It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Introverted Me

Introversion is the Next Big Social Thing. Everyone’s talking about it these days. It rather bemuses me, all this sudden flurry attention. Hello? We’ve been here all along! Oh, I guess you extroverted types didn’t notice, huh, introverts being so quiet an all.

I am an introvert, but I’m a confident one who’s never felt inadequate or lacking, so the “it’s okay to be an introvert! there’s nothing wrong with you!!” emphasis of some of the writers is frankly annoying. This book? Totally mis-titled. “How to Thrive in an Extrovert World”? Nah. Merest survival. And advantages? Didn’t find a one. But this one? Is terrific. I really enjoyed it, and found myself nodding along … and learning lots.

Most recently I happened onto a Huffinton Post article, 23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert. Having no toddlers to write about this week, I decided to respond to its points, see how I, a not-so-secret introvert, tally according to this particular list.

1. You find small talk incredibly cumbersome.

Oh, I used to! Right into my late thirties. I’m not sure when the shift happened, but now I can actively enjoy it. Introverts, as the article notes, tend to see small talk as a barrier between people. Introverts like conversation to go deep. Chit-chat is anything but, and so for many years, I avoided it. It was tedious, it was annoying, and I just wasn’t any damned good at it.

Some people only small talk. For them conversation never develops beyond friendly chit-chat. That’s fine, if that’s what they enjoy … but I won’t be spending long hours of time in conversation with them. But! At some point in my thirties, I began to see that small talk is a terrific springboard to real conversation. Small talk is a way to get comfortable with someone, to determine their conversational style, their attitudes and interests, to evaluate whether they’re someone who’s capable of and interested in, conversation with more depth.

So now I enjoy small talk. Not as an end in itself, generally, but as a means to an end.

2. You go to parties -– but not to meet people.
True. I go to be with people I know, for conversation. I go for the food and drink, to dance if there’s dancing. I go to flirt. “Meeting new people” is not an enticement. It may be a fringe benefit, but it’s never the goal.

3. You often feel alone in a crowd.
Yup. This one surprised me. Doesn’t everyone? Guess not!

4. Networking makes you feel like a phony.
It used to. And goodness, networking certainly offers huge opportunities for phoniness which some people exploit shamelessly. But, as I’ve come to realize, it doesn’t have to be phony. Introverts just have to learn to network in a style that suits their nature. Also, I will not — not even sure I could — approach someone for some sort of job-related favour if I’ve never done anything for them. It doesn’t have to be huge: maybe I’ve sent them a few links to articles that I think they’d find interesting, with a personal note attached. (A perfect introvert technique!) It’s the relationship bank account idea: don’t be making withdrawals if you never make a deposit.

5. You’ve been called “too intense.”
Yup! Also been accused of ‘over-thinking’ when I thought we’d barely begun to explore the topic.

6. You’re easily distracted.
When I read this I disagreed. I have terrific focus, once I get my teeth into an idea. (See “too intense/over-thinking”, above.) The article isn’t talking about mental focus and distraction, though, it’s talking about physical. In that case, yes, absolutely. If I’m in a busy coffee shop, trying to have a significant conversation (as opposed to small talk!), I will place myself with my back to the room. It’s too stimulating; I can’t focus; I keep getting distracted. So it turns out this is a yes.

7. Downtime doesn’t feel unproductive to you.
ABSOLUTELY! I looooove my downtime. Not so that I can ‘do nothing’, but because it refreshes and restores me. Without the downtime, I am less productive, and I know it. When I have downtime, lots of healthy, nourishing, internal things are going on. I love it. I need it.

8. Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards.
Yes and no. I’ve done a reasonable amount of public speaking, though I think the largest audience I had was 100 or so. As long as I am well-prepared, I actively enjoy public speaking. The conversation afterward? Depends on how it’s structured. If we’re having a meet-and-greet with coffee or drinks, where people mill around and talk about whatever, that’s tiring and I’d rather not. I can, and I’m charming … but it’s tiring. If it’s simply a line of people asking a question about my presentation, and maybe moving into their own experience, that I’m absolutely comfortable with, and enjoy.

9. When you get on the subway, you sit at the end of the bench -– not in the middle.
Yes, though I see this as more good manners. When you take the middle seat, you’re hogging the whole bench, tacitly discouraging people from sitting there. (But maybe I only feel that way because I’m introverted, and would choose to sit alone if I had the chance?)

10. You start to shut down after you’ve been active for too long.
Absolutely. Yes.

11. You’re in a relationship with an extrovert.
Nope! My wonderful husband is far more introverted than me.

12. You’d rather be an expert at one thing than try to do everything.
Yes.

13. You actively avoid any shows that might involve audience participation.
I would suspect it would depend on the show, but likely the answer for me is ‘true’. If the audience participation is stupid or potentially humiliating or conflictual, ugh. If participation means playing with fun ideas, then I could do that. I suspect the shows I’d feel comfortable being on are few and far between.

