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Outies and Innies

Dr. Jim Mikawa, a good friend and former professor of clinical psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno, had a fascinating theory about people.  He calls it the theory of “Inner versus Outer Directness.”  I have found it quite useful, particularly when it comes to analyzing friendships.

Dr. Mikawa believes that people, for reasons that aren’t clear, fall into one of two categories.  “Outer-directed” people (“Outies”) are those who are very sensitive to others’ needs and are often oblivious to their own.  They are natural caretakers, rarely make waves, seem to instinctively know how to please others, do not impose their will on others, and prefer to do what others want.  They are not good at recognizing their own internal states, which explains why they don’t know what they want.  If you ask an outer-directed person what he is feeling at any given moment, he will most likely stare at you, confused, and respond, “Gee, I don’t know.”  Because Outies are so good at meeting other peoples’ needs, they are generally well-liked.

“Inner-directed” people (“Innies”) are the opposite.  They always know what they want, impose their will on others, and are less sensitive to others’ needs. Thus, they recognize their internal states, know why they feel the way they do, know what they want, and will push to get it.  Unfortunately, Innies are usually oblivious to others’ feelings and are often viewed as self-centered and uncaring.

On the surface, it would seem that the Outies have a great advantage over the Innies.  This is actually not the case.  Both have a problem since each type lacks one important area of awareness.  Outies rarely get their own needs met because they are too busy taking care of others.  Outies are often labeled by mental health professionals as “subassertive.”  On the other hand, Innies usually get their needs met, but alienate others in the process.  Worse, they don’t know why people become upset with them.  They are not intentionally inconsiderate, only unaware of the effects of their behavior.

A friend once described the Innies’ lack of awareness by saying, “They assume that the party doesn’t start until they get there.” Innies unconsciously cut a swath through the interpersonal brush, leaving dazed and depleted people in their trail.

Outies rarely get into trouble because of their behavior because they’re people pleasers.  There is nothing that a grade school teacher likes better than a class full of Outies.  All such students want to do is please the teacher and each other.  The children who get in trouble are usually the Innies.  They know what they want, and if it conflicts with the teachers needs, so be it.  Teachers are not impressed with the fact that the Innies get their needs met and do not care that the Outies don’t.  Teachers want order and predictability, and Outies deliver in these areas.

Dr. Mikawa’s theory included further important distinctions.  He pointed out that the growing-up process and the school of hard knocks help both the Innies and the Outies add balance to their interpersonal approach.  That is, over time they each develop awareness in the area that can be problematic.  The Outies learn to be aware of their own needs and the Innies learn to be aware of others’ needs.  Thus, individuals can fall into one of four categories:

1.  Outies without awareness

2.  Outies with awareness

3.  Innies without awareness

4.  Innies with awareness


What is the advantage of knowing which category you fall into?  Upon reflection, if 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 backseat to everyone around you and missing out on getting your needs met.  Innies without awareness, in my view, do not have much to look forward to each day because they spend their time pleasing others.

If you determine that you are an Innie without awareness, it is a good idea to begin watching others’ reactions to you during interpersonal dealings.  It is not a crime to be an Innie without awareness.  It is merely a state of poorly developed awareness about the needs of others.  Personal growth is an awareness issue, not a worth issue.

Dr. Mikawa theorized that, in terms of relationships, the ideal friendship is the combination of an Innie with awareness and an Outie with awareness.  If you think about it, this recommendation is really based on a more elegant version of 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.

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

An incredibly frustrating friendship occurs when two Outies without awareness spend time together.  Since neither knows what he or she 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…”–ad nauseam

One individual, admitting to a romantic involvement in this type of relationship, described it as analogous to “two people trying to drive a bus down a steep hill but the bus has no steering wheel, no engine, no brakes and all the windows are blacked out.”

All of us have friends who fall into one of these four “Outie-Innie” categories. I personally find it helpful to determine which category my friends fall into because it gives me some idea about what to expect.  For example, I have friends who, whenever we do something, structure the entire experience for me from beginning to end.  They know what they want and they go after it. I accept this because my expectations are in order.  It is what they do.  I have other friends who are very easy going and will bend in any direction that I prefer in terms of activities.  I enjoy this also.  The key is to develop your awareness so that you don’t take advantage of  generous outer-directed friends or get into unnecessary tussles with your inner-directed ones.

I hope that you, like me, find Dr. Mikawa’s theory both stimulating and helpful.  I believe it has important implications for friendships.

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.      

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