How this introvert relates

img293Being an introvert makes family gatherings a challenge. I am anxious the whole day before I get there and even after I get there it’s hard to adjust to being around people sometimes. The outing I went to last week was no different.

I tend to not say much and just observe. How people interact with others fascinates me. Usually people have no idea what kind of story they’re telling with their body language and mannerisms. I learned a long time ago that I needed to pay attention to non-verbal cues if I was to interact with people successfully and without stressing myself out.

I’m beginning to think it was a coping mechanism for growing up with only conditional love. Some of you may know what I’m talking about. Your parents only smiled or said encouraging things when you were behaving or performing up to their expectations. It was never about the fact that you were a living, breathing creature they brought into this world and they couldn’t imagine their lives without you know matter what.

It was more like – you must get good grades, you must behave in public, you must have the same beliefs, you must not have an original thought, you must not question authority.

So I was – became? – a very watchful, purposeful kid. We lived way out in the boonies so spending time with kids my own age that was part of the cult – um, I mean religion – I grew up in was hard. I spent a lot of time alone making sure I didn’t do anything to anger or disappoint my parents.

By the time I was a teenager, I preferred to be alone. It was the only time I wasn’t stressed out about making mistakes or getting a beating – always on the butt because that made it punishment and not abuse. So that makes me wonder if I had been allowed to explore and experience life like a normal kid if I would be less introverted now – if social gatherings wouldn’t sap all of my strength and I wouldn’t need a few days to process and recover afterwards.

Of course wondering now is mute. I am how I am, and social gatherings are a challenge for me. It’s not only because I would rather be alone or in a one-on-one situation, but because someone invariably always seeks me out to tell me their issues.

It never fails.

There is always someone in the group who needs someone to talk to – not to get advice or fix their problem, but just to unload their issues.

This past week was no different. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to listen because I know how helpful and necessary it is. But for someone who has to work themselves up to deal with people in general, listening to emotionally distraught people is especially difficult sometimes. And the recovery period is even longer.

I usually try not to dwell on what I’m told for too long, but this time it hit me kind of hard. I also realized that there was an important lesson hidden in there.

I won’t go into details because I’m not sure this person would want me to share them even though I’m not using names. Let’s just say this discussion involved mommy and daddy issues and how as children we never know if we’ve been good enough.

I could relate! Maybe that’s why people talk to me?

Anyway, I’m sitting there and listening and reminding myself that she doesn’t really want my insight and wisdom such as it is. She only wants to talk to try to make sense of it all. So I’m doing a pretty good job of keeping my mouth shut, but of course someone else comes along and has to put on their best judge hat.

Nothing, I mean nothing, irritates or angers me more than someone who feels the need to judge someone for how they feel.

“What do you mean that still bothers you? You should be over that by now! How could you still feel guilty after all this time? That’s crazy!”

Needless to say there was a tense moment or two, because I had just enough beer not to ignore the but-insky.

But I mean really, who doesn’t have unresolved issues? At least the person talking with me was trying to face hers and make sense of it and move on. How many people ignore their issues or just try to drown them hoping they’ll go away?

I have way more respect for people who have the strength to face things like this, because it means they’re willing to take an honest, hard look at themselves. And let me tell you, that’s not easy. There are always things that you wish weren’t there. You have to admit things that would be easier to ignore.

But back to the mommy and daddy issues. I would venture to say that most people have them in one form or another and to varying degrees. Mine are probably more severe than others, but I’ve been able to process and contain them so that I can now have healthy relationships with other people.

Some days are better than others, but for the most part I don’t take out what happened to me as a child on those around me now.

“How?” You may ask.

I had an epiphany several months ago. I realized that I am the same age now as my mother was when we took our last great family vacation across country. There were 6 of us in a rented RV and we drove from Cleveland, Ohio to California and back in 3 weeks. At the time I was a snot-nosed brat who didn’t appreciate the grandeur and total awesomeness of the scenery and I’m pretty sure I complained about everything.

Now I put myself in my mother’s shoes. I’m pretty sure she didn’t want to be there the whole time – it was my dad’s idea. And I’m also pretty sure that every time I complained or didn’t understand that it was the trip of a lifetime it felt like I was punching her in the gut.

Then I started looking at other incidents from her perspective. All the times I screamed, “You just don’t understand.” Of course she didn’t. I was this emotional being and not afraid to show it. Sometimes I think my mother invented stoicism – I never saw her cry, ever. Her mother died unexpectedly and no tears. She couldn’t even comfort me as I broke down – I’ve been a cryer from way back!

So here’s the epiphany –

My mother was doing the best that she could with what she had – my father too.

I guess what I’m saying is that once I realized that my parents weren’t perfect and probably felt as lost and helpless as I do sometimes now I couldn’t hang on to the anger anymore. I couldn’t judge them as harshly as I’ve done in the past.That we aren’t best friends or even speaking is sad, but understandable.

Here’s the second epiphany –

Just because you’re related to someone doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of time with them or even like them. Sure there’s a responsibility there, but life is too short to waste time on people who can never accept you for who you are.

Here’s the third epiphany –

How can others accept you for who you are if you can’t accept yourself? No one’s perfect, but true family know that and are willing to work with it.

Find your true family!

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