For most of my life, I have been considered and referred to as “the strong one.”
I have, more than once, ranted to my friends that I must have a “tell me all your problems!” sign on my forehead. I wore this label like a badge of honor.
Until one day, that raggedy old badge fell off, and I found myself in a heap of not-knowingness.
When I lost my firstborn son after PPROM, my entire existence fell apart. Writing became therapy for me, but also a way to somehow make other people understand. I launched a blog that I poignantly dubbed “Not A Hugger.” In my explanation of what a non-hugger is, I detailed that I am an INFJ with no use for small talk, but one who has a big personality.
My direct quote is: “What happens when your proverbial sh*t hits the fan as the strong, non-hugging one?”
What I have learned is that I am an internalizer.
Internalizers are the “strong ones.” The easy children who make parents believe they can take care of themselves. The epitome of a double-edged sword.
Six signs you might be too:
Internalizers are predominately introverted. INFJs (like me) are the rarest type of introvert. We are the friends who say, “I don’t know, I just have a feeling,” but cannot explain why we have said feeling. The friend who might elicit confused looks, only to later be told we were right in our prediction. We operate on feelings, judgment, and intuition. Having an introverted personality type sets the stage perfectly for us to be internalizers.
Struggle with Loneliness
We experience deep-seated loneliness—the kind that makes you feel alone, even in a crowd. Even as an extreme introvert who does not need much social interaction, internalizers tend to be deeply lonely, often struggling with feeling like no one “gets us.”
We crave connection.
It can be difficult to find it, even though we crave it deeply. This is especially true in a world that is dominated and designed by and for extroverts. For me, I have no use for chitchat, but that does not mean I am rude. I have often said that I need people to “get on my level.” I really thought I was alone in feeling this way, but now I know I am an internalizer. I would rather talk to you on the phone than text—the gravest of all millennial sins. I prefer having long, philosophical discussions about life. Unfortunately, this is so difficult to find as an internalizing adult that many of us end up self-isolating because we already feel lonely, and then struggle to connect, too.
We take on everyone else’s needs no matter who they are. Often, we put those needs above our own—a common mistake. Somehow, we place so much value on being a “fixer” in society that we fail to see how damaging it is to ourselves. The root of fixers comes from internalizing that our needs should not or do not matter as much as someone else’s.
This is a detriment to both ourselves and to others. Not all “problems” require a solution, but as a fixer, we can inadvertently push people away by trying to offer them a solution instead of offering our friend the space or support they need instead.
Introverts are already classically empathic. Add to it that internalizers are highly sensitive to everything, too. We have an extra fluffy layer of sensitivities. Because we internalized that our needs do not matter and we are now revered as “the strong one, the fixer friend,” it is common for us to hear that we are too sensitive if we express emotions of hurt.
My non-hugging, strong, unbreakable badge of honor defined much of my identity. When that was stripped away, I found myself trying to process a whole lifetime’s worth of hurt from nearly everyone. Years of believing my needs did not matter as much as the next person’s did, and internalizing that I needed to “fix” their problems, left me carrying a lot of burdens that were not mine to carry. Over time, I had built up resentment toward many people. The shift of no longer suppressing my own emotions shocked many in my relationships. Hearing that I was “too sensitive” made me angry for the first time, ever. Identifying and accepting that I am indeed a highly sensitive person, while a difficult transition, has been extremely enlightening.
Ever heard of the introvert “door slam?” The seemingly sudden act of cutting someone completely out of your life, slamming the door in their faces, and then locking it with the emotional equivalent of 10 deadlock bolts? Ever done the door slam? If so, you are most likely an introverted internalizer. This happens because over time, we have been hurt repeatedly by someone, and eventually we become exhausted.
Being ultra-sensitive is the culprit here, but not in the ways you might think. Our sensitivities mean we are vibin’ literally all the time. We’re continually picking up on other’s emotions, even if they are never spoken, and we’re acutely attuned to energies—positive, negative, and indifferent ones. We absorb everything like a sponge, and we pick up on minute details that most people don’t. We inadvertently expect people who love us to do the same. This leaves large gaps in which we can get deeply hurt.
In my life-defining grief of losing my son, I often felt like everyone around me was betraying me, hurting me on purpose (and some were, to be honest). I was convinced it was my fault. That my grief was too loud, my trauma to horrifying. My brash nature suddenly too much.
I will not deny that I had an awakening of sorts (if that’s even a legit thing), but what was really happening is all my hurt feelings times 10 years or more could no longer be contained because my normal defenses were exhausted from the intensity of my grief. I was accused often of “throwing the past” in someone’s face. While it may have appeared that way, I was really processing my past hurt feelings at doing all the emotional work and receiving little to none in return. This likely would not have been so tumultuous if I were not an INFJ and internalizer who struggles with boundaries and with taking care of my emotional needs first. But hindsight is kindsight, reader.
(An important note to say that if you’ve had the door slammed on you by your friend before, rest assured that they gave you a multitude of chances that you either did not pick up on or ignored. To us, there is a threshold, which is why we can close the door in what appears to be such a cold, sudden way.)
I have always said that I believe there are many of us. Power in numbers and all that.
I still believe, that but more so, I think we have been misunderstanding our personalities and our behaviors. We’ve been revering the “strong ones,” but not nurturing the idea that self-awareness is really the key to living authentically. My go-to cactus logo on my blog, a cartoonish depiction of my non-hugging, INFJ, brash self is perhaps not so prickly after all.