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This introvert’s bubble

I am an introvert.

If you were to ask Lord Google to define “introvert,” he’d tell you that means I’m “a shy, reticent person.” If you know me in person, chances are you’re laughing now. Shy? Ha! Reticent? Um, how do we get you to stop telling us exactly how you feel?!

I’d kindly ask that you not defer to deluded Lord Google here, and instead point you to the best succinct definition I can find: Urban Dictionary’s, which describes an introvert as a person “who is energized by spending time alone. Often found in their homes, libraries, quiet parks that not many people know about, or other secluded places, introverts like to think and be alone.”

Now there’s a spot-on definition! (If you’re interested in reading something a little longer and much more illuminating, this article is amazing.)

During my college years, I was lucky to be absorbed into a group of my sister Rache‘s friends who thought it was perfectly natural I’d show up at their parties only to fall asleep in the corner. They’d tease me playfully and with great love about it, all the while clearly recognizing–without my ever needing to describe myself as an introvert, or explain why I didn’t want to actually interact–that my craving contact without conversation was part of who I was. I was at home in the expansiveness of their undemanding, loving acceptance.

An article someone linked me once perfectly demonstrates how that group of friends became part of my safe space. The article, “A simple explanation of how to interact with introverts,” demonstrates in a few simple images the introvert magic those friends worked.

I’ve been thinking about that article a lot lately. I need a lot of space, physically and emotionally. My hectic life leaves me little of that, so that I’m always trying to recharge my battery three times faster than I’m actually able. I run around feeling forever depleted, though not eager to emphasize this in conversation. I’m determined to recharge as much as I can with the scant moments and inches I get, and to find and relish every bit of silver lining I can.

My bubbles work a little differently than in the illustrations linked above.

My default bubble size in all this hubbub is just so.

bubble 1

When I meet someone new, one of a few things could happen.

First is my very favorite possibility: They throw out a couple of feelers and chat from a safe distance, offering up conversational bits of themselves in exchange for my own conversational bits of myself. Their quiet respect means my bubble gets a little smaller in their presence. I rejoice their implicit acceptance. Yeah! Someone who won’t demand more of me than I am able to give!

bubble 2

Second is the most common: We chat. For whatever reason, conversation falters. We smile somewhat awkwardly, say our farewells, and wander separate directions with my bubble at default size.

Third is my very least favorite possibility: Someone tries walking right into my bubble. They can do this physically, by standing or lingering closer than I can tolerate, or with demanding, invasive words based on take instead of give.

bubble 3

“Tell me this,” “explain to me that,” “give me,” “you owe me” and words like these are sprinkled liberally through these conversations. Often these askers mean no ill will. They’re simply space unaware: I will bludgeon you with my affection! And yet, their space unawareness doesn’t make me more comfortable with them. It’s exhausting and makes me wish I were back with my sister’s friends, where they accepted what I gave instead of demanding what they wanted.

Unless someone’s actions are extremely aggressive, my bubble stays the same size at first. I just move it away a little so I’m back in my comfort zone.

bubble 1

Most people pick up on this. Phew.

Some are more aggressive, not as space perceptive, or both. They walk right back into my bubble.

bubble 3

As alarms go off, my default bubble size grows much bigger for that person. Since you’re not reading my milder cues, I’d better make it even more clear!

bubble 4

Remarkably, some people view this as an opportunity to push harder. But I gotta be there with you! You must let me in, because I want to be right there next to you, and my feelings should be more important to you than your own feelings!

My bubble gets bigger and bigger as I move further away in space and conversation, until–if push comes to shove–I’ll no longer bring my bubble anywhere near a person again, if I can help it. My days are already full enough of obligations to assume additional ones like “trying to adapt my personal space to make Bob happy.”

I grew up in challenging circumstances. I was fortunate to do so among three siblings who embraced me as I was, and later to find others who extended that embrace. My siblings’ and those others’ utter lack of need for me to be anyone other than myself, and their acceptance of me exactly as I came, was a gift I’ve only recently seen that many–unfortunately–do not receive … and some do not know how to extend.

I’m not looking to fill in spaces in my life or anyone else’s life. I don’t want to live in the center of a puzzle, with every bit of space around me forever filled. I’m not a puzzle piece. So it is that the people from whom I bubble away are those who’ve expected me to interlock with them this way or that, to give this or that of myself in their preferred manner, or to otherwise fill spaces they might perceive as empty in their own lives.

