What I do on My Blog v. What I do In Real Life

So it seems like every time I say to myself, “Whatever, I need a week off from blogging, no one will notice,” I invariably go to a party or parties and 2-4 people will tell me they’ve been enjoying my blog. OKAY SERIOUSLY I FEEL GUILTY NOW GOOD JOB. One friend even said that when I miss a week, I often make up for it with a great post the next. JEEBUZ PRESSURE ON AUGH.

Anyway, it seems like a good time to give you a little Superman vs. Clark Kent insight on Sami the Blogger vs. Sami the Human. Also I need to point out it’s uncharacteristic for me to make a geek pop culture reference (even as obvious as this) and I’m pretty jazzed for myself.

A blessing for continuity (and my own sanity): my two personas subscribe to many of the same mantras. Yet, due to their different superpowers (or lack thereof), they wield these edicts differently.

Sometimes it’s Less Important to be Accurate than to be Kind

sometimes-its-less-important-to-be-accurate-than-to-be-kind Sami the Blogger: Yeah, okay, you’re trying to impress people with your brain and word powers and everything, but don’t fail to acknowledge those who disagree with you with compassion from time to time. (At least from a practical standpoint, you’re going to lose readers.)

Sami the Human: What better way to show I respect someone than to support their ideas? At times it verges on enabling, the way I cater to people’s fantasies, but I’d rather do that than be a source of discouragement for the people I love.

Intent isn’t Magic

intent-isnt-magic Sami the Human: I know that a person’s motivation for an action is somewhat unknowable and for the most fun I should give people, as much as possible, the benefit of the doubt. But if someone is bothering me, occasionally I have to let go of empathy and protect myself. E.g. stop worrying so much about why someone is doing something, and just think about if I want to be a part of it.

Sami the Blogger: People’s motivations are somewhat unknowable and I am more interested in examining the ramifications of their behaviors or mindsets which allow the behavior to continue. It doesn’t matter if someone was just trying to be nice, really likes me, or is socially awkward. If their actions have sexist or homophobic effects, then I will examine them.

 Perspective. Perspective. Perspective.

Perspective Blogger Sami: Taking the time to micro-analyze a behavior in a blog essay brings me great pleasure. I enjoy exploring the implications and subtleties of human behavior. Maybe I over-think things, but it helps me.

Human Sami: Time to zoom WAY out. I need to stay focused on the big picture. And the other picture. And the other, other picture. I will immerse myself in as many perspectives as possible so I won’t be phased by the strange or uncomfortable. Or so I try.

Holy Crap. I’m Actually Happy

actually-happy Human: As I sit on the glittery seat of my roommate’s red, diner-style bench, having just finished a meal of microwaved hot-dogs and fresh-picked arugula salad, my eyes unfocus and these words float to my consciousness, “I’m happy.” I am utterly incredulous that I am happy. After a history of depression, I still feel so strange and grateful that my default emotion is positive. Sometimes it makes it hard to be productive, because I don’t feel like I should be doing anything at all except basking in this hard-earned light. Yet it also means I am pretty damn free to do whatever my whims mandate.

Blogger: Doesn’t really matter what I write, if I do a good job, what people think, because at the end of the day I’m pretty stoked about how I feel and how well I’m doing mentally. Might as well keep trying to meet that weekly deadline and see what happens next. (Watching the views grow, well that doesn’t hurt either.)

How to be confident

Why am I so confident?

I want to analyze this, make a formula, spread the wealth.  Confidence is amazing and also useful at parties; I want you to have it.

I'm confident enough to wear a bunch of beanie babies I hot glued together as a garment.

I’m confident enough to wear a bunch of beanie babies I hot glued together as a garment.

