I am an introvert. I have known that pretty much from the first time I understood the word. And just the other day I had an epiphany that could very well change the way I see myself for the rest of my life.
Next week I am going to a writing conference. I know literally (haha! Writing conference… “literally”… only funny to me? Okay… nevermind) no one there. I am meeting a few people that I have talked to on an author forum, but I have never met them in person. So effectively everyone is a stranger. And I will be there for four and a half days with hundreds of strangers. The narrative that I had been telling myself was that I needed to plan in lots of breaks and even still I would be completely wiped by the end of it.
But I was thinking about the whole introverted concept. Namely the idea that being around people makes me tired. And I realized that there are exceptions for me. Spending time with my wife doesn’t make me tired. Spending time with my good friends 1-on-1 doesn’t make me tired. So if there are exceptions, my meaning about what makes me tired must be faulty. And I realized all at once that it is the fear that exhausts me. When I interact with people I don’t know well, there is a level of posturing that goes on. I hide my true self behind a façade. I start making careful decisions about what I will say and how I will say it. I rein in my words in case they might offend. If I trust too easily with my true self they might reject me and that will hurt.
When I am in larger groups, even of friends I enjoy, I also have fear. Fear that I won’t be heard. Waiting for a moment to interject into a group conversation is a stressful thing. If I am specifically given the floor to speak, I enjoy that. But having things to say and holding them back because I am just waiting for the right moment to jump in is absolutely exhausting.
So now I am reframing my understanding of social. Being around people isn’t exhausting. Being in a constant state of fear is exhausting.
So then I got to thinking about why that is, and it became pretty clear to me. When our bodies go into a fear state, they shirk resources away from important systems to prepare us to fight, flee, or hide. Our body diverts blood away from the stomach and head to arms and legs in preparation. Which means that when you are afraid you actually get dumber. So my body is diverting massive amounts of energy to flee, and that is really all I want to do when I walk into a social situation. I just want to run away or hide.
But here’s the second drain. I don’t run away and hide. I choose to engage. Which means that my body is diverting massive energy to force me to run, and then I am consciously diverting even more of my energy to fight my body’s instinct. So I am basically getting a double drain. My energy is getting sucked away to run, and I am countering that force with additional energy to stay put.
Is it any surprise that after hours of this I am completely exhausted? And it isn’t just people for me. Bright lights, loud noises, busy visual cues all cause fear for me as well. So add those triggers into the mix.
Great, I had the epiphany. Now what? Am I doomed to be exhausted next week? Perhaps. But I’m not going to take it lying down. What I am doing instead is trying to counter my belief with a new truth. So here is my old belief: “People make me tired.” And I am choosing to counter that with this new belief: “Being my true self is energizing.” I am choosing to accept my fear, thank it for protecting me, and inform my body that the fear is not useful in this scenario.
Will it work? Well, your guess is as good as mine. But I honestly believe that it is shifting something at a deep level inside me. I may not see the results next week. I’m not sure changes like this can happen that fast (I wouldn’t mind being surprised though).
So can introversion be cured? I have no idea. But I have a hypothesis and I’m going to test it. That’s how science works after all. Perhaps cure isn’t as good of a word in this case as “inoculate”. Let’s go with that one. I’m attempting to inoculate myself against fear by choosing a new belief. I guess we will see what happens…