Sunday, 8 January 2017

Thought for the day: introversion

When someone says I'm the quiet, reflective type, or the strong, silent type, I know what they're talking about. Sometimes, I wish I could be different. I often question whether, if I'd had a more outgoing nature, I'd be spending quite so much time alone now. The world seems to favour those who are more open, vocal and better able to promote themselves.

Sometimes, the loneliness affects me more. This is one of those times. A week ago, I was still with the woman I love. The key point is that being around other people doesn't always cure the loneliness. Sometimes, being a part of the crowd can feel like the loneliest place on Earth. Yeah, it's the old cliché about being alone in a crowd. The happy medium is talking with someone, one to one, who gets it. The nature of this thing is that you often still find yourself listening more than you speak, but having someone there who understands is beyond value to you.

A lot of people don't understand. They talk, and talk some more, and become frustrated by the lack of response. There's no question that I'm listening, but I suppose the defining quality of this thing is that we don't JUST listen: we carefully consider what's been said (and, in my case, a load of stuff that hasn't been said) before we even think about formulating our own reply. I'm not saying that other people don't think before they speak, though it sometimes seems that way, but us quiet types probably spend more time considering what's been said and how to respond. In conversations where people interrupt each other, cut each other off and talk at the same time, we don't stand a chance.

Some sources compare introversion to the battery on a mobile phone, and say that an introvert's energy quickly drains in social situations. That's true to a point, but I'd say it depends on the type of social situation. I know a few people who don't drain my energy. Sometimes I need to disconnect and take time to think about things, but some people allow me the space to think, as though they somehow understand how much it's needed.

If there's too much noise, too much external stimuli or other environmental cues, then I'm more likely to feel drained much more quickly. I'll probably leave, if that's the case, but I'll wish I didn't have to leave.
I hope I've explained this well.  According to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, I'm a particular type of introvert, known as an INFJ, so others may experience introversion in a different way.  My hope is that what I've written helps someone, though, whether they're an introvert or someone who is trying to gain a better understanding.

Friday, 28 October 2016


Sometimes, you find yourself outside your comfort zone. Sometimes, you've stepped so far away from your comfort zone that you can't remember where it is any more. At that point, it's all too easy to focus on that uncomfortable feeling, rather than give yourself credit for the courage you've shown.

I don't ever forget how terrified I was, walking into that first modern jive, salsa, bachata or kizomba class, though. I don't forget because, honestly, I've just become better at hiding it as time has gone on. What gets me there is the fact that, much against my expectations, I love to dance. Also, the people I've met and got to know are so nice that, when we dance, or if they come to talk to me, the fear goes away for a while. A few have even managed to break through to the point where I dare to ask them to dance. So, when one of those people invites me to a Halloween party, there's the sense that not going along would be letting them down. Knowing that the proceeds from the event go to charity, I'm even more likely to attend.

If I don't go, the thought that I might have had a good time will play on my mind. After all, a number of people that I quite like will be there. The worst case scenario is that I turn up, and sit alone, not having the courage to talk or ask anyone to dance. Actually, the worst case scenario is that I feel completely overwhelmed and have to leave early. It's a very real possibility, and I don't expect anyone will understand. Maybe they'll think I'm weird, because I showed up to a party but wasn't really there in any way that was meaningful.

Thankfully, this being a Halloween party, I have the option of covering my face, and that helps: it'll get me through the door, anyway. I have to accept that my courage may fail me at some point, but that's okay.  There's a good chance that I'll actually have a great night.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Thought for the day: maybe now, you understand a little better

I saw a man, sitting alone in a corner.  People would talk to him, but still he looked so alone.  Occasionally, his face would brighten, when certain people in the room came to him.  With them, it seemed, he no longer felt alone.  I realised that those moments in which he truly connected with another human being were enough for him, that he was able to cope with the crushing loneliness, because a small number made him feel less lonely.