Maybe it’s because…

  • I was a perfectionist from age 8 to age… 15.  This may have helped me develop the skills to perform under pressure and avoid messy mistakes like it’s second nature.  Somehow, though, I spent very little time criticizing myself as perfectionists are wont to do, and more time trying to get better and better. Crazy shit like making lists of attributes I’d like to have (“eloquence, uniqueness, compassion”) and breaking down the steps to attain them…
  • …But then I gave myself permission at some point to not be a perfectionist.  Some mistakes still send me into an anxious fit.  I hate making driving mistakes (like hitting a curb, cutting off someone).  I think that’s fair – driving is probably the most dangerous activity I participate in day to day.
  • I grew up an arrogant little bastard.  A few years spent thinking I’m better than everyone else may have wired my neurons firmly to the confidence centers in my brain. I’ve changed my ways, though, and really don’t care if anyone is better than me or I better than them. This happened when I went to England and was surrounded by fantastic people. I realized it was much more enjoyable to be in awe of them than to compete…
  • …And I’m not really competitive at all. I am self-competitive, trying to get better at things for my own satisfaction.  But I will surrender quickly if I realize it’s not worth my trouble to battle with someone. I’ve learned how to enjoy other people’s wins.
  • I am bloody good at some things.  It’s easy to feel great when people are complimenting me on skills I’ve acquired over the years.
  • I’m kind of a braggart. This creates a cycle in which I show off, receive praise, and want to show off more. Somehow I have avoided the whole “I neeeeeeed people’s approval” bit and just taken away a shamelessness when it comes to displaying myself. It’s easy to feel confident when I’m waving around my peacock tail and hearing sweet oohs and ahhs…
  • …And I don’t just show off my good side.  Everything is out there.  I’m an over-sharer, ridiculously honest.  It’s easy to feel confident when I’ve got nothing to hide.
  • I dealt with mind-numbing depression for a good many years.  (Still boggled and exhilarated every time I realize I’m better now.)  It’s hard for the small hurdles in life to seem significant when my biggest drain was my own personal hell. Yes, I had phases of hating myself, but for the most part that wasn’t the route my depression took.  In my backbreaking effort to get better, I worked out little checkpoints with myself. Instead of focusing on how horrible I was for not getting better, I focused on how horrible I felt.  It’s as if my self-preserving instincts saved me.  I also made it a point to keep functioning in society, so I learned how to fake it despite the depression.  It’s easy to feel confident when I’ve gone through the wringer and come out a better person.
  • I am (usually) good at empathizing.  This makes it easier to understand other people’s actions and motivations and avoid blaming myself for things that aren’t my fault.
  • I was in an emotionally manipulative relationship for 4 years.  I came out of that with the determination to not let someone make me feel like that ever again.  And I’ve managed to reconcile with my ex, be friendly with him, and have closure.
  • I have anxiety, but I fend it off pretty well.  I redirected it early on (subconsciously) to things that didn’t matter.  Instead of worrying about tangible things – school, friendships, my appearance – I would worry about strange things like the way colors seemed to jump at me or by imagining my depth perception was failing. I use my imagination to help me not take my anxiety seriously, make it somewhat of a game.
  • I decided it would be advantageous/attractive/fun to be fearless during my “self-improvement” phase.  So I made sure to practice not being afraid and taking risks to impress people.  I still do that a bit like the unblushing boaster that I am.
  • I surrounded myself with people who are good for me, and made it a point to always be grateful for them.  I have supportive close buddies, an amazing girlfriend, and friends who inspire me.  I try to figure out how to make people feel good, and in return they give me kind and appreciative friendships.  I also make sure to let people know what I want, and they happily oblige me since I made things easy for them.   (i.e. I tend to tell people what a sucker I am for verbal affirmations, and which kinds.)

So, I’m sure I could think of other things, but now I want to hear what the community has to say.  What makes you feel confident?  How confident are you?  How confident do you perceive others to be?

You’re not introverted, you just have problems

Based on Eysenck's personality theory (I didn't make this up) -- click for larger view.

Based on Eysenck’s personality theory (I didn’t make this up) — click for larger view.

I don’t think I took much issue with the idea of a person calling themselves introverted until an infamous comic told me that (as an extrovert) I’m basically a predator trying to steal energy juice and don’t take it personally, it’s just that interaction is expensive and introverts don’t want to spend it on something wasteful. Excuse me, but sorry for annoying you with my friendship.

