Seven Habits of the Happy Introvert: Living in the World of Yin


Notice I didn’t say the “successful” introvert. Self-help books abound on how to be successful: The 10 Habits of a Successful Leader, Seven Ways to be an Effective Leader, The 8 Habits of the Self-Made Rich, How to be a Success and Achieve Abundance: 8 Steps to Achieve Your Goals, etc. Frankly,these titles just make me feel tired. It recently occurred to me that all of these type of self-help books are geared towards extroverts and achieving success in the outer world. What about introverts? For most of us, just having and retaining an okay presence in that world takes up a great deal of our resources. So this blog is for the introverts.

The outer world that dominates western civilization is very yang or masculine in its orientation. We live in a culture that values power, control, domination over the other, war, one-upmanship, aggression, competition, status, speed, technology and capitalism. The winner takes all. And it is a world in which extroverts thrive. They love the social parry and thrust of daily interactions. The best of them excel and rise to the top. There are only a few professions, apart from research, where introverts excel, and those tend to be the ones connected to the arts in some way. And in this category I would include psychotherapists, and psychoanalysts – as this is more of an art form than a science.

So I began to wonder if the inner worlds that introverts live in is more the realm of the feminine, the realm of yin. Many extroverts have very little awareness of the richness of the inner worlds we dwell in. Because we are introverts, only a small percentage of writers, poets and artists succeed in bringing this forward to the busy, outer world. In a world that seems to have less and less value for the arts and for beauty, many of our artists and writers are starving and ignored.

Recently I went to an exhibit of Francis Bacon and Henry Moore at the AGO and had a new insight into their works. In a way both of these artists show in their works how the bodies of their subjects were mutilated and ravaged – symbolizing the ravages to the human psyche.  Given that many of their works are post World War II, we can situate these works in that context. These artists, each in their own way, are compelling because the stark brutality of Bacon’s images and the gaping holes in Moore’s monumental bodies shock the viewer into confronting these realities – the horror and starkness of a world that lives by the dictates of the masculine alone – a world that places little value on the beauty of the inner feminine.

So in order to encourage and give heart to the introverts out there, I am compiling my Seven Habits of the Happy Introvert. This will be a work in progress and I welcome your input and feedback. We need to support and help one another to bring our values into this world we happen to be living in.

1)     You have found a way to carve out some sort of daily meditation practice. This might involve sitting or walking meditation, solitary walks in nature, yoga or tai chi. This has become an essential part of your routine because introverts take the world into themselves. The world actually flows through them, as opposed to extroverts who bounce themselves off others or outer situations in order to find out who they are. It can be very difficult for a young introvert to figure out their core self because as the world flows through them they can be easily overwhelmed by the energies of other people or toxic situations. As introverts learn to plug back into their Source, they can release all these outer energies and influences and find the still, clear core within. Core is linked to Coeur (heart) in French, which is no accident. When we find that still, quiet place within we are in the place of the Heart. Refreshed, cleansed and renewed we can face into another day.

2)     You have learned to march to your own drummer. Introverts are in the minority – there are many more extroverts than introverts, and society as a well-oiled machine depends on the extroverts. They make it all work. So introverts often appear awkward or shy – they don’t seem to fit in very well unless they have learned to adapt and disguise themselves as extroverts. A lot of us have learned to do this, but at the end of the day we are exhausted and depleted. Moreover it is easy for introverts to develop an inferiority complex because they so often seem maladapted. The successful introvert knows he/she is different, accepts this and has learned to value, protect and cherish his/her inner world. The judgements or critical valuations of the extroverts do not faze him. He/she has come to peace with feeling alone and different. The successful introvert accepts the fact that a third of the people will love him/her unconditionally no matter what, another third will hate him/her or think them weird – no matter what, and the other third simply don’t care. So the successful introvert has learned to be him or herself, and therefore radiates an inner strength and peace – which paradoxically gets noticed out there – simply because a quiet, confident Presence is SO RARE.

3)     The happy introvert has given up trying to wear the extroverted shoe, despite huge pressures from family, schools and society – all of which usually show a preference for the extroverts on the big stage of life. The happy introvert chooses a profession that will honour and make use of his/her gifts. She will not try to continuously push herself into an extroverted path because she knows it will be at a huge cost to her soul. This is not to say that he/she does not learn to adapt to the extroverted world – but she must know that she is accommodating for a short while in specific situations. Jung said that in the latter part of life extroverts must learn introversion and introverts must learn extroversion. This is very wise. However, the problem is that so many introverts just feel defective and are constantly trying to fit in, without having an awareness of their own unique gifts and orientation. This calls to mind the story of The Ugly Duckling, who when he finally realized he would never be a duck in the duck family, woke up to his own awareness of his unique swan beauty and elegance.

