What does the thought of Xmas parties bring up in you? Excitement? Or trepidation? (Embarrassingly) for me, it’s usually the latter. Embarrassing because it’s not the done thing to admit to not want to be social. After all, as children we are taught that to be social is to be happy. And this message is confirmed by a society that actually criminalises the worst forms of 'anti-social' behaviour. And yet, if you are an introvert (who favours solitary over group activities as a source of pleasure), the enforced socialising that comes with the annual 'festive season' can bring up feelings of fear and dread. And the older I become, the more introvert I realise I am.
I realise that many of my acquaintances will think “say, what??!...Lavinia (the opinionated loud-mouth), an introvert? Pull the other one!” But just because you can be loud as well as outspoken, this doesn’t mean that you are extrovert nor that you behave like that all or even most of the time.
Indeed, I actually crave silence and solitude. Even more now that I have three small children who are super-enthusiastic, super-boisterous and super-excitable. But before then too, I remember my favourite spot at boarding school being the 'haunted' loos. Not because it was a nice place to hang out in - it wasn't (there was never any heating on, it was vaguely smelly and I never fully believed that it might not be a teensy bit haunted after all), but purely because it was the only place in the entire boarding house where I might get some uninterrupted peace and quiet. (A rare thing when you share a room with 13 other, pop music-obsessed, teenage girls).
When I am around others however, I tend to get overexcited. In the past, this was partly because I felt had to 'perform' in order to fit in (how wrong I was) but now it's more because I am literally buoyed up by the energy of others. I thrive off social stimulation! But once this kicks in, I forget everything else and end up draining all of my energy (for that day as well as the week ahead) which can only lead to one thing: a crash.
Because unlike extroverts who not only gain energy from being around other people but also re-charge through being with others (being alone is boring and potentially even draining for them), introverts require down time - alone - in order to feel themselves again. And when any potential down time has already been filled with demanding children who are off school, this makes the extra, alcohol-fuelled, festive shindigs on offer at this time of year, an even greater challenge.
So knowing all this, how often do I actually take it into account and say NO?
The answer is not very often. And if I do, it usually comes with a (lengthy) explanation. Because added to the shame of not really wanting to be social is the guilt of potentially offending someone. And of not being asked again. As though friendship is so precarious that I must always be grateful for being included and must always dutifully accept.
Which is crazy. Because friendship is made of sterner stuff. And if it isn't, good riddance!
So another challenge I am setting myself in the New Year is to be responsible for myself: to practise guaging whether something is in my best interests. And trying to act in accordance with them. I'm also going to try not to emotionally caretake others through providing them with an 'adequate' excuse. No is no. And that's it. Which doesn't mean I never want you to invite me to anything ever again - hell no! (My needy side couldn't take it). But I may not be as reliably present as I once was.
2018 is all about sovereignty: about knowing what is best for you (and me) and acting on it with confidence. Unapologetically. Who else's in?