|This is a humorous "demotivational" poster and yet, painfully true, too.|
Saturday, April 6, 2013
Following Up On "Am I The Only Lonely" - Part 1
I’ve known for a little while now that it was time to write a follow-up to my entry about being lonely. I’ve had quite a few responses to that one—sent to me privately—and I realized I’m not the only one struggling with making friends, keeping friendships and developing deep, loving relationships with other women. It’s been my mission these last few months to figure out why and try to remedy it. I’ve been asked to pass on the information if I come across any insight for those also feeling isolated and alone. Well, I’ve had some breakthroughs, through prayer, study and the insight of some friends. It may not be the answer anyone was hoping for (especially not me), but here’s a part of problem and a possible solution.
I am an introvert. What does that mean? Typically, you’d say an introvert is someone who is more withdrawn and contemplative; someone who values quiet and alone time; someone who struggles with meeting new people and may be uncomfortable in social situations. Shy is a common synonym for an introvert (although not completely accurate--I also happen to be shy, too; it's a tough combination). In spite of all of these characteristic, we introverts often crave company and inclusion in a group setting. We need good friends—maybe not a ton of them, but a few really close ones. It’s a bit of a conundrum, given that the meeting and formation of new relationships is so difficult for us.
But here’s the truth you may not often hear or understand about the introvert—and itIntroverts are completely self-absorbed. There…I said it. We are not self-absorbed in the way that often comes to mind of someone who is boastful, arrogant or egomaniacal (in fact, we often are insecure and have low self-esteem). But that quiet, contemplative person is usually quietly, contemplating themselves and how everything relates to them. Ok, we all have a certain amount of self-serving thoughts and I’m not suggesting that there are extroverts out there that aren’t also self-centered, but the introvert internalizes everything in how it relates to “me”.
I balked when I first heard this suggested. Then I began to think about my inner monologue, my thoughts, my worries, my fears and anxieties. Why do I feel uncomfortable around people? I worry I’ll be rejected. What if they don’t like me? What if I say the wrong thing and make a fool of myself. When I don’t hear from someone, is it because they don’t like me? What did I do that may have offended them? I don’t enjoy the process of putting myself out there for inspection and judgment. I’m not comfortable with the topics sometimes discussed in the circles I’m a part of.
Do you see a pattern here? I, I, I, me, me, me…it’s all about me. I think a lot about myself, my feelings, what others think of me, how others may feel about me, how I should behave, what I should say. It matters because I care so much about my “self”. A certain amount of self-love and approval is a good thing (after all, we have to live with ourselves) but having it be your main focus is going a bit overboard and leads to an unhealthy relationship with others.
Have I lost many of you yet? I’m sorry if I’ve offended. If you’re an introvert, give it time to sink in. Think about it. How much of your time do you spend thinking about yourself? Don’t let it discourage you—identifying the problem is the first step toward working on a solution.
So, after coming to this realization and, of course, spending much time in contemplation of it, I’ve begun to work on it. Like I said earlier, I’ve spent a lot time in prayer and study on this subject, as well.
I met with a new friend recently, in whom I had confided my loneliness and had asked for help. She had an important word for me…"initiator”. She had been praying over my struggle and felt clearly that I was, and needed to step out as, an initiator. She envisioned me in a bubble that I had created. I was secure in that bubble, people bounced off and I stayed safe. But I was very alone in there, all by myself.
I thought about that for a long time. Initiator? Do you know how much work it takes to initiate things? Do you know how much rejection you face when you initiate something? What if people don’t join in? What if…what if…what if I do nothing and I continue to be alone?
Is the pain of occasional rejection worse than the pain of isolation? Is it worse than not having companionship and deep relationships with good friends? That’s something that each of us who struggles with loneliness needs to ask ourselves. At what point to we decide that it’s worth a change to our comfort level in order to gain the thing we desire most—friendship.
For me it’s time. I’ve begun to initiate. I’ve begun to send a message to an acquaintance or two, instead of wondering why they never call me—instead of giving in to the idea that they haven’t called because they don’t want to do anything with me. I’ve begun to put a smile on my face and go back out into the world. I’ve started practicing asking questions about what’s happening in other’s lives and listening to the answers, instead of hoping they’ll ask me questions. I’ve started to consciously turn my thoughts to how I can help others, reach out to others and initiate friendships. And I’m working on not thinking about myself so much (that one’s tougher!). I am an introvert—I am quiet, contemplative, shy—I don’t have any expectation of becoming an extrovert. But I know now where the work needs to be done.
There are times I need to retreat…back into myself, into my thoughts, into a quiet space. That’s always who I will be to some extent. God gave me my contemplative nature and it has served me well in many ways; in the way I do relate in close relationships, my ability to sympathize and in discernment. But the full energy of that nature needs to be focused somewhere outside of myself--He also designed me for community. It takes a lot of energy to do something that’s against your nature, even if it’s what you want to do. But I know I can’t stay there. My friends aren’t there, my lasting relationships aren’t going to be there…my life isn’t there.
If you identify yourself as an introvert and are struggling with loneliness and a lack of close friendships, I urge you to become initiators. Put on your contemplation caps and think about the way you think—the way you view others. Think about whether it's more important to keep trying to find those people out there who will think you are fantastic, or whether it’s better to be safe and alone.
This is probably one of the scariest topics I’ve ever written about on my blog (or could think of writing about). My first entry, admitting I was lonely and now this one…
There’s a ton more I could say and would like to say—I’ve learned a lot more; it’s not just about being an introvert or being shy. But this has already become a very long entry. I will leave you with one last resource…
Our church has been doing a study of 2 Corinthians and the timing of each message has been profoundly right for me (and others, from what I’m hearing). Our church posts the messages on their website for download and I encourage you to listen to them (I’ve downloaded them and have replayed several of them repeatedly). You can find them at http://acfweb.org/media.php?pageID=72.