Intellovert and Other Variations

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Personality typing and tests are super popular at the moment, particularly in regards to the introvert/extrovert question. How do we need to treat introverts and extroverts differently, how can introverts and extroverts get along even though they’re completely different, and what do you need to do to care for your introvert/extrovert self? I’m all for opening up discussions of the different ways that people function and thrive, but I’m certainly not the first person to point out that the introvert/extrovert dichotomy misses a lot of nuance in how people interact socially.

For the last five years or so, I’ve firmly identified as an introvert. I have a lot of social anxiety and so spending time in large groups is draining for me. I need alone time and personal space, I love to read and write (alone), and I recharge by taking long naps and watching Netflix. But in my current relationship, I’m finding that I want to spend more time together than my partner does, as he needs more recharging time than I do. I’m finding that when I’m out of work, I want to be with people nearly every day. So am I an introvert or an extrovert?

In my last therapy appointment, my therapist mentioned that one of my needs as a human being is intellectual stimulation. I get bored easily, and when I don’t have something to keep my mind occupied I start to lose it a little bit. Interestingly, I find that intellectual stimulation is an incredibly difficult need to fulfill without the help of other people, particularly in the form of conversation.

When I’m having engaging, deep conversations with other people, I feel my batteries recharge. When I have to make small talk, be around a large group of people, talk to someone I don’t know very well, or interact with other people for simply practical needs (setting up an appointment for example), I feel drained. Where does this put me on the introvert/extrovert scale if there are some social activities that I find rejuvenating and some that I find horrible?

Well it probably just makes me human, since I’m fairly certain that this is true of everyone. But it might make more sense to talk about introversion and extroversion in relation to specific activities or types of interactions instead of overall personality traits. I’m extroverted when it comes to intellect, puzzles, very close friends and family, and public speaking (yeah, I’m a weirdo). I’m incredibly introverted when it comes to big groups, loud atmospheres, strangers, casual acquaintances, or overstimulating situations.

It’s pretty easy to see some patterns here. There are some things which will make me feel rejuvenated whether or not they happen with other people: learning, validation, deep connection, feeling competent, or getting attention. There are other things that will wear me out whether or not they involve others: overwhelming environments, too many things to pay attention to at once, or repetition of basic information.

While introversion and extroversion are helpful concepts in some ways, it might be helpful to also start to think of how we recharge our emotional batteries with or without people. Almost everyone has some things that feel good and restful both with and without other people. These things might point towards what it is that we crave as individuals, what our emotional needs are. If we see what we want from our lives, it might be easier to set up social interactions to successfully cater to those needs.

Example: when I think of myself as an introvert, I try to schedule more downtime for myself. I inevitably end up bored and frustrated after a few hours of entertaining myself. If instead, I think about fulfilling my need for stimulation without an overwhelming number of things to pay attention to, I set up quiet coffee dates, game nights, movie nights, and other similar quiet activities that let me talk to other people and stay engaged.

Maybe I’m an intellovert: I get my rest and relaxation from exercising my brain. It’s quite possible that there are lots of other ways that people find rejuvenation. Perhaps someone is oriented towards physical exertion, human touch, sensory cues, or something else altogether. I don’t think it’s useful to get rid of the words introvert and extrovert altogether, but it might be time to rethink the ways we use them, or introduce some new concepts to think about when we’re explaining what fulfills our personalities.

Boundaries Mean Cruelty

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One of my favorite blogs in the world is Captain Awkward. It’s an advice blog, a format I rarely read, but in this case it deals primarily with scripts and suggestions for setting boundaries. Sure, there’s lots of variations on that, but almost across the board it’s about making space for yourself, aimed at introverts, weird and awkward types, the socially anxious, and those who live in the world of oppression. It’s fantastic and you all should check it out.

Thanks to the help of Captain Awkward, a lot of DBT, and a pile of friends who openly talk about self care and openly asking for what we need, I’ve started to practice boundary setting as often as possible. It’s amazing how difficult it is to open my mouth to simply say something like “please don’t talk about calories around me,” but there you go. The internalized people pleasing is strong in me.

I’m getting better. I can tell friends that I’m not up for hanging out if I need to, I can tell my boyfriend when I don’t feel comfortable with something, I can even to some extent enforce my boundaries in the online world. But for some reason it all breaks down when it comes to my family. My family has always been pretty close, and we like to get together. We like to party. We like to eat a lot of food together. And we like to spend a great deal of time together, especially around the holidays.

Now through the process of reading about the fleeting thing called “normalcy” I have gleaned that my family goes a bit above and beyond in terms of holiday activities. I, on the other hand, am fairly socially anxious and spending many days in a row with the extended fam can be a drain.

So this year I’m opting out of some of the festivities. I’m making sure I see all the out of towners, get some immediate family time in, and trying to fit in friends too. But I’m skipping almost half of our events.

Part of me is convinced that the message I’m sending by setting this boundary, by saying that I am an adult with a job and friends and responsibilities and in order to take care of myself I need to take these steps, I am telling my family that I don’t love them. Part of my brain still reads “setting a boundary” as “cruelty”.

