Friendly Professional Advice on Introversy

I don’t normally post reviews here, but this book is about introversy – a topic I have long been planning to post about – and it has been of help to me, so I want to recommend it.

Marti Olsen Laney "The Introvert Advantage. How to Thrive in an Extrovert World"

Marti Olsen Laney’s The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World is an approachable source of knowledge about different types of human temperament. To introverts and non-introverts alike, it can also prove an understanding friend that helps overcome various problems.

The main problem it takes up is the lack of understanding that many introverted people meet with in society, where extroverts are always the natural majority. That main problem gives rise to many more: prejudice, shaming, forced extrovert behaviours. The author recounts stories of these based on her experience with therapy patients, and examines the widespread misconceptions about introversy that often lead to introverts’ alienation and low self-esteem. “Introverts don’t like people,” “they speak so little becasue they don’t have anything to say,” “they lack creativity and initiative” are just a few examples.

To convince the readers that there’s a point to the antithetical title, Laney makes us consider the advantages shared by most introverts: analytical skills, the tendency to hoard knowledge in a chosen field of study, or the ability to concentrate on demanding but tedious tasks. Although these are worth noting, the “advantage” in the title still sounds cheap to me, like bait for people to buy the book. What sort of advantage is it to have some sort of temperament and a few good qualities? Everyone has those. It’s cheap but it worked: if I had first spotted that title in a bookshop rather than on my brother’s bookshelf, I would have bought it.

The part of the book that I found the most useful and enjoyable contains several scientific explanations of differences in human temperament. For some people, this may seem altogether unnecessary in a self-help book. Why bother with understanding which paths neurotransmitters take inside our brains if we only really care about the outcome of this process: our thoughts, words and behaviours? I’m sure this part of the book will be of interest to those of us who need and actually can’t go without scientific explanations when they learn something new. For me, the relationship between how the brain works and some typical introvert qualities, such as difficulty remembering facts, or the frequent need to rest, was something new indeed! I used to think of these as faults to be amended…

What next? Next, the book reaches out to us and leads us into the world: intimate and familial relationships, social and professional life, and all sorts of problems that go together with these. This part contains a multitude of substantive tips on dealing with stressful situations for both introverts and those of us who have an introverted person in their life. What may annoy you is the either-or approach to introversy and extroversy used to interpret most human behaviours here. But it’s worth remebering that, like many other concepts in psychology, this false binary is only meant to ease the understanding, and may have little to do with how real-life individuals act and feel.

Finally, the author asks us to look… inside ourselves. You would think that for an introvert, this is the easiest task on earth, right? But what Laney encourages us to do is to continuously learn the advantages and limits of our temperament, tune in to and take care of our needs, and thus create a good life environment for ourselves – both in our minds and outside. In a world where adults are only ever expected to be able to take care of a child if they have one, but not necessarily to take care of themselves, this task may seem formidable. Laney’s voice, which in this part of the book sounds especially intimate and uplifting, can encourage and support you along the way.

And after we have looked inside ourselves, the author has one more little proposition for us – but if this is supposed to be a review, I’d better not share the entire contents of the book with you, right? I’ll only add that you don’t have to read it cover-to-cover. There aren’t any traps for lazy readers such as “As you remember from Chapter 4…” so you can safely leave off the parts that don’t interest you.

Now go. Read this book. Or any book. Books are cool.

When Passion is a Requirement

Have you ever had the impression that people would like you to be more passionate about things than you can realistically be?

For many of us, it may seem like this, and all the more so we consider the media an important point of contact with the world. Morning shows, ads, life-style blogs, ads again, job offers, and for the final time, ads – all of them promote the images of passionate, energetic people who go about their daily activities with a smile running all the way around their heads.

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…Or throw books around themselves in a frenzy. Photo by Lacie Slezak

But it’s a silly approach where you show excitement as the only acceptable state to be in, tell your readers to boost their energy like it’s the only thing they can possibly need, or require a steadily exorbitant level of passion from job candidates.

It probably won’t be a surprise to you if I say that being in low spirits from time to time is only natural, that low-energy people can be happy in their lives just as well, and that a lack of passion doesn’t entail being no good at what you do in life.

The fact is that those periodically miserable, low-energy, unenthusiastic people can be just as good as friends, partners, parents, teachers, construction workers, artists, dentists and whatnot.

