Creating my happy life on the other side of fear.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Do you feel alone? You are actually part of something BIG


All my life, I was on the fringes of groups, never in the thick of it. At 14, I yearned to be part of the cool kids. I wanted to be one of those girls hanging out at the bus stop, flirting with boys, and going to their meeting place, an old garden shed that was the place to be. 
There was only one problem. I didn't like those girls. I just couldn't bring myself to be one of them. They were so silly. We had nothing in common. So I resigned myself that I may never see the garden shed from the inside. Instinctively, I decided to rather stick to myself than be with the wrong people. 

(In the end, I did manage to get inside the garden shed. For a while, my shyness was regarded as mysterious and a challenge, and one of the boys invited me to a New Year's party. I was nervous, so I got stupidly drunk by 10 pm and missed the rest of the party. So that's what all the fuzz was about? Not worth it.)

During high school, I was well liked, but never fully part of one group. I was on the outskirts of a few, a visitor more than a member, usually brought in through one of the insiders I had become friends with. Once I had a boyfriend, I usually hung out with his friends. I was welcome, but not fully a part because I was a girl.
This arrangement suited me just fine.

This pattern has repeated itself time and time again, ever since I was a small child. If I became too closely entangled into one clique, I would start feeling suffocated and in need to create more distance.

Sometimes I would worry why I was like that. What was wrong with me? My parents have been loners all their lives, and I really wanted to be different. So I worked hard to be social, outgoing, a people person.
I noticed trends: I truly enjoy the company of others when it is in a controlled environment. Work with its set hours, dinners with the freedom to leave whenever I choose to, and occasional parties are great.
Hosting a party is trickier: You don't have any control over how long guests will stay. You want them to feel at home, enjoy themselves and stay as long as they choose - but how long exactly is it? As long as I have a co-host I'm fine, but hosting it alone is very, very scary.

The classic cocktail party where you don't know anyone - incredibly hard. I can't just go up to people and strike up a conversation.
But a party where I know quite a few people can be a lot of fun! As long as I have the next day to myself, I enjoy them very much. 

I also noticed something else: Sometimes I would feel lonelier in a group of people than when I was alone. What was that all about?
Or I would read a book or a blog and feel a real, strong connection to the writer, even though I don't know them in real life.

All my life I have needed lots of time to myself, and worried often that I'm a selfish person. Other people don't seem to need it, why do I?

Incredibly enough, until very recently, I had absolutely no clue why I am the way I am.
But I have learned something about myself. Or rather, about the kind of person I am.

There is a name for it. And I am not alone! In fact, I am part of a huge group! There are over 2 billion people belonging to the same category. I am not weird, or an outsider, or aloof.
No.

I am an introvert.


I have found a book that's seriously changing my life right now: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. It's written by Susan Cain, the lady in the video above.

Everything is starting to make sense now.
The reason why I cherish my alone time so much.
Why I can't watch violent movies, those animal cruelty TV commercials, or some scenes in "Games of Thrones". (Apparently, introverts are often more sensitive and feel emotions deeper than extroverts.)
Why I'm so blunt: Introverts want everyone to be real and honest. Yes, that's me to a T! Social pleasantries are so exhausting. (Plus I'm also German, so there's that. Double whammy!)
Why I'd rather make a tough choice and end something that makes me unhappy rather than sticking with it for the sake of outward appearances. This applies to things, work environments and people alike.

Here is a direct quote that's nothing short of miraculous - how did she know? “The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend these relationships into the real world.” 

Then there is the fact that introverts are more easily overstimulated by new experiences, people and surroundings, and therefore don't enjoy big crowds or extreme thrill-seeking adventures. They like routine and familiarity. They can make huge leaps of bravery if they deem them necessary - but only if they consider it worthwhile.

Introverts are often individuals. (All that thinking.) They don't necessarily follow trends but rather carve out a way of life for themselves. 

And it goes on and on. I'm only about halfway through the book, and I'm completely enthralled. I can't quite put into words how it makes me feel having discovered this wealth of information.    

It's like having been blind all my life and all of a sudden I can see! It is so wonderful and freeing! And explains a lot

What I will be doing for a long while to come is classify every person I come across: introvert or extrovert?
Introvert trying to pretend to be an extrovert? (My old trick - will I spot the other tricksters?)

Reading this book would be beneficial for anyone. Either it helps you understand yourself so much better - or it helps you understand all the introverts around you. 

If you recognize yourself in any of these examples, then you are one of "my" people! We are not anti-social, shy or weird - we are introverts. We can lead companies if we choose to, give public speeches (just look at Susan, who herself is an introvert), be great actors (Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep or Emma Watson are all introverts), host dinner parties. It's not that we don't like people, we do (a lot!) - just not too many at once or too often. We think a lot (too much sometimes), daydream, and like to talk about life and its many mysteries. There are people that are just like you and me! Lots of them!

This new knowledge is thrilling.

