The ins and outs of being an introvert

30/05/2018 - 00:00:00

Geraldine Walsh was never shy as a child, rather an introvert. That has its pros and cons as it’s followed her into parenthood.

When I was in school a teacher remarked to my mother, “Geraldine is very shy. She never puts her hand up in class.”

My mother was not impressed. Having never liked the term ‘shy’, since it tends to come across as a negative trait, she retaliated with, “My daughter is not shy. She is quiet, reserved, and listening. She is taking everything in, watching and learning.”

As a child, I was quite happy to let my more extroverted friends take the limelight. But I was not shy.

My desire to stand with my back against the wall and let the world rotate around me never left. I was an introvert at school, when I joined the workforce and now as a mother.

I don’t see this reserved side of my nature as a failing, a flaw, or something that needs to be fixed. Anymore, at least. There was a time when I wished I was more outgoing and energetic but it’s simply not me.

As an introvert I am quite eager to linger in my own company, stay among the quiet, and avoid the bedlam that life can bring. I like a quiet house and my own company which is preferable to a crowded room with tedious small talk.

Dr Malie Coyne, clinical psychologist and a lecturer at NUI Galway, explains: “An introvert is more likely to focus on their internal world and to enjoy spending time in their own company, which can have an impact on their career choice, relationships, and overall lifestyle.

“An extrovert, on the other hand, pays more attention to what’s going on around them than what is going on in their heads, and often gain energy from others. Everyone has a bit of both but most of us lean towards one or the other.

“There are common misconceptions about introverts. They may be perceived as people who aren’t interested in others, who don’t like people, or have no strong opinions to share. This is absolutely untrue.”

Being an introvert does not mean I get easily nervous at social occasions, but I will admit avoiding certain situations is easier. It doesn’t mean I can’t converse well but I’d happily text repeatedly rather than call. I don’t lack confidence. If needs be, I will put myself out there.

It means that often my preference is solitude, quiet, and calm. It means my mind may need incredible re-charging after volunteering for a cake sale or organising a playdate.

Finding that calm since becoming a mum has been somewhat difficult and has led to mentally exhausting days. As a work-from-home mother, with a four- and one-year-old following me almost every second of the day, I find my introverted side has been a blessing and a curse.

Being a parent does not always work with being an introvert. Parenting is exhausting. It’s loud, it’s bright, it’s almost suffocating. Add being an introvert and it pushes the boundaries a little bit further.

Like all parents, I crave a meagre 10-minute break from the chaos, noise, disorder, and the constant feel of tiny hands on me. I beg the baby to nap that little bit longer so I can clear my head.

I’m almost desperate for her to be old enough to play alongside her big sister so I no longer have to get on the floor and explore their imagination as well as mine.

The days can be far too long and sometimes the painful need for alone time can only be found in the bathroom, if the door is locked. Finding that “me time” has been essential to recharge my batteries and calm my exhausted and overwhelmed mind.

Despite needing to escape, I have noticed how my reserved and quiet side has helped me as a mum.

As my mother recognised in me as a child, my listening skills are one of my best qualities. Now that our four-year-old is expressing herself, I’m hearing and understanding her more than I’d have imagined.

She is beginning to understand her emotions. By listening to her I can help her process those feelings as best she can.

Many introverts tend to analyse, sometimes overthink, everything. As an individual, this is exhausting. As a parent, this is a good thing. It helps me stay in tune with my children and protect them from dangers they fail to see.

My kids may see me enjoying alone time over the years. I’m hoping this aspect of my life will show them how to value their own company and time as they gain independence.

Looking after the introverted side of me has made me realise I need to look after myself fully in order to look after my kids. By taking those short breaks from the calamity of a house with kids, I can recharge my batteries and dive back in to be the mother they need me to be.

I once thought I should attempt to overcome my desire to be alone, silent, and isolated but in hindsight, there is nothing wrong with being an introverted parent. Or an extroverted one, for that matter.

Besides, at the end of a long day, when the kids are asleep, and the sofa is all yours, no one can deny any of us that small bit of quiet, alone time.

To find out your individual tendency, you can take the free Extroversion Introversion Test on psychologytoday.com/intl/tests/personality/extroversion-introversion-test