We are the way we are, and that’s okay.

Still… there’s always this shade of doubt when we think about ourselves, isn’t there? Whatever we do, it just doesn’t seem good enough when we compare it to the enterprises of the ideal, passionate people we’ve been trained to look up to.

Let me tell you a secret: I’ve struggled with my self-image as a writer for many years. Me writing + other people reading it + us together talking about me writing? No, that just doesn’t compute.

Why? Because I’m not passionate about writing, and how am I supposed to tell people that?

Let’s give it a try: I haven’t felt all my life that I should write. Holding a book with my name on it is not my biggest dream. I don’t wreck my sleep to write. My life is not defined by the stories I’ve written. Sometimes when I want something written, I force myself to write it because I have no enthusiasm for it. In fact, I suppose I’d be just fine without writing.

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Photo by Green Chameleon

It’s just that I like to write, and some people like my writing. But when I think that, panic enters the stage because it sounds so terribly insufficient that I want to withdraw all the signals I’ve ever sent to the world outside that yes, I want to be a writer. Because if I’m not passionate about it, I’m not a real writer, no?

This doubt has its effects on the work itself. As with writing, so with other hobbies and endeavours. Every so often, one gets discouraged by adverse circumstances. Or one lose interest in what one does, and may even forget about it for long stretches of time. Very often, one’s lack of passion translates into a lack of motive to develop your skills.

If you add this self-doubt to the fact the world favours passionate people, it’s easy to call oneself a good-for-nothing, lie down and be sorry for oneself.

But don’t do this just yet! Because I’ve some important things to tell you. Here they are:

I. You are fine the way you are. You don’t have to be passionate about something to “count as a valuable person”.

II. You can be good at things even if you’re not helped along by passion. Without it, it may just be slightly more difficult in certain respects.

III. After you’ve admitted that you don’t feel passionate about things, it’s time for you – not for anyone else who may see your lack of passion as a shortcoming – to decide what to do with your time, skills, and energy.

But I can’t help you with that last one. Too busy writing.

The Christmas Weakness

Yesterday, I read an old post by Andreas Moser about how he used to hate Christmas. It emphasized the point that this thoroughly Christian ritual is forever being rammed down everybody’s throat, no matter what religious beliefs they hold or do not hold.

And that’s true. But for many non-Christians, and I dare say for some Christians as well, the religious aspect is irrelevant; what matters is that Christmas is stable and recurrent, and that it gives you an opportunity to connect with the people you trust more than other people (it doesn’t have to be family), and also to rest.

With the stability and recurrence of any ritual, it makes those of us who always hurry to achieve more stop and consider what we have now. It makes us remember about those special people I mentioned – yes, we have forgotten about them again! It makes us consider the people that are missing, too. And other things.

Some of us don’t like to stop in our hurry, and for those, Christmas comes to unwanted rescue. Because sometimes, you just need to stop and think – about the life you’ve been living, about your relationships, about your problems and plans for the future.

And even if that moment when you stand alone by the window – if there’s anyone else, they’re busy talking, staring at the TV in a food coma or they’ve already gone to bed… Even if that moment is a dark one, difficult to bear and you don’t want it, I really think that the essence of Christmas is in there, too. Paradoxically, in the stability and recurrence of those solitary moments, you can learn a lot of new things.

And if churches benefit from our weakness for ritual? If they gather many more people than they usually do, and kindly, in a Christmas spirit, force their ideology upon them? Even if, in the end, they cash in on the fact that we want to feel connected, and need the stability and recurrence that religious ritual gives?

Well, that part sucks.

Of course, we could be stronger, and reject the religious aspect of Christmas. We could just focus on what’s more important for us: connecting with people, rest, self-reflection, the stability and recurrence of it. A ritual can do without a religious back story.

But I guess most people won’t do that even if they don’t like the religious aspect of Christmas. Perhaps they’re too attached to the Christmas they know from childhood, and in their minds it seems criminal to alter it in any way. Isn’t that so?

We follow in the old footsteps… whose footsteps these are, we don’t know. They’re old, so they must be right. We will continue in this way for a long time.

