Don’t you love it when weird things happen to you, and you look back and realise that hidden amongst the weirdness, life was telling you a bigger story? A MUCH bigger story.
And you keep reading, because you don’t know exactly where the story is going or how it will end. Does that sound familiar?
Have you ever been so suddenly freaked by something that your heart started kicking inside you like a bucking horse and you literally felt your blood run cold?
It’s an awful feeling. As if your body has a will and mind of its own, and it wants out of there! Fast.
It’s only happened to me twice.
The first time was when I was a child, and I thought I’d seen a ghost.
The second time (the one I’m going to tell you about here) was a few years ago, when I thought I’d become one!
This is what happened:
It was a very ordinary day and I was out shopping in my local department store.
I went to visit the Ladies Powder Room to use the facilities (as you do). There was a sign on the door informing us that the facilities were closed due to redecoration, but that we could use the ladies staff toilet on the ground floor instead. I duly made my way there.
The horror began to unfold once I exited the cubicle.
I washed my hands at the wash hand basin then glanced up as always at the mirror in front of me in order to tidy my hair and make-up.
That’s when my heart went ballistic and my mind turned to candy floss.
I had no reflection.
You could see RIGHT through me!
There was the reflection of the cubicle behind me, and the reflection of the wash hand basin in front of me, but of me? Nothing.
I felt sick. My legs turned to jelly. My stomach lurched downwards like a broken elevator. I can’t for the life of me tell you how long I stood there staring paralysed with horror and disbelief, desperately willing my reflection to appear. It can’t have been that long, but it felt like a lifetime.
Had the whole of my life been a dream, some sort of alternative universe, and I didn’t really exist? How long had I been invisible? Could anyone see me? How had this happened? And even worse than this ‘existential horror’ was the creeping realisation:
WASN’T IT VAMPIRES THAT HAD NO REFLECTION?
Right then, just on cue, a staff member casually strolled in and seeing my obviously stricken face remarked,
‘Oh, it’s alright! They all do that, lovey. There’s no mirror there!’
Feeling excruciatingly sheepish, I looked again with a hard, practical stare. Reality was slowly seeping back and with it, a sharp sense of focus.
Sure enough, the room was a mirror image of itself. Cubicles pressed up against facing walls, and back to back wash-hand basins in a row across the middle of the room. No mirrors. No ghosts.
Overwhelming relief and deep embarrassment ensued in equal measure. I abandoned the rest of my shopping list for the day and went home to hide under the duvet!
But then I started thinking….
or more truthfully, that inner narrative started unspooling in my head. Connections began to form and the bigger story began to write itself…
And this, dear reader, is ‘The Bigger Story.’..
Isn’t that’s just what it feels like sometimes as an introvert in an extrovert world..
..that we’re invisible? That we don’t exist? That no one can truly see us as we really are?
…..or perhaps more specifically, that WE don’t really know who we are, or what we look like…..there’s a problem not only with feeling invisible, but with knowing our own identity, and recognising, embracing it?
Bear with me if this all seems a bit fluffy and philosophical….
In the world of psychology, we now know that in order for children to develop healthy self-esteem and a sense of their own identity and uniqueness, their parents or care-givers need to ‘mirror’ back to them as infants, that ‘they are lovely, and loved, just as they are’, so that this knowledge and acceptance of themselves as ‘ok’, (albeit not perfect), becomes part of the child’s psychological DNA and helps them to be resilient and confident in the world, knowing who they are.
Mirrors are important.
What reflects back to us from others….and from the world out there, in some ways creates who we then become.
But it isn’t just parents and care-givers who act as mirrors. it’s our culture and its unspoken biases and expectations as well.
Which brings us back to introverts…..
What if, instead of that ideal affirming mirror, you have a critical cultural mirror, that reflects back to you that you don’t meet the standard…
Or a silent mirror, that leaves you feeling ignored or sidelined … Invisible.
Or a distorted mirror, like the ones at fairgrounds, that makes you look ‘weird’, an object of ridicule?
What happens then?
You might feel you have to try and change. Not be yourself, but be like someone else, someone more extroverted, in order to be accepted…. To do that though, you first have to get rid of who you really are. The result of doing that could be that you’re not too sure of yourself, or the decisions you make. You might have a sense that you don’t really know who you are now. You might feel that there’s something wrong with you. That you’re not ‘ok’. It would be very hard to walk confidently in the world if you were always having to look at yourself through those kind of mirrors!
This may not be as far fetched as it seems…. This feels like an issue not just at the level of family dynamics, but of the wider social dynamic too. The mirrors that society has held up to introverts over the last few generations have not been helpful, either to introverts or to society as a whole, and that has to change.
These cultural mirrors might have less of an impact if you were accepted and nurtured as an introvert within your family. That would make you more resilient to the societal bias. However, cultural values affect and steer family values too, and families have to rub along in society….so it’s unlikely, if you’re one of life’s quiet people, that you’ve been totally unaffected.
So now for a little experiment… I’m going to be doing this, and I’m going to post up the results in the next blog post (Yay!). I’d really like it though if you’d join me. It’s not hard, or time consuming (much). In fact, I think it’s quite a fun thing to do. Maybe that just makes me a little bit nutty!
But if you want to have a go, select four people. They can be work colleagues, neighbours, friends….but try and make sure they don’t know you really well, or are all card-carrying introverts, or they’ll guess what you’re up to and skew the results. This isn’t world class research, but it’ll tell you something interesting nonetheless.
Ask them to write down the first four adjectives that come to mind when they hear the word ‘introvert’. Don’t let them ponder it for too long…it’s first impressions! Collect them all, and see what you’ve got.
See you back here next time… Can’t wait!