I was born at a very young age and...bud um boom...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Innies and Outies

A psychology professor once explained to me a fascinating theory he had developed about people and their interpersonal style. He believed that almost everyone fell into one of two groups and guessed that the differences between members of the two groups were probably genetically determined since he saw these differences manifested in little children. He called one group “Outer Directed” and the other “Inner Directed.”

Outer directed people (Outies), by his definition, are those who from a young age are aware of and sensitive to the needs of others. Additionally, they are, for the most part, oblivious to their own needs. This pre-disposes them to take care of others at their own expense. They rarely make waves, seem to instinctively know how to please people, do not impose their will on others and prefer to let others lead. They do not recognize their internal emotional states and if you ask them what they are need or are feeling at any given moment, they will stare at you, confused, and respond: Gosh, I don't know. They are almost always well liked. This makes sense since they spend a lot of time pleasing other people and are conflict avoidant. They are often labeled by mental health professionals as sub-assertive.

Inner directed people (Innies) are the opposite. From an early age they always seem to know exactly what they want; they impose their will on others; they are, for the most part, insensitive to others' needs and feelings and often appear to be self centered. They recognize their internal emotional states and feel free to talk about them. They also are not shy about telling you what you can do to make them feel better. They rarely inquire about others’ internal states. I once heard my professor friends say that “Innies “assume that the party does not start until they get there.

Being a member of either group has its advantage. Outies are well liked and get along with everyone. Innies know what they want and get their needs met. The problem, of course, is that the members in each group have the same problem. They suffer from poor social awareness but are operating at opposite ends of the awareness continuum. On one end the Outies are unaware of their own needs and feelings and at the other, the Innies are unaware of others’ needs and feelings.

For example, when, as children, the members of these two groups attend grammar school, Outies rarely get into trouble because of their generous Outie behavior. They are people pleasers and there is nothing that a grade school teacher likes better than a class full of Outies. All they want to do is please the teacher and others. The children who usually get into trouble are the Innies. They know what they want and if it conflicts with the teachers' needs, so be it. Teachers want order and predictability and Outies deliver in these areas.

Over time, there are important additional distinctions that come about within these two groups. As individuals age they experience difficult and challenging life experiences, suffer the ups and downs of competition and the pain and joy of relationships. As a result, at least ideally, hey learn additional awareness. And so, Outies learn to be aware of their own needs and Innies learn to be aware of others' needs. After these years of life experience, any individual may now now fall into one of four groups:

1. Outies without awareness
2. Outies with awareness
3. Innies without awareness
4. Innies with awareness

However, Outies will always tend to be givers rather than takers despite having learned to recognize what they want. And, conversely, Innies will always tend to be takers despite learning to recognize others’ needs and feelings.

What are some of the advantages to knowing which category you or your children fall into? If, upon reflection, you determine you are an Outie without awareness, it is important to begin asking yourself what it is you need from your relationships and from life in general. You may discover that you are consistently taking a back seat to everyone around you and missing out on getting your needs met. Outies without awareness, in my experience, do not have much to look forward to each day.

If you determine that you are an Innie without awareness, it is a good idea to begin
paying more attention to others' reactions to you during interpersonal dealings. You may be dominating relationships or losing friends and not know why.
Be clear, being either an Innie or an Outie without awareness is not a crime. It is merely a state of undeveloped awareness. Personal growth is, after all, an awareness issue, not a static, pass-fail situation.

As far as relationships go the ideal couple is a combination of an Innie with awareness and an Outie with awareness. This recommendation, if you think about it, is really based on the old Giver-Taker theory of relationships. What makes it more sophisticated is that both the giver and taker have added awareness so that no one gets ripped off. It is not enough to say that givers and takers are a good match. Unless there exists the necessary added awareness , the giver-taker relationship is fraught with peril. There is a huge difference between an Outie with awareness saying: “No biggie—I truly don’t care if we eat Mexican food two nights in a row,” versus “My gosh…I wish I had the guts to say no to Mexican food again…but I don’t want to displease my spouse.”

The most painful type of relationship occurs when two Innies without awareness team up. All one hears is "Me, me, me." Screams of outrage and accusations of selfishness are the norm and both individuals feel ripped off 24 hours per day. Combine an angry, pseudo-liberated feminist with a rigid, self-centered chauvinist and you have the Double Innie prototype relationship.

A very frustrating relationship also occurs when two Outies without awareness team up. Since neither knows what he or she feels or wants, nothing ever gets decided. Their dialogues go like this:

He: What do you want to do tonight?
She: I don't know, what do you want to do?
He: I don't know, do you want to see a movie?
She: It's okay with me if you want to. Do you?
He: Do you?
She: If you do...etc.

Such relationships usually die of boredom over time. One individual, admitting to involvement in such an Outie+Outie relationship, described it as analogous to two people trying to drive a bus down a sandy, not very steep hill but the bus has no steering wheel, no engine, no brakes and all the windows are blacked out. After a not very exciting ride, the bus eventually comes to a stop.

Parents, once acquainted with this theory, often become intrigued with its implications for child rearing. They often discover that they have unexamined prejudice toward their annoying Innie offspring. Further, they begin to see that their Outer directed children are not getting their needs met, despite being well liked by others for their pleasing ways.

There are scores of scenarios that this little theory generates that have interesting and important implications for relationships, child rearing and friendships. And so which of the four categories do you believe you fall into? Are you an Outie without awareness, an Outie with awareness, an Innie without awareness or an Innie with awareness.

This piece is dedicated to James Mikawa, Ph.D., a wonderful teacher, a fine man and a good friend


Post a Comment

<< Home