Life As A Highly Sensitive Introvert

I am a highly sensitive introvert. This is not a revolutionary statement, anyone who knows me on any degree will know this about me. What it basically means is that I react strongly to things, I have strong emotions and feelings. If I am hurt, I am very hurt and I will think deeply and introspectively about why I am hurt. If I am happy, I stop and think about why I am happy, what makes me this happy and I reflect on it. This is who I am.

But by using these words and phrases to describe my personality, these psychological terms, it allows me to understand myself better. It allows me to understand why when I play a game of the board game Risk I am overly cautious, it is just my nature and to an extent my nurture. Why I am not reward driven, why I am happy to play the long game rather than wait for instant gratification. The understanding that the journey strengthens, and looking at how best to improve oneself.

Introverted life is difficult, especially coupled with anxiety and depression, however introverts are more likely to suffer from depression so that makes sense. Quiet by Susan Cain is the most life affirming read I have ever had, it is teaching me that many of the things that I feel about myself are not flaws, but are instead just things about me that I need to stop seeing as flaws. The fact that I do not enjoy parties – I fear them in fact – is something that I am overcoming. However it is not something that I may ever actually overcome. Like a rubber band, I can stretch myself to my limits but my limits are my limits. Acknowledging that you have limits, a sweet spot or a comfort zone is crucial to being happy with who you are. It is not settling, you can change things to work for you, but aspiring to this caricature of the socialite is not one that suits everyone. I am happier at home with a bottle of wine, my vinyl player and a book, and that is OK.

I react strongly to being judged, that is in many ways part and parcel (lol what an old saying) of being introverted. This has always been true, when someone reads my work in front of me I blush. I fear that instantaneous reaction of rejection. It is in many ways instinctive but it is heightened by many aspects of society, most notably social media. Social media usually only shows you the best or most empathetic times of a person’s life. Facebook does not show you these solitary moments of happiness but it shows you the social ones. The infiltration of Facebook into everyday life is one which heightens my own feelings of social inadequacy. Holidays, nights out, parties and other such social occasions are glamourized. Snapchat gives you up to 10 second highlights of someone’s experiences or a quick photo of something they saw or did. None of this shows any level of isolation, introversion, those moments where you are alone but contempt. The fact that people need to share these moments indicates a level of not being contempt in my opinion. In a world where we value someone’s personality – their outwards way of expressing themselves – over their character – who they are their morals etc. – it has become increasingly difficult for anxious introverts to feel good about themselves.

Initially I stopped using Facebook in order to get over a bad break up. I had become addicted, with my phone in my hand all the time. I was wondering and hoping that they would get back in contact with me and still do to an extent. So I decided that by not being able to see if they had or not for extended periods I could try and kill this personal neurosis. However in many ways it opened my eyes to a culture which encourages me to judge myself. I see someone post about something new they have bought or somewhere new they have gone and I compare it against myself. I justify my own feelings of inadequacy, something that I have obviously been feeling a lot recently as a result of a break-up. So by taking away these methods of judging myself I aim to become happier.

But like any addiction, it cannot just be overcome. I still crave social acceptance and that is based less on my nature but more my nurture, things that have happened to me. For example the weeks I sat on a bench by myself in year 4 when I changed school still haunt me. I wanted that social acceptance but I was too shy to move. I was immobilised by fear. I have moved past that and am now a lot more confident and outgoing. But I am still not the first to start a conversation, I still avoid social events, I still hate parties and they cripple me with fear. This is not an issue though, there is no problem with me feeling this way. I just have to accept that my rubber band does not stretch that far sometimes. And some days it won’t stretch as far as others, but that is ok too. Knowing my limitations is good.

This leads me to another point about introverts. On the whole we don’t want to upset people. We don’t want to say no, so we say maybe. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings so we try and put things off, it is not through mean spirits it is through our own limitations. It is not that I do not love you if I don’t do something, it’s just sometimes I feel too anxious or it is just not something I feel comfortable doing. It won’t necessarily make me happy either way, I will be sad that I have missed out or I just won’t enjoy it. Like going out drinking for example, I will do this and I can enjoy it, but it is more out of being social than anything else, if I don’t go I will regret it, if I do go I will regret it. I would not organise a night out as it is not something that I enjoy doing. If it is a party with people that I do not know and in a more intimate setting then that scares me even more. The feeling of being intimate with strangers terrifies me.

Introverts also don’t really like working in groups. This doesn’t mean that we are all people who want to sit in silence and not socialise. We just work best on our own. Open plan seating does nothing for us, we need nooks and crannies to go and work away in. So with this obsession with being a team player, networking and bouncing ideas off one another for some people that is difficult. In a world where it increasingly feels more like who you know than what you know, introverts who find it hard getting to know people can feel like they are falling behind.

It increasingly is feeling like the death of a merit based world, where it matters less what you know and more about how you can come across. I feel like I personally can do this to a degree, I am constantly stretching my personal rubber band, but in many ways there are some things that I just don’t feel comfortable doing like networking, like working in large groups, like not being able to be totally in control of my own decisions and things such as that. It is these things that are being bought into many environments they originally were not in. Concepts such as group brainstorming have been proven not to work, so why do we fetishize them so? Would it not be better to encourage people to pursue their ideas, feelings and intuition rather than follow the most talkative person in their brainstorm? If some people feel uncomfortable contributing in these scenarios does that mean that we should not allow them a voice? I talk from personal experience.

Introverts are people too, although we may not fit this current social media generation stereotype. Giving an introvert another window through which to glimpse the world is dangerous to those of us who feel inadequate most of the time anyway. But regardless I am learning to embrace who I am. I am learning to lose that which makes me unhappy and become more like the studious person I was a few years back. A hyper connected world has changed many things for the better, but progress is not always linear. Being able to be connected all the time is not necessarily a good thing or something that we should all embrace. So in the words of my beloved Kacey Musgraves “I’m gonna turn off my phone, start catching up with the old me.” That way I hope to embrace my introversion and channel it not into anxiety or feelings of inadequacy and instead embrace who I am, even in a society which seemingly prioritises extroversion and the group over the quiet and individual.

In relation to what I have written if you feel like you can relate to any of this, or are just interested in introversion and extroversion then I cannot reccomend enough and the accompanying book “Quiet” by Susan Cain enough. 

(Art taken from by Isabella Huffington, an introverted artist)