As I’ve started to try to analyze the kinds of activities that I do with others that exhaust me the fastest and what I do to catch a refreshing break, eye contact is the number one battery drainer for me. A regular party will wear me out much faster than a game-watching party, drive, or walk with a group. That’s not only because there can be more lapses in talking when doing one of the latter things; it’s mainly because I am not connecting so intimately with another person through eye contact. I am an INFJ, and I’m very sensitive to the feelings of others and the nuances of their behavior, so that may be one reason that so much eye contact floods my brain after a while and I can take no more. Sometimes at a party, even with familiar people I love, I have to take a break to do something that directs my visual attention somewhere besides faces – help put out more snacks, pick up empty glasses, really anything to give my eyes and my brain a break.
Everyone understands that eye contact is important, whether good or bad. Some societies consider it rude to gaze steadily at someone, but of course here in the U.S. we are taught to maintain as much eye contact as possible, in order to show that we are interested in the other person. In my case, I always look directly at someone the whole time he is speaking, but I glance away from time to time while I am doing the talking. I can’t think as well if I’m talking and looking straight into someone else’s eyes with no break, and I think most people around me follow that style too, so I’m getting a break while they glance away here and there during their own speaking time. My problem is that there are some people who never look away, even when they are doing the talking. No matter whether they’re talking or listening, they’re looking right into my eyes with their own, and I get so exhausted (or overwhelmed??) that soon I find myself almost unable to look at them.
I hate to avoid eye contact, because I know that it appears I’m not interested, but with these steady gazers I find myself breaking eye contact abruptly when I can take no more. I can’t even will myself to maintain the communication with my eyes. I mentioned this issue to a friend who totally understood and suggested the following:
Try to imagine their eyes are something you really like, and not eyes – the gateway into people. After all, imagination is stronger than willpower.
That was brilliant. I do consider eyes the gateway into people, and that’s why the constant contact is just too much sometimes.
I had a chance to test this out the past couple of days, and it really works! One guy who is super nice but just never looks away (probably taught to do that in some class he took I guess) used to really wear me out and unfortunately I’d keep looking away while he talked, since he never looked away. So this time when I started feeling the urge to avoid his eyes while he was talking, instead I considered his eyes to just be objects – like pieces of candy – not eyes boring into me. And it’s funny – it made the whole thing a little abstract, like watching a news anchor on a TV screen. After all, they don’t wear me out. So I was able to keep looking at his face while he talked, and finally I could see that he actually did look away now and then. I was able to use that idea several times, and just like my friend said it would, my imagination helped me where my willpower never would have.
I’m going to try to practice this idea with all the people I talk to, to see if it will help my people-energy to last longer when I have days with lots of face-to-face conversations with others. Do you find yourself wanting to avoid eye contact when you’ve had enough of being with others?
Photo credit: Clearly Ambiguous