Should it stay or should it go? ….. The Life Inventory

You can only carry so much

I haven’t posted on here for what seems like ages, and I’ve honestly missed that more than I can say.

But there’s a reason I haven’t been posting….

Over the last four months, you see, along with my family, I’ve been emptying, clearing and selling the family home I grew up in. The home that had been in the family for over half a century. 

It was part of my childhood and growing up. It was the house from which I got married, and which came to be special to my children too, as they rediscovered all the nooks, crannies and play places I had made dens and memories in when I was young.

I’ve learnt that there isn’t much that is harder than parting with your history and your memories. 

Every cupboard or drawer you open tells another story, another memory unfolds from within an item that you might have to relinquish.

What do you keep? What do you lose? How do you choose? 

It sometimes felt as if I was getting rid of myself. 

Pulling up my very roots.

Keepsakes, photographs, old books and belongings that used to speak of who I was … (maybe not now, but there’s an emotional attachment) and a sea of memories comes rushing in. 

It’s very hard. 

I didn’t know where to start. As a family, we researched the best way to do a house clearing. There’s the  William Morris take on ‘stuff’ … ‘Keep only what is beautiful or useful’.     Mmmm…. Deciding what is beautiful or useful turned out to be widely subjective!   Or there’s the mantra that says ‘keep it for six months, if you haven’t  used it, chuck it’.  Problematic. It might take me six months to find said item amongst the mountains of stuff! 

We decided to start doing a basic sorting, and set aside separate rooms for ‘keep’, ‘sell or donate’ and ‘get rid’. That was the easy bit, but I still felt as if I were drowning!

What grid do you use to help you decide what to keep and what to lose anyway?  (I LIKE grids. I like templates, and instructions, and safe, secure ‘how to’ methodologies, but found nothing that touched the real core of the issue).  No one, you see, seemed to take the emotional attachment bit into account. That’s the bit that makes it hard to let go. 

Then came the awful thought…would I fail to get rid of ANYTHING? Would I end up like one of those hoarders, buried beneath a sea of random stuff?  Eaten by Alsatians? (With apologies to Bridget Jones!) 

stuff

Horror of horrors! 

Have you ever noticed that some of the best ideas we get come to us in dreams, or maybe just in that dreamlike state between sleeping and waking? 

Well, I was rescued by a ‘dream’..I woke one morning with the words ‘IDENTITY’ and ‘LEGACY’ swimming in my head. (Normally, the only words swimming in my head on waking are ‘Get up!! You’ve overslept!).  Thank you Lord! I have a grid! I am one happy lady! 

So my grid began to click into place. I began to see that the things we need to keep, and to treasure from the past, are to do with IDENTITY… with who we are, and are becoming. They may be actual things, books, letters, a sewing machine, an old typewriter… They might be relationships that have been significant in helping to build who we are becoming. These things have become ‘family’.. They have become part of our DNA. 

 LEGACY is to do with what I keep to pass on as an inheritance. Not just clocks and cabinets, but personal history and narratives, a love of art or music, a thirst for knowledge and discovery. It’s about finding and identifying the baton so you can pass it on. 

So here are the questions I asked myself, to help me choose what to keep, and what to lose….IMG_2426

Is it still part of my/our ongoing life journey? 

Is it a reminder of those special people in my life and what they have built in me? 

Does it still fulfil a purpose? 

Does it speak of who I really am? 

Does it echo with my plans and dreams for the future or is it ‘dead wood’ from the past, pulling me back and making it difficult to grow steadfastly forward? 

THAT grid was helpful.

I’m not just talking about losing or keeping actual possessions either, I’m talking identities. In psychotherapy, we understand that the powerful image of the ‘house’ often stands for the self. Moreover, our ‘stuff’ (physical or otherwise) can house old and outworn, sometimes unhealthy identities, that NEED to be shed. 

….Like when we keep all the old punk albums we listened to with the scary ex. (Although we’ve always hated punk!) 

….Or we keep the books from that course our parents signed us up to, that we bunked off.

Why are we keeping that stuff? Because until we get rid of it, we’re tied to that identity, that failure. We haven’t let it go, got closure on it…and so we can’t move on. 

