As a child and teenager, I was a great student, had a few good friends, and generally kept to myself. I liked writing and reading. I liked drawing. I found that I liked singing and acting as well, and I did these things as often as I could, participating in school musicals and choosing chorus as my elective. I was definitely counted among the “geeks”, as my best friends and I were far more likely to have a Star wars role-playing session than ever get invited to – or accept an invitation to – any party. I never drank. Ever. Never wanted to. Was never asked out on a date, which wasn’t surprising. I was not particularly self-confident, nor was I considered popular or particularly pretty at the time (now, apparently geek girls are often treasured and coveted; I guess I was born a decade too early). College wasn’t that different. I still didn’t drink, but I did go to some parties with fellow music and theatre majors (frankly, it took quite a lot for me to build up to that point). I slowly gained a little more confidence as I made my way through college, mostly via successful theatrical performances.I had always assumed that, because I am comfortable directing, speaking, and performing before a crowd, that I was an introvert. I’m fairly personable and have always been told by friends and employers that I’m “cheerful”, “energetic”, and “bubbly”. I assumed that only extroverts possessed those traits and therefore, I certainly was one. After college, several things changed in my life. I got serious about my faith – and I lost a lot of weight. The two together, I think, were a big boost to my self-esteem. I began to understand that God loved me – really loved me – no matter what. I also began to like the way I looked because I was taking care of my body. Although I still dealt, sometimes, with body image issues (and, to be honest, they still creep up every now and then, years later), I was generally a happy person. I led a Bible study. I sang on the worship team. I attended a young adults group at a local church. I spent time with friends. I began working with the children and youth in our church. I liked it.
This past month, like probably thousands of others, I posted daily about things for which I was thankful. Most days, I had no trouble at all. I was thankful for a wonderful, loving husband; a great family; a supportive church; a good job; a working vehicle. Some days, I became more introspective and thoughtful. At one point, I saw something on Pinterest that caught my eye, and decided that I would retake the Briggs-Meyer personality test I’d taken quite some time ago. My result was INFP – The Dreamer. (You sci-fi geeks may recognize INFP traits in characters like Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins. The reluctant hero. The moral one. The goodie-goodie. The one plucked from a simple, secluded life and dragged into a world much bigger than himself.) At once, I felt a rush of relief.I’m an introvert.
It turned my world upside-down, in the best possible way.
I used to beat myself up because I never really liked parties. I thought there was something wrong with me because I generally tried to avoid social situations involving more than maybe four or five other people. I preferred quiet evenings alone or with my husband to any kind of meet’n’greets or mixer events. I get tongue-tied around people I greatly admire. I express myself best through writing. I generally prefer spending time with friends and family over meeting new people. I thought I had a social anxiety disorder. Or maybe a self-esteem problem. But I don’t.I’m this way because I’m an introvert.
My “outgoing” hobbies of performance and public speaking are not limited to extroverts alone. That would be like saying that extroverts are never good writers or never think philosophically. I didn’t realize that at first. I used to wonder what was wrong with me because I was great in front of a crowd, but hating being in a crowd. I wondered if I was somehow less of a person because I needed more “recharge” time than others.Nothing is wrong with me. I’m an introvert.
It doesn’t mean I’m not sassy. It doesn’t mean I’m not passionate and vocal about a lot of things. It doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. It doesn’t mean that I’m afraid of people, or that I hate them. It also doesn’t mean that I hate myself. I had a fairly high extrovert quotient, too, which I cannot deny. But it was such a relief to realize that I’m not a failure as a human being. Granted, having the “diagnosis” of introversion doesn’t allow me to shun social responsibilities. I still have to do things I’m not terribly fond of. I have to leave my house, when I’d rather finish reading a novel, curled up with my cats. I have to talk to people sometimes, instead of, well…talking to my cats.I don’t want it to sound as though I’m agoraphobic, or that I’m petrified to show my face in public, or that I hold other people in disdain. That’s not the case at all. I love spending time with friends, and I do like people. I just handle them best – and I’m at my best – in small doses.
That revelation – and the acceptance of it - has made such a difference in the way I see myself. Now, I’m not all about personality tests defining who we are. We can make the mistake of applying the results to ourselves like labels with permanent adhesive, never allowing ourselves to move beyond a certain type or identity. That’s not a good thing. Personality-type tests should be a starting point, or for entertainment – not a final verdict. For me, it was a refreshing realization that there isn’t anything wrong with me.
Although maybe I should hold off on collecting any more cats for the time being.
Or maybe just ask Santa for a self-cleaning litter box. So I can get more cats.