For the Story of the Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson:

4)     The happy introvert strives to find a way to bring the realities of his/her inner world to the outer world. While this can feel very challenging, it is the path of your individuation or self-realization. I firmly believe there is some reason you chose to come into this world with these gifts, through your specific life situation and family. Your karma has shaped you and continues to shape you. You have a unique perspective and gifts that no one else in the world has, and if you do not bring them into this world, they will be lost. Do not be defeated by the ways of the world. Always continue to try and find a way to bring your gifts forward. In your own way, Be the Swan. If you do not honour yourself in this way, your light will be hidden from the world. After all, what else can you do with your life? Be all of who you can be in your uniqueness. You will have to find enough extroversion within yourself to make these gifts manifest.

Watch this beautiful rendition of the Dying Swan as danced by Maya Plisetskaya

David Whyte’s wonderful of Rilke’s beautiful poem The Swan:

5)     You will have learned the power of No. In an extroverted world that values go, go, go, do, do, do… will inevitably feel pressured to conform, join the party, the committee, the excursion. You have to honour your own need for down time, for decompression time. It is very difficult for extroverts to understand this, but you will have to be okay with finding soft and gentle ways of saying no, sorry, I wish I could, but….. You may not be understood. Offer your authentic truth and get okay with the fact that a third of the people might be unhappy, and the other third won’t care.

6)     You understand the value of a few close friends. Introverts are not hermits, they just don’t particularly like crowds or large gatherings. Introverts chose quality over quantity – something extroverts have a hard time comprehending. Introverts prefer to go deep rather than to go wide. Young introverts often suffer at school because young people often tend to travel in tribes or cliques. The young introvert needs to be taught that it is okay not to conform, that it is okay to be different, that it is okay not to join the crowd. They need to learn early on to stand in their values and not be swayed by the crowd. This can be particularly painful for a young person, so if you have a young introvert in your midst, reach out and support and encourage them. It seems they have to grow up and mature a little faster in order to survive in the extroverted world.

7)     Give up on the guilt. Because we live in a world dominated by extroverts, we often feel guilty for not fitting in, for not behaving in the ways others expect us to. Think of the lone salmon fighting its way upstream. This is how it often feels for the introvert, striving to find his/her way back to the Source, fighting against the expectations of the collective. But the salmon can only do what is in its nature (see blog on Life of Pi), as can the introvert. The salmon might disappoint the schools of herring that want him to join the fun of swimming and dancing together, but there is no point in the salmon feeling guilty. In fact, guilt can ravage the soul of the introvert, tearing the flesh off his back. As long as your actions are not damaging someone else, you must do what you need to do without guilt and without shame, and honour the calling that carries you forward towards your true home.

Listen to Susan Cain’s TED talk on introverts:


Healing the Mother Complex or Learning the Power of No

images-1Beware. Many therapists, social workers, ‘do-gooders’ and ‘good mothers or fathers’ have a raging mother complex lying underneath the calm, kind exterior, and it’s a killer. This complex knows no gender boundaries and can be equally present in both  men and women. In my blog on The Inner Community, I talked about complexes in general, and how they can raise their ugly heads when you are least expecting it.

Well the mother complex can be one of the most surprising and disturbing of all the complexes, because it seems so, well, out of character. And when the mother complex is raging, you don’t want to be around. If it is raging in you, walk out that door. If it is raging in a significant other, walk out that door. Wait until the waters have calmed down before you try communicating, and if you are the one grappling with it, do everything in your power to try and understand it. The ONLY way to dismantle or at least disempower a complex is to bring consciousness to it.

Here’s how you know if you have this one running in the underground of your psyche. A big part of your conditioning has taught you to ‘turn the other cheek’ and put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own. You feel that you should be good and kind to others even if that means you put your needs aside, to your own detriment. You are much better at discerning the needs of others than you are at identifying your own needs and desires at any given moment.  You do, do, do for others and then inexplicably feel burnt-out and resentful. You feel guilty when you do assert your own needs, and then are especially guilt-ridden and hurt when others get annoyed that you aren’t being the ‘good mother’ anymore.

When you are caught in the great mother complex, you become so focused on the needs of others that you are not in touch with your own needs. In other words, YOU are not taking care of YOU. On some level, you have abandoned your own inner child and feel hurt and angry that no one is taking care of you the way you are taking care of others.