Those things are the barnacles on our shells that slow us down. 

Other ‘stuff’ might remind us of parts of ourselves that we need to pick up and run with again, interests and leanings that have lain dormant….      

WE NEED TO DO A HOUSE CLEARING!   DO WE STAY AS WE ARE, BURDENED WITH A LOAD OF ‘STUFF’ OR DO WE DO A LIFE INVENTORY?  

We have to be intentional about what we allow ‘in’ our lives, and what we decide has to ‘go’.  And the decision can only be ours to make. 

So why is it so hard? 

I think it’s hard because on the whole we’re creatures of habit, content to live with our own particular status quo, living in stasis, however cluttered, so long as life will allow. 

The problem is, Life usually doesn’t!   

Because we were not made for stasis, we were made for growth. 

And growth requires reflection, evaluation and making (often scary or brave) choices. Growth can be uncomfortable, even painful, because to be free to grasp hold of something new, you have to let go of the stuff you’re holding onto….otherwise your hands are already full. 

I love watching natural history programmes. Recently I was watching an episode where there was a close up, prolonged footage of a snake shedding its skin. I’d never really thought much about the process, but as I watched, I had one of those light bulb moments…

When the snake’s skin becomes too restrictive for further growth, the impetus for shedding is triggered. 

I don’t know what activates that process….without giving the snake human feelings, I guess he must feel pretty cramped and tight and uncomfortable, and certainly in the process of shedding, the snake becomes cranky, stops eating, and will likely go somewhere quiet and private….because it’s vulnerable at this point. 

But the point is, it cannot grow unless it sheds that skin, and it cannot get rid of the discomfort until it sheds either! No pain, no growth. A bit like giving birth. Pain is an indicator that something HAS to change. Pain is a precursor of birth, of change, of growth. Pain isn’t always something to avoid, to be afraid of.  

C.S.Lewis in ‘The Problem of Pain’ spoke of pain as ‘Gods megaphone’. It wakens us to action. It demands decisions, not avoidance.  

So, what are you going to do?    What needs to ‘go’ in your life, and what needs to be reclaimed?   

You can only carry so much luggage in life. So pack with care. 

Ask yourself these questions:  is this thing/relationship/ habit/lifestyle leading to growth, to health, to happiness – is it helping me on the journey I’m on, does it feed into my values and identity or is burdening me, pulling me back to the past, to old identities, mistakes and memories, and beckoning me along a sideline, not along the main track of my life? 

The biblical concept of ‘Leaving and Cleaving’ recognises this principle of letting go in order to grasp something new. You cannot build strong new attachments until you relinquish or lessen the pull and primacy of old ones, even good ones!   If not, you’ll be pulled in so many directions, master to everyone but yourself, and who you should be. 

Unfortunately (especially for introverts) our Western culture values (demands sometimes!) multiple involvements and commitments. It tells us (mistakenly) that we can have it all, keep it all, do it all – at no extra cost. 

So we need courage and self awareness to choose a quieter, more focused, less cluttered path. 

Self awareness to know what to keep and what to lose, and to shelve the guilt that comes with saying ‘no’ . . 

Courage because choosing to say NO, can (sadly) open the door to being judged as selfish or indifferent. 

Ironically, saying ‘no’ to some things simply means we can be MORE committed to the fewer things we choose to say ‘yes’ to! And depth, not breadth is introvert gold. 

You cannot keep everything in life, nor should you try. Keep only what passes from your hands to your heart. Let all else go.   

Til next time then, 

Blessings,

Lynne 

You cannot keep everything in life. Keep only what passes from your hands to your heart. Let all else go

‘On The Road Not Taken’

 

I’m sitting looking out of the window at my garden. Outside, it’s grey and blustery, but warm. Here in England it almost feels like Spring. Daffodil spears are pushing valiantly through the cold soil. Winter seems to have passed us by. But it’s still only early February, it could go either way….winter may still come roaring back.

 

The New Year too arrived with its promises of a new life, a chance for us to do things differently in 2016.

 

We resurrect resolutions, hopes and expectations…and maybe even some concrete plans, for the year ahead. Some of these, we’ll make inroads to achieving.