…But who can blame us for being weak?*

* In Poland, people say that one’s point of view depends on the point where one sits. So just to explain mine: I was raised Catholic in this very Catholic country but later lost personal interest in religion, and now I’m just watching how the church here piles up reasons to be rejected by the people but nevertheless remains privileged and strong.

Learning Not to Take Chances Away

You know what I like about therapy?

The fact that the therapist I go to does not judge me. And even more than that: she does a thingy thing that makes me forget the concept of judging people as such. It makes me stop being hard on myself and, at the same time, stop worrying about how other people judge me.

How does she do that? No idea. It’s probably a professional secret.

The kind of judging I have in mind here is the negative one – one that takes something away from its object. When we say to ourselves “I’m hopeless”, “I’m good for nothing”, or “I will never succeed at anything”, we take away from ourselves the chance to prove ourselves wrong. All said and done, no point in trying any harder and searching for new paths towards self-realization if the current ones indeed do not seem to lead anywhere.

I am giving examples of self-judgement here on purpose, because I know that many people judge themselves harshly and nullify their chances for improvement all the time.

Do they do that to other people as well? I don’t know – I probably belong to the lucky few who do not have to face such shitty behaviour. If they do, that’s too bad. What I do know, though, is that we should not readily assume that other people keep judging us negatively in their minds. Without getting us any closer to any kind of truth, it may only make us nervous…

There is another, positive kind of judging, though – one that gives us something. In our interactions, we do that all the time: we judge whether the person we just met is worthy of our trust; whether we want to talk to them, find out more about them, hang around with them some more. This is normal; were it not for this kind of judging, we would probably drown in all this wide inter-human sea…

But what am I driving at? I am definitely driving at something.

Here is the thing: if you already know the difference between the positive and negative kind of judging, give up on the latter. Don’t take chances away from yourself. Don’t take them away from others.

This is what I keep telling myself, and therapy helps me maintain this attitude of not taking chances away, watching myself and others with interest, and learning something new about ourselves every day.

And you know what? It is much more interesting this way.

P. s.: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.

This Is Going to Be a Good Autumn

For a couple of years now, the coming of autumn always meant trouble for me: won’t a rainy October deject me? Will I have gathered enough strength to be able to get up from the bed every morning? Won’t the persistent thoughts that I’m worthless and should’ve died long ago come back? Oh, those regular autumnal thoughts; moods quite fitting for the unfriendly autumnal weather.

“This autumn, though, is going to be a good one,” I’m thinking now, even when the wind is raging all around me, all I can see in the darkness is some lights reflected in the wet asphalt under my feet, and all I’m dreaming about is to finally stop this trudge-along and fall asleep in the warmth and quite of home.

This autumn is going to be a good one because this autumn I let myself do just this: take care of myself when I’m feeling so bad, and cold, and gloomy. It doesn’t mean that every time I get back home from work, I hit the bed right away. Sometimes it means that when I’m irritated, I turn on Yukari’s “Echo”. When I feel lonely, I reach out to a friend, or just think about the few I have. When I haven’t slept well at night, I put off this damned difficult task I’ve planned to finish today until a better time.

There’s no point in nurturing irritation; that parasite will devour the greater part of your energy with much enthusiasm if you let it do so. I won’t do myself a favour if I go on pondering the loneliness of my existence, either. It’s better to go back a couple of days or weeks, and recall that it doesn’t always feel this way. And what about work, what about sacrifice? I value both very much, but not more than my own well-being. The world needs me? Well, it probably does, but probably not too much; not to the extent where I’d have to carry on all stressed out and exhausted.

But what about autumn, and the wayward thoughts it will bring me all the same? …I can tell you that this year is the first one when I feel that I don’t have to yield to them. I already know those thoughts well enough to be able to stop the one that, running at full speed, would hit me and send me flying downwards a murky autumnal depression. They are my thoughts, and I can do with them whatever I want to — not the other way round.

So this autumn, instead of picking up all the fatigue and dejection that autumn will inevitably bring me as if it was the greatest of gifts, I’m going to take care of myself. I’m strong enough now to make it a plan, and I think I’m strong enough to keep to it, too.

And that is all. But this little is enough to say that this is going to be a good autumn.

P. s.: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.

What It’s Like to Have a Rat

I have a rat. It’s been sitting on my desktop for a few days now. Like all rats, it has the tendency to reappear in bad times.

