I am a true, full introvert. Not even a question.
I remember taking some sort of personality test when I was young, maybe Myers-Briggs or something similar. It must have been back in high school or even middle school. However old I was, it was an age when I was struggling with fitting in and feeling included and navigating all the social pains of growing up. I remember taking that test and having it tell me I was an introvert. And I remember feeling horrified. How could I be an introvert? Introverts were hermits and weird and didn’t like people. All the very qualities that would ostracize any teenager, especially a people-pleasing perfectionist like me. No, there must be something wrong with the test. I even vaguely remember mentioning the result to a friend or classmate and that they reacted with surprise. No, you’re not introverted, you’re social and fun and you speak up in class.
But I think it stayed with me, somehow, because it took a long time for me to realize how much being around other people, groups especially, drained me. That I could be social and fun and speak up in class and need plenty of alone time. That my awkwardness meeting new people and making small talk wasn’t a defect, it was a characteristic. That craving alone time wasn’t weird and something I should ignore, it was indicating a true need.
Balancing the people-pleasing need to fit in and the introverted need to have alone time has always been exhausting, even if I realize it only looking back. How much energy have I spent convincing myself that I want to go out or I want to hang out with friends, just because they asked or I knew something was going on (avoid FOMO!)? Rather than accept and fulfill my need to recharge by being alone?
I’m not writing this from a place of regret. If we blame ourselves for things we didn’t realize because we didn’t have all the tools at the time, we’d none of us be able to function in the present. I’m more in a place of being more knowledgeable, and trying to tell that teenager still in my bones that nothing’s wrong with you, dear child, you don’t need to pretend to be anyone but who you are. I’m very thankful that, over time, I’ve been able to give myself what I need to take care of myself. Finding ten minutes here and there if I’m away with a group for a weekend. Putting on my headphones and zoning out when I’m traveling with a group (this happened a lot in Africa, sorry Mom!). Recognizing the symptoms—irritability, impatience, a lack of focus, depression—when I don’t get what I need. Saying no to events that don’t carry importance heavy enough to outweigh the drain I’ll need to recover from. It’s pretty textbook stuff, actually. Naming and accepting this trait of mine, much like using the word ‘depression’, makes it possible for me to see it for what it is and not internalize it or see it as a defect. It’s an explanation for what I need, what motivates me, what stitches me together.
It seems to have become trendy to wear the label of introvert, to own it, to brag about it. Hashtag introvert. It makes me realize how susceptible I am to approval and fitting in, even still. That, while I had accepted the label of introversion slowly over time, it was possible for me to truly accept and call myself out loud this label only when that label no longer carried a stigma and I knew others out there struggled—and excelled at—the same things I did. Now, it’s almost too convenient of an explanation, it’s turned into an excuse. A proxy word for what’s really going on. Instead of saying to others and to myself that going somewhere or doing something would make me uncomfortable or would be challenging or, simply, would be something I don’t want to do full stop, I wave my hand and laugh and say, “oh you know me, Ms. Introvert, doesn’t like small talk.” And the attention comes off me and the conversation moves on—perfect.
I think we all have at least one trait that we try to alter or suppress or refuse to accept. Or, alternatively, that we caricaturize to the point of not having a true meaning.
What if we all looked inside, and told ourselves, there’s nothing wrong with you, dear child, you don’t need to pretend to be anyone but who you are.
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