Introverts, Extroverts, Neon Nose Rings and Being True to Our Selves

The difficulty of being seen and heard as an authentic person.

There’s an interesting – and somewhat paradoxical – psychological principle which is that THE MORE WE BECOME OURSELVES, THE LESS LIKELY WE ARE TO BE UNDERSTOOD BY OTHER PEOPLE.  That may sound a little grim, but there’s a lot of truth in it.

By way of an example, I’m a male.  In a very basic sense, I have NO idea what it’s like to be a female.  I can empathize with females, I can understand their political, emotional and social issues, I can be a strong supporter of feminism.  But I can’t understand, on a primal level, what it’s like to be a female.  There’s a whole slew of experiences in there – growing breasts, having your first period, prom dates, motherhood, etc. – that just aren’t a part of my being-in-the-world or my personal history.

I can take that up a notch and say that I’m an American male.  So I would definitely NOT understand what it’s like to be an Indonesian female.  Or I could say that I’m an older American male, so I would really, really not understand what it’s like to be a young Indonesian female.

The more different we are, the less we understand each other.

There’s also a very natural human drive called individuation, where we want to become separate, unique individuals.  We see it most clearly in adolescents.  For the first ten years of their lives they’ve been nothing more than extensions of their parents and their families.  Suddenly, as puberty approaches, they want to dress differently, act differently, and explore new ways of thinking.  They are compelled to differentiate themselves from their parents and if that means they get a neon nose ring to prove they’re different, so be it.

Although it’s less obvious, that drive to be, “different,” continues into adult life.  In the United States, we mainly express it through our adult toys and our clothing.  We talk about someone making a unique, “fashion statement,” or we’ve got a friend who drives around in a rare, restored 59 Chevy, or we raise Venus Flytraps .  We take a lot of pride in our uniqueness and tend to denigrate being, “a part of the herd.”.

For some people, though, that drive to be different, to fully express themselves as unique individuals, can have a downside to it as well. The reason for that is that we also have an equally strong drive TO BE HEARD, not just to be seen.  To be understood.  To have meaningful conversations and interactions with other human beings who really get what we’re feeling and thinking.

As Michael P.Nichols put it in, “The Lost Art of Listening,”

“Few aspects of human experience are as powerful as the yearning to be understood. When we think someone listens, we believe we are taken seriously, that our ideas and feelings are acknowledged, and that we have something to share.”

That transaction of communicating and being understood and validated assumes that we have some common ground with the other person.  The more that we have in common with the other person, the more quickly and easily they’ll understand what we’re saying.  If the only language I speak is English and the only language you speak is Spanish, we’re not going to do much meaningful communicating.  If you’re from New York City and I live in a small town in the mountains, we are NOT going to rock and roll.

It’s really a simple ratio:  the more we’re alike, the more easily we’ll communicate.  The more that we’re different, the more difficult it is to communicate.

So what happens if you’re not just different, but radically different from most people?  So different that you share very little common ground?

Here’s an example from the Jungian personality types.  We know that some people are introverts and some people are extroverts.  The more introverted we are, the less likely we are to understand how extroverts see the world, and vice versa.  Then take that up a notch by looking at an introverted personality type called the INFJ.  Only one percent of the people in the world share that personality type.  Take it up another notch by looking at males who have the INFJ personality type.  Only 0.5 percent of the people in the world share that person’s personality.  

That means that if you are a male INFJ personality type, over 99% percent of the people you meet will NOT understand how you process and view the world.  That’s not a lot of common ground.  That’s not even a pebble.

Or suppose you’ve taken a radical spiritual route such as we see in the Tarot card, The Hermit.  You’ve intentionally withdrawn yourself from the world and consciously sought another path like meditation or extreme solitude. After a few years of that kind of a lifestyle, there isn’t just a minor rift between your vision of the world and the way the average person sees it, there’s a giant, fucking chasm.

The more different you are, the less people will understand you.

Now, experts tell us that there’s a sort of an arc in that process that eventually leads people who are very different back to understanding that, on a spiritual level, we’re all the same.  Marsha Sinetar in her book, “Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics,” says that pursuing your true authentic self will inevitably lead to greater compassion and empathy with other people.  People who are largely detached from society eventually reattach on a much deeper level.