Lots of love, Miriam


The School of Life

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15 comments

  1. "Why I can't watch violent movies, those animal cruelty TV commercials, or some scenes in "Games of Thrones". (Apparently, introverts are often more sensitive and feel emotions deeper than extroverts.' - This portion of your post hit-me-hard! I knew I was an introvert. But I have a very hard times coming to grips with the reality of pain, violence, and sadness. Especially when depicted on TV or in movies. I cannot watch horror or war movies with too much detail. The Passion of the Christ sent me into a spiral of emotional drainage I cannot even begin to explain. I may need to read this book of yours to enlighten myself further on why I am the way I am. Haha Thank you for sharing!!

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  2. Yay Miriam!! I'm so glad the book is bringing so much into focus! I hate crowded events, I have no desire to go to Mardi Gras or other such event, but that may be just because I find crowds annoying and like to enjoy my sight seeing at my own pace :)

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  3. Thank you (again) and I bookmarked this book for the (near) future. I totally can understand and relate to you in this article (post) of yours. That totally exist, to be surrounded by a group of people yet to feel alone, that is why I say (and many), that better then to be alone with a good book :) Well said: we are not weirdos etc and we can appreciate our time alone and have the desire to spend some time alone, which does not mean we do not want to be with someone. Isn't it lovely to realize that we are not alone and there are people who think like us? Bis bald :}

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  4. Yes Miriam.... I AM an introvert it seems. Being Irish with the "gift of the gab" keeos me in disguise. I do like meeting people but may not like being around them much. I like short contact events. My time alone in my house is one of life's simple pleasures - to walk around and not having anyone observing me and bring able to do as I wish and not converse.I never go anywhere crowded (except the mall for nails, Chapter's and R&W. I do like speaking in front of people which may be an anomoly of some kind. Every time I read your blogs I learn something. Thank you for your revealing words. You are awsome.

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  5. I think I'm an introvert masquerading as an extrovert, but I'm not sure. Some of the above is true for me, but some not so much. I think if I am an introvert that I've pushed myself to be an extrovert for so long that I may actually have become one. Who knows.

    I'm sorry you've been feeling alone. I can certainly relate to that. If I could, I'd give you the biggest hug right now. So happy that Susan's book is shedding some light on things for you. It's tricky business trying to understand ourselves. XO

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  6. Ah this is such a great post! I've always been shy as a child and I had a hard time meeting new people because I just wouldn't know what to say to them. Now that I am a grownup I've learned to accept the fact that I don't like concerts (or any crowded events), and staying home instead of going out is perfectly fine for me too.

    Now it's easier for me to talk to people I've just met and know nothing about, but I'm still not 100% comfortable. There are a lot of introverts out there and I think all of us are pretty cool (but I may just be biased :P). I definitely agree with you though, it's much harder being a child introvert because you always want to fit in at school and with certain groups of people. When you grow up though these things don't really matter as much and it becomes much easier :)

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  7. What a great post, Miriam. I can relate to a lot of those characteristics, too.

    And I think that's pretty cool that at 14 you were able to instinctively love yourself enough to make the choice that was right for you. "Instinctively, I decided to rather stick to myself than be with the wrong people."

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    1. Looking back, I think it was my shyness and extreme awkwardness that kept me away haha!
      But I've always listened to my feelings (maybe too much sometimes?), and simply can't do something that feels wrong.

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  8. I'm an introvert too so I was nodding along to this entire post. Well said!! I read Quiet a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Recently, I heard about another book called, The Introvert Advantage. I haven't read it yet, but I heard it is terrific.

    -Amy

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  9. another great post!

    this is who i am, every single thing you said applies to me. i'm so glad to know that i'm not alone, because i feel like that so many times. everyone in my surroundings seems to be super extroverted, which makes me the odd one out. reading this made me feel a lot better about my 'weird' behaviour, so thanks! :)

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  10. You know, I read your two posts on introversion yesterday and they've been on my mind ever since. I've actually been a little torn about what I've read because while I agree that finding out your introversion/extroversion preference can be very liberating and like coming home, I also feel like some of the things you mentioned as introverted attributes are not actually dependent on introversion. I think it's important to be very careful about not putting ourselves or other people into boxes that could potentially divide us... and I think some of the aspects you mentioned are not exclusive to introverts. Things like:


    + "Why I can't watch violent movies, those animal cruelty TV commercials, or some scenes in "Games of Thrones". (Apparently, introverts are often more sensitive and feel emotions deeper than extroverts.)" There are introverts who could care less about those things and extroverts who can feel deeply affected by those things as well. The ability to feel and understand one's feelings is something that I believe falls outside of the realm of introversion or extroversion.

    + Why I'm so blunt: Introverts want everyone to be real and honest. Yes, that's me to a T! Social pleasantries are so exhausting. (Plus I'm also German, so there's that. Double whammy!) Again, bluntness has nothing to do with introversion or extroversion. There are people who say it like it is regardless of where they fall on that spectrum.

    + Why I'd rather make a tough choice and end something that makes me unhappy rather than sticking with it for the sake of outward appearances. This applies to things, work environments and people alike. This also has to do with people's value systems, rather than their preference for alone time vs. being around other people.

