I wonder if American culture will ever embrace, let alone celebrate, introverts, especially introverted women. I sketched this post at the end of 2013 after comparing notes on life and blogging via Skype with the author of www.space2live.net, which focuses on introversion. A few months ago I wrote Yes, I am a S.N.O.B. I’m proud to reclaim B.I.T.C.H., too.
Bold. Talking too much drains me, as does talking around a subject rather than diving in, so in many contexts I try to distill and focus my verbal communications (see below). For people accustomed to roundabout conversations that dance along a subject’s periphery without ever approaching the center, or to supposedly focused discussions that evaporate into thin air without a next step or plan, my desire, if not need, to get to the point might come across as “blunt.” I’d rather call it bold. To support my speaking style, I’ve started dressing more boldly, too. I no longer shy away from bright red and orange, colors that command attention and, I’ve discovered, respect. It’s a huge relief, since I never felt at home in muted tones, florals or softly flowing outfits that frequently populate stores and catalogues.
Internally directed, intimacy junkie. Our culture teaches us to look outside ourselves for approval and other social rewards. Women, especially, are socialized to be “nice” and “likeable” lest they be called bitches. For too many years I either worried what others would think if I did, said, wore, read or ate a certain thing or I expected reinforcement if I did, said, wore, read or ate a particular thing. To live in fear of others’ possible rejection or in anticipation of praise and acceptance is to be a marionette, yanked about by externals, both mentally and emotionally exhausting. To follow one’s muse, spirit or intuition, no matter how odd it might seem to the rest of the world, is to become the puppeteer and quietly untangle and explore one’s internal strings. And while I do enjoy and need the company of others, I must balance that with solitude, perhaps more than others might choose for themselves.
As an intimacy junkie, I’m usually more interested in sharing an in-depth conversation with one person than having a more superficial chat with a group. “The more the merrier” doesn’t typically satisfy me in social situations, especially if I’m not consulted about a change of plans I’ve made with one person. Several times I’ve looked forward to getting to know a potential friend on a deeper level, only to have them tell me at the last minute that they’re bringing along their boyfriend or someone else I don’t know. They assumed I wouldn’t mind, that all social configurations are equivalent. Meeting with a friend one-on-one is qualitatively different than being with a threesome or foursome; I prefer to focus my attention on one person at a time. That is true nourishment, a full meal rather than a quick snack.
Thoughtful. By this I mean full of thoughts, so much so that often I sit quietly while they whir and stir in my brain before deciding which to share aloud, if any. Some people might believe I am censoring myself. I like to think of it as editing or rearranging a potentially busy gallery of words so that, when I do speak, what I say makes sense, adds some value and doesn’t tumble out in an unintelligible mess. I don’t believe in talking for its own sake or to fill silence or gaps in a conversation, precious moments when non-verbal communication can arise. That I don’t talk much does not mean I am “tongue tied”.
Conserver of Energy. While I occasionally enjoy an adrenaline fueled flurry of activity, my body can’t sustain it on a regular basis. To protect my energy I eat healthy foods, exercise, and try to space my social engagements and appointments. I’d rather not run around or squeeze too many things or people into a short amount of time, sacrificing quality for quantity. Knowing when an event will start and end, or when a friend will show up, helps me summon forth social energy, which is why breaches of punctuality are so disruptive and taxing. Waiting itself drains my battery. And if I decide to do another activity while waiting, it’s also a challenging to immediately switch gears when a person finally does arrive and be able to greet them with a genuine smile. At times when I’ve made my particular needs clear, or expressed frustration about others’ lack of promptness, I’ve been told I’m “controlling”. No, I’m conserving.
Highly Sensitive. My life would likely be different if my body were an all terrain vehicle, able to function with equal efficiency regardless of temperature, weather conditions, ambient noise and odors, fuel consumed and amount of sleep received. In our go-go culture, there is an expectation that people can (if not should) keep going, à la energizer bunny, without pausing to rest, recharge and renew, and to be able to quickly adapt to different conditions (or, if that’s not possible, to tough it out, à la marines). But my body, while it can adjust gradually to new climates and circumstances, is not infinitely flexible. It gets cold easily and shuts down in extreme heat. It reacts strongly to even tiny amounts of caffeine, sugar and alcohol. It notices smells that many others can’t detect. It needs frequent and sustained exposure to natural light. It contracts in the presence of loud noises. To respect my high sensitivity (of which introversion is a part), I’ve adjusted my lifestyle and have learned to be discerning about what I will or will not do, with whom and where and under what circumstances.
Some folks have called me “high-maintenance.” In reference to a machine or vehicle (all-terrain or otherwise), the phrase means “requiring regular maintenance to keep it in working order”. The definition speaks volumes about our culture, in which anything requiring consistent attention is considered “high” maintenance, as if tending our cars, homes and bodies is, if not drudgery or a waste of time, not the best investment of time. Again I’m reminded of my Zen teacher’s mantra, How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything (or, one process does not lead to another). If we’re ignoring or overriding the rhythms, needs and idiosyncrasies of our bodies, it’s likely that we’re ignoring or overriding the complexities and subtleties of other people, too, not to mention those of our communities and the environment. When each of us ceases paying close attention to our needs, cycles and rhythms, life can truly become a bitch for everyone.