I am a self-proclaimed introvert. I enjoy quiet evenings with a book and a cup of coffee and am content eating alone in a restaurant. With large groups of people, I tend to hesitate before I mingle, focused on observation rather than talking. Solitude provides a nourishment that I tend to depend on: it is good for my writing and offers a focused chance to infuse calm into my restlessness. The days when this quiet time is absent, my irritation rises, as if I am not walking on solid ground, but stepping into quicksand. For so long, I could not identify why this uneasy feeling occurred. I pointed to external factors, blaming lack of sleep or a growling stomach as a reason for my disdain.
A few years ago I encountered Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, I read and relished every word. Her study on introversion rang like an epiphany. Finally, I thought, someone understands me. In particular this paragraph, resonated with me:
“The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions–sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments–both physical and emotional–unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss–another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”
I spent years asking, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I fit in? What is causing my melancholy? The answers to these questions always ended in the same place. With really no answers. Once I read Cain’s words, I identified a facet of my personality that I need to protect, the absolute need to stand alone sometimes. I’ve incorporated this practice in my daily routine, knowing the days I miss out on this quiet, I tend to feel pensive.
As much as I long for solitude, it is not quite enough to speak completely to me. I feel the texture of this contradiction and the words of Walt Whitman strum in the background, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” I love my quiet time, but also seek the company of others. Over the years, I’ve recognized that various people form different tribes in my life. I enjoy the company of my book buddies, writer friends and those gal pals that know how to laugh and cry with me. The blogging and virtual community carry a place of refuge. I am continually impressed by the dialogue I share with people I’ve never met, but know me intimately through my writing. Each set of these people, of course, offer sustenance just like the traditional food pyramid lends nourishment for our physical selves.
I may stand alone, but underneath, the web catches my fall.
This piece originally appeared on The First Day.
Image: “De la solitude ordinaire…” by Michel Schmid via Flickr.
Rudri, I love this piece. I feel this describes me on a deep level. Yes, I’ve read (and live) “Quiet”; Cain’s book was turning on a light for me. Like you, I’ve learned what I need and nurture myself. For years I beat myself up because I didn’t “fit in”, but now I know I belong (per Brene’ Brown)…I think we read much of the same material. I had a beautiful rejuvenating weekend in the country. Surprisingly, I didn’t take a single photograph but basked in the simple splendor of it.
I love how Cain’s book helps us feel less alone. Reading her work felt like hurling toward an epiphany that helped navigate the “otherness” I felt from time to time. Not fitting in, I’ve learned, isn’t such a bad thing. xo
I love this community too.
This online community offers unexpected treasures. I am so very grateful for it everyday.
Since an encounter I had at a social gathering this weekend, I’ve been very upset. Basically, without trying, someone pointed out why I’m not “popular” among a group of moms in our community. (She didn’t say anything mean, my highly sensitive nature just had me reading between the lines.) I’m friendly with all of them, but they don’t see me as social, so I’m not invited to things. This piece really helped me to feel better about this and my authentic self. Thanks for the reminder.
I’ve felt the same pulse in social gatherings too. As it happens, you feel hurt and question why you aren’t included. For me the shift occurred when I turned 40. I find myself changing my focus from “Why doesn’t she like me? to “Do I like her?” The fear of missing out on something is decreasing with each passing year.
I love that my words offered some solace. Thank you for letting me know.
This really rings true for me too, Rudri. I get that same anxious jittery feeling when I haven’t had any solo quiet time. And it took me years to come to terms with my moodiness and melancholy. It’s just part of me, it’s how I operate. But I also yearn for a tribe, a group of like minded (or should I say, write-minded!) women with whom to share my thoughts and words. I’ve found it online but I’d also love to find it in person as well.
I tend to carve out solitude as a matter of practice now – when I don’t have it, the irritation builds and I tend to snap at myself and those that I love the most. I’ve accepted my tilt toward sadness as I’ve gotten older. It’s my blueprint for savoring happiness.
Yes, agree, an in-person tribe is essential too. xo
This was great! I’m glad you found your tribe. I’m still looking for mine…things always happen for me in a slow and backward fashion. But I am very happy to have you in my life.
Thanks, Dana. Likewise. I count you as my online tribe. As I said to you over the weekend, I hope our paths intersect in real life too. xo
I am three quarters of the way through Quiet and am already noticing a shift in my behavior. Instead of drumming up the energy to present a more exuberant, engaging version of myself, I’m feeling more comfortable behaving according to my nature. I’ve got notes to write a piece on the topic of the contradiction I continually make, claiming at to crave human connection while preferring to keep away from most social interaction. Being online is such a gift in that regard. We can be deep and touch each other’s lives, within the comfort of our own boundaries. I love being on the same wavelength with you. xo
I loved hearing your shift in perspective. It is liberating, isn’t it? I accepted my tilt and it offered a freedom that I didn’t expect.
Cheers to online relationships. They thread my ordinary days with meaning and the mantra, “You are not alone.” xo
Is it at all possible to be highly sensitive and not a complete introvert? I generally think I’m an ambivert… I need my social time (but hate pointless small talk), but as I’ve gotten older also increasingly need alone time to focus and be still and… listen to stillness/not think.
I guess I need to find the book… to the library site I go!
I love the inspiration I find here. Thank you. 🙂
I believe you will relate to many of the passages in her book. She makes mention of ambiverts and there is a quiz that helps define whether you fall into the introvert, extrovert or ambivert category. Do follow up with me, Dakota – I am curious to hear what you think after you read the book.
Thanks for the lovely compliment.
That’s so interesting. I relate SO much to some of what she said, and other parts, not as much. I’m a true ambivert, I really think. Or maybe a true extrovert who is silenced by anxiety. I can’t believe that, though. I really love being alone too.
You should definitely take the quiz, Tamara. I think it maybe online. You bring up an important point – how much does anxiety influence our extroversion and introversion?
I’m always amazed by these online relationships too, the way we can know each other through our written words without any spoken aloud.
The camaraderie in this online community is astounding. It makes me feel less alone.
This post resonates with me. I will echo the sentiments of others , so grateful for this community. Grateful for friends that know us intimately through our writing. Our friendship is special to me. Xo
Likewise. I am so glad our paths crossed, Ayala. xoxo
This resonates with me so greatly; I crave interaction with others but for very short bursts of time. I have so many books that I start but don’t finish – not sure what it is about me but in the last few years I am incapable of finishing a book. Which sucks since there are many I wish I could complete. Just ask my Kindle. I had dinner with friends tonight and I wasn’t all there, I wasn’t myself. It just wasn’t happening but I made these plans weeks ago so the obligation was there. It’s just not a good feeling or look to be in a place where you’re expected to be your best self and you feel further from it. I just wanted to be at home listening song after song and studying in peace and quiet. Just makes you feel like a bad friend! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter Rudri, have a great weekend! -Iva
Sometimes I find those dinners overwhelming as well, Iva. It is usually because I’ve surrounded myself with too much stimuli and haven’t taken time to quiet my mind. Lately, my inclination is to say no and that’s helped with balancing my need for solitude and socializing.
Thank you for sharing this. I love that you mention parts of you need to be protected, not questioned. This is wonderful: “the absolute need to stand alone sometimes.” Yes.
Also, a huge thank you for the link to Quiet.
I hope you enjoy Quiet. I’d love to know your thoughts once you’ve finished reading it. It changed my perspective and offered insight into what I initially questioned. Such a breath of fresh air.