 

Others will remain in the ‘Back Room of Good Intention’.

 

Some will be abandoned after a few weeks (usually the ones to do with diet and exercise regimes!) By this stage into the year, I guess you’ll all know which category your resolutions fall into.

 

But there’s another side to the New Year, one that can cause us a measure of disquiet. It’s the flip side of resolutions and expectation…

 

…It’s the spectre of ‘what ifs’.

 

The symbol for January is after all, Janus, the Roman two-faced God, who faced forwards, but also faced backwards.

 

New Year can also be a time when we reflect on the year that’s just gone, and there, alongside all the good (and not so good) times, we might light upon ‘The Great Imponderables’ –

 

Those decisions we didn’t take,

The route we didn’t go down,

The opportunity we let go by,

The relationship we didn’t follow up on….

 

And there it is, hanging in the air…

 

What would have happened if …? Did I make the right decision?

 

Sometimes, that unanswerable question can throw us into a morass of self-doubt, recrimination and regret. Particularly if life currently isn’t a bed of roses, that imagined alternative future can seem like a lost chance, a better life thrown away…and of course we blame ourselves. Who else is there to blame!

 

This is not a happy place to be.

 

You might be thinking – What has all this to do with introverts finding our courage and our voices?

 

Well, potentially, a great deal!

 

You see, as introverts, we tend naturally to think long and hard about our decisions. We research the options, we listen to our intuition, our value systems, we weigh up the pros and cons. We may even tabulate them! We don’t easily share this process. It’s internal.

 

You might think that this makes us better, clearer decision makers. Well, sadly not necessarily. We may amass a huge arsenal of information to guide our decision…but it doesn’t always lead to a decision!

 

The introvert leaning is towards analysis, over-thinking and often perfectionism and its companion procrastination.

 

Not easy bed-fellows to decision making!

 

We are also by nature cautious and risk-averse.

Making decisions – important, life-changing ones – can be agonising. We want to get it right, but how will we really know what the right decision is when the options are not between good and bad, but better and best, or two seemingly ‘equal’ pathways? We can be racked with self-doubt and recrimination.

When both roads looks inviting, Which one to take_

 

We might be further paralysed by ‘black and white thinking’, leading us to believe that if there is a right path to take, then the alternative choice must be wrong and lead to all kinds of disastrous consequences! The result of this kind of polarised thinking is that we can find ourselves unable to make any kind of decision because the stakes are just too high. We go round and round in circles. We become frozen by indecision.

 

Anyone thinking of Hamlet here?   More to the point, anyone recognise themselves here too?

 

These tendencies we have as quiet people prove a potent cocktail, one that makes decision making difficult and extremely stressful. Often, we decide NOT to make a decision.

 

We forget that avoiding making a decision is (sorry to remind you!) making a decision! You just decided to pass on it, to keep things as they are…..that’s still a decision. And it’s a common introvert decision…..because we value security and safety, we often decide to stay with the status quo.

 

Some years ago, I found myself inexplicably listening to that siren voice of regret.

 

I say inexplicably because it focused on a decision I had taken MANY years before. It was a decision not to take an opportunity that was offered to me. It was a sparkling and rare prize that was totally unexpected and unsought. I felt honoured, but oddly not tempted to take it up. For years, I never thought about it again, then a change in career caused regret and doubt to raise their ugly heads.

 

Regret is not a comfortable feeling, but when it revolves around a decision you made years ago (and didn’t doubt at the time), it’s a pointless exercise too!

 

We can’t go back and change things.

 

Regret only erodes our belief in ourselves and our ability to make good choices in the future.

 

It causes us to live in the past, and miss the blessings (and opportunities) of the moment.

 

It steals our confidence. It takes away our clear, confident voice.

 

That’s not to say that we can’t learn from past decisions. Undoubtedly we can, but we need to forgive ourselves, let go of tormenting ourselves, turn our backs on believing that our future has been set in stone by past mistakes in order for us to be open to learn anything in the process.

 

Holding onto regret ties us to the past, holds us back and can prevent us from taking personal responsibility for our shining futures.

 

I don’t believe nowadays in giving regret any rent-space in my life. I am officially serving him his Eviction Notice! As of now. And so should you.