14. You screen all your calls — even from friends.
Yup. Loves me my call display!

15. You notice details that others don’t.
I don’t know. Do I? I’ve never thought about it.

16. You have a constantly running inner monologue
.
Oh, heck yeah.

17. You have low blood pressure
.
I do!

18. You’ve been called an “old soul” -– since your 20s.
I think my grandmother called me that for the first time when I was four.

19. You don’t feel “high” from your surroundings

False. In the right situation, I absolutely can. Now, I think my tolerance is lower than an extrovert’s. After a while the buzz wears off and I get tired/overwhelmed, but I can and do get high on busy, loud, positive surroundings, and I do enjoy it.

20. You look at the big picture.
Absolutely. I think it’s one of the things that makes me good at my job.

21. You’ve been told to “come out of your shell.”
Uh-huh. Lordy, I got tired of hearing that when I was in grade school. My response, had I been rude enough to say it out loud, was “Well, if the rest of you would SHUT UP for long enough, I might have a chance.”

22. You’re a writer.

Guess so! I also far prefer email to phone conversations.

23. You alternate between phases of work and solitude, and periods of social activity.
Yes! One of the things I’ve loved about my two weeks off is the opportunity to structure my time so that I can do exactly that. I have far more energy, get a lot more done, when I can pace myself, balance the demands. I’ve gotten SO MUCH DONE, visited a bunch of people, and don’t feel tired AT ALL. It’s been wonderful!

Too bad I can’t be on holiday all the time…

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 11 Comments

Introverts, Extroverts, and Manipulators

“I want to be alone!”

I know some caregivers who just don’t allow that. It’s seen as unfriendly, anti-social, inappropriate, and just plain weird. What is wrong with that kid?? “Don’t be like that, Simon. Suzie is your friend! Now come here and help her build her bridge with the lego.”

I am an introvert. I totally get the need to be alone. (We can talk about how the introvert copes with a day spent with in-your-face toddlers some other time.)

So when a child expresses a genuine need to be alone, I respect that. They get to be alone. They do not have to mingle, mingle, mingle, interact every living second of the live-long day. They just don’t. And the extroverts in the group can back off for a bit.

Now, they have to ask politely. Introvert or extrovert, we all need to respect the social niceties. A howl of outrage, a shove and a scream, are not how you get your time away. “If you want to play alone, you ask nicely.”

It puts the caregiver in a bit of a bind, though. You can’t pop them on the Quiet Stair for shoving another child, as you might otherwise do, because in this case the Quiet Stair would be a reward , wouldn’t it? You’ll only train the desperate introvert into bad behaviour. “I need some space!! I know! I’ll just deck little Josh over there!”

What to do? I offer them what they want, in exchange for what I want. “You can play alone at the puzzle table, if you ask politely.” Then I give them the words. Or if they’ve been acting badly to get their quiet, I will require them to play with the others, nicely, for five minutes first. Then they can have as much time as they like, alone.

Because the request to be alone? It can be a real and genuine thing, and you should no more deny it than you’d deny the extrovert his social time. “You want to play with the other kids?? Now, Simon, don’t be pushy! Do this puzzle quietly, there’s a good boy!”

However. There is the desire to be alone experienced by the kid who is feeling overwhelmed and drained, and needs time and space to recharge. That’s genuine and valid, a legitimate need. And then …

Child A flings himself over the pile of blocks. “You go ‘way! I want to play alone!!”

That one’s easy, a clear example of a child who just doesn’t feel like sharing. “Playing alone” is code for “having ALL THE TOYS!!!” It’s not too hard to determine need to be alone from want to have all the toys: Offer the child half the huge pile o’blocks in a private corner. The child who needs to be alone will accept it. The one who just wants ALL THE THINGS will not.

(And if it’s both? He wants ALL THE THINGS, alone? Tough. Half the toys, alone, or none of them.)

And then there’s this:

Child A is in a bit of a snit. Has been all morning. Contrary and prickly, nothing quite right for Her Most Precious Princess. Child A, the Snit Child, plays with the lacing cards in a desultory way. Child B sits down companionably and picks up one of the cards. Snit Child turns her back on Child B with a whine of outrage.

“Noooo! I want to be aloooone!”

Child B, a mellow little thing, gives Snit Child a puzzled look before wandering off with no comment.

