As a child, I was most definitely an extrovert. I talked A LOT. I loved being the centre of attention. I wanted to be top of the class. I was delighted to be on stage. I liked my name being called out. I enjoyed being watched by other people (that sounds creepy but I hope you know what I mean – playing sport, dancing etc). My hand was nearly always the first to shoot up to answer a question.
And I suspect the immature extrovert in me manifested herself as a bit of a know-it-all, big head, exhibitionist and teacher’s pet – essentially, quite annoying, so apologies if you knew me back then. (I was lots of nice things too so wasn’t that bad. I think. I hope. Mum?)
In hindsight and for the most part, I think I liked myself quite a lot.
But then, sometime around my late teens, something changed.
Big fish, small pond to small fish, big pond
I think the trigger was going to university.
My formative years were very secure but relatively sheltered. Predominantly based around playing tennis, a nice independent all-girls school, kind parents and, in my teens, a fantastic social circle revolving around the Hand & Spear public house in Weybridge (a suburban, affluent, pretty undiverse corner of Surrey).
I was popular, intelligent and safe – important things for a young person.
On the whole, life in Weybridge was great.
Then I went to university in Bristol. And it felt like all the stable, familiar, comforting things in my life disappeared out from underneath me.
I was surrounded by lots of people who were smarter than me (both book and street smart), many of whom had already spent years away from home at boarding school, had taken (at least one) gop yurr, owned a lot of pashmina’s (the girls anyway) and worst of all……from day one, who seemed to already know everyone else.
I knew no-one.
(That’s a lie – I knew two boys, friends of my boyfriend, who were in different halls of residence.)
I’d gone from being a big fish in a small pond, to a small fish in a big pond.
And I didn’t like it.
Into my shell
For this and other reasons (notably, having a boyfriend at home and being put into temporary accommodation in my halls), I never really settled into university life. I endured and got through it.
Part of me feels quite sad that I don’t really have the same wonderful crazy memories of that important period of life in the same way most of my friends do. And for someone who is, on the whole, pretty sociable (more on that later) I only made a handful of friends – and most of those I haven’t really stayed connected to post-uni.
But I also feel proud that I stuck with it, because I very, very nearly didn’t.
It was only at the point at which my wonderful, unassumingly insightful father said to me “If you’re that unhappy, you know it’s ok if you want to leave and come home”. And, weirdly, it was receiving that permission that filled me with the determination to stay.
< Live insight alert > – I often talk about my experience of depression beginning in my late twenties and being prompted by the shock end of a relationship. But in writing this, I can see that my first real period of mental struggle was during this time at university. Huh, interesting.
To cut an already long story short, I didn’t feel like myself at university. I felt naïve. I felt lonely. I felt shy. I didn’t feel I had anything interesting or funny to say.
That wasn’t the me that I was used to being. I didn’t really know how to be this version of me.
I didn’t really like her.
She was fundamentally an introvert.
Where am I now at the grand old age of 38?
I’ve heard two quite different definitions of extroversion – one being the stereo-type of someone loud who likes being the centre of attention, the other being someone who is energised by being around other people (the Jungian/MBTI view).
Confusingly, I’m often loud and still like being the centre of attention (hand me the mic). But, as much as I genuinely love and am fascinated and inspired by people, I often find it draining to be around them for long periods of time.
Pretty much on a daily basis, I am delighted to get home to an empty house (when I say empty, I do mean empty of humans, Fluff must be there for me to talk to and annoy), to sit on my own (with Fluff on lap), to not have to talk and to recharge my social batteries.
It’s only relatively recently that I’ve been able to notice and acknowledge the fact that a significant part of me is now (or perhaps always has been) an introvert. But confusingly, the extrovert is, at times, still there in spades too.
I believe some people would say that I’m an ambivert.
And I’ve just done one of those #helpfulnothelpful quizzes to prove it….
Reward or compensation?
It won’t surprise anyone that my introverted self is much more likely to show up if I’m also feeling a bit low, flat, mojo-less.
On those days, I conceptually understand that it’s still important to engage with the world, to get out and see people. And am also conscious that I want to be proactive and consistent in maintaining my connection to friends because a) I value them and b) I know I’ll really want to be with them when my mojo inevitably returns.
But sometimes it can, quite frankly, feel like a struggle to spend time with people – even those that I love dearly. I’m aware that I neither look forward to it nor enjoy it in the moment as much as I’d like to or as I do at other times. And it’s difficult not to feel a bit bad about that.
It was only a week or so ago that I realised that, when I feel like this, I tend to set up a little reward and compensation system for myself and that often revolves around food and drink. I’ll look forward to the meal we’re going to have or the glass of wine that will accompany the social interaction that I don’t feel like having – the reward. Or I’ll feel the need to eat something nice or just veg out watching TV when I get home – the compensation for having forced my introverted self to go out and be in the world.
You might have already read my recent post about distraction, diversion and buffering. I’ve continued to think quite a bit about that. And still do quite a bit of it too!
But have now realised that it also has a strong link into this whole intro/extro malarkey. Perhaps buffering is essentially a coping mechanism that my introverted self has adopted to help manage and process time that I have to spend with others when I’d rather be on my own.
How to survive
Buffering isn’t a great way of dealing with things. So what’s the alternative?
As always, the starting point is awareness. I now know, accept and acknowledge that there is an introvert inside me. And it’s as important to meet and protect her needs as it is to ensure there is access and are outlets for the needs of my extroverted self.
It’s important for me to manage my diary carefully, making sure I have a nice balance between doing stuff/seeing people and time alone for recharging.
The thing I find harder is not knowing which me is going to be showing up on any particular day, for any particular event. I may have been in extrovert mode when booking something and then on the day itself, my introvert side is in the driving seat. In that situation, I’m practising giving myself permission to go to do that thing or see that person anyway but being ok with it if I’m not able to be life and soul of the party.
After all, it’s not always my turn. Time to give someone else a go!
I suspect there will be some frustrated people reading this who are far more knowledgeable and experienced in personality traits and the workings of our complex minds than I currently am. If so, I apologise for being the cause of your frustration.
All I’m trying to do here is articulate my experience as best I can. I don’t fundamentally care which bucket I fall into or how accurate my self-analysis may or may not be.
I know I’m a blend. I suspect many of us are.
And not only is that fine but it’s most definitely interesting to notice and useful to know.
Hey there, in case you didn’t know, I’m Hana and I could be your Personal Mindset Coach.
I’m occasionally known to my clients as ‘the lovely stranger’.
I’m here to help you see things from a different perspective, to choose a different lens, to find different ways of thinking, being and doing – so that you can get out of your head and just get on with living a bloody great life.
If you’d like some support exploring this or other fascinating things about you further, then drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can arrange a cuppa some time to find out if we might like each other enough to work together.
If you like what you’ve read and want more then how’s about downloading my free ‘Where’s your head at?’ ebook – get it right here.
Or if you want to join me in a little experiment to feel more grateful for what you already have then come and join my #gratitude365 Facebook Group.