There are probably times in everyone’s lives when we want to crawl into a cave and not come out until the crisis is over. Whether it’s a health issue, problems with work, or difficulties with family or friends, sometimes things get overwhelming and we just want to shut the world out… at least most of us do. And then there are extreme extroverts.
Extroverts, as you probably know, get a real energy boost from being around other people. Extreme extroverts are utterly dependent on this energy boost. In times of crisis we may want to select our power base carefully – not all energy sources are equal – but we still need it. Which leads to a strange situation where we crawl into a cave, but want to take a carefully selected group of friends in there with us. It’s no good shutting yourself in without supplies. It would be like building a bunker and not stocking it with food. We would wither.
The trouble is that when you’re in cave mode, it can be difficult to gather that crowd of supporters. Just when we need our friends the most, we find it hard to call for help. Even extreme extroverts can get to the point where we haven’t got the energy, or perhaps the emotional capacity, to say “I need you”. So we crawl into the cave and whither away, until the problem goes away, or someone who knows us well (and is unafraid of the dragon guarding the entrance) crawls in there and hauls us out.
And praise will come to those whose kindness leaves us without debt,
and bends the shape of things to come that haven’t happened yet.
Neil Finn, “Faster than Light”.
It makes me wonder whether even introverts would benefit from a support team in their cave in those darker moments. It seems somewhat anti-darwinian that we have this inability to call for help when we most need it. In my case, at least, it can lead to escalations and complications in situations that could have been resolved quite simply. Being alone in my cave is a rapid route to total perspective loss.
Caves are remarkably dangerous places. Problems grow, breed, and become ever more toxic in the dark. There’s nothing like telling your deepest darkest fears to a friend for making them shrivel back into molehill form (the fears, not the friends).
It’s not surprising that one of the warning signs of depression is social withdrawal. It is to some extent both cause and effect – a vicious cycle of social withdrawal making recovery harder, leading to further withdrawal. Even when friends know the signs, true depression can be almost impossible to break into.
Many of us, though, have a cave mode that is not actually depression, simply a withdrawal from overwhelming circumstances. Friends who recognise that withdrawal and invite themselves into your cave can be the difference between collapse and recovery. It’s dangerous to rely on the psychic abilities of your friends, though. Much better to learn to recognise the warnings signs yourself.
Next time you feel yourself slipping into cave mode, ask yourself whether there is someone who should come with you. Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to take my own advice. Cave Party!!