Processing

I discovered living alone (without other humans, that is) when I was 16, and with the exception of brief sojourns with lovers or short-term transitional situations, it has been my lifestyle of choice ever since.

Close Quarters

Leafy trees show through windows in a wooden door set in a stone wall.Living with other people was what I turned to when I first struck out on my own because it was what I had always done, but I soon realized the omnipresent relationships placed unmanageable demands on my energy. Sometime in my teens I redefined home as the place I go to get away from people and rest, and that is what it has been ever since.

I rarely invite people in. If I feel social, I go out.

Most of my friendships are situational, the sum of proximity + time. That used to feel inadequate, but perhaps my expectations have evolved as I become a better friend to myself. The differences seem less important. Sometimes, as friendships deepen, I discover there are more similarities than I suspected.

Then too, as my life feels more and more like my path, not someone else’s that I somehow strayed into, I am less afraid to reveal a truer version of myself. If someone doesn’t find value in me, that’s about them, and I am not diminished by it. I no longer feel as if I am on the outside of other peoples’ lives, pining to be admitted.

Close for Comfort

The 17 years I lived with my recently deceased feline companion is the longest I have ever lived with anyone, considerably outstripping the time I spent in my childhood home (homes, really. We moved a lot). Now I am rediscovering what it is to live truly alone, expanding into all the spaces previously dedicated to her use, following my own rhythms, answering my own imperatives.
Drawing of electrocardiogram wave paattern with the outline of a walking cat in the middle of it.
And hearing myself think. This could be double-edged, if ultimately healthier. Did I comfort myself with purrs and fur in the face of disturbing thoughts, instead of finding solutions?

Possibly.

We shall see.

Closing the Sale

A headline caught my eye yesterday — what employers value most in potential employees is warmth and competence. “Oho,” thought I. “That’s why I’ve always interviewed so well.”

Like many of my other HSP qualities, warmth is so natural to me, I wasn’t really conscious of it. When employers hired me for my ability to connect with people, I was surprised, and skeptical that I had what they saw.

But when they wanted to wield that ability like a tool, shaping and manipulating customers with it, turning it on and off, I realized they were right, and more. My connections were genuine, therefore I had to honor them, regardless of the interests of my employers. In my HSP sensibility, this was all of a piece. Employers were not so happy about that. No, they did not like that at all.

However, their opportunism made visible to me what I had to offer, and how I wanted to offer it. The authenticity of the connections I make with people is fully realized at last in my relationships with my own clients.
One giant bronze hand meets another, passing something round, against a backdrop of a mountain landscape

Close to Heart

But these are business relationships, cordial, yet circumscribed. I can’t imagine how HSPs successfully navigate intimate relationships. Literally cannot. Nary a stillshot in my otherwise hyper-envisionary mind.

It’s not news to me that relationships are one of my remedial areas in life. Or to put that less judgmentally, are highly challenging. I have become more conscious of my fear of letting someone else too close to the center of my self. It’s well-founded, emotionally speaking, in a harrowing history.

I recognized many years back that I was consistently attracted to the wrong people, and stopped dating. I haven’t missed it much. I realize I have sidestepped an issue rather than resolving it, but that’s the right solution at the moment. Now is not the time, and perhaps this life is not the life, and that’s OK. I have to trust myself before I can trust somebody else.

Closure

My mental life verbalizes its way through adjustment to change. Grief happens more subliminally, below words. And maybe, though analysis has its value, its furious activity is also a refuge from pain which I can only endure in brief bursts.

For all of my words, it is sometimes music that anchors me in a crisis, providing, seemingly at random, a song to characterize this unique passage of my life, and carry me through the tsunami of feeling to peace. This time, a single line from long ago surfaced to guide me to that song:

The shadow of a woman on a sandy beach strewn with stonesLittle pebble upon the sand
Now you’re lying here in my hand
How many years have you been here?
Little human upon the sand
From where I’m lying here in your hand
You to me are but a passing breeze

The sun will always shine where you stand
Depending in which land
You may find yourself
Now you have my blessing
Go your way

Happiness runs in a circular motion
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea
Everybody is a part of everything anyway
You can have everything if you let yourself see
Happiness runs, happiness runs

Why? Oh, because

You can have everything if you let yourself be

(Donovan)

Happy World Introvert Day

Yes, there is a day just for us!

A vintage illustration of a woman seated at a desk with paper in front of her and a pen in her hand, staring thoughtfully into space

Quiet Revisited

The cover of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan CainJenna, my comrade in bloggery over at The Wishing Well, just published a post about Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. To my great surprise, her reaction to it was very different from mine. Since I had recommended it to her enthusiastically, I started out writing a reply in a comment, but it became way too long, so I’m publishing it here.

Wow, did we read the same book? Before I read Quiet, it had literally never crossed my mind that I was an introvert, much less an HSP (which Elaine Aron believes Susan Cain also is). I thought I was an extrovert inhibited by a tendency to isolate. I defended this, extolling the joys of solitude, as I still do. However, before I read Quiet, those joys were seriously undermined by my secret fear that solitude was an unhealthy indulgence, an escape from my shameful inability to interact “normally.” Whether it was my failure to produce extroverted bubble and bounce on command, or my persistent inclination towards behavior I had been taught was dysfunctional, I was coming up short no matter what I did. Continue reading

Better Judgment

Judgment card from Goddess Tarot deck, showing Queen Gwenhwyfar extending a short sword above the head of a kneeling manEver since a youthful epiphany, during which it occurred to me that someone else’s internal experience might be notably different from my own, I have believed I had an above-average consciousness of that insight.

