A dozen or so years ago, I was accused of having a social disorder. Because this is the internet, I’ll omit the details, but the accusations came in the form of affidavits intended to be used against me in a court case, and were from people who supposedly knew me well.
I knew their words weren’t true. I’ve never had a hard time making friends. Yes, I was a shy child, but since my teens most people have thought of me as somewhat outgoing. And no one with a true social anxiety disorder could work as a waitress in a busy restaurant, as a receptionist in a doctor’s office, or any of the other people-involved jobs I’ve had over the years.
Nevertheless, the accusations hit deeply.
I could think of examples that, when taken the wrong way, almost made the accusations seem valid. Like how I was the only one on a group vacation who needed to slip away for alone time. Or why I never looked forward to attending a half dozen holiday gatherings. Or all those times I didn’t want to stay ’til the end of a party… I hadn’t thought any of this strange before, but I began to wonder if maybe my behavior really was abnormal.
The accusations made me question myself down to the core of who I was. How was it that these people did not see me for me?
Rather than trying to prove them all wrong, the accusations made me want to isolate myself. Those people removed themselves from my life, but I became wary of sharing my inner thoughts with anyone — even the friends who’d stuck by me. I developed stomach issues that flared up whenever I was required to go into a new situation with new people. My circle of friends grew small. For a while, I felt as if the accusations had become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
I didn’t entirely hide myself away; I still worked and I still had friends — but I was more guarded than I’d ever been. As time went on, I ventured little by little out of my safety zone: I joined a group for homeschool moms, became the greeter for my Sunday School class, led a Bible study group at my house, hosted holiday gatherings for friends and family, attended blog conferences…
Doing those kinds of things helped restore my faith in myself, but the biggest help by far was reading a book called Quiet.
Maybe it sounds overly dramatic to say Quiet changed my life, but there were too many “a-ha” moments to count as I read Susan Cain’s writing and research on introversion. Not only did I begin to understand why I think and feel and act the way I do, I also found great comfort knowing I am not the only one.
Our society is still set up to favor extroverts, but thanks to books and blogs and TED talks, more people are learning what introversion is, and that we’re not a bunch of socially awkward hermits.
Introversion is not a social disorder; in fact, we have some pretty awesome strengths.
I believe I was created on purpose, for a purpose. My introverted personality is a large part of that. It’s not a disorder, and I don’t need to be cured. Of course, I’ve got plenty of room for personal growth, and personality shouldn’t be used as an excuse for ignoring that — but understanding my personality is vital because if I don’t take care of myself, then I can’t give my introvert strengths the room they need to flourish.
Are you an introvert, or just trying to understand us? You may enjoy this more lighthearted (but just as honest) post on How to be Friends with an Introvert.