Then, I saw that he was carrying a huge weight.  I realised that he believed his purpose was to make others feel that they weren't alone in the world, that someone wanted to listen, that someone cared about how things were for them.  I thought it important that there were people who brought a smile to his face, in whose company he felt he could temporarily put down the weight he'd been carrying, but then I realised that those people were too few in number, and were heavily outnumbered by those who made him feel alone.  I felt so sad for him, and fought back the tears that were beginning to form in my eyes.

I saw how he was struggling to know what to say, and the weight was pressing down harder on him.  No one seemed to notice.  He didn't ask for help, but continued to listen.  I saw so many people feeling less alone in the world, as his own sense of loneliness grew.  I noticed how deflated he was feeling, and wondered why no one else was able to see it.  I wanted to tell him to run, to leave this place, but then I saw him looking towards one of the few who made him feel less alone, and thought I saw him smile.

I summoned up the courage to go and talk to him.  Thinking of how I'd seen him interact with others, I started by saying that he'd shown a lot of love to a lot of people.  I was shocked when he replied that sometimes he hated them.  He said that he saw so much cruelty and suffering in the world, and it affected him to the point where he felt sickened by it.  When I asked whether he felt people had been cruel to him, he bowed his head and, looking at the floor between his feet, said that he was more concerned about the suffering of others.

I thought about how this man, so affected by the suffering of others, had so many people coming to him to talk about their suffering.  When I put this to him, he said that he saw their pain, whether they came to him to talk about it or not.

I decided to introduce myself, but he said that he already knew my name, and I knew his.  He sensed my confusion, and extended his hand.

"Hello, you," he said, "meet you."

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Imbalance or, how I'm feeling

Someone wrote about how I'm feeling...

Then, I saw something written by a friend, and the feeling intensified...

One of the kindest things that anyone has ever said about me is that I don't know how much I help people.  I couldn't help thinking about this a few days ago, when I was at a dance, and a couple of friends were telling me to stop replying to my messages, at least for a while.

The problem is that, to a greater or lesser extent, I love everyone.  I'm not talking about the gushing, romantic love that you feel for your partner because, frankly, that would be weird, and more than a little problematic.  What I'm talking about is a tendency to care for others and be deeply affected by what they feel.

There are people to whom I willingly give my support.  I'm privileged to call a lot of these people my friends.  They are good, kind, generous, supportive and patient people.  There's a sense that I couldn't do enough for these friends because, as someone recently said of me, they're probably unaware of how much they help me.  The problem is that not everyone is so good.  There are people who abuse my good nature.

Where I'd disagree with the post about INFJ burnout is the need for validation.  I have a need to feel hope, though.   The world can seem like a cold, uncaring, unforgiving place.  If I spend too much time with people who demand my empathy and positive regard, and I feel I haven't received enough of these things myself, then the temptation to write the world off as a bad place and limit my contact with other people is strong.

The piece by my friend made me feel sad initially, that such expressions of acceptance are, for her, a rare occurrence right now.  Then, I felt hope, because at least one person refused to respond with fear, hatred or anger.  As the post mentions, in that area, there are more than enough reasons, historically, for the local population to feel those things.  Maybe the world isn't such a bad place.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016


The counselling skills course is coming to an end, and I knew the end was coming.  People move on, and that's not unexpected either.  Then, you start to realise that, even if you stay in touch, you'll never meet in the same way, or under the same circumstances, again.

I felt the same way when a year of studying the Welsh language came to an end.  In some ways, that was even harder, because people drifted away during the course, leaving a very small class.

I know it's that whole INFJ thing again.  I unintentionally pick up a lot about people, without trying.  At the end of a study year, especially in a subject like counselling, I feel that I know my fellow students.  I think back to that first class, when few people, if any, knew each other.  Friendships develop during the course, and then...

I know the social conventions.  I know that people don't understand how I see the world.  No one understands.  If I told people that I see the beauty in everything and everyone, they might suggest that I seek help.  Still, I detect warmth, sensitivity and other great qualities in certain people, and I wish I had a way to tell them that I see those things in them, without breaking the social norms or freaking them out.

