From The Book of Awakening:
“There have been many times that I said yes when I meant no, afraid of displeasing others, and even more afraid of being viewed as selfish… But long enough on the journey, we come to realize that those who truly love us will never knowingly ask us to be other than we are.
The unwavering truth is that when we agree to any demand, request, or condition that is contrary to our soul’s nature, the cost is that precious life force is drained off our core.
Despite the seeming rewards of compliance, our souls grow weary by engaging in activities that are inherently against their nature. When we leave the crowded streets and watch any piece of nature doing what it does – tree, moose, snake, or lightning – it becomes clear that the very energy of life is the spirit released by things being what they are.
In effect, the cost of being who you are is that you can’t possibly meet everyone’s expectations, and so, there will, inevitably, be external conflict to deal with-the friction of being visible.
Still, the cost of not being who you are is that while you are busy pleasing everyone around you, a precious part of you is dying inside.” - Mark Nepo
When I was a kid, I was a COMPLETE chatterbox. I was the toddler who tried to make friends with everyone and anyone, the kid who always got told to shut up endlessly in class, etc. I wore my heart on my sleeve *and* on my tongue. I had no filter. Whatever I thought, it came out of my mouth. I had so much to say, it was almost like I couldn’t hold it in. “Talks too much” was a frequent comment on my report card in grade school.
Then things started to shift. In high school, I got a little quieter. I felt myself wanting to pull back a lot, but it was like I didn’t know how. I was “the talker”, right? So how could I not talk?
Of course, as with most sorta-sulky kids that age, it was assumed that the shift in my behavior was me being sulky and moody. Or depression. Etc. I went with that, because for my entire young life, I was always told that I was outgoing and cheerful. So I assumed that my desire for quiet and my need to jam my walkman headphones into my ears at any opportunity to drown out the “noise” of the world around me was something wrong with me and not anything a normal, happy person might want to do.
That became ingrained in me, in a way. Loud was good and happy, quiet was depressed and sad.
I think the big changing point was when I lived by myself during college and graduate school. It was the first time I wasn’t around people 24/7. At first, I was terrified of being alone. But after a day or so, I kind of loved it. I loved having time to myself. I loved the spaciousness of it. I loved that I didn’t have to talk first thing in the morning or as soon as I got back from class every day. It was a weird relief and freedom I never felt in my life.
The older I got, the more I relished the peace I found in the balance between being around people and being alone. It was always a work in progress, figuring out what was the right amount for both. I couldn’t be alone too much because it drove me a little stir crazy (I’m definitely not anti-social), but I couldn’t be around other people 24/7 because it would make me completely zapped.
I also started realizing that when I was around people, I immediately went into “on” mode. It was like some little machine inside me just clicked on and whirred into action. I had no idea I was doing that, but it happened automatically. When I was alone, I was “off”. So I realized I needed as much time “off” as “on”.
I think the sense of needing to be “on” and engaging and interesting also comes from the desire to make people comfortable around me. When you have a disability, especially a physical one (I have Spina Bifida and have always limped), people sometimes have odd reactions and make judgements on you based only on what they see about you.
If you let them know immediately that you’re not a threat, then you soften the blow of their judgement, a little bit. So if I melted the ice, broke the tension, I diffused any weirdness. And therefore I saved myself from hurt feelings. Does that make sense?
Anyway, a few years ago, when I started getting interested in neuroscience and psychology, I came across the personality traits for shyness and general introverted type behavior. Seriously, I almost fell off the couch when I read the list, because it suit me to a TEE.
Me, shy?! Me, an introvert?! But I was a chatterbox! I was the big-mouth!
No, I wasn’t. Maybe I was the outgoing, no-filter, chatterbox for a few years when I was a kid, but ever since then, especially as an adult, I have been very shy.
Why do these little labels that are attached to us while we are children – before we have a chance to develop our personalities and discover our preferences and learn who we are – stick with us for the rest of our life?
I started doing tons of research on different personality types, shyness, and the psychology and neuroscience behind it. It all fit my personality. I found explanations for a lot of what I thought was a life-long depression: anxiety, exhaustion, need for alone time, the general gut instinct to run away from a ringing phone or a cluster of people engaging in small-talk. Finally, FINALLY, it all made sense.
It was beyond a light-bulb moment, it was like the sun coming out from behind the clouds and illuminating everything. It was such a relief to know that I was not deeply depressed, I was not sulky, I was not under some dark dreary sense of malaise. Don’t get me wrong- I definitely suffer from depression and anxiety, but when I learned about my shyness and why I gravitated towards certain situations (quiet vs. social, etc.), it was like a door unlocked. I finally got permission to be myself- the way I *wanted* to be, the way I was when I wasn’t feeling the need to be “on”.
Instead of challenging my introverted behavior, I began to embrace it. And that was SUCH a relief. For the first time in my life, I started to feel some peace with myself. Instead of trying to make things work for myself (book clubs, happy hour with the other moms, mom-and-kid playdates, meetups, etc.) I decided to follow the things that appealed to me- hanging out more with just my family, doing art classes (both online and through local continuing education programs), gardening, taking as much alone time as I needed, and most importantly- saying a whole lot of “no” to things I used to immediately say “yes” to.
And life changed so much! I feel like I’m still at the start of what this discovery holds for me, because I’m learning more about myself every day. But I feel so different now.
The one negative to all this? People’s reactions, especially people who have known me since I was a little kid. Being true to myself means I’m not being the person people thought they knew so well- the chatty, bubbly, dramatic little girl. It was a drastic change and I know people who knew me *before* get confused about why I’m so quiet and introspective now. I think there’s a belief that wanting to be quiet or alone equals some sort of sadness, depression, or isolation, but that’s not the case. Not at all.
I feel like when I’m being quiet or needing some space, I’m recalibrating my compass. It feels like I’m recharging my internal battery. Knowing that the opportunity to “refuel” myself exists and is available to me whenever I decide I need it has been a profound relief, and has contributed greatly to my overall well-being and happiness. It takes the edge off. It brings me peace.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m also guilty of asking people to be what they are not.
For example, when Gracie was a toddler, she was SO outgoing and made friends with everyone. There was one time when she was a baby and turned around and offered the contents of her bread plate to the couple dining behind us at a restaurant. That was regular behavior for her. The whole town knew her, and they still do (we live in a small town).
But as she got older, she became more reserved. When we’d see an adult she knew, and she’d hide a little behind us or get quiet, we’d ask her “why didn’t you say Hello to so-and-so?” and she’d say, “I’m shy.”
My response? I said “But you’re not shy!” to her. Argh! When I realized I was doing that… argh. So I get both sides of this. I try very hard not to do stuff like that anymore- when she tells me she’s something, as long as it’s not her being self-critical, I don’t try and change her mind.
My favorite part of the passage above? This line: “…the very energy of life is the spirit released by things being what they are.” When I am being what I am, I feel that “energy of life”. I totally get it. And I’m reminded of why it’s SO important to keep making these discoveries about myself and my life and the world around me and continue to honor them. And to model that for Gracie, as well. I hope she can grow strong and confident in exactly who she is, not what the world thinks she should be.
I wish that for all of us.leave a comment...