When looking at my life as an introvert and HSP, I can spend a lot of time gazing into the rear view mirror. Why? Because for the greater part of my life I had no formal reference point with which to frame how I have felt in different situations. While growing up my heart knew what I wanted, what I felt comfortable with, how best I worked, the outside world gave me different messages.
Listening to my heart was not something that I was brought up to do, and so to a greater and lesser extent - _I didn’t completely ignore the messages that I was receiving_ - I went with what I thought society wanted. So although my heart said one thing - _see, I was listening_ - the outside world said something else and I would pathologize how it was that I was feeling…”there is something in me that needs to be fixed,” I started telling myself. My approach to being in the world was wrong.
If you have spent time in your life not having a reference point for your introversion and sensitivity, it can badly undermine your self-confidence. Even if you are reading about the strengths and qualities of introverts, you’ll find yourself questioning and doubting. Transforming your past experiences, looking at them with fresh perspective can be helpful in moving forward. Look on those past experiences as compost, as the birth place for new outlooks and fresh ideas. This way the trials of the past become the genesis of a new you.
That’s not to say that things will change overnight, most likely they won’t. The Buddhist tradition that I have trained in emphasizes the importance of hearing, reading and understanding the meditation practices before engaging in them. It might sound obvious, why do something before knowing about it? All the same sometimes we don’t look before we leap and excited enthusiasm can get the better of us. Even if we do spend time studying, it is easy to mistake that intellectual understanding for having the subject licked. All too quickly, and rudely, we discover that what we have just read about is not manifesting in our personality however much it resonated with us. The compassionate feelings that welled up in us while reading about the subject, appear to be the last thing that we are feeling right now after that put down!
It is very easy to get an intellectual understanding but there is another stage…bringing the understanding to our heart and integrating it within ourselves. Making it a part of who we are. It takes time and patience, and ultimately an understanding of and compassion for ourselves. As the saying goes, old habits die hard, and what we are asking ourselves to do is to change the habits of how we see and experience ourselves.
The View from My Mirror
So for me it has been a gradual process. Even now I find myself reading articles about introversion and sensitivity, things that I understand and know, but now I see them in a deeper light than before because I have had the opportunity to integrate the understanding more into my own life.
So what does the landscape in the rear view mirror look like now with the benefit of my better understanding of introversion and sensitivity? Well the landscape hasn’t so much changed as I obviously can’t make the past different. What has changed is how I look on what is in the mirror and how I have integrated that into my daily life.
It might be that in places that rear view mirror is foggy. A lot of time has passed since my childhood, and so not all the stories are clear, it’s more just fleeting memories. I see quietness at times, having fun with friends. I see bullying, time spent in nature, enjoying time with family and I see inner conflict as I feel lost in what I perceived was expected of me. What learning about introversion has given me is a smoothing out of the past road. It is now no longer a noisy presence from the past that hovers around me at times like a specter. It now has a quiet presence as it has been given context and is now held with compassion for the one who at times felt lost.
One time that I did choose to listen to my heart was after college. I packed a rucksack and hit the road for a couple of years. My heart was telling me to get some space and that felt like the best way to do it. Plans were there, but sketchy. Destinations were in mind, but I was on no itinerary and open to what might happen. I would be standing by the road hitch hiking, just me, my backpack and a destination in mind. Someone would pull over, pick me up and say that they were going somewhere else, normally somewhere part way to where I wanted to go. Did I want to come along with them, stay with their family, go camping with their friends,….?
We make plans, we have them set up in place, and then another opportunity presents itself. We take it and new experiences are had, new opportunities present themselves. Back in the hustle and bustle of everyday life that perspective can be lost, but opportunities are never far away if we look closely. We just have to be observant, listen and be ready to jump in when the occasion presents itself.
Where does this fit into my introverted nature?
The rear view mirror shows me a world that was. It has happened, it has past. With perspective I can now see myself standing by the road with choices as to how I act. Ultimately I can choose how I want that experience to be in my life now. It does not need to rule my life now, but looked on with the right perspective it can be helpful and inform where I go from here. I can look back with my better understanding of introversion now and give myself context for how I felt and compassion where there was pain. And with that new understanding I can stand stronger in myself now and the actions that I choose to take going forward.
I am forever standing beside the road with options as to which ride I take. One can read about how as an introvert your qualities make you a better listener or a better this or that, but your past life, your past habits can undermine your self-belief in what you are being told. So you fall back into old habits. You put yourself back in the cage - you want to be out of it, it is not very comfortable in there and you can’t breathe so well, but at least it is familiar. Instead trust in what you are reading, what you are hearing about your introvert strengths. Allow yourself to feel them in your heart. Next time you feel challenged remember that bit of advice that you read or heard and try it out. The ground could well feel shaky for you, but try it anyway. Once you have tasted the results of your work, you’ll have more faith in the advice that you read and be more willing to try it again next time that you are called upon to use it.
All the advice that you read and hear becomes yours when you have taken it from the page and made it a part of your own life.
You will start to feel the efficacy and truth in what you are hearing and stand more firm in what you as an introvert and sensitive person are able to offer. You don’t stand any less than your extroverted friends and colleagues, having to shy away in the background with excuses, rather you stand alongside them with your complimentary skills and personality.
What does life look like for you in the rear view mirror? How have you managed that view with the benefit of your learnings around introversion and sensitivity?