Now, if that were the end of it, it could well be that Snit Child has reached the end of her introverted rope, and just needs some solo downtime. But that’s not what’s been happening at Mary’s the past three weeks or so. Just watch what happens next:

Mellow Child B is soon happily involved in some other activity. Snit Girl approaches sidelong, ostentatiously holding one of the Magic Dollar-Store Sparkly Princess Wands. Snit Girl waves it about just within Mellow Child’s line of vision. Predictably, Mellow Child is attracted to the sparkle, and wanders closer.

Snit Child roars her outrage: “Nooooo! You can’t play with me! I want to be aloooone!”

Uh-huh. That’s why you deliberately provoked the attention, because you wanted to be alone. Yeah.

That? That is not valid. That is sheerest manipulation. Snit Child was looking for a conflict, and, when Mellow Child didn’t deliver the first time, she deliberately provoked the attention she wanted to reject.

Now “being alone” is code word for “I’m rejecting you”, or “I control you by not giving you what you want.” It’s really devious. This child has a lot of social savvy. Too bad she’s working it on The Dark Side.

So now poor manipulated Mellow Child really, really wants to play with Snit Child. SC, having achieved her goal of enticing the attention she wishes to reject, redoubles her protests. “No! Go away! I want to be alone!!”

What do I do? I pretend to believe it’s genuine. I pretend Snit Girl has a real and genuine need to be alone. Because, you know, there is nothing wrong with needing to be alone.

“You want to be alone? No, Mellow, if Snit wants to be alone, we will let her be alone.” And then I get Snit Girl all comfy in an armchair, with a blanket and a book and a toy … and then I take Mellow Child a distance away, in the next room but still in view, and snuggle her into my lap for a story. Or take her to the table to colour. Or play clapping games with her.

If Snit Girl genuinely needed time out, this will be fine with her. She’ll stick with her quiet activities, and happily recharge her batteries.

But if she was playing mean girl head games, this will not please her. Mellow Child getting MARY’S attention?? Mellow Child and not her? She will wriggle out of the chair and trot over.

“I don’t want to be alone any more.”

At this point, I can play it either way. “Sure, sweetie. You come sit with us.” The snit has passed, and she’s willing to share time and attention. Good for all of us!

But if she’s been really rotten to Mellow Child, or if I think she needs to be more rigorously deterred from this particular behaviour pattern, I’ll twist the knife just a bit more.

“Oh, no, sweetie. You said you wanted to be alone, and I think you were right. I think you really do need to be alone. Away you go back to your comfy chair. You be alone for a little longer, and when I’m done reading this story to Mellow Girl, maybe it will be time for you go get up. Away you go!” All said in my best, most cheerful “Don’t Mess With Me” voice. (You don’t have a cheerful “Don’t Mess With Me” voice? Find it and practice. It’s an invaluable parenting tool.)

April 16, 2013 Posted by | behavioural stuff, individuality, power struggle, socializing | , , , | 4 Comments

Friendship is a Two-Way Street

When we go to the library, the children each get to choose two books.

When I choose a book at the library, I pull a likely-looking title off the shelf, I flip to the blurb on the inside of the jacket, I open at random and read a paragraph here and there, to determine if I like the style and tone. Then I might put into my bag, or, more often, back onto the shelf and move on to the next likely candidate.

Now, toddlers can’t do much of that. Toddlers can’t read. They can, however, look at pictures. Not that they do. When a toddler ‘chooses’ a book from the library, they wander to the nearest shelf and yoink one off without, far as I’ve noticed, even looking at it. They certainly don’t open it first. Toddlers could ‘choose’ their library books blind-folded.

When it’s a lingering visit rather than a git ‘er done visit, I do a little training in discrimination. “Look at the front cover. Look at the back. Open it and peek inside. What do you see? What do you think is happening? Does that look fun and interesting?”

But really, toddlers are far more of the “ALL books are fun!!! I want them ALL!!!!” school of discernment. Which is why, when I go to the library with the tots, I feel more than free to discreetly look over their Giant Heap o’Books and cull. I remove the ones with far too much text. I eliminate the ones that we’ve read a gazillion times before, and I Just.Can’t.Face again. I slip to one side the ones that would drive me screaming round the insanity bend.

Because, you know? THEY love them ALL. I am more persnickity easily bored picky discriminating. And I’m the one who has to read them. All. Over and over.

We don’t tend to read our books at the library. Even for the older children, the library is too distracting, with all those books on the shelves, the other children, the toys and activities. Rosie, who is not much of a cuddler, and more of a grabber and scruncher of books, tends to get bored after a book or so. (“If I can’t crumple the pages, WHAT IS THE POINT?!??”) If we’re at home, I can let her toodle off without worry. At the library, I can’t let her wander out of sight. Reading at the library is too damned stressful!

So we’re at home before I tackle the giant pile o’books. Eventually we get to A Splendid Friend Indeed, by Suzanne Bloom. I love the size of the book, I love the clean, simple layout of the pages, I love the look of the characters, a big, fuzzy polar bear and a small white goose.

