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A Recovered Introvert

Sometime in my early twenties I realized I was an introvert.  The fact that many of my social outings up to that point had felt a burdensome thing that I had to power through so that I could somehow, one day, achieve the enjoyment everyone else seemed to have when out with friends, began to make sense.

I used to think it was because I was shy, and I was as a young woman, or because I was defective in some way.  Maybe, I thought, I’m missing out on many great memories because I’m just not able to feel what other people feel.  Or maybe it’s just because I’m meant to be a crazy cat lady.

But, I worked hard on my shyness, for my daughter’s sake, and even after I knew a sense of interest in others had finally replaced my social misgivings, I still needed a  long knitting session after every party.

So, I quit forcing myself to go out so much and began to relish my aloneness.  I had jobs or performed different roles and got along really well with everyone around me, but make no mistake: I could totally do the “Castaway” thing… were I not to feel too smothered by Wilson.

I say this because Teresa Gregorio‘s most recent Canary Knits Podcast episode got me thinking.  She was discussing thoughts about introverts and tips for how they could better navigate typical social situations.

She noted her discomfort at certain, large social gatherings, but how some people seem more adept than others at drawing people out, or rather, into conversation.  These people seem to bridge the awkwardness to connect with introverts, even.

This led me to a few articles online.  They were nothing too deep or mind-blowing, just results of a cursory search on the topic; however, I learned a few things I didn’t know.  I had heard the saying that introverts recharge alone, whereas extroverts recharge from interaction with others, which I am a testament to.  But, it seems introverts can do this because the front of their brain is the more active part.  It is activated through activities like problem solving and introspection, things that are typically done alone or in a one on one conversation.  These are the things that come naturally to them. Extroverts access the back parts of their brains more, which are used to process sensory information.  Therefore, they are more “on” when stimulated by activity, or as I would call it, chaos.

Another site, said that the introvert has an especially sensitive amygdala.  It doesn’t blunt sensory info and therefore can overload us.  This is why I need a little planning and emotional prep before big events.  It is also why my daughter’s impending, and rather large, wedding has me nervous.  I’m not just responsible for planning, and I’m not just watching her grow up, I am going to have to be “on” for a few whole days for LOTS of people.  It is the last of those that makes my stomach churn.  And these are people I love 🙁

I usually try to balance the effect of gatherings with a small amount of alone time.  So, I may be at my grandparents’ and family’s disposal Monday through Thursday, and at my son’s events on Saturday, but Friday and Sunday can be recharge days.  If only recharge days weren’t also laundry, meal prep, church, and workout days.

Even when in a gaggle of people, I find there are ways to calm the crazies.  I can focus on one person or a small group, creating a little cocoon within the larger gathering.  This “cocoon” can be peopled by an ever-changing cast of characters, as long as there is some amount of focused conversation or shared information.  Basically, they are my human shields.  I find this easiest to do by just asking people about themselves.  Most people love to be asked, and some are even a little surprised because that doesn’t happen to them very often.  It doesn’t usually take long to find something we can discuss or think about together.  Does this make me an outgoing introvert?  I’m thinking so.

At this point, I probably sound very anal and picky about how I behave around people.  But, honestly, this is all automatic with me.  I have never thought this through or put it into words until now.  I just notice that I weather large groups best when I can mingle and touch base with individuals here and there.  This may be why one article said introverts don’t even bother with small talk. It’s true.  I don’t like to glaze the surface or chit chat when some small amount of bonding or enlightenment could take place.  I mean, who would?  Oh, yeah, those silly extroverts.  In a way, it’s because I honor people that I don’t want to waste time on talk no one really cares too much about.  I’d rather get to know them.

Teresa mentioned how uncomfortable a social event could be until someone who was able to engage her got a conversation going.  She found that skill remarkable.  I heartily agree.  It sounds like the definition of charisma to me, but I’m wondering if it is a trait that might belong more to the introvert than the extrovert?  Perhaps this lady was an introvert who knew her strengths and enjoyed connecting with people on a more manageable level, so she found the topic that would draw them out.

Personally, I’m drawn to other introverts.  We get to “the good stuff” in a conversation more quickly, and often have similar (if solitary) interests.  I think this is what I love about Teresa’s podcast.  There is a lot of thought-provoking content.  Yes, there is still knitting talk, but I’m always left with some thought to mentally chew on for a few days.

I think this ability to think with focus about a subject is what the world needs from us introverts.  We are excellent sounding boards.  My husband used to joke that if a stranger talked to me for 10 minutes, they’d be crying, in catharsis, by the end of it.  But, I am a good listener, there’s no doubt about it, and these little one-on-one moments have the same feel as introspection.  They are actually something I crave.

Now, I’m no expert at connecting with people in a large group, like the woman mentioned in the podcast; but I think my Christian faith propels me to continue trying.  I don’t think every meeting is chance.  I believe every meeting, no matter how brief, should be an opportunity to show God’s love in some way to other people, to draw them to Him.  Now, I said it “should” be, of course not every interaction in my life actually is this meaningful or pleasant.  I can tune the world out like everyone else.  Also, when I speak of showing God’s love,  I don’t necessarily mean having a theological discussion.  It could just be showing simple interest in another human being.  Or smiling in passing.  This is the goal, anyway.  And as an introvert, I feel I’m in a unique position to do this.  I not only can sympathize with the person who feels out of place at a gathering, but I might be better able to focus on details or individuals, rather than be swept up in the excitement.

This is why I find myself scanning the youth room on Sunday morning to see who is sitting alone and looking uncomfortable.  Sometimes I don’t just come across like Jesse’s weird mom.  Sometimes I actually make a nice, little difference to their day.  I also notice the other youth teachers who do this.  They don’t know I know who they are, but I do, and I like them a little extra for it.

So, yeah, I’ve become pretty comfortable with how I was made.  I see no need to recover from my introvertedness, but instead have rediscovered it.  My current challenge is to carve out the time necessary for recharging so I can be at my best in these social situations.  This is why if I were to give tips to another introvert on how to handle the awkwardness that is a group gathering (something Teresa asked for), I’d probably say to just smile like a doofus at everyone and ask them lots of questions about themselves, then go home and knit like the wind.  You’ll at least seem kind and might even make a neat connection.

(on instagram and flickr)

Did you like all of my crazy cat and dog lady photos?  I thought it was fitting for a post about introversion.

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