Living and Loving as an Introvert

dorkymum

good advice

*stands up*

*shuffles nervously*

*clears throat*

Hello. My name’s Ruth and I am an introvert.

Would you believe that it has taken me 31 years to say that?

Most of those years have been taken up with saying other things. No, I’m not anti-social. No, I’m not shy. No, it’s not that I hate people, or that I hate you, or that I’m a badly brought up Awkward Annie.

I’m just an introvert.

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P365 – Day 229 – a little bit of self-indulgence

This book was recommended to me by a counsellor I was seeing a couple of years ago. I got a short way into it, then it all got too hard and I didn’t have enough time to devote to it. Eventually everything fell by the wayside, and I forgot all about it.
Recently I went back to a counsellor to talk about some issues I was having a hard time dealing with. We ended up talking about some of the things that I think are holding me back from . . . well I’m not sure what from, but we talked about some beliefs and behaviours that are keeping me stuck in my old habits and that occasionally rise to the surface, making me feel more down on myself than usual, and not a nice person to be around.
She gave me some reading, which seemed very familiar, and after a while I realised it was from the very same book that I had tried to work through before. So I started working through it again. 
This time, I’ve started to feel like I’m making progress and that this might be something that will actually help me, if I stick with it.
One of the problems I have with doing this sort of thing is that I start to work through some exercises that I think will ‘help’ me to deal with my issues, and I tire of it very quickly and give up because I haven’t made any obvious progress.
Another problem is that I tend to think that I can’t do anything differently until I’ve ‘fixed’ the problem. As an example, what I mean is, I think can’t speak up for myself until I’ve done all the exercises on assertiveness and have learned the right way to be assertive. So if I give up on the exercises before I get to the specific ‘assertiveness’ exercises, then whenever I’m in a situation where I have to be assertive I won’t even try because I haven’t done that work.
Quite obviously – and my logical self knows this –both of these ‘problems’ are just excuses for staying exactly where I am.
I know that I’m not going to work through a book and then wake up the day after I’ve finished and instantly be a more confident, outgoing person. It doesn’t work like that. Just like eating healthy for a day is not going to result in a 10 kilo weight loss.
You learn to drive a car by driving a car. You learn a language by speaking it. You learn to take photos by taking photos. Sure there is some theoretical stuff that you might have to learn as well, but if you don’t actually go out and do it – put the theory into practice – all the instructions in the world are useless.
So if I want to learn to handle specific situations, I have to put myself into those situations. Reading about how to handle them (or doing courses, or talking to counsellors) is important to show me what the skills I need are, but if I don’t use the skills in real situations, I’ll never learn them.
It’s pretty obvious really, isn’t it?
I’ve held certain beliefs about myself for most of my life. I’ve allowed those beliefs to affect the way I behave in some situations, which has then reinforced those beliefs in my mind. It’s a vicious circle that I’ve found very hard to break out of.
What I have to do now, as I’ve always had to do, is to challenge those beliefs, to disprove them, and to replace them with thoughts that are a more accurate reflection of the person I am and the person I want to be.  But I mustn’t wait until I’ve done that to start changing my behaviour in particular situations – in fact if I wait, my behaviour won’t change and it will continue to reinforce my ‘limiting beliefs’ and I won’t get anywhere, just like last time. And the time before. And, um, the time before that. And . . .
This is a major shift in thinking for me, because in my world, you just don’t do anything until you have prepared perfectly, have all the information you need, have everything in place, and know that you have a good chance of succeeding.
The result of this is, as you might imagine, that I never do anything – because it’s not possible to prepare perfectly or have all the information I need to proceed. And the fact that I think I need to do this is one of those limiting beliefs that I need to challenge.
It’s all starting to make sense to me now. In fact, writing this post has made it even clearer, and has made it more apparent why I’ve failed in the past.
I seriously don’t expect that if I start to feel better about myself and make some of these changes, that I’ll be a different person. I’m not going to become an outgoing, vivacious life of the party type any more than I’m going to become a hot shot lawyer. By nature I am introverted (which is not the same as shy), with particular personality traits that will always be part of me. Or as my boss put it, while I can try to improve against ‘critical competencies’, it’s not possible to change my inherent thinking style and personality.
But I hope that as I progress through this work, I’ll find it easier to stand up for myself, to explain to people what I want, and to hold onto my position in a discussion instead of getting all wishy-washy and vague. There are a few other things too, but this will do for a start . . .
I also know that I’m not the only person in the world who is terrified by the thought of meeting new people, avoids certain situations because they can’t handle them, freezes up in conversations and beats themselves up when they make a mistake. And I know that a lot of people appear a lot more confident in difficult situations than they actually are. The difference between them and me might not be as great as I think it is.
But part of this work is getting myself to believe that I can do things that I’ve convinced myself that I can’t do.
It’s very much about changing my mindset and my beliefs so that I can change my behaviour.
I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m seeing more positive signs than I ever have before. I think this is a good thing.

