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May 23, 2013

And Then I Realized, "I'm Not Crazy, I'm An Introvert."



Being around people can be so exhausting.

I went to a baseball game last week as a team building activity with some new coworkers. The first thing I did upon entering the stadium was grab a drink. The idea of having to be conversant and interactive for the next few hours was extremely daunting. I really just wanted to go sit at my desk and work with my headphones on.

I wondered what we'd talk about. Would I have anything remotely in common with anyone? Would I put my foot in my mouth or offend anyone? Would there be any other black people there or would I be the only one? Would I be the only woman? I don't even like baseball. Would I feel weird and displaced the whole time? Uggghh.

I got another drink.

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You see, I feel much more comfortable interacting with people intimately -- one on one. I'm friendly but quiet. Probably have been perceived as standoffish from time to time. It's not that I'm anti-social or don't like people, but I have to observe my environment to see what part I want to play in it. I may choose to open up or I may choose to stay on the outskirts looking in.

At the risk of putting myself in a box, I'm going to go ahead and say that I'm an introvert. But who knows really? I identify with many of the traits of introverts, so I use the term to provide a frame of reference -- not an all-encompassing definition of who I am. We don't live and die by definitions around here, but if you're familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality test, I'm an INFP/INFJ.

Psychiatrist Carl Jung introduced the concept of the introvert in his book "Psychological Types." Jung's definition of an introvert is “wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one's own mental life,” while the extrovert is “predominantly concerned with obtaining gratification from what is outside the self.”

If ever a girl craved a self-definition, this was it for me. So many times I've doubted my sanity or thought something was wrong with me for being so socially awkward. I could be surrounded by talking heads and I'd be the quiet one wishing everyone would stop being so vocal and be more perceptive. It explains so much.

I used to think that I was shy, but now I know that's not the case. I'm just reflective. I instinctively take measures to preserve myself in social environments. According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet, "Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not."

I've been told that I appear confident and outgoing and many are shocked that I've ever been known as a shy person. But I've just learned how to manage it so I can get out there and do what I need to do. When I have time to prepare for it, I'm actually quite social. But I need limits and buffers and escapes.

I struggle with giving access to people when it's not on my terms. I'd rather schedule a call than have someone call me unexpectedly. Confrontations put me at a disadvantage because I'm not able to take my time and process what's happening. I prefer writing to talking because it gives me the space and time to find the right words. When I talk too much I always end up feeling like I'm depleting my life force. That will either sound overdramatic to you or it will sound like the words of a woman after your own heart.

After a period of heaving socializing, I feel worn down. Spent. Energy drained. Then I have to go be quiet for a long time. When I don't take this time to recharge, I get cranky, impatient, and eventually sad and even depressed. I existed that way for years, constantly surrounded by people, constantly on the go -- totally neglecting my need for solitude. The whole time wondering why I was so miserable.

And then one day I realized that much of my anxiety came from not knowing how to take care of myself -- not only as an introvert, but as a soulful person who needed to find meaning in things to feel content. When I wrote this post -- "You will always be torn between your inner and outer world. You will always be slightly off the grid. Seeing things differently, experiencing things differently. Stars in your eyes and fire in your bones." -- that was the moment when I truly started feeling free to be more vocal about my needs and boundaries as a woman with such an active inner world.

Instead of fighting against my nature, I started thinking about how to nurture it. How do I design my life around my tendencies and preferences? That's what I love to talk about most around here, right? That's what I try to get you all to think about. How to be more intentional and authentic about how you live your life.

My spidey sense tells me that many of you are like me. You have an active inner world and you're most happy when you take time to tend to it. And when you don't, you feel out of sorts or lost or inexplicably sad. Through The Purpose Session, I'm working with women who want to sort out how they currently feel about their lives and how they want to feel. Part of that is knowing how to best interact with the world while maintaining your sense of self. If you want to be added to the list to work with me, please shoot me an email at ggrenee [at] allthemanylayers [dot] com.

Are you an introvert? Share below!

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