Internal/External

Updated: Apr 5

By Thea Iberall



As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to understand myself and other people. When I was in the fifth grade, I became sad because my girlfriends were changing and I still wanted to climb trees. A camp counselor took me aside and told me it was okay to be an individual. Her words gave me permission to be myself.


In the personality typology, there is a trait that involves how each person operates her or his life, the way they employ their resources in the world.


Some people are Externals and they learn about themselves by involvement in the world. They are often interested in how they appear, and/or how their cars and houses and clothes appear. They are always busy and not very conscious about what is going on inside of themselves. But they are the ones that get things done in the world.


I know a person who is an extreme External. He is obsessed with trying to make money and wants to have a beautiful wife and a fast car. I don’t think he is aware of what it means to connect to one’s true center. And I can’t count the number of things he has done.


And then there are Internal types who learn about themselves by going inside to see how things feel. They are more able to identify their own feelings and are more aware of others’ feelings. They are less focused on how they look. Life on the inside is more important to them than life on the outside.


A person I know is an extreme Internal. She has spent her life reflecting on her connection to god; she converted from Christianity to Judaism and became a rabbi. She finds great comfort and peace from her spiritual choices including spending the Sabbath disconnected from the world. She has done many things as well, but in a different way.


This trait is on a continuum from the extremes, but no one is both Internal and External. There is nothing negative or positive about being one or the other. The world needs both types. For a lasting relationship, it’s important both people are similar because it is the glue that holds relationships together.


I think I am an Internal type. I’ve loved going to therapy because I’ve been able to explore my deepest fears and have learned what I need in relationships. I’ve done dozens of moral inventories of myself.


But it’s hard for us to see our own behavior. Some years ago, a friend pointed out to me that I always make myself more important than others. I wanted to deny this insight. But eventually, over time, I began to see my pattern. I do talk about my credentials, my connections, my this, my that. Me.


I don’t want to be that person who makes it all about me. I want to listen to people without an agenda. To be there for others. As Edna St. Vincent Millay says, to have ‘love in the open hand, no thing but that’. What does it take to be that person? As an Internal, the question is at least in my wheelhouse. Meditating, reflecting, and awareness give me the chance of finding an answer. As does staying in gratitude for that camp counselor, my friend, and everyone else in my life who has shared their wisdom.


With That Moon Language

by Hafiz (translated by Daniel Ladinsky)


Admit something:


Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”


Of course you do not do this out loud; otherwise, someone would call the cops.


Still though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect. Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?​


Participants’ Reflections

  • Thank you. I appreciate your writings a lot. I loved what your counselor told you and that you carried it out throughout your life. One of the things I took from the reading is the importance of blanketing oneself in acceptance. Acceptance of one’s thoughts, behaviors, who you are, the way you are in the world. Blanket it with an additional commitment to awareness and its meaning to us and how we want to live our lives, what’s important to us, our values, like a moral compass. The words are so easy to say and sometimes have no meaning because they are over said. I really appreciate the nuts and bolts of what you describe.

  • I think I’ve always been much more the External. But in the last year, and thanks to this group, it’s been a change for me. I’m thinking so much more about the meaning of things and slowing down and living in the moment. It’s been a revelation for me.

  • The personality trait book says that, for Externals, the healing process is a slowing down and as a result, they become calmer.

  • Thank you. I loved the reading. I’m definitely an Internal person. I spent until my 20s being an External person. But I became an Internal person and didn’t care what other people think, and not let those outside opinions influence. Be true to myself. And I loved what you said about the camp counselor, what a special person to recognize and see in a child and to give such solid and life-changing advice. My oldest child is a special needs teacher and loves being an educator and making that impact and difference in kid’s lives. Giving them support they need. She’s considering switching careers and I suggested to her to at least volunteer to fulfill that need and continue giving back.