So here’s the deal. Ultimately we all have to become responsible as mature adults for taking care of our own needs. It is unfair to put that responsibility onto someone else. Of course it is lovely when we have the time, energy and grace to extend to others in kindness and with a generosity of spirit,  but when it comes out of obligation and a big ‘should’ for too long, there is hell to pay.

Another problem that surrounds this complex is that if it has been a large part of your persona (the image you present to the world), the people around you come to expect you to always be there as the good mother. When you stop buying into this image of yourself and begin to become more authentic, it can feel like a rude awakening to those who want you to continue in your old role. However, the individuation process wants you to be in touch with your deeper Self and purpose, and not be trapped in any persona. You will know when you are not being authentic and true to your Self when you feel that you are going through the motions because of expectations from others. You might begin to feel a fierce rage and frustration because you feel trapped in this role.

So what to do? In the myth of Amor and Psyche Psyche (which means soul in Greek) has to journey into the underworld. She has been given many impossible tasks by the raging Aphrodite. (In this story she is not the beautiful goddess of love, but the raging mother). In this final and horrifying task, she has to journey to the heart of the underworld and meet with Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. She is given some very sage advice before she embarks on this journey. She is told that many poor souls will clamor most piteously for help, but she will have to remain focused on her task and refuse to help any of them. If she extends her hand to help them, she will be dragged down and all will be lost.

This seems like shocking advice to Psyche because it runs against the grain of everything she has been taught. But she also realizes that the transcendent help she has been receiving all along in order to accomplish the superhuman tasks that Aphrodite has set for her, is the only thing that has been getting her through. So she follows the advice and is able to get to the heart of the underworld, meet Persephone and then return to the world above. In other words, Psyche had to learn the power of her No in order to deal with the raging mother.

So this is the lesson. You must dig deep into the heart of your complex and journey into your own underworld. You must understand it in yourself. If you are feeling an inner rage, then something is afoot, and only consciousness can bring it into the light of day. You have to take responsibility for your own feelings and stop blaming others. If you are operating out of a mother complex, you have to realize it and get in touch with your needs and your feelings and then determine what action you need to take. If it means saying no to what others have traditionally expected from you, try to do so in a kind but clear and firm way.

You may have to negotiate your way out of this. It is not an easy journey for you or for those around you, but tremendous growth and new responsibilities for everyone are in the offing.  As they come to terms with you as a full person, and not just the good mother, they will begin to see you differently and to respect you in a new way. It may be a rocky road in the beginning, but it is a journey worth taking.

Holding the Tension of the Opposites

Owl5You know when you know you just KNOW something? And it doesn’t matter what other people’s opinions are. In fact, further discussion just feels like a spinning of the wheels. Have you ever looked back and wondered about this?

Sometimes you can angst over something for a very long while….waffling back and forth, weighing pros and cons ad nauseum, until you feel heartily sick of thinking about it….but it just keeps creeping back in. Like a stray cat that won’t go away. The tension of feeling undecided and ambivalent – for no good, rational reason – is crazy-making, and it just eats away at the core of you. Your mind becomes even more argumentative, and it could be that you are no longer a pleasant person to be around.

If you look back, and reflect on those times in our lives when you have done this, you realize that one day, for no apparent reason, the clouds just cleared, and you knew what we had to do. What happened? I think it is very valuable to understand that this is a common process in decision-making. Jung talked about holding the tension of the opposites – when the choices feel diametrically opposed to one another in some way. At that point we are caught in the dualistic thinking of either/or, and neither one feels quite right. Feeling pressured by others to make a choice is a suffering. We might also realize that our indecision is affecting others who are also suffering. Some want you to go one way, others think you should do something else. Who should you please?

We all must struggle over the moral and ethical issues, and the feelings of those we care about, but in the final analysis, we only have this life to live (in this body and this personality). Many people have a tendency to shove this struggle underground and deny its existence. This only causes further suffering. Rather, we need to embrace the opposites and hold the tension until our way becomes clear. Don’t move away from it, move towards it.

I sometimes joke that it might be easier if “They” all wanted the same thing of you, but of course they don’t. My old friend Alexander Blair-Ewart used to say, “A third of the people are going to love you no matter what. A third of the people are going to hate you no matter what. And the other third simply don’t care. So you might as well just be yourself.” We always used to laugh about this – it is actually very freeing to think in this way. So, if we are not to base our decision making on what others want of us, then we have to find the felt-sense of ‘rightness’ within.

