Today I am quite alone. The children went to my mother last night, and are with their father today, so my company has been the dogs. Some people might not enjoy this solitude, but for me it’s a very rare opportunity to do as I please, unfettered by others. I even (partially) managed to avoid the list of things I feel I should get done (washing, cleaning the floor/ stairs etc) in favour of what I WANT to do… today that has been, collect the car from repairs, take the dogs out, make a chocolate reflection cake (two actually) whilst listening to radio drama, and reading a book called Quiet
Quiet was lent to me a few weeks ago by my therapist, and has been sitting by my bed waiting for me to have the mental energy and concentration to open it. I’m about 60 pages in and struck by the relevance to how I feel deep down. The book is about the role of introverts, the power of introverts, in a world that increasingly values the qualities of extroverts and extols the virtues of sociability, team working and verbal communication.
Being an introvert is not the same as being “shy”; Shy vs Outgoing is how well/easily you handle social situations. Introverted vs Extroverted is your need for alone time or relaxing in company. It’s essentially about how restful you find other people essentially, and how much time alone you need to recharge.
I score pretty highly on personality questionnaires as an introvert. For many years I didn’t believe this, as i forced myself to behave as society/ my own inner beliefs (from where?) thinks right, and spent a lot of time being sociable. On the Myers Briggs questionnaire I would always score as an INTJ, the N, T and J I accepted, the I ? Not so much. I have come to see that in fact the questionairre had more validity than I was prepared to allow it, and that years of forcing myself to behave as an extrovert, in denial of what truly makes me content, has been pretty destructive. I wonder for example, if I partly drank when socialising to help create the extrovert image I wanted to project.
We live with a value system, which Quiet’s author Susan Cain, calls the ‘Extrovert Ideal’ – that the best self is alpha, gregarious and happy in the spotlight. Cain says that introversion has been relegated to a “second class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology” – an observation that made me wince, and smile, when I read it.
An introvert’s desire for solitude is more than just a preference. It is crucial to our health and happiness. We need time alone to restore ourselves. Introverts are pressured to push ourselves in social situations to the point of exhaustion. Then we feel guilty for becoming irritable and grouchy. We blame ourselves for not being able to be “on” all the time. In contrast, when we give ourselves permission to seek the solitude we crave, life becomes lighter. Social situations are more bearable.
I have always found big gatherings hard, I actually can’t face “people” most of the time, I find it exhausting being “interested”, although I would much rather talk to acquaintance about their interests than my own. A book, a radio play, a jigsaw, my blog, are all restorative… close friends are restorative. Parties and socialising are not .
Im only 60 pages into this book, but I find it quite affirming (which I suspect was the point of lending it to me) in an hour or so the kids will come home and the whole “mum” chatter will start again. Instead of feeling guilty that I have not achieved much today, I’m going to try and feel that I have restored some peace to myself by being quieter and alone, and that this is a good thing – not lesser, not shameful, not lazy .. necessary.