I just read an interesting book: Quiet, the Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.
I was actually given this book over a year ago, but never got around to reading it. Then I (literally) stumbled over it in my bedroom yesterday and picked it up and started reading.
Part of the reason I didn’t read the book right away is that I never felt particularly alone (ha!) in my introversion. Both of my parents, both of my brothers, my husband, and (I believe) my two children are all also introverts. My best friend is an extrovert, and we had some conflicts when we were living together AND working together when we were in our 20’s. But I couldn’t think of any other time when I seriously had to think about my introversion and what it meant.
But as I read the book (which is very thought-provoking for many reasons, not just what I address in this post), I realized that part of why I struggled (and continue to struggle) with being a busy working parent is how drained I felt by having to be always “on,” always responsive to others’ needs. This is an extra facet, for me, of the normal stress one feels from being busy. One of the basic facts about introverts is that they are drained by social activities, even social activities they enjoy. They need time to recharge their batteries after social events, or after interacting with others all day work, or even high-interaction day with the family.
But alone time, real alone time, is a luxury (and that’s how I thought of it) I didn’t feel was possible. Not even that I didn’t feel I could ask for it, just that it seemed impractical, impossible.
There’s a certain feeling that I get when I know I’ve had too much people interaction and I need to recharge; an overstimulated, “nerve-jangled” feeling is how I would describe it. And one thing that helps to erase that feeling (other than peaceful alone time) is alcohol. In the book, Susan Cain, quoting someone, calls a beer a “glass of extroversion.” I think it was meant in the sense of overcoming shyness, but I think it’s true in more ways than one.
She also introduced a concept I thought was interesting: “emotional labor,” a term I had not heard before. It’s the psychic toll of trying to control or change your emotions, feel something you don’t feel: like pretending to be happy when you’re not, pretending to be outgoing when you’re not. This is something most people can do when they have to, but the longer you have to do it, the more it takes its toll. I think for many years I was not managing my introversion well – silly as it might sound, I felt I didn’t have time to be an introvert!
I still don’t get as much alone time as I would like. But I am better at recognizing my emotions now that I am not attempting to drown them in alcohol. And when the kids are in bed and I am finally able to be alone for a little while, I am alert and cognizant enough to enjoy it and do something with it.