Introverts: Healthy or Unhealthy

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Through the years there has been a lot of study of introverts and extroverts and the differences in how their lives unfold as a result. Even lay people can appreciate that it is not surprising that extroverts tend to seize opportunities that introverts may not.

This is largely unsurprising because by adulthood most of us would have seen (or been) introverts that were stopped, not by the quality of an idea or our interest in it, but rather by discomfort with the interpersonal relations required to enact the opportunity. In these states were are intimidated, and every human being will experience that in life.

While this leaves introverts at a disadvantage in a competitive landscape (which nature naturally is), this is not to suggest that there is something ‘wrong’ with them. Every human being has limitations that can prevent certain kinds of success, but there are no ‘wrong’ personalities.

If some person enjoys a lot of time alone and works well off by themselves, then they should pursue that and feel healthy. There are some well-known iconoclastic artists and scientists and other people who have lead fruitful, enjoyable lives, largely tucked off on their own.

That said, there is also a large group of separate introverts who self-hate themselves for their inability to seize opportunities they later regret having passed up.

Being a bit ‘aspy’ and enjoying time alone focusing on something for hours can make someone seem unhealthily obsessed, but if the motivation is the feeling that it must be done, then that is an example of a human being living their life in a way that suits them. That is what it is to follow a calling. There’s no external sense to it, but it works for the person living it.

If life wasn’t like that, we may have waited for some time for another Newton to sort out gravity and calculus. He didn’t love people, he loved ideas. In fact, he was known to pretty much hate people, he hated bathing, and he worked naked a lot. He was often seen as an unpleasant person.

Importantly, one gets the impression that Newton was too busy being Newton to care what others thought, and that is a form of spiritual health I write and speak about often. It may not seem like a naked, smelly, unfriendly person can live a quality spiritual life but they can and they do.

1363 Relax and Succeed - If any organism fails to fulfill its potentialities

It’s all a matter of –do we think we’re living our own life, or one stifled by uncertainty about our place in the world? Newton would have been very troubled were he forced to leave his lab only to be bathed and dressed and liked by people he had no interest in. So he was healthier in his lab, alone.

Be they in the arts or in science or accounting or engineering or any other field, those sorts of intense passions represent what it is to healthily separate ourselves from others. That is not what crippling introversion is.

This small study is yet another look at how some people are subtly and negatively affected by their introversion, and how they can benefit from actually learning to be more assertive.

Keep in mind, Newton had no trouble with assertive. He had confidence in his way of being. However, if our ‘aloneness’ doesn’t also have a confidence with it, then we’re likely in the group that would do better by learning to be more assertive.

This ‘change’ should not be seen as an improvement of a person because what is being asserted is the real person. The pain I see in many introverts comes from them chastising themselves for missed opportunities because, in essence, they feel that they are not living up to their natural potential. They, in effect, lack the courage and/or confidence to be the person they truly feel they are inside. That is not what Newton felt.

The logic of both Newton and the crippled introvert makes perfect sense with what I teach and what this blog is about. While unhealthy introverts are thinking debilitating, enervating thoughts about lost opportunities that have prevented personal success, Newton’s introversion had a certain confidence to it. He fought for the right to spend time with the one person he wanted to spend it with; himself.

With rare exceptions like Newton aside, it is a very human thing to function in groups. This increases our mental and physical health in many ways. A strong sense of community and connection is directly linked to our health. This is why it ends up being a positive experience for an unhealthy introvert to work toward being more extroverted –their lives end up being more social, and society is good for individuals.

The difference between these two groups is simple and both tend to instantly know which kind of introvert they really are. Newton wasn’t trying to be liked or be acceptable, he wasn’t even thinking about Newton’s place in the world.

Newton’s thoughts were on his science. He was a confident extroverted introvert, doing exactly what he wanted to do. He didn’t care what others thought and so he lived successfully by his own standards. Meanwhile, many crippled extroverts are prevented from doing what they want to do by their thinking.

Learning to stop all of that thinking, and becoming more comfortable with others through experience does take time. But with each successive step, a less secure introvert becomes stronger and stronger, until there is a day where they can finally feel that they are more fully being their true and healthy self.