This process of struggle does deepen you. Kahlil Gibran writes beautifully about this:

The Prophet

And a woman spoke, saying Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over the fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen,
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseeen’
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

By becoming more conscious of the fact that you are in the middle of a very natural life process that requires time and profound patience, perhaps you can learn to become more patient with yourself – knowing that one day you will just KNOW, and the struggle will be over. Jung refers to this arrival as the transcendent third. It is not the either/or of the original dilemma. A third perspective or understanding has come in.

We all come into this life with particular soul-work to do, and our life circumstances provide us with those opportunities, if we take them. In the final analysis, the soul work you have to do is right in front of you, and it is the only work in this life that really matters. When you die, you will know if you have met that challenge or not.

All of your life should be in preparation for that – what else are you going to do with your life? Should you live pretending that you will not have to ultimately deal with this question? I believe that when we cease struggling over an issue, and just relax into our own knowing, we are on the right path, doing the soul work we need to do. But there won’t be a heavy feeling of “should” around it – it will just feel right.

Here is another beautiful poem on knowing; The Journey, by one of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver:

Women of a Certain Age

Women of a Certain Age

Les femmes d’une certaine age – I think this sounds much better in French. It suggests a certain mystery, a wisdom that is not worn on the surface, a wicked sense of humour that can delight, prick or charm – depending on the situation. Recently I was asked to talk about the needs and issues of this demographic group of women over 50. so it got me thinking. Obviously what we consider to be middle-aged now is not what was considered to be middle-aged several hundred years ago when our lifespan was much shorter. So this is not about a chronological number, but rather a mind set and an attitude towards life.

For many women, middle age forces us to confront loss – the loss of youth, of beauty, the tone and agility of our bodies, sexuality (both as perceived by others, and an inner sense) health and loved ones. We are also often confronted with the loss of relationships and partners as our children grow up or we, or our partners, move into different career paths. All of this can get very depressing if you can’t maintain perspective and a sense of humour. However, in order to find humour in any situation we have to be able to hold the tension of the opposites – to see both sides.

Middle-age is the fulcrum between youth and old age, and as such we are poised for great creative potential. You now have the potential leverage to make some big changes in your life. This holds true for both men and women. The terrifying but ultimately great thing about middle age (and remember to hold that tension of the opposites!) is that one day, in the middle of your life, you wake up to yourself and are forced to take stock. This is when you sit down and have a real, honest to goodness talk with yourself; after you have gotten over the shock of looking at yourself in the mirror, metaphorically speaking!

That galvanizing moment always come with some sort of a realization that your days are numbered. You have to face the fact that you only have so much time left on the planet. Some of us who are dealing with life-threatening diseases are more acutely aware of this than the rest of us in terms of what that time might look like, but the wake-up call always forces us to confront the limitations of time that are facing us. There is nothing like a deadline to clear the mind and get us focused on the task at hand.

And that task at hand boils down to this question. What do you want the rest of your life to look like? What are the gifts that you have not yet brought into the world? What is your unique contribution, which if you do not make it; will forever be lost to this world? What are you so busy making for? Christopher Fry asks us this question in a Sleep of Prisoners. Its takes so many thousand years to wake (he tells us) so will you wake for pity’s sake? See blog: Believe in Love Over Goodness

There are a number of common responses to the terrifying vista of looming old age, for both men and women. One of the most dominant ones in this culture is manufactured busyness. Keep yourself so busy that you don’t have to reflect on what is really going on. How many people do you know who don’t have time to make real contact – even with their so-called loved ones? They actually can’t make real contact with their loved ones, because they don’t know what it is to make contact with themselves. The busyness is what we call a defense mechanism in psychological terms. It defends them from facing what they are terrified to face. And that is the face of death – our own mortality.

Another very common response is depression. This is often accompanied by a deep sense of grief and loss. It may get kicked off by the death or loss of a loved one, a relationship, or the loss of a job, but then it just seems to go on and on. It feels like there is a big inner hole that nothing will fill. Life is passing you by, and the sadness and negative self-talk becomes a way of life. This is at the opposite end of the spectrum from compulsively busy superwoman, or superman – and in many ways is harder to deal with. At least superwoman or superman seems to be getting stroked and praised for all of his/her wonderful busyness, but the depressed person is disappearing into a black hole. They think unconsciously that it is about getting fed in some way and may fall into addictive behaviours (shopping, eating, sex, drugs or alcohol) but nothing fills the void. And nothing fills the void because that is not the way out. The energy has to be reversed, and it can only be reversed by the painful movement into consciousness.