Lately, I’m not so sure. As I explore the 42 personality traits of the Clifton Strengths system, I become increasingly aware of just how broad and deep the variation in personal perception and reaction is. And the more aware of it I become, the more I realize just how judgmental I am. Too often, I assume everyone thinks and feels as I do, and if their behavior is not what I think should be consistent with that, I disapprove.

Why do I do this, I asked myself? After pondering, I came to see that judgment is a form of whistling in the dark. There’s probably a better way to make peace with the perpetual unknowability of everybody else’s private landscape, but I haven’t found it yet.

HSPs are often credited with a gift for perceptiveness. Well, maybe. There have been many occasions throughout my life when feelings and motivations that were glaringly obvious to me were completely invisible to others (sometimes even to the people who were having them).

Thought bubble with blurry words insideBut there have also been times when I was wildly, completely wrong about what was going on (like thinking I was an extrovert for the first 53 years of my life). Deep engagement may show us more, but it also means stronger reactions, and strong reactions are not necessarily a friend to accurate perception.

Maybe the intermittent nature of this gift is part of the problem. Because some people are transparent to me some of the time, it’s more threatening when someone isn’t.

But maybe it’s just my particular history that makes me nervous around people who are opaque. I saw what my family didn’t want to admit, so I was told I was crazy at regular intervals throughout my childhood. As a result, I’m never quite sure how much to trust my own perceptions.

That’s damned uncomfortable for me, but since I am, in fact, NOT 100% accurate in my perceptions (or even close) it keeps me humble (relatively), which probably makes me a more pleasant person to be around!

There’s another factor, which I’m becoming more conscious of lately. My preference to hang out with myself alone most of the time inevitably restricts the amount of feedback that is available to me about other people’s thoughts and feelings. Now that I have a better understanding of who I am most compatible with and why, maybe that will evolve over time.

I’ve had occasions lately to discover who my friends are (and aren’t), details of which I’ll save for another post. Maybe having more interactions with people who are demonstrably in my corner will one day make me braver in the face of those whose intentions are unknown.

This ‘n That

LIGHT READING

In this commentary (The solitary bliss of life as an introvert) from the early days right after Quiet was published, Michael Deacon ponders whether the supreme being is an introvert or an extrovert, and adds his 2¢ on aging into introversion. Don’t miss the comments.

JOB HUNTING

As for me, I’ve been performing job searches on the keyword “alone.” When I find it, it’s usually preceded by “looking for someone who works well…” and I get all excited. That’s me! But no. In every single post, it’s also followed by “or in a group.” Sheesh. Flip-floppers.

FILM MAKING

In case you haven’t heard, Elaine Aron has revamped her website, and is fundraising for a film on HSPs. She has already exceeded her goal, but has promised to apply any additional funds to making a better documentary. Only 3 days to go, so visit soon.

WANTED: PATRON (or matron, I’m not picky)

Would anyone like to pay me to spend my time researching whatever I feel curious about today, and then writing about it in multiple blogs? That’s what I really want to do with my life, but all this annoying need-to-pay-rent crap keeps getting in the way :(

My Favorite Housemates are Feline

I was recently struck by a sub-heading in Holly Klassen’s Huffington Post blog piece on parenting as an introvert: “They are with you ALL THE TIME.”

I don’t know whether it’s an introvert thing or an HSP thing, or both, but that sentence neatly encapsulates my experience of other human presences. They don’t have to be doing anything, or saying anything. They don’t even have to be awake. Just the awareness of their presence in some way engages a portion of my energy, rendering it unavailable for other purposes. It’s like a computer process that runs in the background and eats up all your RAM, slowing down normal tasks, and making high-resource tasks impossible.

A dozing cat lies on a desktop shelfThis doesn’t happen with animal companions, however. I have often contemplated why I prefer to live with animals, but was never able to pinpoint it – until I read that sentence. The cats I share a home with are also with me, literally, all the time, not just somewhere in the house, but often in the same room I am in.  Yet somehow, my attention is not engaged in the same energy-consumptive way. If this is true for other HSPs, it may explain why HSPs are more likely than average to have a strong affinity with animals. Continue reading

Valueless Lesson

A blank mask without a face behind itIt’s so annoying to have to leave a job just when you’re getting good at it. I’d like to at least know what happened with my boss. I have the distinct impression our conflict was about something other than it appeared to be. Unfortunately, Mr. Not So Nice After All Guy isn’t owning up. Is that fair? Yeah, yeah, life ain’t. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Supposedly, HSPs have superior intuitive and empathetic perception. I’m not entirely convinced on that point. I have been told more than once that I discerned things a person didn’t even recognize about him/herself, usually long after the fact (and mostly by water signs, but that’s another post). On the other hand, I seem to be singularly blind to red flags in an employment context. Continue reading