 

So, I’m sharing with you my own personal ‘Eviction Notice’.

 

You do not have to live with regret as a lodger in your life for one second more! Get rid of regret and you free yourself up to begin to enjoy what life has for you up ahead, without the fear of taking a wrong path. You can confidently explore and discover who you were really created to be, and begin to find and use your unique voice and message.

 

So remind yourself of these things:

 

* That a decision made by the person I once was, cannot be questioned by the ‘me I now am’. We rarely consciously make decisions that will harm us, so the ‘past me’ did the best she could with the tools and information she had at the time. The ‘present me’ cannot judge her.   I will choose to stop blaming myself.

 

* That life is not usually made up of good or bad decisions. The decisions we make and the reasons behind our choosing one option over another (to take up this career or that one, to choose this relationship over another) are complex. Regret tries to tell us that we have ‘missed out’. That the path we did not take was filled with sunshine and rainbows and fulfilment. That the reason our lives are NOT filled with all these goodies is precisely because we ‘took the wrong path’ ….but we are the executors of our own happiness and opportunities, whatever path we take. The path itself is not filled with sunshine, we carry that with us on the journey. It’s up to us.

 

* Beside my desk is a bookmark given to me years ago. It reminds me that He who created the universe knows the hairs on my head and sees every path that I take. He is not thrown by my ‘wrong turns’. They do not keep Him up at night as they do me. To Him, they are ‘small fry’. He can turn things to good again, just as the potter re-shaping spoiled clay.

 

And finally, a lesson from my satnav!

 

* I love it that when I take a wrong turn, or miss a turning, that my satnav doesn’t shout at me, or tell me that I’m stupid, but calmly instructs me to ‘turn around where possible’. Sometimes of course, it isn’t possible, and then she obligingly finds an alternative road, and we get there in the end. Often by the scenic route.

 

And sometimes life is like that. That we end up at our destination in the end, despite our wrong turns, led home by a different route. One we didn’t plan, and it maybe took a little longer, but we enjoyed the scenery and were brought home safely in the end.

 

So don’t allow regret to sabotage your peace and happiness this year. Serve him his eviction notice and then change the locks!

 

And take this old, but still powerful verse from Minnie Louise Haskins with you instead into the New Year –

 

‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year

“Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown”

And he replied,

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God

That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way”

IMG_2304

‘Til next time …

Blessings,

Lynne x

 

The Fish, the Bicycle and the Introvert……or ‘why we need extroverts’

Goodguy bad guy

When I first started this blog, I got some interesting reactions, ranging from bemused curiosity ‘Why are you doing this?’ to guarded suspicion…’Are you going to start lynching extroverts then?’ … I have to say that most of those comments came from extrovert friends.  And I totally get those reactions.

Sadly, the reason for the suspicion and guardedness isn’t far to look.

Amongst the recent groundswell of introvert voices, I’ve occasionally noted some that have seemed to cast extroverts as ‘public enemy no 1’.

This is neither fair, nor true…nor does it serve anyone’s cause or best interests. An ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality never brings real or meaningful change.

Recently, I saw the movie ‘Suffragette’, and much as I enjoyed some of it, I felt irritated by the black and white portrayal of men and women’s roles. I was particularly frustrated by the ‘token supportive male’. This is not to underestimate the immense and sacrificial effort of the women campaigners, but great changes are brought about by collaborative working, often with the support of those who (should change come about) will not be the chief beneficiaries.

I believe this to have been the case with the fight for women’s suffrage, and also within the Civil Rights Movement.

I grew up with the familiar feminist mantra ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ ….which (even though I had it scrawled on my school pencil case) struck me as faintly ludicrous even then.  The relationship between a fish and a bicycle in no way equates to the relationship between a man and a woman. It was simply a memorable way of saying ‘we don’t need you’.

But we do need each other, and not simply those who are like us, but more importantly, those who are not like us too. We’re all in the boat called life, and we’d better start pulling oar together.

I used to love watching old films as a child. We always had to ask who the ‘goody’ or the ‘baddy’ was, though in westerns it was pretty obvious… The good guy rode a white horse, the bad guy rode the black horse!   Knowing who was ‘good’ and who was ‘bad’ absolved you of knowing anything else about the characters. You could just cheer or boo accordingly. Usually, the bad guy (or woman!) got their just deserts by the time the credits rolled.

