Sitting at my desk wondering why everything gets dusty almost as soon as its been cleaned, I hear a mother talking with her child on their way to school. I miss the first part of the exchange but the response from the woman to her son is clear. “You’re just like me, you like to stay indoors”. I wonder, anxious or introvert?
Introverts are born, but anxiety is an overlay, a skin which forms, often without our awareness.
In her wonderful book “Quiet” Susan Cain writes, “Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured”. But anxiety is a different matter. Sometimes though, they look the same, and to muddy the waters even further, introverts aren’t valued the way that extroverts are in modern society. So being an introvert can be the cause of anxiety, even though it is a most precious gift.
Why do we undervalue introverts?
In our shiny extrovert orientated society it’s easy to view introverts as “shy” rather than “reflective”, “quiet” rather than “thoughtful”. Labels create anxiety, especially when they are unwelcome or judgemental.
I know it’s easy to see an introvert as aloof, disconnected, unfriendly and disinterested because I am one. But nothing could be further from the truth. The harder you push at the door of an introvert the more they retreat, focusing their energy on whats going on inside them, gaining energy through solitude.
When we don’t understand what we see we misinterpret it. Being misunderstood can create anxiety for the introvert, as a struggle ensues between wanting to be accepted and wanting to be yourself.
Once I worked with a client who sunk into a deep depression looking at pictures of his contemporaries on Facebook curating records of their travelling, parties and university days. He couldn’t let go of what he called his “missed opportunities”. Over time he came to realise that an opportunity only needs to be grieved if it was one we truly want to take. The comparison between a life we lead and the one that we feel he should have lead creates anxiety, and is pointless.
If introverts would just let themselves be, understated in a world which values a charm offensive, however void of real meaning, life would be far simpler and less anxious.
We seem to value charisma above all else, but it can hide a multitude of issues. By only measuring what we can see it is easy for the introvert to be left behind. Skilled in building strong and lasting relationships, naturally empathic, creative, sensitive, and with a useful knack of using their two ears and one mouth in direct proportion, introverts can still feel less valued in the workplace, and the media does little to dispel the myth.
If you are an introvert you probably find dating difficult. Already aware that confidence tends to win the day you might hold back from believing in yourself and your worth. Combined with the introverts happiness with solitude and the clear understanding of the difference between loneliness and being alone you might be inclined to give up altogether. But the introvert is a wonderful partner. All that’s really missing is a heartfelt understanding of your introvert super powers.
I couldn’t get that exchange between mother and child out of my head. Maybe she was offering her son her own anxiety without realising, or maybe she recognised something in him more fundamental. Either way, “you’re just like me, you like to stay indoors” isn’t what he needs. If he’s anxious he needs help to understand that there is no certainty, so to wait for it worsens the discomfort rather than mitigating it. If he is an introvert she needs to take those words from the Don Mclean song “Vincent”. “I could have told you Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you”, and explain to him that it was, it really was.