“She’s very shy,” my parents used to say to people when I was quiet. From their tone, I thought it wasn’t a good thing to be shy. I thought being shy meant there was something wrong with me.
Many years later I discovered that I’m an introvert, and that, not only is there is nothing wrong with being introverted, but that it’s an inborn trait. I’m a highly sensitive introvert, and only about 15% of the population has these inborn traits. It was a relief to me when I read Elaine Aron’s book, “The Highly Sensitive Person,” to discover that in indigenous cultures, highly sensitive people are revered as shamans and medicine people. It was also a relief to me when I read Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet.” I saw myself on every page.
Unlike most Asian cultures, our Western culture is primarily extroverted. It’s not always easy for introverted people to navigate in an extroverted culture – particularly in social gatherings. Social anxiety is quite common among introverts.
The more I’ve learned to love myself and to value my intrinsic qualities of high sensitivity and introversion, the easier it’s become for me to be fully present in groups.
Here is what I’ve learned to do to love myself in groups:
1. I go to events with the conscious choice to offer my caring and my warmth, rather than to try to get approval.
2. I go with the intent to listen rather than to be heard.
3. I enjoy authentic connection, so I give myself permission to politely excuse myself from any conversation that is boring and superficial, and from any person who is needy, self-centered or addicted to talking. It isn’t loving to me to continue conversations that don’t feel good to me. I focus on what is loving to me and in my highest good, rather than on taking responsibility for others’ feelings.
4. I give myself full permission to be quiet. I might be enjoying a conversation while having little to add to the discussion. It might be a topic that I find interesting but that I don’t know much about, so I don’t judge myself for not contributing. I make sure that I don’t judge myself at all when I have nothing to say.
Before going to a group event, I give myself full permission to leave if the energy at the event doesn’t resonate with me. I’m very sensitive to energy, and my inner child needs to know ahead of time that I will listen to my feelings and honor them by taking loving action. The loving action might be to leave early.
I generally don’t put myself into group situations where I know that there will be no way to connect with the people there.
Most of all, I don’t judge myself for being introverted. I stay tuned in to what resonates with me and what doesn’t, and I trust myself to act in my own highest good.
What allows me to feel comfortable in groups is giving myself full permission to be myself, even if I’m very different than the other people in the situation. As long as I love and value my true self – my soul essence, which is my beautiful inner child – and as long as my inner child knows that I will take loving action on my own behalf and that I won’t abandon myself, I feel safe and comfortable in most groups. And if I don’t feel that, I don’t blame myself or think there is anything wrong with me. I just do whatever I can to feel comfortable and if I can’t, then I allow myself to leave or remove myself from the situation.