Simple days, simple pleasures!

That early need to know who was on the ‘good’ side (and hence who was on the ‘bad’ side!) doesn’t end with childhood though. It gets more complicated, more subtle  (and much more problematic) as we enter adulthood.

Choosing a side gives us a feeling of belonging, a sense of ‘tribe’, of supporting and being supported by a larger body. That’s good surely? Well, yes and no. It also means that anyone who isn’t seen as part of our tribe, might become the ‘enemy’ if our identity, values or even survival is seen to be threatened. We don’t need to look too far to see the implications of this, both currently and throughout history. All too easily and too often, those who aren’t ‘on our team’ can become stereotyped, demonised.
Worse.

When I was very young, my family moved from our home in Scotland, to live in England.
It truly was ‘another country’.
We carried with us all our Scottish heritage, incomprehensible accents, love of the bagpipes, kilts, haggis, whiskey and Hogmanay….and with all this, the bitter legacy of Culloden and Butcher Cumberland (nothing to do with the sausage, Dear Reader).

I lived and went to school in England, but my heart was to remain in Scotland. I was not encouraged to see England as my home.
And I was NEVER, EVER to marry an Englishman!

But, of course, you can’t legislate life. Inevitably, I got to know English people and discovered that they weren’t all armed to the teeth with muskets and bayonets, intent on eliminating every Scottish person on the planet!

And yes, Dear Reader, I married an Englishman.

But what has any of this to do with finding your voice as a quiet person?

Well, if we have a right to our voice, and to finding that voice, it never comes at the expense of another’s voice.

Voice 1

Jung’s original comments on psychological type outline very clearly that none of us are wholly introverted or extroverted ( or we’d run mad). We are all on a spectrum (and that spectrum can vary depending on the exigencies of the moment, although our preference remains constant). We alienate those we wish to influence, risk weakening our cause and becoming marginalised if we go down the ‘goodies and baddies’ route.

Some of my best friends are extroverts.
Dang! Some of my CHILDREN are extroverts!

I suspect this is true for many of you too.

Like it or not, we need each other. John Donne spoke truth when he wrote ‘No man is an island, entire of himself’.

I love it when I see collaborative working happening across disparate groups.

The leadership team of Quiet Rev and Emma Watson’s ‘He for She’ campaign are two such notable examples.

It’s no good judging extroverts for not being quiet and reflective!  Isn’t that just the same as extroverts expecting introverts to be more gregarious and social?

Trench attitudes!

Let’s value, honour and respect our different strengths and work together to the benefit of all.

voice 2

Vive la difference!

Til next time…

Blessings,

Lynne x

Return to Mole End

Do you remember the stories and books you loved as a child?

…the ones that stayed in your mind and heart long after you’d read them? … the ones that became friends?

I wonder what they were.

Books like that are magical. They live with us forever. In some ways, they form who we become…they speak to our deepest selves, even before we really know what that ‘self’ is.

If we listen carefully to what they have to say, they can become marker posts in our journey to find our unique path in life

Reading my special stories takes me back to being nine again, sitting with ink-stained fingers at my little wooden desk at school, lost in a book….the only good place to be lost.

I’ve discovered that those early stories tell us more about who we really are, what stirs us, what moves us, what causes us pain, than hours of navel gazing or therapy! They speak to our true identity before that identity took on the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and masks involved in ‘doing life’.

So I’m going to tell you about my all-time favourite book (there are many I love). It’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame.

The Wind in the Willows

I so loved this book as a child, with its description of life by a chalk stream river, with its deep banks and shady, hanging willows. I dreamt of going boating with Ratty and taking a picnic hamper full of potted meats and ham and ginger beer, and learning how to scull. I wanted to explore the Wild Wood and meet the formidably gruff but kindly badger. I even loved reading the deliciously scary ‘Wild Wood’ chapter and imagining the hard little eyes glaring out at me from the undergrowth as dark enveloped the wood. Oh yes, I could get lost in this book!

