Most of my life, I internalized an often unspoken message: introversion and sensitivity were bad. I was to ignore these qualities in myself and deny them, because they weren’t helpful or good and wouldn’t get me anywhere in life.
(A note: No, no one ever actually said most of that mean stuff to me. But it’s the lesson that my child’s mind learned and that I then integrated into my understanding of the world as an adult.)
Over the past several years, as I’ve started reading personal development blogs and books, become a coach, coached lots of brilliant sensitives and introverts, and done copious amounts of self-work, my relationship to my sensitivity and introversion has changed. I now make concerted efforts to honor my introverted nature, and to create a soft space for my sensitive nervous system to land. I certainly don’t always succeed, but I try to be kind to these aspects of myself, while trying, also, to be good to the people around me.
I sometimes wonder, though: do I sometimes use my introversion as a copout to exempt me from scary experiences that I actually should be pushing myself to participate in? Am I throwing up my sensitivity as an excuse, to shield me from the world’s pain, which I’d rather ignore than face?
The answer is, I think, that there’s no definitive answer. Which is why I find these questions all the more worth asking.
Even though I’m perfectly fine with not having answers to these questions, the fact that they’ve arisen tells me that it’s useful for me to be especially mindful of these special qualities of mine, and to be considerate of how I interact with them. These are some of the main ways in which I bring mindful attention to my sensitivity and introversion.
Looking Forward in My Schedule
I like to consider the things I have planned in my week. If I have several deadlines and a big event at work, then no, I’m not going to spend my whole weekend at festivals and dinner parties and meet-and-greets. However, if it’s the end of the week, and I have nothing planned for the next few days but rest, I might push myself (gently) to get to a party that I’m feeling ambivalent about.
Taking My Values into Consideration
I have a general idea of what my values are, and when I’m unsure about whether I want to expend time and energy on something, I try to think about how it meshes with my values. As much as possible, I try to attend events that are important to my partner, family, and very close friends. If I have energy left over, then I expend it on things like parties of acquaintances or friends of friends. I also try to keep commitments as much as I can. If I agreed to attend an event several months ago, that generally remains a higher priority than last-minute invitations.
Those guidelines help me with the logistics of scheduling with my sensitive nervous system and need for alone time. But what about knowing when I’m using my sensitivity or introversion as copouts?
This is where emotions and gut-checks come in handy. If something sounds scary but piques my interest, it might be worth the energy to go. If something sounds scary and also like it will put me in a bad mood after having done it, that’s probably an event I’ll try to skip if I can. Actually, imagining how I’ll feel post-event is a really handy trick. I might, for instance, posit the following self-inquiry:
. . .
Question: “I’m way tired, but I have my monthly meeting with my fellow entrepreneurial buddies to attend. How will I feel afterward?”
Answer: “Afterward, I’ll feel a strong sense of community. I’ll feel understood. I’ll come away with several really great ideas. I’ll feel all warm and fuzzy at having gotten to spend a few hours with some favorite people.”
Conclusion: I’m totally going.
. . .
Another question: “I’ve been working nonstop and have two big events coming up next week for which I need to have plenty of energy. There’s a summer festival this weekend that some friends asked me to attend. How will I feel afterward?”
Answer: “Afterward, I’ll feel annoyed at the crowds, and my nervous system will be ratcheted up due to too much heat, too much noise, and too much other stimulus. I’ll feel resentful at myself for going, and I’ll be depleted going into this next week.”
Conclusion: I’m gently bowing out this time, and will make a special attempt to see these friends soon in a less-stimulating environment.
. . .
And that’s how I do it. It’s imprecise, and it’s imperfect. There are times when I let people down because I don’t have the energy to do something. That’s hard, both for me and for them. There are times when I stay home to rest, only to find that I feel lonely and can’t sleep even though I’m pooped. This happens.
Getting to know yourself takes practice, and trial and error. But you have a lifetime to do it, so there needn’t be any hurry.