Monday, November 25, 2013

The Hamster Ball or the Walls

I was recently reading an article about introversion and how it is like a person being trapped in a hamster ball. You can read about it at I think the theories about introversion discussed here are generally true, but not one hundred percent true for all introverted people.

I doubt that anyone who knows me would let me get away with saying that I am an introverted person, but I used to be. In fact, I was antisocial because I was bullied by peers up until the ninth grade and adults did not have much interest in me either. Frankly, I was overweight, dressed badly by a mother without a clue, and just plain ugly by my own current standards. I figured that if people did not like me, I would not like them either. Additionally, I was also very cynical, something that was not completely bad since it did help me see the world for what it is, unlike other children who dream their childhood away and face bad consequences of their actions.

As a child, I wanted to be with my peers, but because they directly and indirectly did not like me, I learned to entertain myself by reading, watching movies and TV shows alone, and finding out the best way to get through the dreaded lunch period either in a teacher’s classroom or with my two or so really close friends. When I got to high school, things changed. I went to a very small public high school of about fifty seniors, so everyone was cool with everyone else. We did not have groups of jocks, cheerleaders, geeks, freaks, and smart kids. Most of my troubles with peers up to that point came from other girls, so I was naturally a tomboy and had a lot of guy friends in high school (most of whom I liked, but none of them ever knew).

While I did just fine in high school, that residual introversion stuck with me like glue after I graduated. The best way I could describe it is with the term ‘the walls’. When the walls would come up, it is like I was surrounded by clear brick walls where I could see out, but no one could see in. Most of me wanted to join in and be with the crowd, but that small part of my mind that was locked in the walls exerted the most power, so I would find a wall to hold up or hide out in a bathroom somewhere. Sometimes the emotions are so overwhelming that I could cry, especially if I had a crappy day besides. This is a little different from the hamster ball article because I had no problem with someone reaching out to me. I would not do as the article said and hiss at them. The issue was more with me being the one to work the room and being noticed enough so that the room-workers would get around to me.

It is rare that the walls come up now, but it does still happen. Yet, I have largely conquered my introversion. Let me stop here and say that introversion is not a bad thing or something that all introverts feel needs to be conquered. In my case it was so crippling and I hated it, so I decided to change it. The biggest help was actually something as simple as acting. During my high school summers I would perform in community dramas, something I loved to do and I got pretty good at it. When I moved away from my hometown, I noticed that I was continuing in my old introverted ways. That is when I decided that I could either continue down that path, or pretend to be that person I always wanted to be. Besides, no one knew me very well anyway, so I would not have to deal with many people saying, What happened to you? I tried it out for about two weeks and loved how I felt and how others were responding to me, so I kept it up. Today extroversion is my normal personality. With this new personality comes the art of conversation, so I had to learn that being an extrovert means doing more listening that talking and recognizing that silence does not always have to be awkward.

Another thing that helps me to battle the walls is recognizing when they are most likely to come up. One thing I realized is that the walls come up very easily when I walk into a crowd. To cope, when I have to be around a lot of people, I try to get there early so that the crowd can come in on me.

Furthermore, the walls would come up specifically when I am at a party without close friends there. In fact, just two years ago I went to a party at someone’s house where some of my friends were, but they were all preoccupied with talking to each other or other people, and so was the friend that I drove there. It did not take long for those walls to come up. I did try my best to make banter with others, but it just lead to lame conversation. Then there was no way to heat up the food different ones brought, which was also lame. Finally, I sat on a bench with a woman to chat with her, but she eventually got up and started talking to others, which escalated the level of lameness. The whole thing was lame! I went in the bathroom for a half hour (in hindsight, shouldn’t someone have been worried that I was in the bathroom that long?) and earnestly prayed to God that this party be over posthaste repeatedly. When I came out, everyone was leaving. It was a much anticipated miracle! I hightailed it out of there.

There is no real way around this situation except to be picky which parties and gatherings I decide to go to. If I do not know many people, I do not go. If I am going with someone who also does not know many people, I do not go. If I do not know many people but am going with someone who does, I may go depending on how I feel socially that particular day (I need to make sure I can hold my own if my friend gets lost talking to the people he/she knows). If I know a lot of people, it depends on the type of party: If it is a more structured gathering where there is a program and performers, I personally find those boring so I only go to a handful; I like parties better at someone’s house where I am more free to move around and do what I want.

How would I describe myself now? I think that my introverted childhood and my social butterfly young adulthood have made me be able to enjoy the best of both worlds in the present. An old friend of mine needs to have someone with her to do everything, from getting lunch at work to going to doctor’s appointments. Another friend prefers to do everything alone. Not me! I can do everything along or with others. I do not have to get a group together to see a movie, eat out, or go to a concert – I can have fun by myself. On the other hand, I do not have to study, read, or watch TV alone all the time – I can call some friends up and see who wants to hang out.

So to the current and former introverts of the world, how do you feel about your introversion? Do you wish it was different? Have you made any changes?

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