Updated: Jul 7, 2020
I am Ugly, I am Abnormal, I am Boring
Are introversion and low self-image related?
Since I've "suffered" from both all my life, I've often pondered this question. And what I discovered shocked me!
I suspect this pairing is common amongst introverts. Now, I'm finally tackling this issue of low self-image and poor self-esteem and how they may relate to introversion, in hopes of finding answers.
Since an early age, I have carried with me many core beliefs:
Family Forever- since growing up as the youngest of four, clinging to my mother and nervous to venture out
Honesty & Respect for others- since I let my dementia-ridden grandmother take the fall for my eating a whole pie from the fridge
Family Provider- since watching my dad close his own business and have to work long nights and weekends on his feet to ensure he could provide a middle-class lifestyle for his family
I Am Ugly- since my youth when I was chided for being overweight, short, and unfashionably dressed, even for the '70s. My parents provided support the way they knew how - dragging me off to Weight Watchers at 12 and pumping me with hormone pills to try to spur my growth. Yet, unbeknownst to them, and me, this only helped to foster a deeper negative self-image. No one was embracing me for who I was. Of course, other kids at that age can be quite cruel, but this attempt to "fix" me from those I trusted the most underscored my "flaws." I grew up always ashamed of my looks, constantly trying to fix them but finding my face scarred with rashes under the stress of such efforts.
I Am Abnormal- since my earliest days of playing a full 16-team college basketball tournament in my driveway by myself! It was great fun passing the ball to myself, stealing from the other team, and grabbing the contested rebound. I did the same with football on the side of our yard. Afterwards, I retreated inside to delve into college football statistics and prognostication during the fall, tucked in the safety of my closet. My parents let me continue with these hobbies, but my mom always encouraged me to go outside and play with friends like a normal kid. Most of all, I lacked a role model that might have helped me understand what "normal" was. My dad worked all the time and wasn't one to have heart-to-heart talks. My sisters were all older and quite outgoing, I had no brothers and by middle school, my few friends didn't live nearby to perhaps help me understand what normal was, or if that was important in the first place. This all undermined any sense of self-esteem. Surely everyone around me was more normal than me.
I Am Boring- because I felt I wasn't normal, I also felt I was boring. I was too embarrassed to share my hobbies with others and too shy to really say much of anything to anyone. Even as a workaholic adult I had little confidence to say anything in social settings.
As an adult, these may seem like childish name callings to some. But to a little kid, this branding was very powerful. And frankly, I still consider myself fortunate that I grew up in a loving household. Many are tormented with physical and emotional abuse leaving unimaginable scars.
Many studies note how much our personality traits are formed before we even go to first grade. Throughout my adolescence and adulthood other events, often seemingly innocuous scenes or statements, reinforced my own negative self-image. So each became ingrained in my psyche. I didn't even realize how each pulled me down, shrinking me to the point of invisibility...or so I wished.
Now, I can step back and evaluate each name, each situation from a distance.
I realize much of what I describe distills back to being an introvert, which is much more nature over nurture. We are born with this character trait, yet many of us struggle with it, and deny it most of our lives. As an introvert, I can't recall simple topics that might ignite some small talk, and I surely struggle to remember work presentations or speeches without the crutch of endless PowerPoint slides. My hobbies are fun and comforting to me but aren't the adventurous, flamboyant escapades others brag about at parties. As with my weight, my parents weren't abusive, but they didn't dispel the self-image I was building up as an anti-social, abnormal, loner.
Do all introverts have low self-esteem?
Clearly no. Everyone is different. Some perhaps grew up in a more progressive environment or surrounded themselves with a supportive community of friends. But I suggest many introverts have the same challenges. Perhaps more so those in our 40's and older who grew up in the era when few understood or talked about introversion, and even fewer supported such traits. In my career, I hid my introversion for fear my career would be affected. Only my last manager spotted it and coyly encouraged me to share my unique perspectives to help round out the social or work discussions. But generally, that type support is barely happening today, despite the fact introversion has come a long way since Susan Cain's Quiet changed the scene in January 2012.
So how do we introvert's repair our self-esteem? Well, maybe we don't.
As Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion states, self-esteem is based on comparing ourselves to others in the hope that we are better than most...lower weight, bigger house, faster car, fancier job title... This is a game we cannot win. This constant drive to be the best - to be perfect - breeds a culture of comparison. I've done this all my life. It's not supportive, positive, or sustainable.