One of the most helpful things I have ever done as an adult was to stop and identify where I fit in terms of introversion and extroversion. I was well into my 30’s before it dawned on me I wasn’t who I thought I was.
I had been an introvert living and extrovert’s life.
So much so, that when I started to say out loud that I was an introvert, people close to me shook their head and said not possible.
I like public speaking, and would often speak in women’s groups and sometimes I was even asked to preach. I make YouTube videos and vlog. I like having fun with my friends, and with the right friends can act down right silly, belting out tunes (or out of tunes as I like to call them), dancing around with kitchen utensils, and generally running ‘appropriately’ amok.
I will often voice opinions and enjoy discussion, philosophising and debate with the right kind of people.
On the outside, people often ‘think’ I am an extrovert.
But anyone close to me, will know that simply isn’t true.
I spend loads of time at home recharging and living in my head. Even when I am at home, I can be found with headphones on (sometimes with no noise coming from them), or lost in my own little world, navel gazing and contemplating the universe. Even while surrounded by a large family, I have often retreated inwards.
I pick and choose where I go, and my home is my castle. My safe place and retreat from the world. Much to my extrovert husbands dismay, I don’t want people here all the time, because it is my sanctuary. That has nothing to do with not liking people, I love loads of people, and I like most people, and I always try to find the best in them. It is simply to do with my need to recharge, regenerate and get ready for the next bout of socialisation.
It is no surprise then, that this self-knowledge has turned into a desire, that my children figure out who they are and where they fit much earlier in life than I did. I believe it is really important for children to understand this, because I think it makes parenting them so much easier, and more importantly, it makes living in their heads and bodies easier for them.
Before I realised that I was an introvert living in an extrovert’s body, I often felt so loopy and could not understand my social hang over feelings, the fuzzy-buzz that went on inside my whole body all the time, and the anxieties that I battled constantly to do the things I thought I should be doing. There were many times I thought I had *mental health issues, simply because I didn’t understand who I was, what I was feeling and what I needed. Couple these feelings with being highly sensitive and yeah it was safe to say, sometimes I felt like I was loosing my mind.
Why couldn’t I be more like ___________________(insert name of extroverted person)?
I became very conscious of not wanting my children to feel like that, so any article I could find about both being an introvert or an extrovert I started sharing with them. If they chose to read them great, if not then great, they are in charge of who they are and understanding themselves.
I have a fairly good inkling where each one is in terms of this, but having them own it and express it themselves has been helpful to us all.
It was good for my extroverts to understand that sometimes they’ve had enough as well, and need to pull away from people. Or that their extroversion doesn’t mean they are free from anxiety, they sometimes face the same fears as other people do and that is ok!
It was good for my introverts to say, they like people, it is not that they don’t. But it’s finding the right people who let them be themselves and understand their quirky ways. They also like clubs and joining in things, but they have to be ‘their things’ and chosen by them.
I think there is a lot of pressure on parents both schooling and home educating to get their kids out there and to do loads and loads of activities. Which is great if that is what fuels the kids, but it can be damaging if the children would actually rather not. They may rather potter about at home, reading and doing things they love. Or they might need a balance of both.
Unfortunately parents are often under such pressure by ‘society’ that they are driven by emotions of guilt and fear of failure, rather than by what their children ‘really need’. I know this because I have been there. I have been the parent who listens to the loudest, shouting voice, rather than the quiet whisper of both my children, or my own soul.
Understanding ourselves better has enabled us to push ourselves when we need too, and take a step back when we simply can’t. I have found it empowering to understand myself and to respond to what is going on within me with empathy and understanding. To be gentle with myself or to give myself a bit of a prod when I need to and feel able too. This translates, I hope, to me being a more in tune parent.
We have become a society that holds extroverted behaviour up as the be all and end all. If a child is quieter, doesn’t have as many friends, likes to potter around at home, or enjoys their own company we start to worry that we are failing them.
But are we really?
Schools and home ed groups are full of introverts too, and as parents we need to start to recognise who are children are (or better yet, help them identify themselves), and respond to them in ways that are about their needs too.
And as an introverted mum, I had to be sensitive to the needs of my extroverted children and make sure their needs were met as well. That means that sometimes I had to go out of my way to take them places I really didn’t want to go. I became more gentle with myself in understanding that and rather than punishing myself for my feelings, I embraced them and let myself know that it was ok I was feeling those things. Understanding this helped me develop coping mechanisms to help ground myself, rather than beating myself up for not feeling ‘normal’.
Both kids and parents today are feeling under a tremendous amount of pressure. Often that pressure is hard to recognise, because it comes disguised as what normal, functioning and acceptable ‘should’ look like. Rather than what is true for each individual.
However stepping back and recognising what our needs actually are, rather than what society dictates they should be, has been one of the most freeing things I have done.
Our health is important, and often we are so focused on just one dimension of it (physical health) that we forget to embrace ourselves and our children holistically.
*This is to in no way trivialize mental health, it was however my experience.