I don’t remember hearing the terms introvert or extrovert until my college psych 101 class. Hard to believe in today’s personality test obsessed culture. When I was little I heard people refer to me as shy. I knew the opposite of shy was outgoing and it definitely seemed to be preferred. In fact shy was just slightly better than being called retarded in my mind. Especially if you were over the age of ten. When Markee was little people would say she was shy, too. I never really agreed. I knew she wasn’t afraid to talk as long as she understood the expectations. Maybe I understood that because it’s how I had always felt. When Markee was about three, everyone was asking her about her new twin sisters. They would ask things like “What do you think of those sisters?” And she would respond by dropping her head and hiding behind me. Until one time I saw an older woman smile at her and crouch down to her eye level. She said softly “Do those babies cry a lot?” To which Markee responded by smiling and saying “yeah they do”. They went on to have a whole little conversation about the babies. She was perfectly comfortable. Someone had finally asked a question she felt she had an answer for.
I don’t think I realized I was an introvert until just a few years ago. I thought it meant you would rather be alone than with people and I had always preferred not to be alone. Now I would definitely identify as an introvert. I somehow tried to pretend social situations weren’t terribly awkward for me for years. Mostly because I didn’t want to be a lesser person. That’s how I used to feel when people suggested I was shy, like it was some kind of disability you had to get over. I compensated in most situations by trying to be aware of exactly what was expected of me in the specific situation. Ironically this left me with a strange ability to make a superb first impression but then often ultimately disappointing later as I couldn’t continually preempt the expectations. The truth is I just don’t know what people want. Sometimes I think there’s a part of me that’s more than a little socially awkward. I’m always overthinking everything and wondering what people are expecting me to say or do. If you don’t have this kind of internal dialogue than you won’t understand this. But it’s so frustrating to deal with. Here’s an example of a conversation.
Me: I’m so excited my daughter is in the play
(In my head): I hope that doesn’t sound like bragging. I’m just excited.
Me: I didn’t think she would do it because she’s having such a rough time lately.
(In my head): hopefully that explains why I’m excited and makes it less like bragging. But now I’m just making it worse and drawing too much attention to myself …it sound like I’m looking for sympathy.
I could go on and on. It’s exhausting. I used to get relief by spending time with people I was super comfortable with. A small circle of friends or my sister. Now I just prefer to try to sit alone and NOT think. Solitude used to cause my brain to go into hyperdrive. It was like I had to replay all the conversations and grade myself and pick them apart to figure out how to do better the next time. For some reason once I accepted my status as an introvert I no longer felt the need to become better socially. I do the best I can and then spend my alone time recovering instead of critiquing myself.
It’s funny how some labels make us feel like we are damaged or not good enough while others make us feel like we’re actually okay. I don’t like the idea of hiding behind a label as an excuse not to improve. But I find comfort in the idea that there are a lot of us that struggle with social situations and it’s okay to just do the best I can. If I don’t handle it like the typical outgoing gregarious charismatic person it doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It simply means I’m an introvert and that’s okay.