As I continue work on a new project highlighting introversion, I’ve had the opportunity to revisit my first treatise on the topic, The I’s Have It. For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing tidbits that could be helpful as you gear up for the fall. Today: from chapter 6, a little something on cultivating resilience.
Because introversion is an internally focused concept, it necessarily creates a kind of insulation between the individual and the rest of the world. It’s difficult to peek out from behind that insulation; it takes a tremendous amount of trust and energy to do so. And in the event that this leap isn’t rewarded as we expect, we struggle to recover. Criticism that might roll off the back of less internally critical individuals sticks with us, rumination over how we might salvage a bad situation goes on longer than it would for extroverts.
Take, for example, the student event that our office hosts that draws twenty students instead of two hundred. The proposal we present to our boss that gets declined. The student who shows anger at our enforcement of College or University guidelines. Any or all of these situations are uncomfortable for us as professionals. A gap between our expectations and reality is always difficult to overcome. But for introverts, the chasm between our hopes and a less than fulfilling final result is especially difficult to cope with. Why?
Well, think back to your younger days, to a time when you built a sandcastle. If you never did, think of any children you saw doing it on TV or in a movie. These structures take meticulous planning and a great deal of time to set correctly. Grand plans are made in our heads about them standing the test of time, and exceeding our wildest dreams. Now imagine someone knocked down your castle before you were ready. It could be an angry sibling, a careless passerby, or even nature asserting herself in the form of waves breaking on the shore. It’s a crushing blow to feel as though your time and work were wasted, as though your efforts weren’t appreciated as they should have been, and as though your confidence is shaken at the sight of a crumbling construction. That feeling can consume an introvert when expectations change or the sting of rejection is felt, particularly to those introverts who are also classified as highly sensitive (the Myers-Briggs “F”s, for those who measure temperament by that scale).
But just as there is a great deal of confusion about showing too little interest in social endeavors, there is considerable confusion from extroverts about why these, in their eyes, easily navigable setbacks are felt so deeply by their quieter counterparts. Just as we glorify the virtue of charisma, we also glorify the virtue of resilience. And just as with charisma, the appearance of effortless resilience isn’t easy. Here again, the application of our operative phrase for the mask of introversion, ease, returns to prominence. Moving on after a disappointment is hard for all of us. But rebounding quickly is even harder for introverts.
So how do we soften the blow of these disappointments in a moment where it may not be possible to fully process them?
- Restore equilibrium. For all your efforts to temper your reaction to a disappointment or letdown, it may still take you a moment to return to equilibrium. Take that moment. Trying to suppress it or push it off will only place you further off balance, making you more uncomfortable. If you need to adjourn to the nearest restroom, your car, or some hidden place on campus, do so to regain your composure. There is nothing wrong with feeling an emotion fully; allow yourself to do so, with the aid of the other tips listed here.
- Adopt a mantra. A mantra isn’t going to fix the deep pain, frustration, embarrassment or shame that you feel in the moment after you’re hurt, but it will help you to restore composure until you’re in an environment where you can truly allow yourself to feel. This mantra should acknowledge what you’re feeling, advise you to momentarily put the feeling away, and reassure you that you will overcome what troubles you. One of my go-to mantras to help divert my frustrations is: “This is uncomfortable right now. But you know it’ll pass. You can do this.” A series of short sentences, as simple as that, can keep you from the rare but significant outbursts introverts can have when overwhelmed.
- Recall triumphs. Because introverts find it so easy to retreat to their own thoughts, they have long memories. But all humans, regardless of temperament, hold bad memories more tightly than good ones. The result, for introverts, can be a loop of bad experiences and disappointments. When you’re feeling low or defeated, challenge yourself to recall the good memories. Chances are, you have had positive experiences as often (or more often!) as you’ve had bad ones. Find the good, and allow those moments to fill your thoughts. Don’t discount the lessons that can be learned from your mistakes, but don’t take the occurrence of a mistake to mean that you’re incapable of success either.
- Take to the paper. One of my favorite presidents, and a noted introvert, is Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a master of the unsent letter. In Lincoln on Leadership, Donald T. Phillips spoke of Lincoln’s habit of venting frustration through “extended letters of refutation.” Phillips noted that the act itself provided the necessary catharsis; “he felt better for having stated his case but did not want any of his angry or emotional remarks made public.” A great gift of the introverted mind is its ability to brilliantly and vividly express itself in writing. In times of frustration, high anxiety, or sadness, carry these feelings to the page. Don’t worry about grammar, convention, or wording- just express yourself. The ability to express your feelings without judgment or interruption will likely help you calm down, easing your return to equilibrium.
If you’re interested in The I’s Have It, a guide to leading a thriving professional life as an introvert, head here and use the code E8Q5G4QE for 20% off your copy!