On a good day, I am extremely social and may come off more extroverted than I actually am. On a great day, I may be mistaken as an extrovert with a dash of fearlessness. On my best day, I am not held hostage by my thoughts or fears or my uninvited guest (anxiety). On my best day, I am able to stand in the fullness of who I am as a person without worry.
My innate proclivity to separate myself from people in overwhelming social situations stems not from a lack of confidence in myself or an unchecked ego, but rather a need to be fully in the presence of understanding. As I have gotten older and better at understanding the underlying motives of my own actions, actions even I misunderstood as a child, I have found that we teach ourselves coping mechanisms. Some healthier than others. Some more likely to be misunderstood or misconstrued than others.
My introversion was misdiagnosed as shyness or low self-esteem. And, while I know that introversion is not a diagnosis in the traditional sense of the word, it is a huge part of who I am and how I show up in the world. I realized I wasn’t shy, just ask the people who know me. It’s true I had low self-esteem at a point in time, but, even then, low self-esteem is not the same as introversion.
My aversion to judgement, to being misunderstood, to feeling the need to change for acceptance, in many ways, drove me even closer to myself. Solitude, for me, is an unparalleled dimension of contentment. Of absolute understanding. Of weightlessness. Of freedom. Of acceptance. Of self-love. I separate myself when I feel that others will push me to cross a boundary where I have placed a boundary for good reason.
With age comes even less desire to be accepted or understood or, at least, to go out of your way to achieve them. I am better able to reconcile those who write me off because of my introversion. Those who judge me because of it. Those who misunderstand my good intentions of staying true to myself and honoring my needs as an attack on the way they choose to show up in the world.
As an introvert and a highly sensitive person, I feel emotions, more often than not, on an amplified level. I feel happiness on 10. I feel sadness on 10. I feel joy on 10. I feel pain on 10. I feel peace on 10. I feel anxiety on 10. Much of my personal development practices have been centered around me learning to have better control over my emotions and how I allow them to affect my mental health and overall well-being. I don’t see this sensitivity as a burden, I see it as a gift. However, just because something is a gift, doesn’t mean it doesn’t need refinement.
I sink both feet into the sands of life.
My introversion is not a coping mechanism. My introversion is my way of being in the world without being of the world.
Separating myself from others is not a coping mechanism. Separating myself from others when I feel overwhelmed is how I show love to myself. How I show respect to myself and what my inner-emotions are telling me.
My coping mechanism is withdrawal. Separation is physical. Withdrawal is psychological. However, I think the better word for withdrawal is retreat.
I retreat into myself, into my thoughts and into the safe space that I am able to create for myself. The reason this is important to me is because I am able to do this despite the physical circumstances and situations I may find myself in. My ability to retreat and transcend the situations or people causing me discomfort does not define my ability to push through it anyways.
There are people who see this withdrawal as me somehow begging to be pulled out of my shell and/or forced outside of my “comfort zone”.
What I believe, though, is that this safe space is not a comfort zone, it is a boundary. A territory that I’ve created to protect myself, my peace and my mental health.
A “comfort zone” by my definition is an internal or external line of demarcation that we all define for ourselves and we also define what’s on the other side of our comfort zone. No one outside of you has the right to tell you where that line is, how you should cross it or when you should cross it.
So many of us are conditioned to believe that in order to grow we have to make ourselves uncomfortable and suffer through things. And, while that may be true to a certain extent, there’s a difference between rising to the occasion of adversity and doing things that every cell in your body rebels against to somehow make others feel like you’re “trying” or are as committed as they are to something.
My introversion does not impact my ability to rise, to fight, to grow, to experience, to achieve or to excel. However, my introversion does impact the paths I choose to take while working on my self-development. My evolution into becoming the person I want myself to be occurs because of deliberate choices I make in the face of both situations that are outside of my control and situations that are inside of my control.
My anxiety does not impact my ability to rise, to fight, to grow, to experience, to achieve or to excel. However, my anxiety does impact the paths I choose and their timelines.
There’s a lot that I want people to understand about anxiety, but I think, if I had to choose, the biggest thing that I want people to understand about anxiety is that it always comes in varying degrees. As I have learned more about my anxiety, I have come to understand that I can have anxiety about doing something I WANT to do and still do it anyways. I have also come to understand that I can have anxiety about something I DON’T WANT to do and still do it anyways. My anxiety does not impact my ability to be decisive or to act when necessary. However, to that point, whether I choose to do something or not, I am completely within my right to choose what feels best for me.
There are more experiences than I can count when I pushed myself beyond my anxiety to do something to make other people happy and I still regret doing it. In fact, when I do this, I often berate myself for not feeling powerful enough to say, “Hey, I don’t feel comfortable doing this!”
But, I suppose that’s the catch-22 of being a highly sensitive introvert with anxiety…I care sometimes more about showing up for others in the way they expect me to more than I care about honoring my intuition.
For me, if I’m unable to check my anxiety, it fills every ounce of me with dread. This dread then overflows into my brain and all of my thoughts are now consumed with dread and managing this dread.
The reason I like to honor my anxiety and psychological needs is because, when I don’t, I am absolutely robbed of my ability to be present.
Being present is the most effective tool to calm and manage anxiety.
I came across this quote by Seneca the other day that said, “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
And I do, at times, suffer greatly at the hands of my own imagination.
However, though this may be true and the reality of something is less stressful than I have created it to be in my head this does not change or lessen the physical and psychological toll it takes on me.
And the root of this stems from not speaking my truth.
I have learned that my anxiety often rears its head when I don’t speak my truth.
If I don’t speak my truth it’s because I’m fearful of the reaction I may receive or fearful that I will now have to defend my right to honor what feels right to me and for me.
So, in closing, I’ve said all of this to say…
We all show up in this world differently. With different stories, different triumphs, different traumas, different approaches to life. No approach better or worse than the others. However, I think the world could be a much better place if we stopped ourselves from judging or writing off people whose inner struggles we know nothing about. We would all be so much better served if we channeled this energy into understanding and accepting that we are choosing our paths every day doing the best we can with what we’ve got and that no one has it figured out. And, furthermore, that when someone makes a choice for themselves, while you may want to encourage them to choose differently, it is not your job to force them into choosing what you think is most right for them because, ultimately, you have such a limited understanding of who they are and how they see themselves.