But . . . until that happens, until we reach that point of reattachment, it can be a very painful ride.  There can be the realization that people we really care about just don’t understand us.  The feeling that we don’t fit in, not anywhere.  There can be a terrible hunger to have just one person meet us on common ground.  There can be a severe sense of loneliness, isolation, and, yes, not being heard, a despairing feeling that we will never have a real friend or lover.

Put another way, being true to yourself is not for the faint hearted.  If the average person moves into an isolated cabin in the woods with no phone, no neighbors and no social media, he’ll go nuts in very short order.    Being true to yourself and your unique perceptions of the world can feel very much like living in that isolated cabin, even in the middle of a very busy city.

It requires a strong ego structure.  It requires the ability to enjoy emotional solitude, rather than seeing it as a curse.  It takes a lot of resiliency.  More than anything, though, it takes an ability to ferociously believe in ourselves.  Not to criticize others or try to force them to share our visions, but to say, “I am me.  I have a right to be here.  I have a right to be my own unique expression in the world.  I hope that someday you’ll be able to see me.  I hope that someday you’ll be able to hear me.  But the most important thing is that I can see me and I can hear me.”

Introverts, Extroverts, and Becoming a Cookie

My life partner used to say, “I’m my own cookie.”

What she meant by that was that she was the source of her own valuation.  She didn’t need someone to say, “You’ve been a good little girl, so here’s a cookie.”  She could decide on her own that she was a good person AND she could make her own rewards rather than depending on someone else for them.  

Above and beyond all of that – she was her own reward.  Just being herself and being with herself was reward enough.  She was her own cookie.  That’s a hell of a life skill if you can figure out how to do it.

It can also be a really vital life skill if you’re an introvert.  The more introverted we are, the less likely it is that we’re going to get our cookies from someone else.  If we don’t want to starve to death, we’d better figure out how to do some baking.

If you’re reading this, there’s actually a pretty good chance that you’re an introvert.  It’s a pretty simple equation:  people who do Tarot reading are usually empaths.  Empaths are usually introverts.  

When we do a Tarot reading (or any other type of psychic reading) for other people, it’s not about us.  It’s about the life and the experiences and the dilemmas of the person we’re reading.  If we’re going to be effective at that, we have to be able to empathize, to actually put ourselves in their space, and say, “Okay, you’re going through THIS and that makes you feel like you want to do THAT, but perhaps you should consider doing THIS instead.”  If you’re a good reader, you have to be able to suspend your own judgments and really get into the life and vibrations of the other person, to really see it from their perspective.  And that’s called, “empathy,” right?  That’s literally being an empath.

Doctor Judith Orloff, author of, “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People,” flat out states, “An empath can be an introvert or an extrovert, though most are introverts.”  So, if you’re a Tarot reader, you may be one of those wonderful extroverts who likes to dress up like a gypsy and do readings at Renaissance Fairs.  But the odds are that you aren’t.  The odds are that you’re an introvert and you hate crowds and feel intensely uncomfortable when you’re forced to be around too many people.

Which brings us back to baking our own cookies.

Our society is extrovert-driven.  We’re taught from the moment we come into this world that there’s something wonderfully right about being an extrovert and something terribly wrong with being an introvert.  Think of the terms we use to describe extroverts:  

  • He’s the life of the party.
  • She took center stage.
  • They were vibrant and bubbly.

Now think of the terms we use to describe introverts:

  • She’s a shrinking violet.
  • He’s a wall flower.
  • They faded into the background.

As we grow up, introverts are literally shamed just for being who we are, just for the way we were born.  Brene’ Brown, author of, “The Gifts of Imperfection,” says that our society has an epidemic of shame and that our school systems are 90% shame based.  A lot of that shame is aimed at children who are introverts.

  • She’s too quiet.
  • He doesn’t  play well with the other children.
  • She seems to be in her own little world.

In other words we’re taught that everything an introvert is – quiet, socially withdrawn, introspective, etc. – is NOT NORMAL and is a cause for alarm and a sign of neurosis.

Perhaps one of the most prevalent – and most damaging – myths in our society is that introverts are sort of socially backwards (not to say, “socially stupid”) and that they just don’t know HOW to fit in.  That’s why they spend so much time alone – they don’t have any choice.

Actually, the evidence indicates quite the opposite.  Researchers at Yale University asked over a thousand people to predict how the average, normal person would think, feel, and behave in different situations.  The correct answers were based on data they had already gathered about how the average, normal person actually DID react in those situations.

