Raise your hand if you didn’t know I’m an introvert.
No one? Good. You’ve all been paying attention.
One of the hallmarks of introversion is the tendency to spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how others perceive and receive us. “Does he understand what I mean?” “What did she mean by that?” “I shouldn’t have said that.” “He hates me.” One of my greatest fears is being boring, so I remember things that people talk about that have bored me and I avoid those topics.
At the top of the list of boring subjects is complaints. That’s not to say that a friend or family member relating pain or privation is uninteresting to me, but you know the kind of people who can’t have a conversation without it being a litany of the injustices done to them. They hate their jobs, their friends disappoint them, their families are a misery and they have no hobbies or pursuits that bring them joy. These people think that the world is out to get them, and if you don’t participate in their view of the world, you’re against them too. I want to say “I understand that you’re going through a hard time and I wish there were something I could do about it,” but that’s where my expertise ends. I usually can’t do anything about it, and I feel horrible about that.
I’m no different than anyone else in the world in that I have problems. The most visible of my problems is my weight, which is a constant source of aggravation to me, but there are plenty of others. I hate talking about the crappy little day-to-day things that drive me crazy because I can’t imagine that anyone would find those things remotely interesting. I don’t find them interesting, and they’re my problems.
The drawback to not talking about the things that aggravate, confuse or frustrate me is that to the people I speak to most often, I come off as either never having any problems or as not caring about the ones I do have. I’ve heard from several people I admired who’ve said “But you seem like you have everything together!” Which floors me every single time, because I tend to look at the world as though everyone in it knows something that I don’t and I’m constantly playing catch-up.
I’ve realized a common trait among the people I admire most: they’re all able to distill their own internal states and report them honestly with no fear of judgement. What does that do to people they interact with? If I say to someone “How are things?” and they say “Not great, my dog is sick and I’m distracted with worry,” I feel a few things:
- I’m grateful that my friend has shared something important with me
- I understand what tone the conversation should take and if my friend’s reactions are subdued or distracted, why
- I know not to make demands on them because they’re not themselves
What this tells me is that I need to get better at being not just more honest, but more complete in my communication with people. I need to stop pretending that I’m always fabulous and ready to give my utmost to everyone, because I’m not. I want everyone to think that I’m always available to them, but I’m doing them a disservice because the truth is that I’m not always able to give people my full attention. Sometimes, life distracts me and I am unable to look away. I’m not better than anybody else just because I don’t admit to it.