I'm an Introvert!! Now that changes everything!

Lucy Toppetta, blogger, singer, reiki grandmaster Those who don't know me well usually get the wrong first impression of who, and most importantly - what I am. I've been called quiet, shy, unapproachable, anti-social, lazy, weird - just to name a few. Most of my life, I often wondered what made people think this way and I secretly thought that perhaps there was something very wrong with me. I wasn't like many people I knew. I wasn’t the first to start a conversation or easily jump into one. I was uncomfortable bragging - and I use the word lightly, about something amazing that happened to me if someone just shared a wonderful event in their life.  I usually kept to myself not to draw too much attention.  This smells of low self-esteem but I came to realize it is much more.  Although many life experiences will often have an indelible effect on a person's personality, their innate character traits are often determined by brain wiring. Carl Jung explored this topic in depth and his personality testing continues to be used as an assessment tool.

Lucy Toppetta writer, reiki, meditation facilitator, singerI was never quite comfortable with small talk especially when meeting someone new. Networking is definitely not a skill I developed and thus shy away from potentially great opportunities.  I didn't have that confident roll-off-the-tongue 20 smart questions to ask someone to keep a conversation going - I often didn't really care to know only because that would keep me there longer than I wanted to be. While in a superficial conversation, I would try to inconspicuously look for the closest exit and pray I could get away quickly.  If I happened to be at a social event, I preferred to blend in with the wallpaper and watch what was going on from a distance. I felt most comfortable there!   It is from this "perch" where I examined human nature. I often wondered how people could be so cheerful, waving their glass of beverage or slapping their thighs in laughter or why did they have to be so loud! This would be the point where I would mostly zone out and crawl into my head and think - something I do best!

It wasn't until the age of 54, did I come to discover that there really isn't anything wrong with me. That I am not shy, quiet, unapproachable, anti-social, lazy or weird. I'm just an introvert. An introvert, you see, typically lives in her head, zones out when too much is going on, and is energized by spending time alone. She may have lots of friends and enjoys an evening out - just not too often and not in a loud place, please! As an "innie" my time alone is precious to me and I anxiously wait for that moment when I can get away to a quiet place and reflect, dream, read, or plan a project. Conversely, extroverts are energized by social scenes, work best in large groups, and may feel drained when alone. "Outies" seek stimulation as much as "innies" seek solitude and reflection. As luck would have it, my son is an extrovert and I have only now come to understand his need for being so social among his large group of friends. He rarely declines a social invitation - even if it's just for a coffee and chat very late in the evening even though he has an early class the next day. Staying home, for an extrovert, when life is going on outside his door, is detrimental to his well-being while the introvert loves the sanctuary of her home, long walks on the beach with someone special, or sitting under a tree reading or planning. This activity is always re-energizing for me.

When an introvert is surrounded by extroverts, she can become overwhelmed by sights and sounds. This is where decisions need to be made. Do I run or do I stay?? Remember, not all introverts are shy and not all extroverts are loud.  They are stimulated by different things and sometimes it becomes painfully obvious that they don't belong in the same room! So what to do?   "The Introvert Advantage", a book written by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D. changed the game for me!!  Not only did this book reassure me that I am not weird and incapable of making friends or enjoying life fully, but it showed me that it is essential that I embrace my introverted-ness and rejoice that "it" has a name and most importantly, it's OK!!

introvert Lucy Toppetta at La Luz Therapy
What is key for joyful co-habitation on this planet is that introverts and extroverts need to understand, acknowledge and accept their differences.  Ah yes, the “sensitive idealist”, I was recently tagged as by a caring colleague.  Without judgement, prejudice and disdain - they must accept that their worlds are "rocked" by, at times extremely different stimuli that could be disturbing to either group.  After reading this book, I believe it should be required reading for everyone - at least at the high school level. This book will help build self-esteem and help adolescents cut through the quagmire of social acceptance and rejection. Keeping in mind all of the usual teenager angst, this would be a great tool nonetheless. Having this personality type suits me fine until I am in a social setting and I feel as though a spot light has been pointed in my direction as my need for solitude becomes more pronounced, most especially if I among extroverts.  These types of situations typically make me feel more isolated, in my introverted perception.   I work in an office of mostly extroverts, and the constant visual and auditory stimulation in my bustling office, at times, makes me appear anti-social as the louder it gets, the quieter I become.  My eyes get small to avoid the visual stimulation and my shoulders feel as though they are lifting towards my ears to magically  cut the sounds.  My body language is difficult to hide, and so what I resist will persist until I have learned the lesson.

All this said, it is important that introverts find a healthy balance.  Introverts can’t all live as hermits to avoid the over stimulation of life outside our doors so it is imperative that we find the balance and thrive - as the book suggests in an extroverted world. Through making concerted efforts, I have come to accept my personality type as not a curse but a blessing as I can learn to live in both worlds.  In order for me to be an active participant in my life and in the lives of others, I can learn to become more accepting of those extroverts around me, join in for as long as it is comfortable and then step back and re-energize. As there are surely introverts who wish they were a little more extroverted, certainly there are extroverts who secretly wish they could just relax more. They say that the grass is always greener on the other side but they are now also saying that it is greener where you water it.  Personal growth in a nutshell!

Some of the most memorable literary, television and film characters are introverts.  Atticus Finch, in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Radar, from “M.A.S.H.”  are great examples of introverts who quietly and unceremoniously worked behind the scenes.  When it was necessary, they came forward, stepped up to the plate and in their introverted way, changed people’s lives and then quietly retreated to their solitude to re-energize their spirit.  Despite my introversion, I was a professional cheerleader for 8 seasons, and a band singer for 10 years.  It wasn’t always easy as I suffered terribly from performance anxiety but still had this need to express myself and I pushed through.  The truth is that there are various levels of introversion as there are extroversion and at times there is a small grey area where they mix well like a great martini, and thus the balance is formed. During that period of my life I appear to have found that balance, however over time for reasons I am not clear on just yet, I forgot how it’s done.  This is the reason why I write this blog -  to express my truth in the hope that I find that balance.