But there was a chapter that I didn’t want to read again…a chapter I avoided re-reading as a child. A chapter that made me sad to my very soul. I didn’t really know why, but it was almost heart-breaking to read.

It was Chapter 5, the chapter where Mole’s old home ‘Mole End’ is calling to him.

In the story, Ratty and Mole are returning from their day’s adventures… snow is threatening and Rat is pushing on to get home quickly. All of a sudden, Mole becomes aware of something very familiar, ‘one of those mysterious fairy calls’ that made him ’tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal’.

It was his old home calling to him.

He tries to get Ratty to stop or slow down, or simply to hear his pleas to go back and find his old home, just once… but Rat overrides and jollies him along, ignoring his increasingly desperate friend with sensible exhortations to ‘come along Mole, don’t dawdle, there’s a good fellow’.

Mole sees the distance between himself and his old home widening with every step; the beckoning call becoming fainter, left behind. He fears he will never find home again.

Eventually, he stops, slumps to the ground and weeps.

Of course, you know the story. If you don’t, then this is the time to beg, steal or borrow the book and read it!

To his immense credit, Rat stops, apologises and listens to his friend, and (though not really grasping what’s going on for Mole), agrees to go back and find Mole’s home with him. He is the soul of tact and diplomacy, the perfect friend.

Mole reacquaints himself with his familiar, homely dwelling; Rat all the time complimenting his friend on his little home. Eventually, Mole feels he can leave, and go back out into the wider world with Ratty again. He sees ‘Mole End’ as ‘some such anchorage in one’s existence’ and exclaims that ‘it was good to think he had this to come back to’ (whenever he wanted to).

Mole End

Now that I am older (a lot older), I can read the chapter with ease. It ends happily. Mole does find and return to his old home and it’s even ok that he only visits and doesn’t go back to live there permanently.

But I can also see the episode as a kind of metaphor for how, as quiet souls, we can risk losing ourselves in being ‘out there’ in the world too long and too often without respite, whilst our neglected inner lives are plaintively calling out to us to pay them heed!

To come home to ourselves.

‘Mole End’ becomes a metaphor for what Prof Brian R Little has referred to as ‘restorative niches’…those little gaps and spaces in our days when we can step out, step back, replenish drained energy, but more importantly, get to know ourselves again and set our compass to our own path.

As quiet people, we need this. It’s non-negotiable if we are to live in harmony with how we are created. It’s not a luxury (though some might make you feel it is!)…. above all else, as introverts we need to make sure that we don’t lose ourselves, our direction and our inner motivation through too much external interaction and adaptation.

The engine that drives us needs the oil of solitude and self-connection regularly, or we are no use to the world we live in. We lose our voices, we lose ourselves. Our communities lose us.

So, what is your ‘restorative niche’ today?

It can be as simple as stepping outside for ten minutes to enjoy a coffee in the garden, or walking through a park on the way to work, lunch-break in the art gallery… or headphones and favourite music on a busy train…

Only you know what is restorative to you, and what is possible in your life…but regular restorative niches or ‘Mole Ends’ are essential to your soul. Give yourself permission to carve out space for them in your day. It will change your life.

Back to ‘The Wind in the Willows’ for the final word!

In the wonderful spin-off ‘Counselling for Toads’ by Robert de Board,  Toad (the quintessential extrovert) finally runs out of steam and suffers from depression. Supported by his friends, Ratty and Mole, he reluctantly finds that even he has to step back and seek out his own ‘restorative niche’ in therapy with the Heron.

This is a delightful book, featuring all the familiar riverbank characters, and a few extra. Put it in your Christmas wish-list if you’ve not already got it. You’ll not regret it.

But for now, schedule in those restorative niches, re-discover who you really are in the quiet places.

Come Home to yourself!

‘Til next time,

Blessings!

Lynne

 

 

 

 

 

‘On Being Seen’

OPEN THE DOOR

The last post I wrote was about being invisible.

It was about how introverts or quiet people are ‘seen’ ( or more truthfully, not seen) but also about how that affects how  we then perceive ourselves.

This post is about the flip side: how we present ourselves in the world.

But first, I had some interesting responses to my ‘four word challenge’ (Describe an introvert in four adjectives!) I hope you did too if you had a go. I’d love to hear how you got on!