So it is that, perhaps confusingly, I hold nearest and dearest are the ones who offer me the most space. The ones who might not know what “introvert” means, and probably don’t care. To them, I’m just Deb, and their embrace of me exactly as I come, space bubbles, corner-sleeping-at-parties and all, is exactly why they remain ever welcome next to me and ever-present within my heart.

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  1. November 19, 2015 at 4:36 am

    I don’t know that I’d call myself introvert, but I recall falling asleep at Anna’s and such and didn’t think anything of falling asleep at Tims friends house when I became tired. I think some of the time I worked Noc shift and didn’t sleep well during the day. At one point One of T’sbest friends started treating me harshly and I had no idea why. At some point T asked me what was up and I said I didn’t really know.
    T asked his friend. His friend said it bothered him that I would fall asleep at their get together soon and that it was “rude.” I didn’t even know that and he didn’t tell me he just started treating me “rude.” T told his friend that he was marrying me soon and if he wanted to see T anymore at any get together a in the future he needed to get over his issues and start treating me better.he may have said other things as well,I wasn’t there. I appreciated him sticking up for me. T’s friend started treating me better after that. I really like and consider myself friends with this guys wife. We have been on friendly terms since.

    • November 19, 2015 at 9:47 am

      Rock on, T, for standing up for you! Strange that his friend went above and beyond finding it bizarre to actually being affronted by it, as if it were about him! One thing about growing up with Mom is having a really solid understanding that it (in this case, having a friend’s GF fall asleep at your house) is almost never about you but about what’s going on with them. 🙂

  2. November 19, 2015 at 5:03 am

    I am an extreme extrovert, although I do write for hours each day but that can also be social as I interact with other bloggers, work on character development etc. I am married to a somewhat introvert who has family members who are very introverted. I tend to get on well with more some introverts but I can find it quite hard at times when they don’t seem to reciprocate with all sorts of interactions and I can feel rejected. That hurts because I’m fairly sensitive. I found your post very interesting and I’m going to leave it open to come back to tomorrow. The illustrations are also very helpful.

    • November 19, 2015 at 9:52 am

      I, in turn, found your comment illuminating. I have good food for thought. Thank you.

      I am reminded how my husband was sure one of my friends hated him because she would seldom say a word to him. I assured him that was fine wih him. Still, it took several visits for him to go, “Oh, wait, she hardly talks to anyone!” Yup.

      We had a like incident with a preschool teacher. He was quicker to believe me this time when I said, “She’s a kid person putting on an adult face for just as long as she has to. It’s uncomfortable for her interacting with adults, that’s all.” And, indeed, her own bubble melted a bit as I left her to say as much or as little as she felt like. 🙂

      • November 19, 2015 at 3:05 pm

        My husband has a niece who is extremely quiet and chose to spend her 21st in a hotel reading a book. We get on quite well as I chat and I don’t expect her to talk a lot. Where I think I’ve had trouble is when introverts seem social of more extroverted and then pull back. I think there’s a lot of social pressure put on introverts to mix in and be more social than they possibly would like. I do a regular dose of extroversion and have a fabulous friend who is quite like me but I’d say most of my friends are more introverted and I’m the fall guy out the front.
        By the way, this is a topic which has intrigued me for a very long time and I’m enjoying our chat. xx Rowena PS my son needs to get to school!

  3. November 19, 2015 at 5:15 am

    Love those in our lives that understand we all can be different and accept us as we are, even when we need a bigger bubble! I struggled greatly when my son was little before I realized that asking him to respect my bubble would help him learn how to deal with others, and that sometimes I just needed a bigger bubble, and then sometimes he was able to totally invade my space. And to this day, he great at picking up signals in others and seeing when it’s an issue they have, not a reflection on him!

    • November 19, 2015 at 9:56 am

      Thank you for posting this! Since I had J, I have found space issues even more pronounced; there is almost always someone in my space. I noticed I sometimes felt invaded even by Li’l D’s presence, whereas before I never had that. I was always invigorated by it!

      I, too, have started explaining that sometimes–when especially drained–I need a few feet that are just mine, and that it’s not because I don’t love D or his snuggles. Exciting to get a telescope for how that might play out some years down the road!

  4. November 19, 2015 at 5:32 am

    I am an introvert – INFJ. I grew up with a VERY extroverted mom who just didn’t “get” me. At all. As a result of that, it took me a good long while to feel like my introverted traits are actually a *good* thing.