What they see is someone who doesn't express these things.  Would I say that it might be nice to just hang out with them and chat some time?  Could I tell them how much I'd love that?  No, definitely not.  So, people don't know whether I even see them as a friend.  At most, I'll have the courage to say something that's very much an INFJ thing:

"If you ever need to talk, you know where I am."

That's the INFJ way of saying something we know we can't say, for fear of going against what's expected by those who don't see the world in the same way we do:

"I sense that you're a good person.  I see that in you.  I'd like it if we could get together some time, maybe, as friends, and just talk about things - anything, really.  I enjoy your company." 

Of course, you can't say any of that.  You're aware that most of your behaviour can be wrongly interpreted as flirting anyway, so telling someone that you like spending time with them is tantamount to booking a hotel room for the two of you, in their eyes.

How about saying you consider them to be a friend?  Whoa!  What if they don't say it back?  Or, worse, what if they say it back, and that talent you have, as an INFJ, for picking up what people are really feeling tells you that they don't mean it?  That's not just rejection.  That's the worst kind of rejection!  Besides, social norms dictate that, if you say any of that, they'll think you're a bit weird as well.

Play it cool.  That's the way.  There's no risk of rejection then.  People will walk out of your life, but at least you can believe they could have been friends.  No one will understand.  Only another INFJ would really understand, and you know how rare those are.  We're the loneliest people in the world, and yet we spend so much of our time making sure that others don't feel alone.

Sunday, 5 June 2016


"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." ~Lewis B. Smedes

I hadn't danced with her for over six months.  The last time I'd asked her to dance, she'd refused, telling me that I should ask someone else.  As the intermediate class came to an end, however, I found myself partnered with her.  I couldn't help thinking of the time when we were friends, and how we'd regularly dance together.

The talent I have for detecting the slightest changes in body language, facial expression and other things, interpreting them in terms of feelings, doesn't always serve me well.  The waves of animosity I felt coming from her made it difficult to concentrate, so I fell back to basic movements.  It was still a difficult dance.

As the music ended, I bowed politely, and thanked her for the dance.  She returned the bow.  As I started to process what I'd seen, I realised that there had been another feeling, hidden beneath the waves of animosity I'd detected all too clearly.  On the surface, she'd tried to appear impassive, but she hadn't been able to hide her ill feeling towards me.  Underneath all of that, there'd been another feeling entirely.

I see and hear a lot of things said and written about forgiveness and, to my mind, it's a concept that is often misunderstood.  Accepting an apology is not forgiveness, nor is a willingness to act as though no injury had been caused and no offence committed.  Forgiveness is not about the actions of another person: it is about us.

In the case of a friendship falling apart, it's natural to question how much of a part we played in its destruction.  Often, the degree to which we were responsible for the breakdown of the relationship is not important, and it's enough for us to simply acknowledge that we played our part.  From there, we may understand the actions of the other person, however hurtful, as a reaction.  We might feel that their actions weren't justified or were out of proportion, but these things aren't important.

The important thing to realise is that, when other people hurt us, it doesn't come from nowhere.  They hurt us because they, themselves, have been hurt.

Now we're getting to the essence of forgiveness.  I don't have to repair the relationship to forgive the other person.  What I have to do - and this is the whole point of forgiveness - is to let go of the hurt.  Forgetting the incident, or incidents, which caused the hurt is not a part of this.  Indeed, we must accept that these things happened, rather than brushing them under the carpet.  To forgive and forget, as they say, is the ideal, but forgetting is not always possible.

Sometimes, letting go of the hurt involves accepting that the relationship you once had with the other person is beyond repair.  This can be hard.  Unless it's in your nature to see people walk out of your life, which would say more about you than it does about them, it's difficult to come to terms with the fact that moving on involves firmly shutting the door on someone to whom you may once have felt close.

