Friday, June 21, 2013

An Introvert Rants

I am in a mood, and I feel the need to vent this out of my soul.

I have a friend who simply will not believe that I am an introvert, no matter how many times I explain this to her. She recently countered my claim by telling me of a woman she met who was "so introverted" that when she accidentally bumped my friend's foot, she was agitated by it for the rest of that particular social gathering. And because I tend to laugh and be bubbly around my friend, there is no way in her mind that I am like that woman.

Here's the truth. Sometimes, that laughter and bubbliness is gas going through my social accelerator. I am doing a lot of hard work. Also, sometimes, I laugh so that I don't completely die of shame.

I came across this idea in a novel I'm reading. One character had spilled her heart out to a complete stranger, and then the narrator commented on how this often leads to an embarrassment that makes the person retreat. Color me the constant contrarian, but for me it is different. See, I can relate to this effect of wanting to hide away, but it comes to me not after I pour my heart out (I've gotten quite adept at that actually -- more on that later) but after I simply encounter other people. Twenty-five years ago, this debilitated me. I would cringe for hours upon walking into a new work setting or a new, crowded classroom, or any place where people were. My reason told me I couldn't simply hide from the world (though I did as much of that as I dared without becoming agoraphobic). But I repeatedly felt like I was dying of embarrassment, just to come into a room with people in it.

In Japan I learned a phrase that is always used when entering the house of a friend or acquaintance: ojama shimasu. The meaning is "I'm sorry for bothering you." (The Japanese have standard phrases for many, many situations; some adult students of mine were surprised to learn there are no American equivalents.) Literally, however, it translates "I am doing the demon." I always thought of this phrase as "ojama imasu." You change that one syllable just a bit and it means "I am a demon," or "I am a terrible bother to you." It fit perfectly my interior sentiment about my relationship with the rest of the world. But of course I hated this feeling.

This is, actually, my natural interior disposition. I don't need to step on someone's foot to feel awkward. I do it by existing.

But one can't go about chained to one's natural inclinations. Today's reading as Mass from 2 Corinthians 12 is the one where St. Paul says he will boast of his weaknesses, for power is perfected through those weaknesses. I guess that's me. I have developed actually a weird amount of courage simply by attempting social interactions that happen naturally to others, or even things seemingly so bizarre that an extrovert might have a hard time imagining them to be remotely scary. Somewhere I told my story about how, the first time I went to a daily Mass, I desperately begged God for help with my church door phobia. That's a good example.

Honestly, I can now recognize that there is truth in the stereotype that introverts are a bit snobbish, self-absorbed, and unfriendly. At least, I recognize that there is truth to that in me. I admit it. However, I also confess that it takes me a lot of dying to self, a lot of intentional exercise of my will, harnessing of God's grace, and focus on the needs of someone other than myself to engage in friendly banter and chit-chat with people. I need to set myself to it like other might set themselves to fasting or a long silent prayer vigil. It's expensive for me. It's God's grace I'm spending, and He's lavish with His supply, but I really have to hollow myself out to hold His grace to spend it.

The other thing I run into is that I can, in the right conditions, quite freely open my soul and hand it to another. In fact, sometimes I find it almost too easy. This happened in an exchange recently with someone I knew only as a passing acquaintance. It was one of those "gee, I just cut my vein open, and, I see you have a tourniquet there" moments. My addressing the situation, intense as it was, was not one whit embarrassing to me. I felt rather it was divinely appointed. But I also know it was very moving and surfaced some "upset" for the other person involved. Those moments always make me step back in my heart. I have to remind myself that others do not have the odd personality/interior formation path I've had, and that diving head-first into the depths of one's own soul with another person is very potent stuff. Sometimes I underestimate the potency I access, and I lose sight of how quickly others' vulnerability thresholds begin. I forget how hard it is for some people to reach deep inside themselves -- probably as difficult as it has been for me to walk into that room. I confess, too, that sometimes I lack sympathy for their difficulty because I have pushed myself so hard to be more "normal."

Sometimes I think God had a weird idea to make us all so very different. We all have strengths, we all have weaknesses. I just feel like I have really, really strange ones. But now my little vent has helped me to accept that that's just the way it is.

P. S. August 23, 2013:  I learned just a week ago that the above-mentioned exchange, the divine appointment I mentioned that transpired with that acquaintance, actually had a nearly-miraculous outcome for her. I thought that maybe I had frightened her, but in fact she proceeded on to be freed from a trouble she had carried for years. Deo Gratias!

No comments: