Seems like everyone is an introvert now. But maybe that's not so healthy...

Suddenly it’s cool to be an introvert. Susan Cain’s 2013 TED talk about the power of introversion has racked up more than 14 million views, her book on the same theme is a New York Times bestseller, and now memes and even T-shirts about detesting other people are popping up everywhere. Who knew that declaring an aversion to human company could be such a popular statement? 
I’ve talked a lot on this blog about being an introvert, and why I jealously guard my private time. I’ve explained how small talk leaves me tongue-tied and how parties feel confronting for me (that post here). I’ve theorised that my introversion is linked to my deep sensitivity – which, of course, is part and parcel of being a healer and intuitive. But a few weeks ago I read a New York Times article asserting that some people are now using introversion – which seems to have become a badge of honour – as an excuse to be anti-social. That’s not a social condition, its laziness. 

I’ve realised I tend to do this too. 
I have a theory that, for some, claiming to be an introvert – is simply the desire for a bit of time out. We’re being slammed with a barrage of information 24/7 , and have less time to ourselves than ever before, so saying we don’t like socialising might be one way of trying to validate our intrinsic need for more quiet time. That has nothing to do with shyness and everything to do with feeling like we have to justify relaxation time (as if it were an indulgence). So it’s not a case of: ‘I don’t want to go to that engagement party because being around other people is draining and provoking for me’, it’s more: ‘I don’t want to go because I’ve had no time to myself this week and Saturday night is my only chance to get it’. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But for me, I’ve realised I need to be careful to make sure that preferring my own company doesn’t become the norm. Because in limiting my interactions with people, I limit my ability to grow, learn and give.
Actively avoiding gatherings where there will be a large crowd, or where I will be expected to network, has become a habit for me. I know such events will make me uncomfortable, so I try to dodge them. Of course it’s smart to protect my physical energy and to be discerning about how I spent what little downtime I have. But here’s the problem, summarised so brilliantly in the NY Times article: if we are constantly retreating into our shells, we aren’t connecting with each other. That’s a problem because, as Hugh Mackay asserts in his book Beyond Belief – How We Find Meaning, With Or Without Religion, human beings are hardwired for connection. We crave human contact and a sense of belonging, which help bring meaning to our existence. It’s also a problem because, from a spiritual perspective, we are here to help each other (which also brings meaning to our existence, BTW). In refusing to sit in company with other people, we are swatting away the gentle beckoning finger of the Universe inviting us to offer support to another. We also cut ourselves off from support from others (because even when everything in your life is going swimmingly, you still need to feel supported). Being a hermit holds a certain appeal, but the alone zone is a space to rest, not to reside.
When the New York Times journo asked Susan Cain (of the aforementioned TED talk and book) if, by choosing to read a book in the car while their kids are at a school function, self-indulgent introverts were actually just being rude – she laughingly agreed, saying sometimes “you have to consider the other person’s point of view instead of getting wrapped up in your own discomfort”.
Standing around in a bar talking about the weather (or in New Zealand, where I grew up, rugby – which, bafflingly, seems to hold endless fascination for almost everyone) isn’t exactly beneficial to anyone in a larger sense. But those awkward small conversations can be the gateway to slightly larger interactions where people do have an opportunity to express themselves. You may not necessarily be able to offer practical assistance to someone complaining about the sleep deprivation their seven-month-old son is inadvertently causing, but in listening to their struggle you are offering emotional support. I believe that the greatest desire of every person is to be seen, heard and understood. We facilitate this by bearing witness to each other’s experiences and struggles, without judgement or unsought advice. This is the simplest way we can show up for each other. As the saying goes, the greatest problem with our communications is that we listen to reply instead of listening to understand. 
Even the act of simply smiling at someone is immensely powerful on an energetic level. Mother Teresa said: “Every time you smile at someone it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” All the love-heart eye-emojis in the world sent from your living room won’t make someone feel as good as a RL smile does. (OK, I’ve just re-read that it sounds reeeeally cheesy... but you know what I mean, right?) The point is, we shine our brightest when we are around other people. Not when we are on the couch alone, sucking up our tea through a Tim-Tam straw (soz!). I want to continue to allow myself me time but I’m going to be tougher on myself when my urge to evade social occasions comes up. 
Much like Netflix, introversion in large doses is not necessarily good for me. Or anyone else, for that matter. 

One for the sensitive types. How your weakness can be your strength

Man and woman sitting apart on sofa, woman wearing box on head

Confession: I hate parties. I
m awkward when it comes to small talk because Im rubbish at ‘playing the game’, and I find meeting new people terrifying. Christmas parties are a battle of endurance for me, and summer barbecues with people I dont know are acutely uncomfortable. For a long time I labelled this as shyness however Ive realised that, yes, I am slow to relax in other peoples company and dont enjoy talking about myself, but I actually dont fit into the category of ‘shy’. I also attributed this mild social anxiety to being an introvert – which is true, I am – but this doesnt completely explain my level of discomfort in social settings. 
A month ago I read an article in Elephant Journal that made all the pieces fall into place. My preference for short, one-on-one interactions  or none at all  is nothing to do with shyness or introversion, its all about being highly sensitive. Its about the way I respond to social exchanges on an emotional level.
This is what it means to be highly sensitive:
* You need massive amounts of time alone
* You pick up on other peoples moods instantly, and usually absorb them
* You feel overwhelmed by social situations and crowds
* You feel emotions deeply
* You appreciate and respond to art, music and beauty at a very deep level
Thats a tick, tick, tick, tick and a half-tick for me.
The fact that Im highly sensitive means I cant work for long periods in offices that are super bitchy or super negative because that drags down my mood and drains my energy. I cant have a packed social calendar, because I need lots of time in solitude to recharge. I cant watch news footage of tragedies or disasters because I am seized by intense despair. I cant enjoy boxing or sports where violence is encouraged because I find the aggression really confronting. 
Woman in suit of armourIn a society that prizes physical dominance and discourages displays of emotion, sensitivity is regarded as a weakness. I vividly recall being told: "Dont be so sensitive," as an adolescent when I complained about being bullied. (Um, thanks, really helpful. Nothing like a spot of victim shaming to avoid tackling an issue.)
What I understand now is that being sensitive is not a weakness, its a strength. Its what helps me to perceive, via my intuition, when people need help, extra kindness or just space. Its also the thing that allows me to tune into other peoples energy fields to help them identify emotional blocks – hence my affinity with reiki and angel card readings. (It also means I can be prone to taking those energies on board, but I have measures to avoid that.)
Highly sensitive types are the ones who create dazzling works of art, poetry and performance that allow us to see the world in entirely new ways. They are terrible at dating but excellent at long-term relationships. They have a small group of friends who they forge strong connections with. They listen far more than they speak. They are very protective of their personal space and don't react well to being touched by strangers or people they dont know well. 
For me, being sensitive means I need plenty of self-care. Its about lots of sleep, lots of water, lots of exercise, and lots of time on my own. Its also vital to make time to be creative and to be still. It feels good to be at an age where I dont have to make an excuse for choosing, and enjoying, these activities. I know I feel better for them. I also do a shielding ritual as part of my daily morning meditation, to protect myself, my physical space and my energetic space. This means I can face the day knowing that no matter who Im around, Im not going to get dragged down by their mood or their stuff'. (Happy to give tips on this to anyone whod like to know more about how to do this, just drop me an email.)
If this post resonates with you, I hope you can find ways to embrace and nurture your sensitivity too.