So for the final exercise of the first have of the Living Brave semester which closes out Daring Greatly, we were challenged to create a manifesto to help us stay true to our core values. I put mine together next to one of my favorite mythical creatures, the phoenix, which reminds me of resiliency, resurrection and new beginnings.
I have been a pastor for almost twelve years and prior to that I had a career as an officer in the U.S. Army, both of these fields are frequently dominated by extroverts and require a level of social interaction that can be challenging for an introvert. Yet, both of these careers have times where individual learning is required, deep soul searching decisions need to be made, creativity is valued, and, especially in the leadership role, can be lonely places. There are a lot of gifts I brought to both of these vocations and yet there is a set of criticisms I’ve heard throughout my life that came to the surface reflecting upon the strategies of disconnection that were discussed in session five of the Living Brave class which Brené Brown has been leading me and many others through. I could talk about the ways in which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable, but what stood out to me this time was the way the same set of comments made me feel disconnected and in that place of shame, and how the other person probably never thought about the comments in the first place.
Introverts are not shy, insensitive, cold, reclusive or any of the other adjectives that frequently get associated with introversion. Introverts draw their strength from inside and from reflection rather than from interaction with people. For many introverts, social functions may be enjoyable but extremely draining at the same time. They have probably been taught that their introverted nature as a personality trait is “somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology” as Susan Cain can voice in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking. Many, like myself, have invested a lot of energy and effort into becoming more social, in trying to learn how to interact with a noisy and often superficial world. They may feel uncomfortable mingling, but they learn how to do it anyways. They engage a world that is designed to fuel an extroverts need for continual stimulation by retreating for long enough to recharge and re-engage. They bring incredible gifts of creativity, the ability to listen deeply and a storehouse of knowledge gained from both reading and reflection. Many, despite their best intentions to blend in are singled out as not quite fitting in with the rest of the noisy crowd.
The following are not scientifically validated but rather come from my own experience as an introvert in extrovert dominant fields. They are things that create strong shame reactions within me because they highlight the disconnection that I may already feel in various moments. Especially in times where I have made incredible efforts to be social and engaged, expending immense amounts of social energy, hearing comments like the following make me, and I would guess others as well, want to retreat to a safe space, lash out or hide behind a social mask that is more extroverted than I may feel:
If only you were a little warmer, relaxed, less serious. This is one of those I’ve heard many times and every time it is painful. More painful than it should be. I remember I was once going through an evaluation where many extremely positive things were said and then this was my area for personal growth. For all the work I had put in to being outgoing this made all the previously good things disappear in my mind and had the critic in my head going for several days. I am a very kind hearted individual but for many reasons I am not a person who will ever be carefree, happy go lucky, or bouncy. I can fake those things for a short time but it feels really inauthentic to me. I am the person you want in a crisis because I don’t get rattled easily but the other side of that is that I don’t get excited over small things. Yet, the comment reminds me that for all my efforts to fit in I have somehow failed to live up to the expectations of others.
You are such an intellectual. On the one hand, when did being an intellectual become a bad thing. I get what the comment is trying to say, that I can live in my head and I am comfortable thinking things through academically and find it interesting. Frankly, I like that I can have internal conversations with authors and books and ideas and it helps me think. I also understand that most people are emotional beings who occasionally think rather than thinking beings whose emotions sometimes drive them. I tend to be more comfortable in the rational, intellectual space like others are in the spontaneous, emotional space. I also understand that we are living in an anti-intellectual culture that thrives as much on charisma as it does on substance. Yet, the comment still can be a shaming one. It drives home the reality that as engaged as I may want to be that I do not fit in. I may have attempted to adapt how I talk about something to a level I hope others can engage and it is a comment that highlights to me that I have still failed in that endeavor.
Why can’t you be more like ______who is an extrovert. We all have times where we are compared with someone else in an unfavorable light. Comparison takes one quality in you and compares it with what may be the best quality in someone else. To be honest, I’m probably my own worst critic on this one. It is easy for me to compare myself with others who relate to others seemingly effortlessly while it frequently involves work for me. I spend more time with the issue of comparison in my previous Living Brave Reflection.
Intentionally or unintentionally excluding from conversations. We all seek connection, even though it may be more challenging for some. Sometimes introverts feel very alone in a room and feel like they have to break in to the conversations that are already going on around them. Most find a way, but it helps to be invited in to a conversation. There are situations that are just easier for extroverts and sometimes it just takes the willingness to see the person nobody is talking to, invite them into a conversation and then allow them to be themselves. Many people know what it is like to be the one on the outside of all the conversations and it is a place that ultimately none of us want to be. We all seek those connections and a sense of belonging.
