Including the 5 Most Valuable Tools I've Learned From My Therapist
Introversion is not a state of being but a journey, and for most of us, it started years ago. But wherever we are today doesn't have to be where we must remain.
As kids, many of us felt different, just not fitting in, tongue-tied, wanting to be alone, but not really knowing why. So our introspective mind wandered to causes like we are not interesting, we are boring, we are ugly or overweight, we don't have the gift of gab or worse yet we just can't talk in public.
For many of us, our parents marked it up to the shyness or social anxiety of a kid or teen, as they nudged us out to play with others, hoping they could help us move on and grow out of our obvious discomfort. Yet these efforts only seemed to confirm our perceived oddities, not help us understand them. Oh, we may be shy or socially anxious, but this may very well not be the source of our discontent.
Some parents, relatives, or friends, may be very progressive in trying to help - listening, and supporting who we are, but for most of us, we are left to our own devices. We often feel misunderstood and lonely, feeling like no one gets us and we are just a bundle of nerves.
These feelings are rough and often have a longstanding impact, especially when they are borne in our most formative years. If they just passed quickly, perhaps they would become a faint memory, but often these feelings stick with us, building upon themselves, and dragging our own self-confidence down along the way.
Does this sound familiar?
In 2023 Beyond Introversion focuses on the journey and how we can recognize our path and most importantly accelerate our path from frustration to flourishing.
The Phases of Introversion
This month we start at the bottom of our matrix. As kids, we are often "Unaware" of our introversion. We've probably never heard the term until our teens or college years. So we are left Unaware, applying our frustrations to other things and often just feeling more different or alone. We may chalk it up to who we are and feel like this is our lot in life. Worse yet, especially as teens and in our broadening years of high school, college, and the start of our career, we see others that don't seem to have our "problem." They appear confident and happy. They seem to stand a bit taller than we do. They have no problem confidently putting their views out there, debating others, chatting in most any social setting with most anyone. We may even start to divide up the world in our heads into the "haves" and "have-nots," and we are definitely in the have-nots.
Uninformed / Misinformed
Eventually, we are introduced to the term introversion. Maybe from a relative, a teacher, or through a personality quiz like Myers-Briggs. We hear descriptors like "quiet, introspective, and preferring alone time" and those seem to fit. We experience a momentary sense of relief. Ahh, so we are introverts. We aren't the only ones experiencing these feelings.
But then that's it. What do we do with that? We ask others but few actually truly understand introversion. We go to the dictionary which, even to this day, defines introversion with words like "loner, anti-social, wallflower, icicle, aloof," or my personal favorite, "opposite of extrovert." Sure, on any given day some of these words may describe us, or anyone. But where are the positives? the talents and skills?
So we might attach to a term now, "introversion," but we are no better off...perhaps even worse off with new negative words swirling in our heads.
We may even feel obligated to steal others' bravado, pretending to be like others because we feel this is the path to success and happiness, but this is a recipe for disaster. We spend our limited energy acting. And worse yet, quietly, our self-esteem dwindles. How can it not? We are pretending to be someone else because we don't feel good enough to be ourselves. We don't feel worthy or that we have any skills or talents to contribute to the work team or social circle.
I definitely did this, especially in my corporate career, and it worked in some ways. I gained credibility and promotions. But at home and inside my mind, I was a wreck! I was exhausted and sad and tended to drink way too much to cope with the pressure of pretending. Eventually, that caught up with me and I had to do something. I was a mess and my "coping mechanisms" were endangering me, especially on my worldwide business trips, and they estranged me from my family who worried about my condition.
Electric Shock Therapy
Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to prompt a major life change. That's exactly what happened to me. I had reached rock bottom. My confidence was horrible. My coping skills were unhealthy, to say the least, and I finally knew something had to change, I just didn't know what. Out of desperation, I found a therapist. I've been seeing a therapist ever since - nearly 15 years now. Good therapists will listen and give you the space to assess your situation. Great therapists will give you the tools to embrace your true self. Here are the 5 greatest tools I've received from my therapist that I return to time and time again:
REFLECT: Too often we get tied up in the emotion of the moment. We convince ourselves the sky is falling and we are trapped. The first tool my therapist shared was to pause and reflect. Find a quiet place and assess the true situation in a non-emotional way. What really is the issue? It's rarely as bad as it might seem. Once we strip the emotion from the equation, we can make reasonable plans for solving the problem, if there is even a problem to be solved.
WITHIN: Society in general is great at looking beyond for our worth. How do my looks, title, wealth, and companionship compare to others? But we will always find others who appear to have more than we do. These are not achievable or fulfilling goals. Look within. What do you truly want in life, from relationships, at work? Set reasonable goals and plans to achieve them. Assess progress against your own personal goals, not what others appear to have or value.
CONTROL: There are many things in life we just can't control. When in despair, I was coached to make a list of my worries and concerns and then categorize them by what is in my control and what is out of my control. We should recognize what is out of our control, but spend our valuable time and energy on those items in our control. It aligns with #2-WITHIN a lot. It is just not worth worrying about things you can't control. You may have contingency plans but your actions should be to set personal goals and do what you can to achieve those goals.
LOVE YOURSELF: This was a game-changer for me. When I first saw my therapist, after listing off my issues, she paused and asked if I realized how many times I said I was "ashamed" or a "failure." It was a horrible number. I was my own worst critic. She helped me realize no one is perfect. We are all just trying. We will make mistakes or miss our goals at times, but the key is to learn from them, celebrate the attempts and the journey, and go back to work, not to beat ourselves up over our shortcomings. That does no one any good. If we can replace self-bullying terms with positive, self-compassionate mantras ("great effort, I can do it, I have lots of skills, well done, I did my best, I'm ready...") then we become our greatest cheerleader, our self-confidence explodes, and we are on a whole new path. Read Kristen Neff's Self-Compassion. It's could change your life!
MODERATION: What an unexciting word! What happened to words like "adventure" and phrases like "variety is the spice of life?" I lived much of my life far from moderation. I drank too much, I ate too much, I worked too much, I even biked (160 miles) and ran (half-marathon) to extremes. I was chasing the dreams of others and I was coping with the pressure in the worst ways.