Friday, December 16, 2011

I’m a closet introvert.

Hell for me is a phone with a headset, hooked up to an automatic dialer.  It’s torture, having to muster a pleasant tone of voice, and confront the unknown demands of a conversation.  I did a miserable customer service job for a year and a half out of college and I still cringe when I hear a phone ring.  I program my loved ones’ phone numbers with special rings so that when they call, I can actually respond with joy, instead of trepidation, when I answer the phone.  Sometimes I don’t even answer their calls.

No one had to wonder whether I was an introvert, as a kid.  My silence should have made it clear, but it also ensured that no one wondered whether I was an introvert.  They were more likely to wonder whether I was a snob, or a nerd, or possibly a deaf person – or not to notice me at all.  I was shocked, when my siblings alerted me (in less than diplomatic terms) to the fact that my silence was communicating a disregard for everyone around me that I did not feel.  In fact, I have a very passionate concern for people.  It is part of what makes interacting so exhausting.  I feel such a drive to make every interaction one of care, help, and nourishment that I feel like I should have a script and a rehearsal before I open my mouth.  The pressure eventually wears me out.

Those who have known me as an adult may or may not realize this about me, though.  They may be in my inner circle, where I shamelessly, and probably overbearingly, turn my full personality loose and trust they will graciously interpret my missteps in the context of who they know me to be.  Or they may be the recipient of a gift they didn’t know was a gift.  They are one of the many people, with whom I interact with openness and possibly even verbal excess, despite the extreme anxiety and fear I’m hiding.  They’ve managed to overlook it that I keep my arms down to hide my pit stains during meetings.  They’ve correctly understood that they matter, but they’ve never tuned in to the moment of hesitation before I looked them in the eyes and smiled, or the extended time I spent in the restroom during a break.

It is hard work to make small talk, to decide how much to disclose, to know when to ask questions and when to let the awkward silence bring an interaction to a close.  I could stumble into a landmine of impropriety or offense at any point.  But it is apparent to me that, even when I don’t do it as perfectly as I hope, interacting is more valuable, and a better representation of myself to the people around me, than keeping silent.  So, I interact.  Against my strongest inclinations, I approach strangers after worship.  Despite my shoulder devil’s insistence that no one will get them, I crack jokes and tell stories.

Often, my worst fears are realized and I play back a conversation in my head with embarrassment or regret.  Many times, as well, I feel so drained afterward that I need a few hours or days of cloister to build up my energy and courage to return to the public.  I read a great article about introverts that a couple of my fellow Women in Ministry posted this week.  It was very affirming to realize that I’m not alone in my social struggles, and also that it’s not a character flaw I need to cure.  It just is who I am.

So I’m coming out: My name is Emily, and I’m an introvert.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.  Colossians 4:6

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