If we’re cloistered away and we’re loving life, then we’re fine. But if we are the sort of introvert that deep down wishes they were living a life they can imagine, then it is time to take action to alter how we are using our thoughts. Otherwise, we can use them to build a jail for our spirit. That prison will always only exists in our heads, but if those thought-based walls are not taken down, they will lead us to suffer the pain of not fully realizing ourselves.

peace. s

Devices of Judgment

1359 Relax and Succeed - Thoughts are a good servant but a bad master

Our world was shaped by thoughts. Those thoughts get codified into social codes or guides or laws or through things like school grades, or peer pressure built around the concepts of popularity or acceptability.

Some of these devices are tangible things like step counters or gym weights or weigh scales. The pressure we feel in life is us trying to fit our natural shape into the predetermined forms these tools or ideas create.

The outcomes are somewhat predictable. Every code gets applied to every person equally, even though some people may never be athletic no matter how hard they try, and others may struggle academically in ways that do not reduce their value as a human being at all. But all of us will be judged by many people –most notable ourselves– for not being many things, as though we were supposed to have been them all.

The only way to escape is to be so far removed from those ‘tests’ that we get a free sympathy pass from society because we have one huge natural judgement running against us, like childhood cancer or deformities or severe mental challenges.

Some are seen to be so obviously struggling with what is obviously a heavier load that it’s a more definitive signal that knocks us out of our personal thinking. That jolt to our awareness ignites our compassion by so strongly exposing our good fortune.

That is a beautiful thing to do for others, and that is why people in those situations should be seen more like spiritual teachers in society. They elicit an essentially universal reaction that does expose our natural tendency as humans, which is decency, while also making us grateful, which is spiritually healthy. They’re monks in wheelchairs and in canes.

Where we can benefit from increased awareness is to realize that while some people have their suffering jammed into a generally narrower set of experiences, (like those of a severe autistic, or someone who is born without any limbs), others are also suffering badly, but with more general things like their weight, or their income, or the acceptability of their personality.

Because those feel like the problems of more common, so-called ‘normal’ people, we often don’t realize that those issues and people would also benefit from our awareness and decency. Smaller issues –even presumed– can pile up to the point where they can cripple our lives.

1359 Relax and Succeed - This scale does not

If we count steps or weigh ourselves for our health, it’s not to hit some numerical target. The point is to feel good and have a doctor feel that the weight –whatever it is– is in a range that respects our unique bodies. A healthy heart should be about getting more time with loved ones, not meeting the doctor’s target. We must love ourselves, not try to be someone for others.

Too many times something like a calorie app or a weigh scale are not simply weighing things in the physical world. Instead, they are drawing some abstract chalk outline onto the world and then asking us to fill it. It’s crazy. We weren’t supposed to become what an app said because the person who wrote it never met us. Nor the person who built the weight scale, and just because a hairstyle is popular does not mean it looks or feels good on us.

We suffer when others have generalized the individual us. And when we do that to ourselves as well, all we’re doing is using an abstract cultural whip to beat ourselves. It’s the opposite of spiritual awareness.

Can we really imagine someone going to the Buddha, or Moses or Jesus or Mohammad and having them tell the person their soul will find nirvana when they lose some weight? Or get a better haircut? Or a job that’s more respectable? Would Jesus tell us that we can give up now, because we were born gay, or in the wrong country, so nothing we could ever do could make us worthwhile?

It’s hard to imagine the Buddha saying, “Sara, you will find enlightenment but you must get your Thursday Tinder date to like you or your life will be an unhappy disappointment.”

Deep down you already know this is true. The people that love us don’t need us to be any particular way. Not a shape, or age, and they love the person that lived our experiences, even if they don’t always like some aspects of the personality that grew out of those experiences. They love the soul at our center –the being living all of that life. We should all love that person too.

What others think are merely individual experiences they are having inside their own heads. Those judgments don’t impact us at all if we don’t start thinking them in our heads.

If we saw a loved one beating themselves up terribly over their weight it would be heartbreaking because we would all know they are so much more than that dumb number. And that impulse is beautiful and natural. But enlightenment really comes when we learn to direct that compassion toward ourselves. Because only then will we free ourselves from the suffering we generate when we use our devices of judgment.

peace. s

The Lesson in Envy

1358 Relax and Succeed - The most outrageous act is still

Envy. We can use that. It just goes to show that –if viewed in a productive way– anything in life can be helpful.

