As an introvert, I tend to be more aware of my faults than most. This causes me to spend a lot of time and effort working on trying to find ways to improve myself in attempts to minimize these faults. In fact, efforts at self-improvement are a full-time endeavor for me.
This almost always involves adding things to the list of what I “should” be doing: be kinder, listen more (which means talk less), eat better, exercise more, clean out my closets, be more social, sleep more, read more, have a more positive attitude, keep up with my gratitude journal, meditate more, pray more, step outside my comfort zone more often, and on and on and on. It’s no wonder I get so tired! The list is never-ending.
Adding things to my plate to make myself a better person was the only way I knew how to work on improving myself. Until now. I recently discovered a whole new way to go about this.
My mother tells the story of the time when I came to her as a small child with an important question: “Mommy, why does God bother us all the time?”
As you can imagine, this question puzzled her, so she asked me where I’d gotten the idea that God bothers us. It turns out that we had sung the hymn “Never Alone” the previous week in church. The chorus of this song includes the words, “No, never alone! No, never alone! He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.” And I knew from experience that when my little brother never left me alone, that meant that he was bothering me!
I’m tired tonight. Really tired. It’s been gradually building all week, and it’s been an interesting process to observe.
I’ve been taking such good care of myself lately, that it’s been startling to see the difference in the person I am when I’m rested and am practicing self-care and the person I am when I’m exhausted and worn out. For many years, I thought this exhausted version of me was all that existed. Now I know better.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the human need for social acceptance and the difficulties that result from feeling rejected or excluded socially. Much of my pondering of this has been related to my own tendency to feel invisible that often comes from my introvert tendencies to spend a lot of time alone. It’s also come from my own struggles to determine how much of my need for social acceptance and approval comes from an innate human need for connection and how much of it stems from personal insecurity that causes me to place too much importance on what other people think of me as a means of trying to feel a sense of worth or value that really should be coming from within.
In other words, what does it look like to have a healthy need for social connection without relying on those connections to fill unhealthy needs for self-esteem? Where is the balance? And what do I need to do to move toward that healthy point?
With those thoughts foremost in my mind, I have been more aware than usual of blog posts and other information coming my way that addresses these topics. One particular article caught my attention this last week and sent me looking for more opinions and data on the topic, and I am sharing some of the highlights from that research here.
Life can be so ironic sometimes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted and wanted and wanted something so badly, and it hasn’t happened. Then as soon as my desires change and I no longer want it anymore, it appears. The universe clearly has a sense of humor, it seems.
My latest example of this ironic twist in action has to do with my social life. I have not had much of a social life or very many friends since I graduated from high school. For various reasons, I was an outsider in college and graduate school, which limited my friendship options. My working life has generally yielded work-based friendships that did not often result in spending much time with people outside of the office. For years, I pined and pined for a more active social life and friends to do things with outside of work, but it never materialized the way I had hoped.
Because I also lived alone, this meant I spent a lot of my time by myself. As an introvert, I dealt with this just fine, but I had a deep-seated belief that I’d be happier and more fulfilled if I could just break into the social scene.
As I’ve gone through so much change in the last few years, I’ve spent even more time alone even when I was living with other people in the house. I went back to my wishing and hoping to create more friendships and have a more active social life. I was sure that having more friends would make me happier. After all, isn’t that what the research says?
“If you took a blue spruce tree and planted it in the desert, it would obviously perish. How do we forget that we too are living systems, and each of us have unique environments, needs, and conditions within which we flourish or wither?” ~Dawna Markova
Although we are far from desert conditions here in the Midwest, the last couple years of hotter, drier weather has taken a toll on the blue spruce trees in the area. I have four of them in my yard. One didn’t make it through last summer, and the other three are struggling despite the fact that I have been watering them in the dry spells. My trees are far from alone, though. I now notice other blue spruce trees everywhere I drive around town, and I’ve seen many others that are dead or struggling under these conditions.
Therefore, this quote from Dawna Markova really resonated with me. There are conditions where it is obvious that a given living specimen will not be able to survive, like a blue spruce tree in the desert or a fish on dry land, but there are also conditions that are sufficiently stressful to an organism that even if it does not kill it, it will stress the organism enough that over time it will begin to show the ill effects.
“It’s an open acknowledgment of a tendency we all have: to make things much more complicated than they need to be. After all, it’s much more fun – and still leaves room for other addictions, like procrastination, perfection and control – to engage in mental masturbation.” ~Beth Buelow, The Introvert Entrepreneur
Clearly I still needed another gentle push to jump today after my post of yesterday. I came home from work today to find Beth’s post entitled How to Kick Your Paralysis by Analysis Addiction (from which the quote above is taken) waiting for me in my RSS reader. Talk about a timely message!
“Pain (any pain—emotional, physical, mental) has a message. The information it has about our life can be remarkably specific, but it usually falls into one of two categories: “We would be more alive if we did more of this,” and, “Life would be more lovely if we did less of that.” Once we get the pain’s message, and follow its advice, the pain goes away.” ~Peter McWilliams
I’ve found myself struggling again more than I had been the last few days. I wouldn’t call it pain exactly, but there is a definite sense that things are not as they should be. I’ve been able to observe these feelings without getting sucked into them (and without losing sight of how joyous life is), and I think Peter is right; there is a message for me in this feeling.
I’ve been reading Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength by Laurie Helgoe for the last few weeks. It has taken me that long to read it because it was so good and so revolutionary (for me) that I chose to savor it chapter by chapter in order to fully absorb everything she had to say. I’ve read many books on introversion over the years, but I’ve never had one have such a profound impact on me as this one has.
Keep in mind, I am a quintessential introvert. I’ve known this for years. In fact, I’ve spent much time trying to explain to other people around me how my form of extreme introversion makes me so different from them to try to help them be less freaked out about the ways I don’t meet the cultural norm. I know introversion well. I know how it affects me. I know how it plays out in my life.
So what is it about this book that has had such an enormous impact?