I will tell you now that the people over at Goodreads looooove this book. Lively! Charming! Funny! A good look at Friendship and how friendships are formed!

Hm. I think all the people who gave it five stars are extroverts. They’re all the Goose. Me, I’m the Bear.

Now, in terms of pictures and layout: five stars for sure. Language appropriate to the age of the readers (the read-to’s)? Five stars. Whimsical, playful feel? Five stars. This is a very appealing book.

But the actual content?

The story goes like this: You have a big old bear, see, who is reading a book. Along comes goose. A lively, cheerful goose. “What are you doing? Are you reading? I like to read!” As I read, it seemed that goose just had to have a rather LOUD voice. And you know? I’ve met goose before, many times. He didn’t just say those things once. He said them repeatedly. Rapid-fire. Incessantly.

“What are you doing? Huh? What’re you doing? Are you reading? Areyoureading? Areyoureading? Hey! I like to read! You know that? I like to read, too!”

And after two pages, goose has not only inserted himself between bear and his book, but has commandeered the book. (How are you feeling abut goose at this point? Are you thinking, “Oh, what a lively little character!” Or are you thinking, “Lordy, what an annoying little doofus!”) A mildly disgruntled bear decides he will write instead. The next pages are predictable.

“What are you doing now?”
“Are you writing?”
“I like to write.”
“Do you want to see me write?”

And then goose has bear’s journal and pencil. So now bear is sitting there, without his book, without his journal and pencil, looking rather pissed. (I LOVE the illustrations in this book. They are SO expressive!) Bear has nothing left to snitch. Does goose stop yet?

NO. Because goose doesn’t want the things so much as he wants, needs, DEMANDS THE ATTENTION! ALL OF THE ATTENTION! Do not dare attend to anything but meeeeee!

(Are you gathering that Mary is not a fan of goose?)

“What are you doing NOW?”
“Are you thinking?”
“Thinking makes me hungry. Are you hungry? I think I’ll go make a snack.”

I wryly note how goose does not, in this instance, follow the previous pattern. “I like to think!” HA. As if. That would involve sitting still, being quiet, and not being the focus of attention. Goose is an annoying little twerp.

Bear relaxes back into his journal with visible relief. When the little twerp returns with a snack, he cringes. Because bear is an introvert. He wants to enjoy his book, his writing, his thoughts. Not only is goose a raging extrovert, but he’s also an attention-hog. He doesn’t just have to be talking and acting all the time, but the talk and action has to be focussed on HIM.

I am not liking goose, but I am enjoying the true-to-life dynamic. There are children out there like goose. There are children out there like bear. Bear is being remarkably patient, mind you. Many bear-type children would have either run away or decked goose by now. But there are quiet, introverted kids who just become overwhelmed by this type of insistent, pushy extrovert. I can see this happening.

So goose returns. Bear cringes. Goose has a snack and a note. Goose reads the note:

“I like you. Indeed I do. You are my splendid friend.”

Yup. Extrovert all over. They’ve interacted, therefore they are FRIENDS!!!

However, it is at this point that the book loses all credibility to me. When presented with this declaration of splendid friendship, does bear give him an incredulous look and say, “You stole my book, you commandeered my journal, you interrupted my thinking. How could we POSSIBLY be friends???” No, he does not. In fact, he is so touched that he must wipe a tear from his eye.

Eesh.

What has goose done to earn bear’s friendship? Was there any sharing? Any accommodation of bear’s style? Anything at all that would make bear want to be his friend?

Nope.

And what could possibly be in the ‘friendship’ from Bear’s perspective? Why would he want to be friends with this intrusive, pushy, demanding little dude?

No idea.

But NONE OF THAT MATTERS! Because to be friends, see, all you have to do is make an enthusiastic declaration of friendship. No need to find out about the other guy. No need to let them take a turn. No need to be respectful of their needs. Nope! Just be REALLY REALLY ENTHUSIASTIC!!! and then, even if you’ve been SUPREMELYY ANNOYING (and rather selfish to boot), then boom! You’re friends!

Gah.

I sound much more angry than I in fact am. We all know kids like this. You may find them charming. They are charming, in their way … but are they good friends? Not really. Do they need to be taught to tone it down, to pause, to listen once in a while? Yes. Until then, they’ll just be the annoying kid who is generally ignored by the others. And rightfully so.

I would have found this book much more satisfying had there been some recognition that friendship is a two-way street, and that Goose has done nothing whatsoever to make Bear want to be friends with him. Had Bear shown some annoyance, and Goose had to make some accommodation, the two of them meet in the middle somehow.

Then it would have been a good book about friendship.

January 15, 2013 Posted by | books | , , , , | 6 Comments