P365 – Day 85 i learned a thing or two today

I thought it would be fun to go to the Dinosaur Petting Zoo today. It’s part of the Ten Days on the Island arts festival, which is held every two years in Tasmania.
I thought Juniordwarf would love the opportunity to get up close and personal with some dinosaurs, even if they weren’t ‘real’ dinosaurs. When I asked him during the week, he said that no he didn’t want to go and see the dinosaurs.
Well, thought I, he doesn’t really mean it, and once he gets there and sees them, he’ll have a great time. I’m sure he’ll enjoy it. What kid doesn’t like dinosaurs?
Besides, I wanted to see them too. It sounded like fun.
My mum went to the first show last night and she had a great time, and said all the kids loved it. So we were confident Juniordwarf would too, even though he said a couple of times he didn’t want to go.
(I think you can see where this is going and why I’ve said I learned something today . . .)
We got there early, since Mum said there had been heaps of people there last night and it might be hard to be able to see if we weren’t near the front. When we got there, kids were running round in the ‘stage’ area, throwing hay around and Juniordwarf had a look around, but he wasn’t that interested.
The show was on at 12.30, and Juniorwarf was hungry, so we went to get some food. Lesson 1: Take food and have an early lunch.
Mum and I convinced him to move closer to where the show was going to be, and he went into the sitting area, while we stood just behind him. It was going to be a pretty good place to be, with a good view, until Juniordwarf decided he didn’t want to stay in there any more and made a quick exit to sit down on the grass behind everyone to finish his lunch.
There was no way we were getting our spot back, even with Mum still in the throng. I managed to squeeze Juniordwarf back in to stand with her, while I stood at the back leaning on a lamp-post, unable to see a thing, sulking that I’d come all this way and I couldn’t see anything, and he wasn’t interested. I could hear what was going on and it sounded great, which made me even more pissed off that I was missing it.
My photo of the day was going to be Juniordwarf patting a dinosaur, or something from the show. Instead, all I have is a picture from the back. This was my view:
After about 15 minutes, Juniordwarf and Mum emerged from the crowd, and that was pretty much it for our dinosaur experience, except for right at the end when we caught a glimpse from behind the performance area, and he got a chance to briefly pat one of the baby dinosaurs after the show.
Afterwards, on the way home, I asked him why he didn’t like it. He said it was too noisy and there were too many people.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. He didn’t enjoy the Wiggles last week because that was too loud and too crowded.
I suppose when I think about it, I’m not really comfortable in noisy environments. I find I get quite irritated and anxious, and the same goes when I’m in crowds. I’m a classic introvert and need my alone time. Spending time with other people, which I do enjoy for short periods, and which I need to do to stop me from becoming completely withdrawn, is physically and mentally draining for me. So if this is true for me, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be true for Juniordwarf as well. Especially for him, as he’s so small. Being surrounded by masses of adults (as well as herds of noisy kids) if you aren’t comfortable in that kind of situation must be really quite intimidating.
I guess sometimes I forget that I’ve had a lifetime of experience in being in these situations and have developed ways to manage them as best as I can. He hasn’t, and it’s all new and scary to him.
I feel a bit like I let him down, because I allowed what I wanted to do get in the way of what Juniordwarf needed. He had a miserable day, and consequently so did I.
Of course I know he needs to get exposed to new situations and different experiences so that he can develop and grow, but in hindsight, this was something he just wasn’t ready for.
I also know that sometimes he says he doesn’t want to do something, so we don’t do it, only to find after the time has passed, he wants to do it. Tantrums then follow because he realises he can’t do whatever it was he actually wanted to do. Talk about frustrating!
So what have I learned?
One. Not all kids are into dinosaurs.
Two. Juniordwarf likes crowded, noisy places about as much as I do. (I shall steer him away from a career that involves working in an open plan office.)
Three. If I suggest an event and he says he doesn’t want to go, consider whether it’s really really worth it to go – it’s hard to make that call. Today I honestly thought he’d love the dinosaurs. I didn’t take into account the crowds. It needs to be a balancing act decision I guess. Which leads to . . .
Four. There is never a right decision. If we hadn’t gone because Juniordwarf had said he didn’t want to go, I would have sat at home and been annoyed that I’d missed the dinosaurs – I would have had no idea that it wouldn’t have been fun for either of us.
Five. Perhaps my mother is right sometimes. While I was sulking and grumbling about how I might as well have stayed home and cleaned the lounge room, she said that we’d had a nice walk down by the waterfront and didn’t seem worried at all. Though she did get to see the dinosaurs . . .

