Fifteen years ago, I would have confidently declared myself an extrovert. I talked a lot, enough that I received feedback that people sometimes had trouble getting a word in edgewise. Fortunately they found my subject matter interesting and my passionate discourse endearing. Plus, my gender read clearly as “cute geek girl,” so people mostly found me charming. I talked about whatever crossed my mind and whatever lit up my heart. I happily externally processed my feelings with just about anyone, and had enough naiveté to believe that this behavior would not lead me astray. To be my friend meant knowing everything going on in my brain. I knew tons of people and was always willing to make a new friend.
Now when I look back on that girl she seems very far away. Adulthood — and certainly parenthood — has changed me significantly. I think the changes have mostly been for the better: I have more patience; I can sustain open and focused attention; I listen better; I have better systems of organization and ways to address practical matters. I developed these strengths through the crucible of practice, maturity, and parenthood.
Some traits that have come to the fore would seem alien to my younger self: I share much less about my life; I get easily overstimulated; and I feel unwilling to deal with folks whose drama-laden lives bring stress into my life. I’m quieter, more serious, more reserved, and less forgiving. I still know tons of people. However, it’s my close friends that get the intimate details of my life, and I can count those people on both hands. I can’t say whether these things are strengths or not.
I know and love more than a few introverts — including my husband and (probably) my daughter — so any discomfort I have with the idea that I might be one comes solely because I never thought of myself as one, not because I think there’s anything wrong with introversion. I’m actually rather fascinated that I could change so much. As a younger person, I came up fairly consistently as an ENTP on the Meyers-Briggs test. Now I’m an INFP or occasionally INFJ, depending on my mood. I don’t think this is solely because of the pressures of motherhood.
So this article about introverted mama Molly that turned up recently on Patheos’ Pagan Families site really resonated with me. I love that she calls herself an “ambivert.” I think that I’m one, too, because I definitely vacillate between craving social interaction and alone time. It’s common to define introversion and extroversion based on whether social contact energizes you or not. Some introverts I know dread socialization, and some extroverts can’t live without it. For me it’s not so clear. Like Molly, I love going out to see people, but afterwards I need recharge time. And since I’m also an HSP, sometimes the effort required to psych myself up for a large social gathering is too great. The exhaustion of parenthood also plays a significant role: nothing seems possible when I’m at my most tired.
I like that Molly recognizes that being surrounded by children (and I only have the one) can be draining. I love my daughter deeply, and yet some days being “on” all day uses all my reserves. I live with two very intense people (my daughter and my husband are a lot alike), and I definitely have moments where I want to R-U-N-N-O-F-T.
It turns out that I need time to be alone, in a place where I’m not tempted to fill the time doing chores or faffing about on the Internet. I most often find this in the car. I relish running errands alone. I am able to think while my hands and monkey mind are comfortably occupied with driving. I can listen to new music (something I find too stimulating if my kid is also playing loudly in the area). I can relax.
All of this means that I really want to read Susan Cain‘s book now.