However, suppose you enjoy being with people and it’s only afterwards you feel exhausted? At first, you love the buzz: it’s wonderful to meet up with family you haven’t seen in months, or to hang out with close friends and talk about things that matter. Or just to laugh with them. You even love meeting new people and making new friends.
So you definitely can’t be an introvert – can you?
For years I believed I was introvert – and that I shouldn’t be! After all, our culture tends to value the confident extrovert over the quiet introvert. For instance, in reports, teachers comment a child’s ability to “work in a group,” or “speak up in class.” Way back when this used to bother me, I thought confidence came with being extrovert, which I was never going to achieve! As I grew more confident, I began to doubt that I was really introvert. I enjoy spending time with others, and always have, even as a child. Eventually I discovered that this whole introvert-extrovert thing was missing something huge.
Many of us fall in between, and get energy from both sources – but can also be drained by too much of either. We’re ambiverts. Yes, I’m pretty certain I’m one, and I’ve just taken an assessment that agrees. If you’d like to try it, then click here. It’s aimed at marketers, but it applies just as well to writers.
The more I think about it, the more I realise that it makes sense that many writers would be ambiverts.
Let’s examine a few questions from that assessment:
That statement is classic introvert. It is (probably) true for all writers – after all, we do need to spend time alone with our thoughts to get our writing done. I work in a room off our living room, and I much prefer working when the living room is empty to when it’s got a bunch of teenage girls watching television!
But, for those of us who also blog or spend time on social media or in writers’ groups – and thrive on that contact – doesn’t the following statement also hold true?
I feel comfortable in groups and like working in them. (Extrovert.)
And finally, there’s this:
I tend to want others to pay attention to me.
Unless you are that writer with the drawer stuffed full of novels, you do want others to pay attention to you. You send out your stories or articles, or post on your blog (weekly if your the average blogger.) You do that because you have something to say and you want people to read it.
Are you nodding along? Then you are probably also an ambivert.
I love that word. It isn’t much used, so we try to fit ourselves into the extrovert of introvert box, and wonder why neither feels right. It was liberating to realise that I don’t have to fit myself into any box. What ambiverts need is balance. I have a feeling (but no scientific proof) that because we don’t fit neatly into any category, ambiverts are sometimes not that good at finding that balance.
What follows is my (extremely unscientific) findings on how an ambivert can avoid getting drained in the first place, and what to do when she or he has tipped the balance too far one way or the other. These suggestions work for me, and may for you too.
The key is awareness. Start noticing the early signs and do something about it before you feel totally exhausted.
We tend to associate “time out” with punishment, but done with compassion it just reduces over-stimulation. When my first daughter was a baby, our antenatal group came round one evening, and our three-month-old got so excited she was shrieking. I took her out of the room to calm. I need to do the same thing with myself if I’m in a large group and start to feel overwhelmed. I can last longer than the few hours my daughter managed as a baby, but on a recent trip to visit relatives, by ten days in, I was close to tears. I loved being with everyone, but had been neglecting my mindfulness practices. Instead of taking time each morning to journal I had been getting straight into the fray.
Use mindfulness practices – Journal, meditate, let go
Journalling and releasing are my main ways of letting go of pent-up emotions (and even “positive emotions” need to be released.) For you it might be meditation or yoga, or even just going for a walk alone. Whatever it is, if you are with a group of people for a prolonged period of time, be sure to take the time you need to maintain your balance. Our trip to visit relatives was rapidly followed by another to more relatives. This time we were only away for a few days, and we stayed in a hotel. That still meant my whole family in one room, but I got downtime by getting up before everyone else and journaling in the bathroom! (Hey, it worked!)
And if you’ve overdone it? You’ve been away, and now you are home and need to get back into the writing or working groove, but you feel exhausted and unfocused? What then? Here’s what works for me. I’m not suggesting you try them all (though you might.)
I have no idea why this works, but I automatically do it. The first thing I did when we got back from that first trip was to clear out the kitchen. Years ago, after my second daughter was born prematurely, I’d had a long break from writing that also involved being with people almost constantly (hospitals are busy places.) Then I found myself decluttering the house and eventually the study, and before long I was back writing again. (I also maintained my sanity during that time by writing a journal for my daughter.)
Journaling is also effective to clear the overwhelm after it’s become too much. Check out my post on journaling for writers if you’d like to know more about how to make it work for you.
Tell the people closest to you that you need time to yourself. Explain that it’s just because of how you energize and nothing to do with them. (I didn’t used to do this, and it caused resentment on all parts. Now I do, it’s much better.)
Sounds silly, but at times when I’ve been socialising intensely, I’ve forgotten something as simple as noticing the body’s needs. I’d get caught up being with other people and forget to be with myself. Taking time to notice the breath (not trying to change it) can be very calming and centering.
It’s also possible, especially for a writer working from home, to have too much time alone with your own thoughts. (This is probably true not just for ambiverts, but for introverts too.) So how do we deal with that?
I rarely experience this nowadays, but, years ago, when I was either unemployed or working on my own sometimes I’d feel as if I had to get out of the house, and yet at the same time, not sure I could speak to anyone. This was a sure sign I’d been alone too long. Back then, the internet didn’t exist, and my rented accommodation had no phone, so getting outside was the only option. I learned to recognise the signs and to make arrangements to see people before I’d got to the point where it seemed a mammoth task.
If you are a writer and recognise the feelings I’ve just described, I suggest joining a few on-line writing groups. I am in several, and some have a good sense of community, connection and mutual support. Of course joining a real-life local writing group is also a good idea!
Ambivert writers (and maybe everyone) need balance.
If you’ve tipped too far one way, take time to notice what your body and mind need, and give yourself that, even if it means saying no (or yes) to others for a few days.