Forgiveness is all about letting go of the hurt.  Sometimes, however, it is about just letting go.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Making peace with myself

I'm told that, when I make a contribution during the class, what comes across to the rest of the group is a wealth of knowledge and depth of understanding.  It's also been said that I don't seem to realise how much I help people.  What I've heard from some of the people I've supported, whether informally or in my work, is that they've told me things they would never tell anyone else.  Occasionally, people go as far as to tell me that I've been good, that I've helped them, and they feel a weight has been lifted from their shoulders.

I should be able to accept all this positive feedback.  I think it's now reached the point where I really should accept it, because a failure to do so would suggest that either I don't trust the judgement of the people saying these things, or I believe they are being dishonest.  Actually, that was never the problem.  The problem was that I was suffering from impostor syndrome - a feeling that I really shouldn't have been there, and certainly not getting praise for it, because doing so only meant that I had successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of a lot of people.

I'm at an age where I've started to question everything that's happened in my life so far - the journey, as it were - and try to understand what it all means.  Hopefully, by asking ourselves these questions, and finding the answers, we reach a state of congruence, self-actualization, self-acceptance, or whatever it may be called in the school of psychology or belief system to which we subscribe.  I prefer to look at it as being at peace with who are, because I believe that reaching this state brings us peace and, if we are to make peace with the outside world and the people in it, we must first make peace with ourselves.  I also believe that, in trying to achieve this inner peace, we are, to some extent, aiming at a moving target.

I realise that a piece of writing such as this could be seen as a narcissistic drone, but I sincerely hope it doesn't come across as such.  If you see it in such a way, it is easy enough to stop reading.  Maybe you'll see something that applies to your own situation, though, and reading my self-absorbed waffling will help you in some way.  Has that been my intention all along?  I'll leave that for you to decide.

If we accept that a sense of inner peace is a moving target, how do we achieve inner peace?  Some people find it through religion or spirituality.  Some people find it through finding a sense of purpose.  I hear that some find a certain contentment in family life, whereas others like to travel and learn about cultures that are different from their own.  One of the things I find wonderful about us humans is that we are all so different.  It stands to reason that a sense of inner peace will look different to each of us and, as I have said, is likely to be something that changes over time.

I started by talking about my inability to accept positive appraisals of my ability as a counsellor.  I regard this as an obstacle on the path.  I feel that achieving a sense of peace within ourselves requires many of the same elements which are needed to make peace with others: patience, understanding and, most importantly in my eyes, acceptance.

We change and, hopefully, we grow as individuals.  So, a sense of inner peace is largely a moving target.  As much as we change, however, key aspects of us remain the same, or were there all along, and we were barely conscious of them.  We could see these as the core, or fundamental, truths of who we are.  In person-centred therapy, this is known as the organismic self.

Abraham Maslow spoke of a hierarchy of needs, where basic physical and safety needs must be met first, before a sense of belonging and self-esteem lead the individual further along the path towards what he termed self-actualization.  Maybe there should also be a hierarchy of acceptance, where we first accept the fundamental truths about ourselves, then the things about us that will change, before we are able to practise acceptance of the wider world and the people in it.

My own path is currently leading towards me becoming a counsellor, and stands in stark contrast to where I was being led by my earlier career and academic endeavours.  Looking back, I can see how I ignored the fundamental truths about myself or, as Carl Rogers might have said, I was in a state of incongruence.  What I would say is that, although I still struggle to accept positive feedback, I'm on a path where I feel more at peace with myself.  Should I say I'm in a more congruent state, or I'm further along the path to self-actualization?  I'd argue that those are equally valid, but those who know me will be aware of the effect that Zen philosophy has had on the way I see the world, and may be more surprised that I didn't refer to the path of enlightenment.

My reason for talking in terms of peace is that what I see are a great many people who aren't at peace with themselves.  Am I, through simply listening, without making judgements about them, able to help people find a way forward and feel more at peace with who they are?  I truly hope so.  I don't consider that I have any great skill or wisdom: I just listen.  If you've made it this far through my ramblings, then you have effectively done the same for me, and I offer you my most sincere thanks for that.