Here’s some of the responses I got:

‘shy, reserved, inward-looking, good listeners, quiet, over-analysers, thoughtful, knowing, withholding, accepting, threatening, retiring, lacking in confidence, don’t like parties!’

I’d guess if we did a word count, that ‘shy’ and ‘quiet’ would be the most frequently occurring descriptors. I wonder if you found that too?

There are some good, positive attributes here – thoughtful, accepting, good listeners….but what about ‘threatening’? What’s that about?

 

One of the best teachers I had at school was clearly one of life’s quiet people. She was quiet and reserved, though never shy, dedicated to her subject, immensely knowledgeable, but didn’t do reassuring banter or chit-chat with us.

She was the one who frightened us the most!

We didn’t want to displease her, mostly because we didn’t know how that would turn out.

Most of our other teachers brought in the big guns every time you crossed them…it was all bluster, shouting, board rubbers flying and detentions…but once that was over, so was their ammunition!

But you never knew what this lady might have in reserve, and that could be scary.  A bit like swimming into the deep end of the pool and suddenly realising that the water is darker here and that you can’t see the bottom.

In reality, she was gentle but firm, amiable yet disciplined and always expected high standards. But what we didn’t know about her (because she was reserved), we made up, we guessed….we filled in the blanks.

We constructed a dragon that didn’t exist.

How did that happen?

 

One of my favourite films is the 1993 version of ‘The Secret Garden’. it’s a wonderful film on so many levels, but some of the dialogue is pure gold. There’s a scene where Mary Lennox (the spoilt, brattish heroine) tells Colin, the (equally brattish) boy she finds hidden away in Misselthwaite Manor, an Indian tale that she remembers her Ayah telling her as a small child in India. it’s a story about the young Hindu god Krishna.

Mary tells Colin that when Krishna was a small child, he looked like a normal infant from the outside, but when you looked inside his mouth, you could see that inside him lay the whole world, an immense universe.

Excluding the god analogy, it can be a bit like that with introverts!

As introverts, we can live very happily with a full, three-dimensional understanding of ourselves, particularly the inner landscape, but others may only get to glimpse a quarter of the real person. The well-known analogy of the iceberg is a good one. A quarter is on display, three quarters hidden from sight. it’s also of course (like the iceberg), the bigger part of us (the inner world) that’s unseen. Judging from the usual quiet exterior, few would conceive of the busy inner world and its workings, with all its myriad connections and rabbit warrens of neural pathways, imaginings and conjectures. This is where the introvert most likes to live. There’s only so much energy, time and attention to go round, and for the introvert, the inner landscape wins a lot of the time.

And in a way, that’s the problem. Because where we aren’t ‘seen’, there lies the space for others to jump in and construct or imagine a story around the unseen part.

….Making a dragon out of a unicorn.

 

So, if not putting up our stall in the market place invites misinterpretation, why do we keep so much ‘hidden’?

Surely it would be better to let others know what we’re thinking or feeling readily. It would reduce the risk of being misunderstood, stereotyped, or just plain not seen for who we really are.

 

There are probably as many reasons for the iceberg/snail analogy as there are introverts, but (please note), they are usually related to personality preferences, not to pathology. The concept of consciously ‘hiding’ within ourselves is often also an extrovert construct. Introverts may be naturally reserved, but we are not necessarily shy, withdrawn, hiding or self-conscious.

Why don’t we share more of ourselves, more of our stories then?

*        Life and what we make of it, is often a work in progress (extroverts share process, introverts share results. The processing is initially done internally and privately, not via group-think). if the baking ain’t finished, why take the cake out of the oven? (a ‘half-baked idea’ was probably originally coined by an introvert!)

*       We don’t feel the need to share everything about ourselves, unless it’s really relevant. We don’t do sharing for sharing’s sake. It feels superfluous. Worse, it feels like stripping naked in the shopping centre!

*         Maybe we’ve had previous negative reactions when revealing our inner stories – indifference, criticism, mockery. Fear and shame can then keep the doors closed further. (This isn’t solely an introvert experience of course, though there are some links between introversion and high sensitivity).

