I was having dinner with three friends at one of my favorite restaurants when the conversation turned to a topic I always dread: politics.
The friend sitting next to me raised her voice and began angrily detailing why people who disagreed with a certain issue were insane or stupid, or both. I immediately froze in place. My chest and throat constricted and heat rushed to my face. I felt like I was in the beginning stages of an anxiety attack.
A couple of seconds later, my other two friends joined in with their opinions, which were only a variation on all the things the friend sitting next to me had just stated. I was starting to calm down from the shot of adrenaline to my system and could move again, but now I felt shaky and a bit dizzy. I tried desperately to gather my thoughts as I also endeavored to calm my body.
As I settled myself, my intuition came back online and began scanning the dialogue of my friends. I could hear the coldness in their voices. I could feel the dismissiveness, the judgment, the separation they felt from the people they were discussing.
The political issue that had come up was one that was complex and multifaceted. It could be viewed in dozens of different lights, depending on the situation and the person involved. In a flash, my mind grasped the depth of the gray area in between the two poles of black and white that my friends were determined to uphold.
And in that same flash, I saw that my friends weren’t really interested in exploring the topic anyway. They didn’t honestly want to find out if there was a solution. They were just angry, and they wanted to judge and blame someone.
A second after this realization, I plunged into sorrow. I was sorry about the attitudes of my friends at the table, but I also felt a bit hopeless about humanity overall. Will we ever get anywhere if we all keep judging and blaming each other? Just as I prepared to dive back into my inner world to try to work this question out, my thoughts were interrupted.
“Well, what about you? What’s your opinion?”
My three friends were looking at me, waiting for an answer. I could see in their eyes that the only way I could avoid an argument was to agree with what they had just said. But I couldn’t do that. I had just gone through two minutes jam-packed with soul searching existential questions and had come to the only conclusion I could possibly accept: My truth was radically different from theirs.
And they weren’t really interested in what I thought, anyway.
A Sensitive Introvert, I Feel Every Ounce of Toxic Energy
It was at this point that I wished for the thing I have wished for probably about a million times in my life. I wished that I was an extrovert. I wished that I had the type of personality that was effortlessly assertive, knew how to prove a point through cutting logical argument, and thrived on competition and debate. I wished I was the kind of person who only cared about if I was right. It just seemed like it would be so much easier.
But, I’m not any of those things.
I’m a highly sensitive INFJ personality type. I need to feel emotionally safe and supported before I can express my true thoughts to anyone, and I also need more time than most to speak in front of a group (even if it’s only three people). I’m also an empath.
(What’s your personality type? Take a free personality assessment.)
So, when people around me go from zero to 10 on the anger scale, I pretty much immediately get gut-punched by all the negative energy. And because I’m an intuitive introvert, I see almost every different side to any issue. Black and white doesn’t exist for me. I live in the gray area.
The situation with my friends in the restaurant is something that has happened to me my entire life. Whenever I’m in a group of people and they start arguing with each other, or aggressively blaming and judging an outside party, my body goes into fight-or-flight mode. My highly sensitive nervous system absorbs every ounce of toxic energy like a sponge — and I feel sick. It’s kind of like I’m drunk or high, but not in a good way. I can’t think and I can barely speak. There’s no way I can explain what I’m going through or why I need the people who are arguing, judging, and blaming to stop it.
Sadly, I have a feeling that even if I could explain it, the people in argue-blame-judgment mode at that moment wouldn’t stop anyway.
Disconnect from Toxic People to Protect Yourself
So, what does a highly sensitive, empathic, intuitive introvert do in situations like these?
There is only one answer: Leave the situation.
That night, I excused myself and said I needed to visit the restroom. I locked myself in and breathed deeply until I calmed down. I texted my husband and briefly told him what was going on, and he sent me a few much-needed words of reassurance. Then I walked back out to the table and got through the rest of the meal.
But after that dinner, I left the situation in a more drastic way. I had already been feeling a rift growing between myself and those friends, so I disconnected even more. I never did the INFJ door slam on any of them, but I shifted our phone calls to text-only exchanges. I unfollowed a couple of them on Facebook and took more frequent social media breaks.
I put more energy into nurturing the connections I had made in the past couple years with a group of new friends, people who were a bit more mature, grounded, and interested in what good they could do with their own lives — instead of judging others for the way they lived.
It is vital for intuitive introverts to feel understood. There is nothing that can replace a good friend who knows that you’re highly sensitive and honors that.
However, the other essential piece of the puzzle is to choose friends who are positive, compassionate, and nonjudgmental. Intuitive introverts must keep company with those who have curious minds and open hearts.
It’s the only way we will ever feel safe enough to bloom.
Lauren is the author of Between the Shadow and Lo, an autobiographical novel based on her experiences as an alcoholic. She’s also the author of The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers.
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