Realising I’m an extrovert

I’ve spent a huge portion of my life telling the world (and myself) that I don’t like people. It’s nothing personal: people are lovely I’m sure. I just find them hard work. I always assumed I was a bit of an introvert, preferring my own company; chatting on social media is plenty of interaction where I can more easily create boundaries and step away with ease.

But this weekend I realised I’m wrong. That I am the very definition of an extrovert. That is, I am energised by social interaction, and isolation leaves me anxious, withdrawn and at its very worst, depressed.

You’d think I’d have been clued in when I went self-employed originally and found myself chatting up the postman and inviting in religious callers for a cup of tea, until the isolation (amongst other things) pushed me back into full time employment.

You’d think I’d have been clued in when, before Gaz moved in, I would regularly ask Gaz to come over for an extra night because the thought of spending those hours alone in the time between my kids going to bed and them waking up in the morning drove me to despair (and crying into my wine).

You’d think I’d have been clued in when, after going back to self-employment in July, after a short period of “yay I can do whatever I like” the reality of sitting alone day in, day out — particularly during the summer when I didn’t even have the kids to break the monotony — hit me hard, giving me one of my longest ‘low’ periods yet.

Nope, I was oblivious. I knew working alone was getting to me, but I didn’t realise to what extent. However, as a bit of an ‘experiment’ I asked Gaz if he’d take me out on Saturday. We went to a local pub that usually has live music over the weekend, and I drank and danced and talked to people and connected and told people how fab they looked and — aside from one wanker who wouldn’t leave me the fuck alone — generally felt energised and happy and awesome. I’m still feeling ‘high’ today!

Maybe I really was an introvert, and I have changed as I’ve grown. Or maybe that’s what I told myself so that I could more easily deal with every past attempt at socialising being questioned, controlled, critiqued. It’s easier to pretend you don’t like people than to admit your relationship is failing, after all.

OK, so this weekend was just one occasion. I can’t guarantee that getting out and being with people is the answer to my problems. It sure as hell has given me the motivation to attempt to do something about them, though. I need to stop talking about “getting out of the house” and actually do it. Game on…

The Problem with Empathy

Today’s post was going to be a review of the pizza place that Gaz and I went to on Friday night, but rather last minute I thought I’d swap it out for something a bit more personal; something that has been bothering me all week.

I’ve talked a little before about some of the side effects of having been in an emotionally abusive relationship, including excess empathy:

As a result of spending a huge part of my life waiting for incidents and accidents I’ve developed a weird sort of hypervigilance. I have empathy up to the eyeballs which allows me to very quickly identify with other people’s range of moods and feel spectacular depths of happiness [..] and, conversely, sadness.

Apparently this is quite normal in those who’ve been through abuse:

It is the act of putting oneself second above others, worrying about the needs and wants of others, and being completely reactionary toward others. What that means is that the person in question becomes hypersensitive to the emotions and emotional states of their abusers, in order to adjust their own behaviors, emotions, and responses accordingly. It is a survival mechanism born out of a moment of great need.

Empathic Perspectives: The Abused Empath

The problem is, while I have started to recognise this in myself and how it applies to relationships, and have been working on toning it down using Gaz’s more reasonable emotional response to situations as a benchmark, I still have issues with “3rd party” situations: things that occur that are outside of my personal “sphere”, and oftentimes completely out of my control.

The heavy social and traditional news media focus on the refugee crisis this week has been hugely difficult for anyone with an ounce of empathy, unsurprisingly. I have found it mentally crippling. I spent a huge portion of the week browsing social media with images disabled in my browser so that I wouldn’t have to see THAT photo again. Because to do so would wipe me out for a couple of hours, alternating between hopeless crying and feelings of utter uselessness and despair.

I have had to switch myself back and forth between retweeting and sharing stories / campaigns to raise awareness (and money) and complete emotional shutdown in a desperate attempt to maintain some level of control and be able to function as an adult (i.e. to work, communicate rationally, etc)

I understand why people are sharing those photos: I get it. I can’t quite decide if I think it’s entirely necessary, but I get it.

The problem with empathy is that in my head (against my better judgement and logical thinking) the world’s problems become my problems. And I realise that sounds ridiculously narcissistic, but trust me, it’s not something I actually want to feel. I don’t mean for this post to sound so “me me me”. I’m not telling you this now because I want pity. I don’t want pity. I definitely don’t need pity. This crisis is clearly not about me.

I’m telling you this because I want people to understand that someone who doesn’t participate in extended campaigning, or doesn’t share those pictures, or doesn’t stick hashtags on pictures of their own kids looking forlorn to exploit people’s emotions (thanks for that) so that they (the viewer) stick another fiver on the pile is not necessarily avoiding it because they don’t care, or lack compassion, or don’t want to help this horrible situation. No, it might actually be quite the opposite.

If you have the means to do so, please consider donating your time, your money, or necessary goods to aid the refugee crisis. The Independent has a good list of ways to help. Don’t tell me what you’ve done though, I don’t need to know just to believe you’re a good person (and neither should anyone else.)