Inner Life and the Lockdown: COVID 19 and Introverts
I’m looking at COVID-19 and introverts this week as part of a two-part series on personality type and the lockdown.
Understanding the ways in which the lockdown situation impacts different personality types is important As introverts and extroverts, it’s essential for us to understand how this strange situation is impacting us. It’s also vital for us to know how we can take care of ourselves, hopefully grow, and possibly flourish, under the present conditions.
This week the focus will be on introverts. Next week, we’ll take a closer look at the impact on extroverts.
Is Lockdown “Introvert Heaven”?
In speaking with quite a number of clients, it’s striking to hear the kind of messages that people recall receiving from the media and other sources back at the start of the COVID-19 period, when we were all just starting to think about lockdown. Many of us wondered, “How are people going to manage all the spare time they will have on their hands?” Often, observers and experts like therapists and psychologists also observed that introverts would probably have less anxiety and an easier time managing a stay-at-home environment than would extroverts.
It seems intuitive that introverts would have an easier time than extroverts with lockdown conditions. With more focus on the inner life, and less need for outer social interaction, wouldn’t a stay-at-home world be better for introverts?
Well, it may be that the lockdown is “better” for introverts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s “good”. There are things that introverts are finding very hard about being locked down.
For an introvert, “home” has typically been a sanctuary from the outside world, a place to get away from all the external social interaction. Yet now, home has become something different. As Abby Ohlheiser recently wrote in the MIT Technology Review, for many people, “[l]iving rooms that were once a sanctuary from people-filled offices, gyms, bars, and coffee shops became all those things at once.” As she goes on to say, people are attempting to virtually re-create what lockdown has taken away, but,
…[t]he new version, however, only vaguely resembles what we left behind. Everything is flattened and pressed to fit into the confines of chats and video-conference apps like Zoom, which was never designed to host our work and social lives all at once. The result for introverts, extroverts and everyone in between, is the bizarre feeling of being socially overwhelmed despite the fact that we’re staying as far away from each other as we can. [Italics mine]
So, it seems as if, under lockdown conditions, introverts may not be getting what they really want or need. So then, what do introverts actually need?
COVID-19 and Introverts: Awareness Needed
Pretty clearly, the capacity to get away from social contact and to relate to one’s inner thoughts and feelings, is fundamental to what it means to be an introvert. Whether you’re out in the busy entertainment district of a huge city, or on your own in the wilderness, the ability to connect with your inner self is the hallmark of an introvert. So, even if we’re in our homes on our own, and ostensibly “in private”, an introvert is going to need self-connection.
What is startling about the COVID-19 situation is the ways in which it can interrupt self-connection. In the midst of “social self-isolation”, the introvert can find him- or herself in the midst of his or her own home, surrounded by technologies that intrude on personal space, together with kids who can’t go to school, dealing with an endless flow of work. As one such introvert working from home put it, “I used to use two hours a day commuting. Now I don’t do that, but that two hours has just become part of the endless flow of work.” In this boundariless space, in the midst of the “privacy” or one’s own home, it’s easy for the personal dimension to get completely lost.
In the midst of lockdown, there is a great need for an introvert to be aware of the things that intrude on the space inside of her or him, and to safeguard that space. It’s a time when, for themselves, and for the people to whom they are connected, introverts have to be aware of, and faithful to, their innermost voices.
COVID-19 and Introverts: Staying Faithful
The challenge for introverts in the midst of lockdown is to connect with their inner life, to stay in touch with it, and to increasingly express that reality in the way they live their lives. This is really the same challenge that introverts face every day of their lives, if they wish to a satisfying life with integrity, that is a reflection of who they uniquely are.
These formidable challenges can also provide an opportunity, despite the fact that this particular period is so demanding. Never has the need been as great for introverts to accept, listen to, and live out who they most fundamentally are. To be faithful to oneself in this period may form the basis of a very significant major life transition.