In the past couple of years, I’ve given a lot of thought to my acknowledged status as an introvert. I’ve blogged about how for most of my life, I have been told that my introversion is a sin or a defect in my personality. I disagree very strongly with both of those points of view. My introversion is just a part of who I am, like my love of the moon or my dislike of oatmeal.
To a certain extent, I am a bit of an unconventional introvert. I don’t have a tiny circle of friends. I have a vast, far-flung network of friends, many of whom I feel “close” to and all of whom I actively love and adore. I invest considerable effort into maintaining those friendships despite the distance of miles and/or years. I am actively interested in my friends’ lives and I love to hear from them or better yet, see them in person. I don’t see friends as temporary but as permanent, and I mourn over every friendship lost.
Over the last year, I have become more and more aware of safety as a component of relationships. I’m not talking about safety from harassment or physical attack. I’m talking about the safety of being able to talk to someone and know that no matter what I say, they will still accept and respect me. I think this is a huge part of being an introvert. Introverts like me are not going to allow a conversation to become serious unless they feel certain the other person is “safe,” and the only way to figure that out is through lengthy experience and observation.
This is why, if you’ve only been around me in a group setting, you may assume I am all but mute. Unless I know everyone in the group well, it is not a “safe” environment for me and I am not going to venture to express my opinion. If pressed, I will be noncommittal.
There is one sure way to alienate an introvert, and that is to ridicule something that he or she holds dear. It’s bad enough if you do it unknowingly, but it’s virtually unforgiveable if you do it intentionally. From that moment, you will never be seen as “safe,” no matter how much time goes by. You are unlikely to succeed in getting to know that introvert on any but the most superficial level.
Extroverts react quite differently, in my experience. An extrovert will simply laugh it off: “Haha, you just made fun of my most favorite thing in the world. That is so silly. You’re such a joker, bro.”
An introvert doesn’t find it funny at all. To an introvert, disparaging or making fun of something important to him/her means that you are likely to make fun of his/her very identity, so therefore you can’t be trusted with it.
Because I am so much more aware of this phenomenon now, I have been interested to note the occasions when I have and haven’t felt “safe.” My class reunion last year surprised me by feeling very safe, despite the fact that I hadn’t seen most of those people for forty years—whereas people at church whom I see every week might not feel safe at all. I haven’t gathered enough data on them to know whether I dare speak my mind in their presence.
My recent trip also was a foray into safe and trusted relationships, which was one of the things that made it so enjoyable.
Which brings me to my point. I recently was mulling over my relationship with someone in my life, and I began to suspect that perhaps I had transgressed against a fellow introvert. I hadn’t verbally attacked or ridiculed something this person values, but I had perhaps managed to communicate my disapproval nonverbally by my use of body language or lack of outright affirmation. I had failed in my personal goal to always do the kindest thing.
It upsets me to think that to this person, I may no longer be viewed as “safe.” Knowing myself the way I do, I fear it may be impossible to move myself back onto this person’s “safe” list, and that grieves me. Since safety in relationships is so vital to me, I try to make a point of being a safe person for others.
What about you? Have you even thought about whether or not you provide a safe atmosphere for your friends to express their deepest desires, goals, and opinions? I find that I am less and less willing to openly ridicule even things that are patently ridiculous, because I’d rather not run the risk of permanently turning off someone who may be listening and who may need me to be a “safe” listener at some point in the future.