I have a limited capacity for peopling. Call it introversion if you wish, but in general I have a tendency to get over-stimulated by a lot of exposure to other humans. I wouldn’t call myself “shy” per se, at least not since I was four years old and used to hide behind my mom when others would come to the door. Shyness doesn’t really capture the experience, though, nor does “social awkwardness,” which is another label I’ve alternately attracted or used in reference to myself over the years.
People actually fascinate me—hence why I’ve been making a career of studying people’s experiences in their bodies and in the world. When I am around people, I commonly have a hard time not attending to them. If you get me one-on-one, I’m likely to try to start a conversation, and I tend to feel like it is my responsibility to ensure that everyone is having a good time. I like to make people happy.
This desire to make people happy, and an attunement to others’ affect, can lead to my energies being drawn somewhat out of my body. It leaves me feeling like a bit of a husk, when I do it too much. So I retreat, either emotionally or physically (or both) until I feel recharged.
I don’t always need to retreat from everyone. Usually I am ok to be in the company of people I know very well while I am recharging; my partner, my mom, a very good friend, or someone else who recharges in the same way. If I am pushed over the edge, though, I find that I need to find a way to get back into my body, or I will ironically turn on it, losing my identification with it and feeling detached and unhappy.
The way my introversion manifests can be confusing. Because I seem gregarious online and even sometimes in person, it can seem like I am being uncaring or uninvested when I do not reach out to make plans with people very often. My social anxiety also manifests in more inward way, making me seem like someone who is completely comfortable in a large room of people, even giving a talk I am not at all prepared for. Truth be told, this perception of comfort is borne of the determined streak that made me practice—not in my room, speaking to the dog, but by signing up for conference after conference until I no longer got hives when I stood up at the podium.
I am also more comfortable when I know that I will be able to retreat. At a conference, I can perform my peopling self because I have already planned my retreats. I book myself into Air BnBs at least a half hour walk from the conference venue. I relish dinners alone, full of kale and silence. I bring my yoga mat everywhere I go.
I fear, sometimes, that my limited capacity for peopling has led to some friendships fading. When something looks like it is easy for you, it is hard to explain how much it takes out of you. It’s also hard to ask to continue to be invited places because you like knowing that others are thinking about you when you might decline, or cancel at the last moment.
I’ve recently become more attuned to my own inner process of building up to my peopling capacity, developing a keener awareness of when I am about to cross the line and planning my retreat then, as opposed to when I am nursing a resultant migraine or suddenly angry or crying out of the blue.
Taking care of yourself sometimes means accepting that it won’t always be clear to others why you left the party without saying goodbye. Embracing your capacity means knowing that sometimes you will cross the limit for a good enough reason, and that the icks won’t stay with you forever.
Sometimes being me means knowing that I’ll always seem contradictory to some people.
I’m learning to let that be.