The discussion this week on empathy and self-compassion takes me back to the tension between by competent, competitive and driven side and the gracious side of me that is willing to be self-compassionate and fair with myself. I have worked for several years on learning to be more gracious with myself and others and a part of this struggle is wrestling with those internal gremlins that point out all the places where I have fallen short, where I have not lived up to my own expectations (as unrealistic as they sometimes are) or I have perceived my own weakness. It wasn’t surprising that when I took the Self Compassion inventory designed by Kristen Neff that my two highest (negative) scores were on self-judgment and isolation. When I feel weak or like I have failed the internal gremlins interpret my own actions in the worst possible light. Even though I am normally a very confident person, in those moments I do tend to isolate myself until I can get past the messages in my head. Recently I’ve learned how to speak back and to lean into that gracious side of my values to get to a more honest place with myself.
I had an experience last week where I was dealing with several frustrations and my language towards myself was becoming accusing and settling into the patterns of self-judgment that I learned at some point in my past. I was getting ready to go into an event where I would have to do a lot of mingling and introducing myself to people I didn’t know, initiating conversations and all of these energy intensive things were coming at a place where I was already exhausted by the trials of the day. I had worked through the issues, I had a solution, but I was frustrated, I knew that the solution in a different situation could have been easier and cheaper and my internal gremlins were comparing the action with the best possible solution and, of course, I was being measured and found wanting. I sat down and began to write out the things I was saying to myself and the accusations I was making and then I responded to them. My responses were from a place that I would speak to another person, how I would respond to them telling me these things after working through the same situation. That helped to me to hear a more gracious voice and to acknowledge that in a situation with a lot of stress away from home I had worked out a solution. I had reached out and sought help, something difficult for me to do, and the process of working through those feelings in a kinder way helped me be in a better place to engage the day. It also helped make clearer the number of issues that I was wrestling with and how in many ways I was already in a place where a lot of healing was occurring.
I will probably always be hard on myself. I will probably always have those critical questions come up and attack me at the points when I feel weak, but part of my own practice of self-compassion is learning to speak back to the questions. To not allow my drive for competence to lose the value of being gracious to myself and others. To embody this in the practice of writing down and responding to these questions in a way that is more grace filled and realistic. I’ve learned how to be empathetic with others and I am learning better how to be more empathetic with myself.
Sometimes you read something that is just really cool and you need to share some of the ideas with others who may not have read it yet, that is what I feel like after reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. So I’m taking a little time away from where I was going with the authority questions and I’m going to turn inward a little bit and spend some time here…
I love psychology, I love to learn in general and so much of what she says rings true to me. At the core we are all seeking connection with others, we seek it out and yet
“…when asked to tell about their most important relationship and experiences of connection, (participants) kept telling me about heartbreak, betrayal and shame—the fear of not being worthy of real connection. We humans have a tendency to define things by what they are not. This is especially true of our emotional experiences” (Daring Greatly, 7)
Brené Brown comes at this from the perspective of a researcher and social worker, and I come at this from the perspective of a pastor where we come face to face with people who seem to be able to handle anything that comes their way and others who are miserable even in the best of circumstances. I’m going to talk about what she reveals about shame in my next post, but to begin with here are some of her basic statements in my paraphrase:
1. We are all seeking love and acceptance, we all want to be like, valued, cared for-it gives meaning to our lives and its absence leads us to question our worth, value and it leads to a great deal of suffering for us (this may be why rejection hurts so much)
2. If you divide people into groups that feel love and belonging and those who struggle with it the key difference is those who feel loveable, who love and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. There lives are not easier that people who struggle with it, they are just able to hold onto the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging and joy.
3. This belief of being worthy of love, belonging and happiness doesn’t just happen, it is cultivated (we can learn how to do this in our own lives)
4. Living in a whole-hearted way (Professor Brown’s way of talking about the people who believe they are worthy) leads to being courageous, compassionate and connected
5. The willingness to be vulnerable is the single value attributed to the people that feel loveable
(This is a paraphrase of Daring Greatly, 10)
I’m going to be working through this material to help myself integrate some of these things, but as a pastor there is so much to what she says that really rings true for me. Who we are as a people are people who are worthy of God’s love, we are enough, we are forgiven, loved, cared for, valued, use whatever word you want there, but at the core of our identity is the reality that before anything else we are valued and enough and from there we can begin to live in a way that is courageous, compassionate and connected. More to come…