    + Then there is the fact that introverts are more easily overstimulated by new experiences, people and surroundings, and therefore don't enjoy big crowds or extreme thrill-seeking adventures. They like routine and familiarity. They can make huge leaps of bravery if they deem them necessary - but only if they consider it worthwhile. This also is unsupported. There are extroverts that are terrified by thrills and there are introverts that love them. There are extroverts that hate big crowds and introverts that don't mind them (but maybe they don't like interacting directly, it depends). Routine and familiarity are also not exclusive to introverts or not. There are some introverts who love variety, even if it's not people-oriented or even if it is. And there are tons of extroverts who love routine.

    + Introverts are often individuals. (All that thinking.) They don't necessarily follow trends but rather carve out a way of life for themselves. And I'm sorry, but this was offensive to me, because this suggests that all extroverts are followers and slaves to social trends or the whims of a group. Some of the most individually-focused and brilliant thinkers are extroverts -- and they do march to their own beat or follow their own path.

    (Comment continued in reply...)

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    1. Basically, I think that it's great that you've been introduced to this way of understanding how people get their energy. I think it's important for people to know that being introverted doesn't equal being selfish or anti-social. HOWEVER, assigning other attributes to it -- especially value and character judgments -- can be very dangerous. At the end of the day, introverts get their energy from being alone (charge up) and extroverts get it from their external world. It's a spectrum and everyone needs a different amount. And although there are some traits that introverts generally share, the energizing factor is really as far as it tends to go.

      With your interest, I'd really recommend you starting to look into Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It talks about introversion and extroversion, but also about the other functions that go along with it. You'll start to find that there are other personality traits and groups of people with certain traits that actually have more in common with each other than the introversion and extroversion divide.

      I hope this didn't come across too harshly -- I don't mean it to be mean. But I do think that introversion and extroversion is something that is experienced; it's very difficult to know or understand if other people are outside of their own assessment of it. And I think that many of the examples that you've shared are not exclusive to introverts, though you may find more of a home or "like-traits" within the four temperaments. (Here's a link to a site that explains them a bit more: http://www.keirsey.com/4temps/overview_temperaments.asp

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    2. Wow, what a long comment!! Definitely the longest one I have ever received. :-)
      I'm not offended at all, don't worry about that.

      Those examples I included in my post are examples I took from the book. I'm still in the middle of reading it, so I have no conclusion - I basically kept writing down what I had read that day or the day before.

      Like with everything in life, I think it's not just black and white, and that there are lots of different versions of intro-and extroverts. Also, we can overcome some of our inherent characteristics, and adopt new ones from the other spectrum.
      It is endlessly fascinating!

      By no means am I trying to suggest that extroverts are unfeeling, uncreative followers, and introverts are great, creative individualists. Not at all! And the author isn't trying to say that either. No personality type is in any way superior to the other.

      Not everything she is describing applies to me - just some parts.
      What makes this so exciting for me is that once you know more about yourself and your "type", it explains a lot about yourself. You can then find ways to deal with some of your perceived shortcomings, or find ways to better deal with them.
      So interesting!

      I think the book is written to educate us more about introverts, because they are often misunderstood. She is trying to show that the common way of doing things in our culture - the open-plan offices, strong emphasis on group work in schools, and general importance on being outgoing and a "people person" - is counterproductive for many people.

      Have you read the book? Susan Cain has lots of scientific research that supports her statements, and she can explain it much better than I can.

      Thanks for your thorough feedback!

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  11. The introversion/extroversion conversation fascinates me, and also kind of confuses me. I read Quiet a few months ago (thinking that I was an introvert), and as I read it, there were moments when I said to myself, "yes! That's me!" and then a few pages later I would say, "Wait, that is definitely not me." Apparently there is a name for people who are both, called "ambivert". I think that is what I am, or possibly an extrovert with many introverted qualities. Like Erika says in her comment, I am really interested in the Myers-Briggs Type indicator. I wonder if that will give me some more clarity. Fascinating stuff! I am glad you are finding the book helpful.

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  12. I needed this post.

    I've been struggling with the whole "feeling introverted" thing for the past several years. Growing up, I was an extremely outgoing social butterfly who could make friends with anyone not 5 minutes after talking to them. It was easy and I loved it. I don't know where I lost it - maybe in high school when I went from my little private school to the big, scary public system? - but I missed it for the longest time. I thought maybe my personality had taken a hit, but then why was it so easy to write? To be around people I DID know well? I had similar feelings - more lonely in a big group of people, I preferred to be alone, and I definitely am routine. Like, OCD level routine haha. I watched that video on the Power of Introverts and it was so enlightening. And reading this post? Incredibly so! I'm absolutely one of "your" people and it's so great to know I'm not alone. I write a blog (I LOVE working on posts and putting it out there!), I can take risks/do something new when the occasion calls for it, and I'm no longer bummed out that I'm an introvert!

    Thank you SO MUCH for doing this post...its comforting to know there are others like me out there!
    ~ Samantha

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