In life it does us little good to forget about the value of the tribe we all need around us, but at the same time we must be somewhat selfish about wanting a full and interesting life for ourselves. We just can’t expect that life to exist without prices being involved.

That choice to take a productive (read: healthily selfish) perspective is the key. And a healthy balance must be perpetually sought. This is why psycho-spiritual work is an ongoing practice and not simply an achievement.

We can start by remembering that everyone’s genetics and life experiences leads them to be a unique human being with all kinds of different skills or abilities or lacks thereof. But because there are only so many kinds of feelings we can have through our life  experiences, human beings end up falling into broad groups that people have tried to approximate by creating things like the enneagram, or the Myers–Briggs test.

We’re all largely aware of all of these categories just be living life, but just knowing those doesn’t make us healthy. But we can learn a great deal by paying enough daily, very present attention as to how the category we are in shapes the decisions we make and the subsequent challenges we face.

For example, in school, the subdued, innocuous ‘average’ students are saved from from both the pressure of top grades and the sort of popularity than can make a bad hair day legendary. At the same time, without a strong and obvious natural drive in any particular direction, they can often live more desperately and with less focus. This leaves them often envying other’s dreams, hard work or talent.

The average kids will still have actual talents, but if they’re not as cool or as good as those of the most excellent kids, then the average kids are less likely to have the bold confidence to still feel their skills are meaningful. If someone asks them to play their guitar, they’ll say they “…don’t really play.”

Meanwhile, the excellent or popular kids are envious of the average kids who must only bear average expectations, which are often much more generalized. Get along, work hard, do your best. Those things are all wonderfully non-specific, where as “be at the top of the class,” or “make the team,” instantly becomes an intense competition with however many classmates got told the very same thing.

Within each group there are meek and often uncertain and apologetic personalities, as well as those that naturally possess a bold sort of confidence that doesn’t cripple itself with too much over-thinking. But because of that same confident quality, they are also the ones most likely to overstep.

Regardless of whether it’s an overstep or not, if a bold person’s actions feel just justified to those watching, more timid kids will admire and envy it when they see someone stick up for themselves. They will rarely meaningfully note the price that other person will pay for that confidence.

1358 Relax and Succeed - The Velveteen Rabbit

Envy goes every direction. As the bold kids know, the nail that stands out gets pounded down. The grass only looks greener on the various sides of the fence. Everyone pays a price.

This means the bold kids often wish they were simple followers who can either live in the bliss of ignorance or simply not care. Otherwise their fate is to be in conflict a lot more than they’d like. At the same time those iconoclastic kids can often resent those who fail to stand up for important causes, and envy can lead them to sometimes mistreat really happy, positive people who genuinely seem to love life.

We can presume that being happy and loving life is the peaceful zenith of this heap of personalities but it’s not. Even too much chocolate cake starts to get unhealthy after a while.

The problem with being seen as positive is that people start to rely on us to be their source of positivity and they can unwittingly get weirdly demanding about it. Then, when it’s the happy life-loving people that are down, others are often left in uncomfortable territory, uncertain of what to do. This can leave the happy person worse off in crisis than those we perceive as less resilient.

There are countless more examples featuring any type we can think of, but can we see how this flows around? How everyone has their own weight to carry? What we as egos all share is that we want what we don’t have because we all notice the gains others make with those qualities. We don’t look for people making gains with personalities like ours. Everyone thinks they have the wrong personality.

How we get healthy is by feeling fine as we are. From there the natural compulsions that are ours to experience make themselves known and our lives unfold accordingly. The other us is just a narrative, which is why no matter what kind of problem I’m working on with someone, I’m always focusing on showing them how to put their thinking into the proper context.

If we give up all of our thinking about what ‘bike we’d rather have,’ we can just start riding the us that we are. We can go all still go wonderful places on our bicycles of personality. We can use them to sight-see, or to stay in shape, or for joy with others, or even to race it, risk it, or even to make money with it. Each bike has its own paths to ride.

No one should be ashamed of their personality. We all benefit when anyone realizes and activates more of who they are. So rather than wish we had a different bicycle, we should quietly get on board and ride our bike to somewhere meaningful to us –because that is the freedom of self-respect and we all deserve to feel that.

peace. s