A few of my introvert-identified friends also took offense to this comic, so it isn’t just obnoxious-extrovert-me who doesn’t get it.

I strongly identified as an introvert when I was young (years 5-19). I had the “running monologue” in my head at all times. I needed copious amounts of alone time to “recharge.” My bedroom door was always closed, and I taught my brother to knock so I could be alone with my books, drawings, and thoughts. Of course, during most of this time I also “hated humans,” suffered severe major depression, and had general anxiety disorder.

Now that I identify as an extrovert, I find that I’m not sure if I love myself or people better. I default to a sense of contentment or even happiness. Alone time is not painful or anything, but no longer all that necessary. Oh and that running monologue goes away when I’m around people.

It has been my belief that I was a “false introvert” and that aligning myself with that personality type was a source of unhappiness for me (or just indicative of my crippled emotional state), and that is why being an extrovert feels more natural and comfortable.

So, for personal reasons, when I meet an unhappy introvert, I suspect that they are not introverted. They just need therapy. Happy introverts (and it seems like they do exist: study 2001) can carry on, this isn’t about you.

Introversion/extroversion is frequently tested on the Eysenck personality questionnaire, which just seems to allow a lot of people to self-select for social anxiety disorder if you ask me.  You’re asked to rate how well you identify with personality statements, which are testing for both introversion/extroversion and emotional stability.

If you’re emotionally stable, you can be on the more sociable/carefree/easygoing side of things, or you can be on the more thoughtful/calm/peaceful side of things. There’s not really a huge difference in the “introversion/extroversion” personality traits, except that extroverts are “more social.”

Non-emotionally stable people are divided into two groups, which seem to be overly-social verging-on-being-a-sociopath for the extroverts (“I would like other people to be afraid of me”) and severe anxiety for the introverts (“I fear for the worst” and “I am very moody”).

Extroverts, of course, are the strong majority.  So much so that introversion was considered for inclusion in the DSM-5 (Psychology Today 2010). In other words, for a hot minute we were going to call introversion a personality disorder. There’s definitely a trope of “I am an introvert, therefore I have a social disadvantage.” In an extroverted, highly social world, this feeling makes a lot of sense.

However, humans are and always have been social beings. It doesn’t make sense to me why this commonly accepted test focuses so much on sociability. You have to admit that even introverts are decidedly social, suffering when there is a lack of human interaction, otherwise the world would have a lot more hermits.

While I don’t doubt that introversion/extroversion are legitimate ways to describe a personality, the fact that there is not a reliable standard to measure, and that the accepted standards center too much on “being social,” you end up with a strong dividing line in the types of people who consider themselves an introvert. Some focus on their inability to be comfortable in social situations (Eysenck introverts). Others prefer a more nuanced understanding of introversion (focusing on communication and relationships styles, preferences for certain types of activities and ways of relating with the world).

Further muddying the conversation about introvert v. extrovert personality types is the idea that it is a spectrum, and fluid. This of course has to be considered, because most human attributes work this way. Still, what this means is that people can self-define their own style of introversion, and I have seen so many custom definitions that the dichotomy frequently fails to be relevant.

What I am seeing is a lot of self-proclaimed introverts excusing their anxious behavior on a tenuous label. “Big crowds are just too much for me, because I’m an introvert,” or, “I just can’t keep up in conversations because it takes me longer to process in social situations…and extroverts have no filters.” I’m seeing people I care about diverting attention from overcoming their social anxiety by excusing it due to introversion.

If you are terrified by a crowded party, overcome with worries and insecurities, frozen by your inability to talk to people…. you can’t ask me to respect that as just a part of who you are. No one should be expected to cope with that lifelong. I will give space and I will assist people who are struggling with anxiety, but I’m not doing it because I accept the anxiety. You’re not introverted, you just have problems.

Yes, the Eysenck test divides emotional instability by introversion/extroversion. But I won’t accept cherry-picking the emotional problems you identify with as a valid “diagnosis” of introversion. Perhaps, like I did, you have a secret extrovert inside of you who is trapped by feelings of moodiness and pessimism.