Although some introverts don’t mind setting clear, firm boundaries with neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family, there are other introverts who seem to be magnets for people and seem to just take the overload until they get to a breaking point. I’m that way and I know a lot of you are. We’re the ones who can get on an elevator with someone, and by the time we get to our floor we know all of the other person’s deepest fears and life history. We may find ourselves listening to others for hours on end, and we try to offer helpful advice. Then we finally reach the point one day where we don’t want to spend another minute in the company of people. We may avoid those who push us and won’t leave us alone, or if we can’t get away we may lash out and say something that finally hurts the other person’s feelings. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a knob like a volume knob, to just dial back the attention of other people, without them getting offended? Maybe if we didn’t let it all get so out of hand, we could keep things on a more even keel.
How approachable do I want to be?
Well, what I’d really like is for everyone to think I’m a fun and wonderful person, yet somehow just be psychic and leave me alone when I want to be left alone. That isn’t the way it works though, so I realize I need to make some conscious decisions about how I want to teach others to treat me. One idea would be to do like one introvert in my office who is really nice to everyone but has made a sort of rule: he doesn’t go out to lunch except on Fridays and everyone knows it. I’m not ready to set an arbitrary day of the week to go out, because there may be Tuesdays when I want to go and there may be Fridays when I don’t. It really is more a matter of who’s going and what the rest of the day is like. I haven’t yet decided how I want to shape this all, yet of course by not making a deliberate plan, I’ve already established some ideas in other peoples’ heads of course, for better or worse. People form impressions of us even when we’re not trying to give them any information to go on! Usually I do go out with others when invited, and I initiate a lunch with the coworkers I know best, every couple of weeks. I also go straight to my office when I get to work in the morning, even though I genuinely like and enjoy almost everyone who is gathered in the break room or halls talking to one another, because I really like to just ease into my day instead of doing all the early morning small talk. In some ways I seem to be avoiding the subject and hoping others will read my mind. That may produce mixed results!
Since I adore notebooks and other office supplies 🙂 I keep thinking of getting some sort of log book and making a detailed plan for how approachable I want to be, in all aspects of life. Do I want friends to feel free to drop in, or should they only come over when we have plans? Do I want neighbors to just ring the doorbell anytime, or will they only see me as someone to wave to when we’re both outside? Am I going to encourage people to call me on the phone? (Hmmm..no.)
It could take a long time to think about what I truly want for each part of life, but I believe it’s worth at least thinking about. After all, if I get fed up with people and start acting like a prickly pear in order to be left alone, then I’ll have no one to talk to if I ever needed someone. I will have offended a lot of people whose company I might enjoy, just in smaller doses than others might expect.
One obvious answer is – I could be nice and even approachable at all times, but know how to say “no” gracefully without feeling guilt and without getting annoyed. That was easy to write, but when I don’t want to be bothered, I really don’t want to be asked. Especially if the other person won’t take no for an answer.
I’m still hoping I can figure out a way to act consistently so that I’ll have just the right amount of social interaction, instead of my current pattern of letting people get close, closer, too close, then avoiding the hell out of them when I get too much. Do you already have this figured out? In other words, are you comfortable with the level of interaction you have with others around you? Also, for those of you who are lonely, this is a good time to think – do you really want to be invited to all those parties, and do you really want a big pack of friends to do everything with? How much do you really want?
Photo credit: saital