As a highly sensitive introvert raised in an extroverted culture, I always felt like there was something I didn’t get right. I mean, I am Greek, so shouldn’t I be up for the Greek life? For example, why couldn’t I cut loose like other Greeks and dance like I had no worries? Why didn’t I dream of massive birthday parties like other Greek children did? Later on, I wondered why I couldn’t turn a blind eye to all the injustice in this world or why I couldn’t tolerate alcohol, caffeine, or even loud noises. Back then, the answer was that I was not fun or sociable enough. I was too dramatic, too touchy, and high maintenance. I was just weird.
Thus, I grew up feeling like I didn’t belong. It seemed like no one understood where I came from. I started feeling guilty for being who I was, so I tried harder to fit in. I tried to party, to drink, to speak loudly, to be what was considered “normal.” I hoped that one day I would stop being a wallflower.
I lived life the extroverted way for a while, only to end up feeling worse with time. I didn’t understand why I was so unhappy. I tried to reflect in order to find the root of the evil, but I was just not able to. My head was so full of noise that I couldn’t hear my own voice. I was out of tune, like an instrument whose strings have been neglected. This life that was not meant for me had alienated me from my own self.
I was completely out of touch with myself, but why? I thought that if what I was doing seemed to be working for everyone else, why was it not working for me?
Well, take an introvert and a highly sensitive person, top it off with high levels of empathy and an INFJ personality type, and you have your answer. But I didn’t have my answer back then. I didn’t know that there were more people out there like me. I thought I was so unlucky to be so different.
I Decided to Start Loving Myself
Frustrated as I was, I turned inward. It made sense to me that going against myself was not going to get me far. Instead, for a change, I tried loving myself. It was only when I became content within my own self that I started to get things right. I started developing and trusting my intuition. The more I listened to myself, the better I felt. At some point, I learned about introverts and extroverts and that I clearly belong to the former. The more I read about introversion, the more I related. Life finally made sense.
I started seeing myself for who I was rather than for who I was not. I made an effort to prevent external noise from reaching my bubble and disturbing my calm. I started putting my phone in airplane mode for several hours at a time and scheduling times for reading my text messages and email. I hung out with friends and family only once a week or so. I returned to the world only when I had something to give back. All of this was easier said than done, of course, because I was scared of letting people down. Claiming your happiness and setting boundaries can be hard. But eventually I did it.
Tune In to What’s Inside You
Sometimes we highly sensitive introverts think it’s others who don’t get us, when in fact we may not be getting our own selves. We cannot stop caring, we cannot stop feeling, but we certainly can stop beating ourselves up for not being like the rest.
I know now that I cannot give the world what it gets from extroverts. But that’s okay, because I can provide something else that the world needs. I can be a good listener, I can calm people down, I can help them see things clearly, and I can give them sound advice. And I can do all that because I spend so much time alone—daydreaming, thinking about people and life, reading books, doing research, and trying to understand the world.
Now I can finally dance when I’m surrounded by people I feel comfortable with, because I am making an effort to realize that in fact all eyes are not zeroed in on me. My friends now know that I will be the first to leave a party, because I need time to recharge—and they’re okay with that, because now they’re making an effort to accept what is different from them, too.
Have faith in yourself. Get a clear understanding of what makes you your best self and embrace it. It could be spending Friday night at home baking, going to the movies alone, or having a cozy meal with only a few friends. Believe in yourself and know that you are not alone. All the answers are within you. You just need to tune in.