The best part about animals is that they give introverts social interaction, but without any of the pressure to actually speak.
I have conversations with my cat, Max, all the time. He listens and responds accordingly. My rescue mare, Raven, also responds to her name, certain gestures, and knows voice cues. We may not exchange opinions on a wide variety of topics (food is the most popular subject, as you can imagine), but I feel that both parties walk away having enjoyed our discussion. Maybe that’s just me, but as a highly sensitive introvert, I have a feeling there might be a few more people out there that feel the way I do — including introverts who are not highly sensitive. I think many introverts feel a deep connection with animals.
There’s just something inherently tense about conversing with a human, and it usually involves judgment, or fear of being judged. There’s an expectation there, or personal questions, or the general unpredictability of what someone will say or ask with time-sensitive, on-the-spot pressure. (And we introverts like to think about what to say in advance!)
This doesn’t mean every conversation is quite as painful for me anymore now that I’m in my thirties, but I have learned to not take every human interaction too seriously. I’d like to think that I respond with a bit more confidence than I did in my twenties (although sometimes it still makes my skin feel prickly).
Animals Don’t Force You to Speak if You Don’t Want To
We’ve all read novels or seen movies where a character has the feeling of being watched, of sensing a presence of someone the character can’t see but feels their energy. That creepy feeling is something I have experienced in just a regular old exchange with a customer at work or with a person I’ve just met. No, it doesn’t mean those people were stalking me in a horror movie, but it sure felt the same.
I can feel the energy of expectation and social pressure as if the person was physically touching me. It’s supremely uncomfortable, and then the pressure to respond immediately is a challenge, especially because my introvert brain takes time to process things and think about the meaning of the statement or question volleyed at me, not to mention having to craft an answer before an awkward pause creeps in.
Just writing that description of human conversation made me uncomfortable! Don’t get me wrong, being an introvert does not make me want to avoid speaking to people ever again and taking a vow of silence (though, some days, I’m pretty tempted). I love getting into deep conversations about philosophy or psychology or something that intrigues my learning-hungry mind. But this usually happens with a friend or group I already feel comfortable around and accepted by.
Animals Don’t Judge You — If You Want to Be Quiet, That’s Okay
Grad school had plenty of opportunities for fascinating discourse, but the constraints of time pressure — and trying not to judge yourself while fearing others’ judgments or not having an answer come out of your mouth the way it sounded in your head — definitely made it difficult to enjoy those discussions. But again, it’s the energy-sensing thing. My brain picks up on the tiniest cues, movements, adjustments in mood, facial expressions, body language, you name it. If a human is doing it, I can probably feel and read it more than I care to. It can be both a gift and a curse to notice everything.
When I say I enjoy the company of animals more than I do humans much of the time, I could see how that could be interpreted as peculiar. There it is again — my overthinking brain judging myself. It’s bad enough to fear others might be evaluating you negatively without doing it to yourself.
But that’s exactly the point — when I’m around my animals, there is a distinct lack of judgment from them. No Mean Girls-worthy eye rolls, eyebrow-raises, or laughing at your comment — though I do know a cat that can throw an awfully spot-on stare of disapproval (Opal, if you’re reading this, you know it’s true).
Rather, animals take you at face value. By the way, animals are the real experts in reading body language and emotion. As I’ve been learning with my rescue mare, if I bring my anxiety and negative energy to the barn to work with her, she feels it, and it affects her behavior. She absorbs emotion and energy from people the same way I do. It’s made me very aware of the feelings and thoughts that I bring with me when I am around her, because though it’s difficult to measure, there is some pretty intriguing science behind the phenomenon.
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Animals Give You Social Interaction, but Without Any of the Pressure
Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, animals can give you social interaction without the pressure. Well, they are very adept at social pressure when dinner is late (looking at you, Penny the mini Chi-Aussie mix). But truly, sitting at my laptop with my Max sleeping on the couch next to me and just being nearby without expectation of questions and answers, or demands for my attention, is the ultimate in companionship.
Have you ever just gone and sat in a horse’s field or stall with them, just hanging out with no expectations? Talk about inner peace. Animals know something about it, and they don’t need you to fill silence — that’s the space that they live in. They act the way they feel, they do what they are thinking about doing, and they don’t lie or gossip or ask pointed questions about your personal life. Plus, they’ve seen you working from home in your ratty jammies and uncombed hair, and they still love you. Unconditionally.
All I’m saying is that talking with animals still counts as “socializing” with another being, and they keep things simpler than humans do. It’s well-known that there are several health benefits due to having a pet: it helps lower stress levels and help us live healthier lives, even for people who are not introverts or highly sensitive. Even when my old apartment didn’t allow me to have a pet, it helped me immensely just to volunteer at the local Humane Society to “socialize the cats,” which made them more adoptable — and me more willing to brave the world of humans.
Animals Revive My Energy — They Don’t Drain It Like Human Interactions Do
For me, having animals in my life goes a step further — I can come home from work feeling overwhelmed from face-to-face interactions with people, but still be able to talk to my cat or horse with a distinct feeling of relief, not social pressure. When Max seeks me out after coming in from playing outside, I ask him if he had fun and he will answer with little brrrrrr sounds. Or when I go out to see Raven in her pasture and say, “Miss Raven!” she will nicker (make a whinny sound) to me and touch her nose to my hand with her ears pointed toward me in greeting.
That’s communication, and I don’t feel the need to explain why I quit a job or have never been married or any other slew of impertinent questions that humans feel entitled to demand answers to. My animals don’t ask, and it’s comforting to know I’m not a disappointment to them based on arbitrary social norms.
Don’t get me wrong: I do enjoy seeing friends and hanging out with family, but it has to be in small doses. And then I need people-free recovery time in a quiet place. That’s the beauty of animals — they can inhabit my quiet space with me, and they don’t take anything out of me the way human interactions do. It’s actually the opposite — they revive me.
So if you would rather cuddle your dog or converse with your cat, or play with your rat or sing with your bird, I’m with you. Animals have minds, thoughts, and emotions, and if you choose their company in a cozy place instead of the overstimulation and people-y expectations for what communication should be, you’re not alone.
My Max will snuggle me while I watch a show at night and Raven will still greet me at the gate in the morning, and I won’t feel like a lesser human because I didn’t talk to a person. We can have a chat or just sit in silence; there is still communication going on. The exchange of calm energy speaks for the companionship and non-judgmental peace that animals bring to the lives of their humans, especially when those humans are a bit sensitive to the outside world and all its noise.
So just call me “Crazy Cat Lady” (I say that with the utmost affection, of course). Or “Highly Sensitive Horse Girl.” Either one sounds good to me. Actually, they sound perfect.