And do you know who scored some of the highest points on the test?  Introverts.  Introverts were able to predict with a high degree of accuracy exactly how, “normal,” people think, react, and behave. Introverts, far from being socially inept, can be highly tuned into and aware of social norms and behavior, even more tuned into what’s going on around them than extroverts.

So if we’re introverts, the start of baking our own cookies, the start of being our own rewards, is to firmly, thoroughly, once and for all, get rid of all of the BULLSHIT that we’ve been taught about ourselves since we were kids.  We are not socially inept, we are not painfully shy, we are not dull and uninteresting.  In fact, we can be a damned sight more interesting than the social butterflies who are getting all of society’s cookies.

But a more important step is to rethink what the terms, “introvert,” and, “extrovert,” actually mean, once we jettison all of the cultural prejudices.  Anna Lemind, author of, “The Power of Misfits: How to Find Your Place in a World You Don’t Fit In,” has a very simple answer for that:  energy systems.

Extroverts recharge their energy systems through large amounts of social contact.

Introverts recharge their energy systems through having a lot of time to themselves.


Extroverts aren’t any better than introverts and introverts aren’t any better than extroverts.  We’re just different.

The salient point here, though, is that if you’re really and truly an introvert, AND you buy society’s bullshit that you somehow have to be an extrovert to fit in, to get your cookie, you’re going to end up physically exhausted and spiritually depleted. Trying to be around a lot of people sucks you dry. No cookies for you.  Sorry.

As introverts, we really and truly ARE our own cookies.  We draw our energy from ourselves, not from others.  We ARE our own rewards and that’s just how our energy systems work.  The good news is that, much more than extroverts, we get to choose the ingredients that go into our cookies.  Chocolate chips?  Yes!  Sprinkles?  Definitely.  Whole wheat flour?  Ummmm . . . no.

After all, it’s my cookie.

Introverts/Extroverts – The Three of Cups and The Hermit

Have you noticed that the term, “introvert,” is gradually being redefined on social media?  There are more and more people who are coming out of the closet and saying, “I really don’t LIKE going to parties.”  Or talking about how happy they are to NOT be in a relationship. Or just putting up posts like, “Thank god, it’s Friday, I’m home, alone, silence, blessed silence . . .”

When I was a kid, “introvert,” was kind of a shameful term.  It implied that you were an odd duck, an eccentric, a wallflower.  That you were painfully shy and that you had no social skills. You weren’t alone because you wanted to be alone or you enjoyed being alone;  you were alone because you just found it too painful to be with other people. Poor thing.

What’s emerging now is that it’s more of an energy set.  Extroverts genuinely enjoy being with other people, being at parties and in crowded social situations.  They draw personal energy from that. It recharges their batteries.

And, conversely, they feel energetically depleted if they spend too much time alone.  They feel that something’s wrong in their lives and that they really, really need to get out and be with other humans.  

And that’s okay.  That’s just the way their energy fields are set up.  Being alone is exhausting and being with others lights up their chakras.

And it IS a matter of energy.  If you look at a card like the Three of Cups you can just feel the energy pouring off of it.  These are three people who are having a hell of a good time. They’ve worked hard, they’ve been successful and now it’s time to PARTY!  There is a synergy there, a combined energy that recharges all of them.

When you look at The Hermit the energy isn’t so blatantly obvious.  He’s alone, standing on his mountaintop, quietly looking off into the distance.  But, my, my, how his lamp does shine. He’s not lonely. He’s quite happy living in his silence and contemplation.

That’s what’s changing, I think.  There is a growing recognition that there’s nothing WRONG with introverts.  They’re not horribly shy. Far from being socially inept many of them can be quite entertaining because they’ve had the time to think, to read, to meditate and contemplate and they actually know what they think in much greater depth than many extroverts.

Their chakras operate in almost the opposite fashion of extroverts, though.  Being in crowds sucks the energy right out of them and being home alone replenishes them.  They prefer one long, in depth conversation to the 40 mini-conversations you might have at a party.  Most of them genuinely like other people, they just need to encounter them in small, measured doses or in a one-on-one, deeply intimate relationship.

And, thanks to social media, they’re finally getting a chance to express all of that and realize that there are a lot of people out there who are just like them.  One more place where we’re learning to celebrate our differences instead of condemn them.

It’s all just energy.