  5. November 19, 2015 at 6:10 am

    Yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss…
    *inhales*
    …ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.

    And the deviant art cartoon is pretty perfect.

    I’ve also fallen asleep at parties or near-strangers houses. I often find myself overwhelmed and wanting to sit in a chair in the corner to read, etc. As always, I love your stick-figure Deb drawings. ^_^

    • November 21, 2015 at 8:29 am

      I think we need to have some introvert parties where we all gather together and sitting around reading in our various spaces. I dig the sound of that. 😀 😀 😀

      I usually use GIMP on my laptop, but my laptop is a little wonky lately. I quickly found a fantastic online tool to which I’ll be contributing … since it makes animated GIFs, too, and I’ve got an animated GIF post swirling around my brain again!

  6. November 19, 2015 at 6:37 am

    Love this. All of this. Am the same. Now having said my piece, I’ll go back into my quiet, people-free world to recharge my batteries.

    • November 21, 2015 at 8:30 am

      I’m so, so very excited by the prospect of some such time next weekend! If I’m really lucky, I’ll be able to swing some holdover time this weekend. Fingers crossed …

  7. November 19, 2015 at 7:42 am

    “Lord Google” heh

  8. November 19, 2015 at 7:45 am

    This is totally me too. A lot of people think I’m an extrovert because I’ve done things like public speaking, teaching, and lots of travel, but those things really have nothing to do with whether one is an introvert or extrovert. I am essentially a quiet person who needs space to think, and to listen to the inner voice. I make finding that time every day a priority because when I don’t I get burnt out really fast.

    • November 21, 2015 at 8:37 am

      It’s the same here. I’m peppy and upbeat in conversation, and usually carry myself with confidence. These things aren’t what people expect in an introvert yet/still, so that they’re often surprised when I duck out or disappear for hours to work or be in quiet, or say “I’m doing nothing this weekend–it’s the perfect weekend!” It’s why Anthony asks me what I’d like to do for recuperation time and is still sometimes surprised when I say things like, “I don’t want to go out. I want you to take the kids out. That’s how I’ll recharge fastest!”

      I burn out really fast without time to recharge, too. The last several weeks have offered very, very little opportunity to recharge with even more than usually energy output, a perfect combination for a perfect disaster. Yet as I type this, I’m smiling, because I’ll have little bits of time to recharge over the next couple of weeks, perhaps even a significant bit or two. YES!

  9. November 19, 2015 at 8:57 am

    Ah, yes, I know all about this. Beautifully said. A lot of people do indeed equate shyness with introversion, but they are two different things. I used to be painfully shy. I’ve overcome that to a good degree, but my introversion remains ever present. I have few people inside my bubble. 🙂

    • November 21, 2015 at 8:38 am

      Thank you! It’s so heartening to me to read this thread and breathe in the goodness of being (virtually) among My People. ♥

  10. November 19, 2015 at 9:18 am

    I really enjoy this because I am a severe introvert though others completely deny my ‘introverted’ nature. I give as much energy as I can to my job and coworkers but after a certain point my body and mind begin to shut down. I was always told what I was was wrong, when I was a kid I didn’t talk at all and absolutely kept to myself. Now with my career I push myself out there but once I get home I’m on shutdown non-talking mode to rebuild my energy reserves.

    It gives me a lot of comfort to know that I’m an introvert and that there’s nothing wrong with it. Those who I want to keep in my bubble won’t care that I want to be private or ask me to change who I am.

  11. November 19, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Decidedly an introvert here. Which some find difficult to accept. Tough. Their problem, not mine.
    I need time alone to process things and/or recharge. Mostly I find it by getting up earlier than the rest of the household, and having a few quiet hours before dawn.
    And if I don’t find it, two things happen. I wilt (big time) or the psycho bitch from hell surfaces.
    My personal space requirements are big too. I remember (with horror) a science teacher from school who delighted in invaded that space and seeing if she could force all of us to sit in one tiny corner of those long science benches. She said it was an indicative experiment, but she often did it. I would classify it as sadism.

  12. November 19, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    I have a very strong bubble and I’m very selective about who I let in. I get this. Totally.