I know that by taking time to myself I am doing my best by everyone. I’ll be a happier, friendlier, more outgoing human being in the times that I do see my family. I’ll be able to be more present with them and actually (hopefully) have good conversations and interactions instead of living in a state of stress and anxiety that makes me antisocial and cranky. I know that one day of good time together is better than a week of time struggling to cope.

So why is it that I still read it as inappropriate? Why do I still read the boundary setting as taking something away from other people when in reality my time is not something that I owe anyone, it’s something I choose to give to others? Somewhere along the line society has convinced me that certain people deserve my time, no matter what that means. Not only that, but they deserve my time in a fashion that is acquiescing and non confrontational.

This is not to say that my family demands some sort of creepy submission, but that challenging your family, setting boundaries, or even just asking someone not to do something is viewed as hostile by many people. Not showing up is seen as a sign, and it’s not a good one.

I don’t know what it is about family that triggers the “you should not be an independent human being, you owe all your time to these people” script in my brain. I don’t know if this is something that happens to others, the selective way the mind chooses people you cannot be an adult with. But I know that it isn’t healthy to feel like I’m five again whenever my family asks me to do things, certain that I don’t actually have any choices but petulantly running to my room or doing what they ask.

So I’m sticking with my boundaries. Discomfort be damned.

Tattoos and Embodiment: The Power of Self-Mutilation, Piercing and Tattoos

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There are very few ways that we get control over our physical bodies, particularly our appearance. We don’t get to choose things like height, build, weight (much), skin tone, eye color and shape, facial features…we can barely even control out hair most of the time. And philosophically speaking, people today rarely view their body as really THEM: generally it’s considered more of a house for your soul or your mind, broken away from the real you. And so it seems to me that asserting ownership over our own bodies is something really extremely important.

Particularly for traditionally marginalized groups whose bodies are considered public space, having a way to mark your body as your own, or physically change your body in order to feel more in tune with it or to connect it to your emotions is a powerful action. When you change your body in some physical, permanent way, you are loudly declaring “This is mine. I can do with it what I will. I can change it to suit my desires, and I can brand it as my own”. It’s liberating to see your body changed in some way that you have imagined and then acted out on your flesh. It’s sensual in its own way, and the pain that often comes with it is a visceral reminder that you’re alive, you are embodied, and you are solid. It creates an adrenaline rush of knowing what’s about to come. It can be a powerful emotional experience that connects you very deeply with your body.

In addition, for those people who have powerful negative associations with their bodies, tattooing or piercing over the site of negativity can mean a lot. I have scars from self-harm on my hips and legs, and have plans to tattoo over at least some of them as a metaphorical way of reclaiming that territory. Our bodies go through a great deal that leaves us marked in ways that we can’t undo. Some of this is by choice, some of it isn’t. But the choice to cover or change the marks from the past is a strong statement about who we would like to be in the future.

Many people view tattoos as “rebellious”, “tacky” or “low class”. Many of the reasons they’re viewed that way is because marginalized groups often use them to assert their autonomy or their belonging in a group. They mark someone as different, as particularly themselves, and as a BODY. We don’t like being marked as bodies. We often view it as objectifying. We don’t like to be viewed aesthetically, we prefer to be judged based on our intellect or personality. But the fact  is that a major part of our selves is our body. The inherent recognition of this in the act of bodily mutilation or piercing or tattoos is deep, and you can’t escape it when you’re undergoing the process. You feel more connected to yourself in certain ways. It’s one of the reasons that self-harm can be so grounding.

Tattoos also signify a great deal to others: they can tell about our experiences, our emotions, our aesthetic taste, our interests, our values, and our group membership. They use our own bodies to convey messages of our identity, something which is extremely powerful in integrating your body into our identity. In addition, they can signify things to ourselves. They can remind us of our past, of something we care about, of self-care, of good or bad things we’ve experienced…especially for those people whose voices are rarely heard, using your body as a canvas is one of the loudest ways to get a message across.

Some people say that the body is beautiful and shouldn’t be tampered with. But for those who are in marginalized groups, they haven’t really hard this about their bodies in particular. Their bodies are often viewed as wrong or bad. The few times they do hear these things, their bodies are generally objectified. It can be hugely empowering to make your physical presence different to fit your conception of self. It changes your narrative about self, takes your body away from the societal narrative of beauty, or brands visibly on your body that you have autonomy and are more than a body. Of course these are all comments about tattoos personally chosen: being forced to get a tattoo says the exact opposite of all of this.

It reminds you that you’re a body, but also that your body is yours, and that it has its own needs and desires and some autonomy. It’s not just an object. Its senses are how you navigate and manage the world, and the act of the tattoo reminds you viscerally of your senses and your physical boundary with the world. The constant reminder of that is an act of asserting yourself into space.

Reminding ourselves of our bodies, of the ways we can control and identify with our bodies, and of how we can present our bodies to others as part of our identity is a big deal.

Also I really want the tattoo in the picture, so I felt like I had to write this.