P365 Day 8 – tweetup (8/1/2011)

Today I moved out of my comfort zone in a big way.
I’m not comfortable talking to people I don’t know, and I don’t much like being in groups of people. Being around people for any length of time drains my energy. I need a lot of time by myself. I get incredibly nervous before any type of social gathering and have been known to refuse invitations and avoid events because of my fear of being around too many people I don’t know. I’m a classic introvert.
So when I heard there was going to be a tweetup for Twitter people (tweeps) living in my area to meet each other, I wasn’t really interested and didn’t think I’d go. Sure, it seemed like a lot of the people I chat to on Twitter would be there, but chatting to someone online is a lot different to knowing them in real life.
I know different snippets about the people I follow – their names, where they live, how many kids they have, what sort of work they do, whether they use a Mac or a PC, what TV shows they watch, what they think of current issues – that sort of thing. I know different things about different people. People share information they want to share and leave other stuff private. Just like I do.
But despite knowing a little bit about each person, the thought of walking up to a group of people I’d never met in real life absolutely terrified me. I didn’t *know* these people. I’d never met them. What would I talk about? What if we had nothing in common? What if they wouldn’t talk to me? What if they were smarter or more sophisticated or better travelled than me? What if I started saying stupid things? What if . . . what if . . . ?
I thought about it for ages leading up to today. Part of me was curious. I wanted to put faces to names. I wanted to find out more. Part of me was terrified. I couldn’t do this. I hate meeting new people. I can’t just march up to a group of people I don’t know and introduce myself. I just don’t do that.
My practical self reminded me that, regardless of whether I wanted to go or not, I have a list of jobs around the house longer than my arm that I really need to do. If I keep putting them off I’m never going to do them.
By this morning, I’d talked myself out of going. Too much to do was the official excuse. I even tweeted as much.
But to my great surprise, interest and curiosity won out in the end (plus it was too hot to do any of the yard work we had to do), and I went to the tweetup.
I took juniordwarf because some of the others said they were taking their kids and I thought he’d love the playground. I thought it would be good for him to meet some other kids his own age. And (to be totally honest) I thought it would be easier to meet people with a child in tow.
I’m so glad I went.
I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to many people, because juniordwarf wanted to go straight to the playground. That was fine. It gave me the opportunity to talk to a couple of Mums and a Nanny, all of whom I’d exchanged tweets with fairly regularly. I said hello to some other wonderful people that I’d met on Twitter, even if it was just a quick introduction.
And none of them were scary. And none of them laughed at me. And if they were smarter, or more sophisticated, or better travelled than me, it didn’t matter.
When it all came down to it, we were all people happy to be meeting up with people we knew, but we didn’t know. And some of them might have been just as nervous as I was – I don’t know. And that’s something I have to keep reminding myself every time I’m tempted to avoid talking to someone, or to not ask for something – in the end, the person I’m avoiding is just a person, just like me. And the world won’t end if they don’t respond, or I don’t get what I want.
I know, because I have absolutely no ability to recognise faces, that if I see many of the people I met again I won’t recognise them and hope that if they recognise me they won’t think I’m snobbing them if I don’t say hello.
The day has taught me – just like several other things I’ve done recently have taught me – that I am not a shy person. A shy person would not have gone. A shy person would have stayed home and sorted through her clothes cupboard or the junk room study.
Shy is a label I’ve carried all my life. It’s not a helpful label. It never has been. It’s held me back from doing a lot of things that I might otherwise have done.  It’s a label that doesn’t apply to me. It hasn’t applied to me for quite a while now, but I’ve only realised that over the last couple of years.
This was another thing I’ve done to convince myself of that fact.