It appears whenever I’m sad for a period of time longer than a few days.

I won’t show it to you because it’s a very private rat, just like my sadness is a private business, most of the time.

But I can talk about it if I want to. I wasn’t able to do this when I was younger. The rat had to stay somewhere out of sight, in the basement, I think (I was never quite sure of its whereabouts back then).

Under no circumstances did I want to see it, let alone let anyone else see it. Rats aren’t nice animals, you know.

But amid all this maturing, thinking and rethinking, I discovered that you can make friends with your rat even if it’s not nice.

Perhaps you’ll also be able to tame it so that it doesn’t eat you from the inside anymore. I haven’t yet convinced mine to stop doing that.

But I’m trying. When times are bad, I’m putting it on my desktop and say hello to it every time I switch on my laptop so that it feels accepted, and appreciated, too.

Nothing to be scared of — I tell myself, and it gives me that serious, reassuring look.

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This isn’t the one from my desktop. This one was drawn by lotny.

Have a great day,
Renata

Post scriptum: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.

What Would You Like?

The question that our title
has cast in deathless bronze
is painful yet so vital,
we owe it a response.

~ K.I. Gałczyński, trans. S. Barańczak and C. Cavanagh

We all have dreams – I could start by saying this if I didn’t know better. Dreams never come true – I could also start by saying this if I wanted to discourage you from reading my blog. This post is going to be about dreams and disappointment – I start by saying this because I don’t feel like trying to sound clever.

It would be nice to believe in what we get from films, books, and people who are perhaps too lazy to think over the old truths that they repeat: that all of us have dreams. But unfortunately, not all of us, and not in all circumstances, can keep up enough hope to sustain a dream.

All it takes is to face a terminal disease, extreme poverty or violence. In other words, if your life falls apart, you may become temporarily unable to dream.

A tragedy is not always the case, though. Some people, at certain points in their lives, simply don’t have dreams. And I’d think it’s perfectly all right if only I couldn’t be bothered to think about the reasons. But I am bothered, I am indeed very much bothered by the reasons.

There might be a multiplicity of them, and I might not be able to account for all of them here. All right, all right: I’m actually able to account for only two reasons, namely that:

  1. We’re happy with our lives as they are, and at this particular moment we just want to enjoy it, and dreams get kind of sidelined, or…
  2. We’re afraid of disappointment… which is completely understandable because disappointment is unpleasant. If it felt pleasant or neutral, I guess it wouldn’t be called disappointment anymore.

Well then, let’s be afraid of it, I’d say if I didn’t know that this fear might become unhealthy and lead us to give up on dreams.

It’s a very simple mechanism. If, as children, we were repeatedly told that we can’t disappoint other people because we hurt them by doing so; if, all too often, we saw other people being unable to cope with disappointment; if we experienced disappointment ourselves and couldn’t cope with it – we’re almost sure to be afraid of disappointment later on.

But there’s nothing to be afraid of… or at least there shouldn’t be, don’t you think? Disappointment is part of life and, in most cases, the human psyche is strong enough to cope with the pain it brings.

However, that is not enough for us to stop being afraid. Perhaps those of us who are will never stop being afraid. So, perhaps it’s worthwhile to learn how to cope with it? Learning a few coping methods should help to relieve anxiety, no matter the cause of it.

But who are we supposed to learn from if so many of the people around us are so clearly not good at handling their own disappointments? So many of them, resenting life that it’s not as good as they expected it to be, obstinately offended, neglect their own, and sometimes also their loved ones’ well-being.

I don’t know. I don’t know who to learn it from and, as you’ve probably noticed by now, I haven’t come up with any tricks of my own either. So far, I don’t think I have answered a single question I asked myself on this blog – I just write them down as homework to be done in the future.

But I already know one thing: I don’t want to give up on dreams for reason number two. I don’t want to forget how to dream just because I am afraid of disappointment. I don’t want to linger in this special kind of apathy which prevents us not only from making our dreams come true, but in the long run, also from knowing what they are.

That’s why, for a start, I suggest pulling your old dreams out of the waste bin and examining them closely – perhaps they still fit? And if not, I suggest asking yourself once again, bravely, in a demanding tone, this one important question: what would you like?

It’s painful yet so vital – you owe it a response.

Have a good day,
Renata

Post scriptum: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.