I am the youngest of five siblings and the only girl. Am I spoiled? Probably. But a spoiled brat? Never.
My brothers are mostly extroverts, with the exception of my late brother, Chris. He was quiet and stoic, and would usually keep his opinions and thoughts to himself. Even when he went out with his friends, he was usually on the quiet side. He didn’t care to be the life of the party and didn’t seem to like to be singled out, even though he was an excellent chef and artist who was often lauded for his talents.
For me, “having a good time” means staying home, being comfortable in my sweats and a t-shirt, and lots of “me time.”
I need time to wind up for the day and psych myself up for phone calls, the occasional coffee date, and appointments. Then I need plenty of time to recharge.
I have also been living with clinical depression and anxiety for a few decades now, and I’m afraid my family equates my preference for quiet and alone time with my depression. Sometimes, that is the case; most often, it’s just me being me.
I Gave Myself Permission to Do My Own Thing
Every other year, we have a family reunion. When everyone can make it (like spouses, nieces, and nephews), there are about twenty of us. My mom and step-dad have the resources to rent a huge house where we can all stay together for a week in the summer.
Last year, we spent a week in a huge beachfront home in North Carolina, which coincided with my niece’s wedding reception.
Now, I was fairly nervous leading up to this event. At first, I was predicting how nervous I would be, how much alcohol would be there (I’m a recovering alcoholic), and how I’d be able to convince everyone that I was actually doing okay (which I was).
And then something happened. I had an attitude change. I decided that my goal for this trip — a week with my whole family, minus my wife (my biggest supporter) — would be to have a better time than at the last reunion. That’s it.
I didn’t make any resolutions or fancy goals or make a long list of sights to see. The whole point was to relax and have fun, not stress myself out.
I didn’t tell myself that I had to take part in every activity, or do something “fun” every day, or spend every waking moment with my family, whom I only see every two years.
Do you know what happened? I stopped obsessing about it. I worried so much less about it. In fact, I was really looking forward to having a nice time.
And I did.
The house was big enough (three stories!) that there were plenty of spaces for me to have my alone time when I needed it (which was quite often), and there were numerous opportunities to engage with family members.
I especially excel at ping-pong, so that was fun — and, bonus, it’s a one-on-one activity!
I Put My Needs First
I spent plenty of time underneath the pergola that was about halfway from the house to the beach, meditating or just listening to music.
I spent a lot of time just being, reading, relaxing, and recharging on the huge, wrap-around deck on the second floor.
And I could always retreat to “my” bedroom and shut the door if I really needed some downtime. Turns out, I only had to do that a couple times.
And no one bothered me. They would come get me for meals or invite me to activities, and I would choose at that moment what I wanted to do.
This is so much different than doing what I thought others wanted me to do, or putting on a “brave face” and suffering through socializing, which is often excruciating for me, even with loved ones.
I finally realized, after 48 years of putting others first, that I deserve to be myself. I didn’t ignore anyone, I wasn’t snippy, and I wasn’t being anti-social. I just took care of myself.
And it was great.
My Family Finally Understood
Because I spent so much time on my own during this trip, and because my family saw that I was “okay,” I think they finally understand the kinds of things I need as an introvert.
They seemed to realize that I just need a lot of alone time, and they gave it to me. They didn’t interfere.
They didn’t smother me.
They didn’t keep interrupting me to make sure I was okay.
They didn’t set up a secret intervention and make me feel like there was something *wrong* with me.
They just let me be me.
As far as I know, nobody worried about me. No one thought my behavior or my introversion was weird or signaled poor mental health.
By Jove, I think they’ve got it!
Stop Putting Unnecessary Pressure on Yourself
In a world where we are conditioned to socialize and be talkative, volunteer for every little thing, and make friends easily, introverts often feel like there is something wrong with them.
I know I always figured people thought I was weird for needing (and enjoying) so much time alone, especially my family.
But I got sick of that. I got sick of putting unnecessary pressure on myself by worrying what I imagined other people thought.
So I put a stop to it.
And I’m here to tell you — there is nothing at all wrong with you.
Introversion is just about as prevalent as extroversion in the U.S. Fifty percent of the population can’t be wrong, right?
It may take some time to convince people that you really just like to be alone with a book, a bubble bath, a glass of wine, or your significant other, but they’ll catch on.
And when they do, you won’t need to worry about how to be yourself anymore. It will just come naturally.
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