  • Thank you. When you started to talk about these two tendencies, I thought how I have a little of both. I had this thought that I’ve spent my career focused outside and doing in the world. With the pandemic, I’ve stopped and gone inward. Not just because of the pandemic, but also because I hit the wall. What came up during the meditation, the question came up ‘who am I without the doing, the title, the identity that I created in my career?’ I went back to when I started my career and saw that part of it came out of fear, and then it evolved. Have I gone back to the scared, frightened person, who without the shield, is sitting here saying I don’t know? Then I thought about the ego and how she’s activated again. That’s the dance I’m doing between my being and the ego that wants to define me, and tell me that, since I don’t have the career and vibrato, that I need to look outside myself again for who I am and the resistance I have inside to do that. I’m not sure I’m making sense. That was very powerful.

  • I didn’t make the connection to the pandemic and what it is doing to Internals and Externals. Cutting us off from the world in one way and letting us connect virtually in another way. I can see how it is wreaking havoc with Internals and Externals for different reasons.

  • I was always an External until I made the decision to take a spiritual guidance program. I couldn’t explain it to people when they asked me why I was doing this. It was wonderful to not be so busy. The busyness was keeping me from being an Internal. I have the skills to be an External in my life. Once I slowed down, became calmer, I still have those skills. I can do things in the world but be more grounded.

  • Thank you. I loved this contemplation of Internal versus External. It challenges me because I think my ego truly respects those outgoing activity people. I was reminded of an article I read about a journalist wanting to interview a contemplative withdrawn nun. The nun had a successful art show as an artist. She stopped into a church to thank God and while there, she got the message to withdraw from the world. The journalist wanted to make an appointment with her but she said she was too busy. The journalist couldn’t understand what she was busy with. The internal world has internal work, it’s not just sitting around doing nothing. We are still busy.

  • I’m choosing to now say that I am ‘engaged’ rather than ‘busy.’ When I was an External, I was busy. Now I am engaged. I am engaged in lots of internal work but I don’t think of it as busy.

  • Thank you. The thing that you said that set with me is because we have both Externals and Internals in the world, we fit together as a puzzle. We are one or the other at various times in our lives. My entire career was decided by my high school teacher. I was such an introvert, scared to death that I would make a mistake. My teacher encouraged me to go into teaching mathematics. She was an External and I can’t tell you how she affected me at that moment. I felt so important and worthy, someone noticed me and noticed that I had this potential. It stayed with me. She was the architect of my career. That’s a good example of how we need both Internals and Externals in the world. And after I went through a trauma, I realize that other women didn’t have the resources I did. So I did a lot of volunteering and advocating. I used how I was affected internally to give to others.

  • It brings up for me to consider the people who I met along my journey who saw me and believed in me when I did not yet know my essence. And also the people who said something that I was not ready to hear, and I moved along to a time when it was said again and I was ready to receive it. So my faith is that if you don’t get it the first time, the Divine keeps sending it until you get it. Just so grateful for the people who believed in us when we didn’t believe in ourselves.

  • That critical person, in my case, I was in the fifth grade and in a new school. I had an incredible teacher who enthralled me. One day, we were writing essays and I wrote one about Siddhartha. The next morning, she read my essay to the class and she said even her son in high school thought my essay was great. I didn’t know what high school was but it sounded important. It was the both of them that played an incredible role in my life. I became a writer. People can change our lives in a moment.

  • I’m definitely an Internal. I wish in my life I could have done more. Part of my not being able to accomplish things I wanted to was because I was so repressed as a child and didn’t believe in myself and didn’t have the physical strength and had life circumstances. I am trying to be gentle with myself. You’ve said we can’t see the whole picture. I’ve been trying to take care of my family member. In the poem, there was mention of moons and love. I thought of the animals that I see outside and the animals I have now. I’ve never thought of my eyes as moons. Speaking out loud to them, maybe the animals can sense what I am feeling.

  • Thank you so much for joining us this morning. I appreciate all your reflections whether you spoke or were silent. You are a beautiful community. As you go out into your day, I hope you all have a blessed day in gratitude and awareness. Thank you so much.

Photo credit: Moving, by Linda Lundell, 3’x3’, oil on canvas. www.lindalundell.com