This is for you, my dear introverted friend. For the reader on the other side of this screen in the midst of a very full day, finding your way as a quiet-seeking soul along this complicated, mysterious, loud, and overwhelmingly beautiful road we call life. I am writing this letter to you, my introverted friend, whether or not you’re a mother or wife. Perhaps you’re both; perhaps you’re neither. Perhaps you are someone truly in need of a pal who gets it, who’s living it, in which case I am here, arms open and listening.
The Oxford dictionary poorly defines an introvert as someone who is a “shy and resident person” which I believe is completely wrong and painfully untrue. This was, of course, defined far before introverts started speaking up and giving a damn when assumed they were shy, when in fact, introverts can be quite social people lovers. Introversion and extroversion has more to do with how one restores their energy, in addition to how they process the world around and within them. Thankfully, much as been done in the realm of writing and research this decade about the actual differences between someone who is introverted vs. extroverted, and the best definition I have come across is from following book I recommend you put on reserve at the library after reading this, introvert or not:
“Introverts have a preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulating environment. Introverts tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk, and think before they speak, and have a more circumspect and cautious approach to risk. Introverts think more, are less reckless and focus on what really matters—relationships and meaningful work. Conversely, extroverts are energized by social situations and tend to be assertive multi-taskers who think out loud and on their feet.” – Susan Cain from ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’
Cain also notes in her profoundly thoughtful book, Quiet, that between one-third and one-half of Americans may be classified as introverts, though individuals fall at different places along an introvert-extrovert spectrum. This is not a post about whether or not being introverted is better or worse than being extroverted. Both are wonderful and necessary. This post (the the posts to follow) are little lanterns shining a light on how I’ve experienced being an introvert as a woman, mother, wife, and friend.
I don’t recall the first time I heard the word ‘introvert’, nor do I recall when I even self-identified as one, except that I know deep down in the very marrow of my introverted bones several things to have always been true for me and my relatively short experience on this earth:
- Abundant time alone restores my spirit and fills me with energy to serve and care for others, while excessive time spent around or with others (mainly physically) drains my energy and brings me down.
- I am very sensitive and very easily absorb the emotions of others, which is both beautiful and exhausting.
- Quiet time, especially in the mornings and evening, is a balm to my soul; I need it everyday just as much as water or air or I tend to get anxious and overstimulated.
- Nature soothes me, especially the comfort of the seasons, and bringing it indoors helps me feel grounded and connected to something bigger and grander than myself.
- I very rarely feel lonely when alone, as there is a rich creative world alive in my head that keeps me company.
- Large groups and social gatherings take a toll on my emotional wellbeing as I am constantly taking the emotional temperature of others. And sometimes, I get far too invested in the emotional wellbeing of others that I neglect my own boundaries.
- My external surroundings deeply impact my internal landscape, therefore a cluttered environment creates chaos in my already very full and colorful mind.
- I am perfectly content spending an evening tucked into a book or deep in conversation with someone whom I trust.
- While I value deep conversation, I also value listening. My voice my not be the loudest in the room, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a hundred ideas bouncing around to share.
- Home is much more than a shelter and where I get nourishment, it nurtures my soul and offers my psyche rest, creativity, joy.
I don’t know who out there reading this identifies with any of what I’ve shared above, but if so, know your particularities and solitude-seeking preferences are a light to this world. Know that you experience life in a way, that although not celebrated or cherished by our very loud, rushed, and instant-gratification seeking culture, is a just as much needed as you read, hear, and see on screens around you. Know that you are far from being alone, even though introverts are likely the last to speak up, and that the beautiful qualities that calm and enliven your soul, are truly magnificent, worthy, and meaningful in an abundance of ways.
In what was supposed to be a long post about introversion, high sensitivity, marriage and motherhood, has evolved into a series of more manageable parts so you don’t get too bogged down. Several weeks ago I reached out on Instagram stories and asked caregivers of introverted and highly sensitive children what they have personally found to be both helpful their child and themselves as they navigate these delicate waters together. I was overwhelmed with the wonderful responses, jotted them down, and began writing here. It became clear that this is a topic many are keen to discuss, and thus this series has evolved. We will get to parenthood and marriage and friendship, but for now let’s just talk about you and me.
Over the course of the next few months I will be writing you letters as a someone who feels a lot of good could come from opening up this dialogue, to share our vulnerable hearts about how being introverted and highly sensitive has and is impacting the relationships we have with ourselves, others, and the community around us. This first post is a welcoming of sort, an opening up and acknowledgement of some important truths.
Growing up, I sought solace and comfort in two places: my bedroom and the grassy field behind my childhood home. There I would roam and wonder and delight in layers of my imagination alone and in solitude. I was a perfectionist in school for what I cn only attribute to a baffling myriad reasons, and tired really hard, too hard, to fit in. Although I worked tirelessly hard to make it all seem effortless, I always felt like an outsider peering int0 a world that seemed easier for everyone else. I favored quiet. School was loud. I favored working alone to think and create. School made me collaborate. I favored listening and writing. School made me speak up even when I was terrified. While I absolutely think school pushed me in very necessary ways to grow in a healthy direction, I also never truly felt seen or heard unless I was alone to be my authentic self, which was just as Susan Cain writes when describing highly sensitive introverted souls:
“The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions–sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments–both physical and emotional–unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss–another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly…Or at school you might have been prodded to come ‘out of your shell’—that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.” – Susan Cain from ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’
I’ve since done a lot of reading in the realm of psychology and human behavior, as it is of deep interest to me, and have discovered that what makes me different in favoring a simple, quiet life, is not shameful but precisely what gives my life great beauty, depth and meaning. It is why I take to writing when expressing my values and inner voice, and why I love to spend so much time making a home.
And while I am careful not to put myself in a box with a label, I also recognize the empowerment and freedom that comes with learning about oneself. Reading about the Enneagram has had the same affect on my life, for in opening up and sharing these vulnerabilities I have been able to recognize these sacred areas of my existence as a source of light and abundance, rather than darkness and fear. It is because of others saying or writing “me too” out loud that I feel less alone and in fact eager to celebrate who I am, which is who I’ve always been and worked hard to hide or stifle in the past.
Being sensitive is a powerful way to be in the world and being introverted is precious gift. I offer you these words today and hope you wrap them around yourself like a warm quilt, taking shelter under the comfort, freedom, and connection they give you.
Me, Your Introverted Friend
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