi says:

      Hey Arlen (The Aunt,)

      Most people prefer one dichotomy over the other, but we all have some of the other. So, for example, I’m extraverted (which you wouldn’t have guessed when I was a kid, right?) and get my energy from people, but also greatly enjoy having a good amount of time to myself. TOO much time to myself, though, and I start to feel depressed. It could be that you’re really an introvert and perhaps overdo you’re lesser extraverted side when you do interact and then feel like you have to hide away for a long time. Even at 76, you might want to make sure you get plenty of ‘Arlen-only’ time along with the socializing that you enjoy doing there in your community. Love to you!

      • Aunt Arlen says:

        Well considering I have been quite happy puttering in the garden for days on end, weeks on end, without a thought to all those volunteer projects I used to take on, maybe you are right in your observations. Getting plenty of alone time, but know it is all out there any time I want to sign back up. Maybe introverts wear themselves out trying to prove they are not introverts after all?
        Keep ” Bouncing”. What does keep me bouncing is listening to young.
        Thank You. The Aunt ..Arlen

  5. Doug Toft says:

    This post offers the most helpful definitions of introversion and extraversion I’ve seen in a long time. Thanks much.
    Doug Toft recently posted…Writing Books For Behavior Change—A ChecklistMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Hi Doug and thanks! Of course, there’s quite a bit more to the dichotomy, but I think the bottom line really has to do with the energy issue. It can be a bit confusing, too, because people who might ordinarily be seen as extraverted like Bill, may actually be introverted and not know it (as he did.) My partner is the same way: she’s what’s known as “an expressive introvert.” She is chatty and enjoys talking with friends and family a lot, but when it comes right down to it, she feels drained afterwards!

  6. gg says:

    Hi Bobbi,
    Recently, my friend who is an extrovert and I have discussed this topic as I am an introvert. She loves to socialise on a daily basis till over midnight and like to involve me with her different social activities and groups. I realized that it was distracting and draining so I have only decided to meet with her on a one on one basis only until midnight as we share a lot of ideas and common mutual interests. It has helped to know this about myself and people eg work and social group so that we interact much better with this understanding. I feel it helps to manage oneself to learn how to best conserve and use one’s energies wisely as well as to have that alone time to really be at your best. By resting well, one is able to manage problems better to arrive at solutions in one’s own quiet space and time that keeps depression at bay. I found that being in big social groups brought on extra stress as one is pulled into things that are not in alignment with the present things that at this time one needs to focus and address by oneself. Perhaps during this time you ony need those that can uplift and comfort or just be present in what you are going through at the moment in time. Thank you for highlighting this importance of knowing between introvert and extrovert traits.

    • Bobbi says:

      Hi Rozita,

      It sounds like you have really been insightful into what energizes you vs. what drains you. And you’ve set some good boundaries with your extraverted friend to protect yourself in a loving way. Great job!

  7. Dean says:

    Hmmm. Tough one, Bobbi. I’d say I’m an introvert who needs external mental stimuli from time to time to get some additional perspective. I’m pretty isolated most of the time, and when the only dialogue you have is internal, the range of conversation is pretty narrow. And for me usually not great.

    So I guess that can be pretty draining.

    BTW, I finally bought that self-compassion book you recommended a while ago. Plan on diving into it soon.

    Thanks for this. Illuminating, as always.
    -Dean
    Dean recently posted…I Really Should Get Out MoreMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Hey Dean, good to hear from you!

      You bring up an important point: we all have some of our opposite preference, but we may need to be conscious about engaging it more. For example, I’m an extravert, but I need to make sure I get enough introverted down time, too. You’re an introvert and prefer down time, but you have noticed that you get “into your head” too much and need some external feedback. Great observation! The goal for all of our personality preferences is balance so I very much appreciate you shedding light on this!

  8. I understand the value of introversion and extraversion. I am mainly an introvert, but I can be extroverted if I need to, which is a benefit in the business world. I think it is important to know ahead of time if something you are going to be doing will be drain on you. I like the advice you gave them though. When an extrovert and introvert are in a relationship it can cause a lot of issues. They can be worked around if both people are aware of them.
    Sebastian Aiden Daniels recently posted…The Zen of Surfing – Part 2My Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Hi Sebastian,

      I agree – it’s helpful to know ahead of time if something is going to be draining for you so that you can plan activities to recharge yourself afterwards.

  9. Diane says:

    Dear Bobbi: thank you so much for insight, however I have a different problem. I suffer from depression as a mental illness every day of my lift. One thing does not always help me. Actually even today I feel so depressed I don’t even want to reach out to my support circle . If your going to wonder if I have ever been suicidal, well yes. In my life I’ve been hospitalized 4 times for that. I’m certainly not planning that, because mostly my family would suffer… But I deffinately feel that down. I’m 47 and wasted my whole life this way. Is there any hope for me at this point. I’ve tried just about everything. I appreciate your insight

    • There is always hope Diane. Your life is not wasted. I read your comment just now and it has affected me. Every little thing you do can have an effect on others. Have you tried CBT or DBT? Are you on medication? I’ve been hospitalized twice for suicidal attempts so I can imagine some of the emotions you feel around that.
      Sebastian Aiden Daniels recently posted…The Zen of Surfing – Part 2My Profile

      • Diane says:

        Hi, thank you for your reply. I am on medication. I take wellbutrin and effexor as well as lorazapam and nurontin for mood swings. I have been in therapy for a loooooong time and I do have a big support circle, groups…ect. Im doing the best I can to survive day to day. Sometimes I just get really tired and when in a down swing I feel hopeless. I appreciate your input. Im sure a few days time will change things around. thanks, Diane

    • Bobbi says:

      Hi Diane,

      Sebastian is right: there is always hope.

      I didn’t mean to imply that just one thing will “cure” depression. There are many factors that contribute to depression and many things that can be done to address those factors. Sebastian asks some good questions. What kind of treatment are you receiving?

      You have not wasted your whole life, Diane. Even when we experience depression, there are many things we are learning and there are still ways to have meaning in our lives. It sounds to me like you need some very proactive treatment. Hang in there!

  10. Diane says:

    Hi again Bobbi: I am just in a down swing. I am happy for those people who can beat their depression. Mine just always seems to be fighting against me. I am in therapy and on several medications. My problem is asking for help when I am falling down hard. My sickness is a management thing, and its important to me because I take care of my 5 yr old grandson a lot. I am thankful for articles such as yours. Sometimes emails pop up in my mail, just at the time I need them. Thanks again, Diane

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.