I am reminded of Patanjali’s yoga sutras in which he talks about the three basic energies in life – Rajasic, Tamasic, and Sattvic. Patanjali was a father of yogic philosophy. The Rajasic energy is fiery and dynamic. This shows up in the compulsive doers in our life who are so busy they very rarely have time to connect with loved ones in any real way. The Tamasic energy is heavy, lethargic and dull. It is very hard for this type to get galvanized by anything. The Sattvic energy is the middle road – the road of balance between the other two, the enlightened perspective…finding the peace and creative potential between the two extremes, staying at the center point on the fulcrum.

So when we are next looking in the mirror, it might be a good idea to reflect on the energy which is manifesting in our lives. Do we need to slow down and reflect on how we are doing our lives? Where is the meaning or lack of meaning showing up? Or are we sliding into a black hole, hoping something will fill us, fill our time or give us purpose? Whether
we need to galvanize our deep purpose or slow down enough to even ask ourselves the question, the ultimate question is how can we best bring our creativity and gifts into life? How can we fine-tune the rest of our time that is allotted to us and bring our lives into fruition?

The great gift of middle age is this. We can now see that it doesn’t matter what other people think of us, or what society at large holds dear. You only have this life right now and you have to fulfill your deep soul purpose; nothing else matters. If you don’t yet know what that is, then no other journey is worth taking.

Look at what grandmothers in the third world are accomplishing!


The Ageing of Relationships

The Ageing of Relationships

“Why is it that we sometimes can’t feel close to someone we’ve lived with for a long period of time?” This was the heartfelt question from a young woman and mother who was struggling in a relationship with her partner. The relationship had been going sideways for years, but she was reluctant to break up the marriage for a number of good reasons, including her concern for the children and of course finances.

At the heart of her question was this feeling of alienation and distance from her partner. Having been together since a very young age, they had found that as they matured and had children, they had grown apart. Young people often gravitate towards each other because they fall in love with someone who they see as different – someone who seems to offer something they are lacking, or seems to complement them in some important way. Positive projections just happen – it can feel like a god force moving through you, and it carries a feeling of uplifting excitement and intoxication with it. Falling in love is a beautiful thing and I am loathe to analyze it, unless it becomes problematic in some way.

The problem in this and similar cases, is that when the glorious projection has fallen off and we are faced with the stark reality of what we have gotten into, we have to deal with some hard or bitter realizations. I remember Marion Woodman once saying that this was when you have the hard task of learning to really love someone. By this she meant, can you learn to love and accept them just the way they are without trying to change them?

Sometimes you can and do learn to love that ‘other’, and sometimes it doesn’t mean that you have to live with them for the rest of your lives. Sometimes it is about learning to co-parent in a loving and mutually supportive way. These are different values from the values of my parents’ generation when people just stuck it out through thick and thin until death parted them. Some people met the challenge and were transformed by that experience. Others shriveled up and died. But times do change, and the collective psyche also changes as new values rise to the fore.

When the positive projection falls off, the loss of the exhilarating ‘in love’ feeling can feel like a huge disappointment. “Is this it?” you may ask yourself, or “this isn’t what I bargained for!” or “I didn’t sign up for this!” or “I thought it was going to be different!” or “I can’t deal with this!”. The spoiled inner child, or the disappointed romantic, or the young puer or puella (see blog on Inner Community) starts up its inner rant.

Don’t get me wrong. I know what this feels like. Most adults have faced this confrontation with themselves and their partners at some point in their lives. And I don’t have the answer. There isn’t any one answer. When we have had children in that relationship, it becomes (or should become) a much tougher question. It forces you to carry the cross and to suffer the dilemma. Relationships without children (or other in-built responsibilities) are often easier to walk away from.

When we have to suffer the consequences of our choices, it forces us to grow and deepen in ways that are not there for us when we are in La La Land. Remember Odysseus? He was delayed from returning Home for a long time because he kept getting sidetracked on the islands of sense pleasures and addictions. “Falling in love” can become very addictive, and you will see some people bounce from relationship to relationship, always looking for that fix. But with the dawning of consciousness, the getting sidetracked eventually becomes a part of the over-arching journey.

So I wish I had the easy answer for this wonderful young woman and mother. She is an absolute gem. I wish I could alleviate her suffering and make it all better for her. But then again, I know that this journey will take her to the other side. I have no idea where she will end up, but I trust her process and her Life. And I hope she does too, because that is what will be her guiding light.

Listen to a great teacher, Jean Houston, talk about the myth of Odysseus:

About the myth:

The movie: