i'm not crazy. i'm an introvert.
Being around people can be exhausting.
You see, I feel much more comfortable interacting with people intimately, one on one. I’m friendly but quiet; often preoccupied with my thoughts. I’ve probably been perceived as standoffish from time to time. It’s not that I’m anti-social or don’t like people, but I have to observe my environment to see what part I want to play in it. I may choose to open up or I may choose to stay on the outskirts looking in.
At the risk of putting myself in a box, I’m going to go ahead and say that I’m an introvert. That doesn't mean I'm anti-social or unfriendly. It does mean that savor my time alone. Psychiatrist Carl Jung introduced the concept of the introvert in his book Psychological Types. Jung’s definition of an introvert is “wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life,” while the extrovert is “predominantly concerned with obtaining gratification from what is outside the self.”
If ever a girl craved a self-definition, this was it for me. So many times I’ve doubted my sanity or thought something was wrong with me for being so socially awkward. I could be surrounded by people trying to out-talk each other and I’d be the quiet one wishing everyone would stop being so vocal and be more perceptive.
I struggle with giving access to people when it’s not on my terms. I’d rather schedule a call than have someone call me unexpectedly. Confrontations put me at a disadvantage because I’m not able to take my time and process what’s happening. I prefer writing to talking because it gives me the space and time to find the right words. When I talk too much I always end up feeling like I’m depleting my life force. That will either sound overdramatic to you, or it will sound like the words of a woman after your own heart.
I used to think that I was shy, but now I know that’s not the case. I’m just reflective. I instinctively take measures to preserve myself in social environments. According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, “Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not over-stimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”
I’ve been told that I appear confident and outgoing, and many people are shocked that I’ve ever been known as a shy person. But I’ve learned how to manage it so I can get out there and do what I need to do. When I have time to prepare for it, I’m actually quite social. But I need limits and buffers and escapes.
After a period of heavy socializing, I feel worn down, spent, drained of energy. Then I have to go be quiet for a long time. When I don’t take this time to recharge, I get cranky, impatient, and eventually--sad and even depressed. I existed that way for years: constantly surrounded by people, constantly on the go, totally neglecting my need for solitude. The whole time, wondering why I was so miserable.
And then one day I realized that much of my anxiety came from not knowing how to take care of myself, not only as an introvert, but as a soulful person who needs to find meaning in things to feel content.
Instead of fighting against my nature, I started thinking about how to nurture it. I stopped calling myself crazy. That helped. I stopped apologizing for needing time to be alone with my thoughts. With an enlightened view of myself, I learned how to set boundaries without feeling uncertain or selfish.
I’ve come to accept that I will always be torn between my inner and outer worlds. I will always be slightly off the grid. Seeing things differently, experiencing things differently, stars in my eyes and fire in my bones. Crazy? No, not really.
I am a self-described wallflower, but I want my work to be seen. I have a voice - I’ve worked hard to find it - and I want to make a difference. When I finally stopped resisting this truth, and gave myself the time alone that I craved, that is when I began to thrive.
If you are like me and you often feel overwhelmed by life, then you are reading the right book. You are not crazy or selfish or weird to value your solitude. It is important to protect your private time and preserve yourself. We all need that and I have learned that I need a lot more than I ever realized. There’s nothing wrong with being sensitive, feeling things deeply and craving creative ways to express those feelings.
If you are like me, and you use your private time to connect with your inner world and make sense of things, then we are kindred spirits! You don’t have to hide who you are or apologize.
But what if you are not quiet at all? Maybe you are naturally outgoing and expressive, but you keep your creative, sensitive side silent and hidden away, afraid of making yourself vulnerable. Fear doesn’t care if you are an introvert or an extrovert. We all have to find the courage to overcome our insecurities and live authentically.
If you feel like your personality is holding you back, or like you have things to say but you are afraid to expose yourself, my intention with this book is to encourage you to build confidence and express yourself, without feeling obligated to behave unnaturally.
Just because you are quiet, does not mean that you don’t want to be heard. Just because you are afraid, doesn’t mean that you are weak. With prompts and insights to guide you, this book will help you peel back your layers to reveal your most fundamental fears and desires. With this awareness, you will be better positioned to channel your energy in meaningful ways and reveal the soulful, expressive woman that already lives within you.
This essay appears in my book, Wallflower: Essays and Anecdotes for Quiet Women Who Want to Be Heard. Published in 2014, the original print version of this book will be unavailable after December 31, 2017. To continue reading, you can download the PDF here.