  13. November 19, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    I think I am an introvert too, and I appreciate your descriptions as well as your drawings. I can definitely relate to your feelings. People trying to infiltrate my bubble are repellent. I literally back up further and further until I am comfortable. The people pleaser in me wars against this side, worrying about hurting people’s feelings or what they think. But as my self confidence grows, I am less altered by others’ actions, respecting my own needs. It’s very freeing.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

  14. November 19, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    I’ve always loathed those definitions of introvert that peg someone as shy. While I have my anxiety and such, I feel exhausted by being around people and come home and getting some alone time is the only way to get re-energized.

    Love your bubble drawings, btw.

  15. Sumedha.
    November 19, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    I could relate so much!!

  16. November 20, 2015 at 7:23 am

    Yep. That is sooooo me.

  17. November 20, 2015 at 7:36 am

    I think we talked about this a while back, probably when you commented on my post on shyness. I deeply appreciate you writing this down (with illustrations!), as I’ve often found introversion difficult to understand. I don’t know where I fit in the whole flux of personalities, but I do try my best to bounce off the energies of people who maybe classified as introverts or extroverts. That has always been more challenging for me, than my own introversion/extroversion (I think I have both!). It can get so hard to navigate at times who wants you to be interested, and who’d rather be left in their own space, especially when you barely know them and are stuck with them in a group scenario.

  18. C-Mo
    November 20, 2015 at 8:53 am

    Yes! Thank you for the visuals as well as the spot-on text. Made me smile because it’s just the way I often feel.
    The book “Quiet” did it for me. The subtitle is “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” and the author is Susan Cain.
    It explained how I can be an introvert, this person who was so “out there” as a kid and teen, and shone on stage, and wanted to be an actress for life, but who grew into an adult who prefers to be alone and finds parties and mass celebrations – even malls at holiday time – exhausting.
    Susan Cain defined it just as the Urban Dictionary did – extroverts feel energized by lively social interaction. Introverts feel enervated by it and recharge by being alone and quiet (or with other people who respect their need to retreat).
    She also explains that many introverts have learned how to be extroverted in their jobs, in school, wherever it might be needed, because our culture celebrates the extrovert and is suspicious of the introvert. It has moved so far into the “team” arena that classes are set up without space between desks (clusters that face each other) and offices have “open space” plans where no one has privacy or personal boundaries.
    The fact is, it’s often in that quiet, solitary place, that introverts come up with the revolutionary ideas that no amount of group brainstorming will ever pull out of them. Some of us *need* that solitude to delve into whatever we have to consider and group-speak keeps us from doing that.
    It’s a little reminiscent of some doomsday scifi stories in which privacy becomes subversive.
    What are you hiding?????
    The book gave me a big boost – allowed me to stop looking askance at myself and celebrate the power of being just as I am (like a lot of very famous people who have made huge contributions to society). And, it seems, a bit like you!

  19. November 20, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Very interesting post. I’m more of an extrovert. I’m a retired teacher who loved talking in front of folks, but here is where my introverted nature kicks in. I slowly build up a desire to be left completely alone. I spent most of my life a single guy. I loved it. As I once told a man and his wife, “there’s no joy like waking up alone.” He had no clue. She understood. But it was true. I loved being with people, but only when I could escape to my own world of books and silence and of course my beloved cat, Wuki. Now I’m older and married to a most wonderful Japanese woman who loves the quiet life as I do. For me, it’s still the balance. I need to “get out” a bit but then I must retreat sometimes for a while.
    Your post makes so much sense. I loved the cartoons. Thank you!

  20. November 21, 2015 at 4:42 am

    Yes, that is it exactly. I once described myself as a social introvert. I am perfectly comfortable in social settings, perfectly comfortable speaking to large audiences, perfectly comfortable in my work setting. I am perfectly comfortable with my group of friends who know me and understand my need for quite, peace, alone (thankfully). For me, my comfort doesn’t translate into being energized by any of these settings, at the end I am sucked dry of emotional energy, without the ability to move back into my safe place I find myself becoming more and more emptied out.

    I think I am like you in many ways, I have never seen it explained so well though.

  21. November 21, 2015 at 6:51 am

    i’m gonna try that penciled bubble thing
    around myself at the necessary moments!
    wishing you happiness with
    and without others 🙂

  22. November 22, 2015 at 6:57 am

    Love this and totally get this. I think I fall somewhere between introvert and ambivert. Mostly leaning toward introvert. Hard to explain to people why working at home on the phone all day is so physically draining, but it is. 🙂

  23. November 28, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    Oh my god. Finally, I’ve found someone who expresses the same feelings as I do about being an introvert. Being constantly questioned about why I don’t interact much is so annoying. Extremely relatable post

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