‘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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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