*       Sharing of every part of our life to anyone who drops by is not something we do. Our internal landscape is very private to us….to get the key, you have to earn the trust. It doesn’t come lightly.

 

Sadly, sharing (or over-sharing) is now seen as a social (or social media) necessity, and those who don’t participate are seen as having trust issues, or are psychologically inhibited. This is a recent social construct. It wasn’t always so and (hopefully) it may not be so again in the future. Carefulness as a valued trait needs rediscovering.

Time, I think, for a story..

I call this one: ‘The day I was mistaken for Hitler’.   You’ll see why.

Not long ago, I attended a day’s training with a small group of people I hadn’t met before. Despite my apprehensions, I enjoyed the day and although I didn’t feel I had participated much, I had learnt a lot.

Towards the end of the day, we were asked to do an exercise to identify some of our core values, things that we wanted in our lives.  We were asked to prioritise 30 cards and select and share our top three. Amongst the cards were ‘wealth’, ‘family’, ‘holidays’, ‘security’, ‘fun’ and many others. It was really difficult to put them all in order, and then select a top three, but I had a go.

One by one, people began reading out their top three cards – family, health, friends …. all good, personable qualities.

Then it came to me.  I innocently trotted out my top three….

Communication.      Persuasion.       Control.

I noticed the room had fallen strangely silent, so looked up to be met by looks that were both astonished and amused. Eventually, the trainer voiced what everyone must have been thinking..

“Ok, so when did Hitler enrol on this programme?”

You see, it’s easy to be misunderstood. We need a context, a backstory to see the full picture. We need to see more of the iceberg.

The truth is, I have no wish to control anyone! However, like many introverts, I work most happily in environments where I have as much autonomy and freedom as possible. I wither when over-controlled.

I have a passion for communication (and sharing a message, which is the persuasion bit I guess, though I’m no salesman!) This is contrary to the usual introvert stereotype, but introverts can make passionate communicators, speakers and writers.

Easily misunderstood.

The really interesting part of this story though is that the core values I chose are strong values.

Essentially ‘extrovert’ values.

The real mismatch for those in the room was that those values didn’t fit with the introvert image that they had projected onto me from the little knowledge of me that they had.

So, is there a solution?

Maybe.

I really believe that we have to get comfortable surprising people.

We need, wherever we encounter it, to challenge the introvert stereotype. whilst being true to our quiet natures.

We need to risk ‘being seen and being known for who we truly are’.

It’s to do with knowing, honouring and embracing our stories and letting the world hear them. Go on over to the Quiet Revolution site and read Susan Cain’s inspirational article on ‘Telling our Stories’.

I’m sure you’re thinking, but how can we begin to reveal more of ourselves without running counter to our true selves?

Well, I think it’s essential to stretch ourselves out of our comfort zones occasionally, so long as we’re not pretending to be who we’re not. We have to be adaptive at times, whatever personality type we are. And surely it’s worth it, if it means we are being ourselves in the world, and not just behind closed doors?

Here’s some things we might try:

  •  Drop little crumbs of information about yourself that will allow the strength, the ‘light’ to shine through, without feeling that you’re oversharing or tooting your own horn, or being untrue to yourself. if no one knows you love public speaking, how are they going to think about inviting you to speak?  If they don’t know that you love to sing or perform at the weekend, they won’t think about you when the auditions roll round. It’s not bragging – it’s just giving people the opportunity to see the more complete picture.
  • Surprise people!  Show the world what you’re passionate about, show them your brave, proactive side. it’s there, you just need to let them see it in action.
  • Gently challenge the introvert stereotype, whenever and wherever you hear it. Particularly the one that suggests that introversion=shyness. This one is damaging. This one excludes and limits people.

As we do this, we challenge, we lessen the power of the stereotype.

We begin, even in a small way, to open the door to others seeing us differently (more three dimensionally) …

And with that, we invite and encourage wider opportunities that resonate with our hidden introvert strengths…

And that enables us to have a contributory voice in the world and play our part in it.

 

So, open the door a little, let your light shine!

See you next time,

All blessings,

Lynne x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cloak of Invisibility

Do I existDon’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.

Phew!!

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!

Blessings,

Lynne. X