As a sensitive introvert, you’ve probably felt your fair share of guilt.
I know I have.
We introverts tend to let our worries weigh heavily on our shoulders. We bare the blame. And we feel deep shame.
Many sensitive introverts have what is known as an inferior ego. This means our ego feeds itself on believing it’s less than other people. It believes that there are things we ‘should’ be doing. Any failure to do so leads to feelings of shame, and guilt. Speaking of shame …
This is ridiculous
I’ve been getting some hate mail lately. Apparently, this goes with the territory of being highly visible online (if you can relate, would love to hear from you). The good news is that the love mail from my innie community far outweighs the hate.
But being an introvert with a super sensitive guilt reflex, the trolls can really get to me. I couldn’t help but be rattled by the words of a recent hater.
She told me that my “strange ritual for magical sleep” included in my energy recharge tips for subscribers was “ridiculous”. And proceeded to explain why. But that’s not what got to me.
After I responded with a crisp and concise “everyone’s entitled to their opinion,”she replied with the ultimate kick in the sensitive introvert’s gut:
“You should be ashamed to respond like that. You’re a public figure. I’m unsubscribing from this list immediately”
While I thought it was pretty rad that she described me as a “public figure”, and I was delighted that she was unsubscribing, there was one word that did not sit well:
She dropped the A-bomb, which is the sister adjective to one of the most loaded words in the English language:
Shame is a hot topic lately. This is surprising considering that no one really wants to talk about it. It’s a word that stirs up black gauzy scenes in our mental motion picture. It evokes memories we’d rather forget.
We don’t want to remember them because, well, they make us feel ashamed.
When someone says to me, “you should be ashamed,” my natural reaction is to want to skulk away with my tail between my legs. Stand in a corner and count to one hundred. Feel remorse. Hide. Fold and fold into myself like an origami crane that can’t fly. Edit myself so ruthlessly that I’m just a people pleasing blur of my true self.
Now THAT would be ridiculous.
And yet, it’s what many a sensitive introvert have done in the face of shame. You let the ‘shoulds’ dictate who you are, lest you be crushed by the burden of guilt.
The friend who never shuts up
At one time in my life, guilt was my closest companion.
I came to this sad realization right before I set out on my hero’s journey across seven countries in search of purpose and meaning.
Before I left Canada, I purged everything that wouldn’t fit in a suitcase. I sold all my furniture, gave away most of my clothes, tossed old books and papers. Luckily, I decided to keep my old journals (these are worth more to me now than all my worldly possessions, except, perhaps my Macbook, which I <3 and need very much).
While reading one of my journals from high school, I felt that same gut-punch feeling that the lady who told me I “should be ashamed” elicited in me. In page after page, there was one common theme:
The shame, the worry, the feeling of not being good enough – saturated nearly every sentence. Oh, and the shoulds –
“I should try harder.”
“I should be more grateful.”
“I should give more.”
“I should be nicer.”
The list goes on and on and on and on and on and on and …. well, you get it.
Do you want to know the really heartbreaking part?
I was trying SO hard. One might even say I was a try-hard. I appeared to be succeeding, too. I tried hard at school, and got straight A’s. I tried hard at church (I was a devout Christian for most of high school) and was praised by church leaders and the elderly for being “such a nice girl”. I tried hard to be well-rounded, and stacked my schedule with extracurricular activities like rugby, students’ council and volunteer work.
I tried so F-ing hard to be good. And I was.
I was a good little girl who pranced along merrily with my chatty little shadow companion of guilt to cheer me on.
Guilt actually isn’t a terrible thing. Sometimes it helps us to grow and expand. Unfortunately, where guilt is present, shame is eager to follow. Shame is a fruitless forrest that is hard to find your way out from.
I love how shame researcher and author Dr. Brené Brown explains the difference between shame and guilt:
“The difference between shame and guilt is the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad.'”
Being a human who makes bad decisions doesn’t mean you are a bad person. Just like doing the occasional stupid thing doesn’t mean you are stupid.
How to release shame
I’ve come a long way since those guilty good girl days. I still get sucked into the shame vortex now and then. But awareness has helped me to pull myself out quickly.
Brené Brown says that shame cannot survive being spoken.
As a writer, I am fortunate to be able to share my shame in a way that feels safe, and at the same time liberating. In doing so, I know that I am freeing others to do the same.
That’s why I shared this long, winding post about the secret shame of the sensitive introvert. To let you know that it’s okay. You’re okay.
A shame squashing exercise
Another way that I have escaped the shame cycle is by consciously focusing on things I’m proud of. This can be tricky for a sensitive introvert with an inferior ego. It’s in your nature to focus on problems instead of positives. You try to cure, fix, and improve your faults, rather than accept, love, and embrace your strengths.
You might feel awkward, or guilty, even admitting your strengths to yourself. Don’t worry. It’s not arrogant to acknowledge the things you’re proud of. It’s a good thing.
Take a moment to write down everything that you’ve accomplished over the past six months. If it helps, create separate categories for career or school, and personal life. They can be simple things, like making a new friend, or exploring a new hobby – anything that you feel good about.
I bet you’ve come farther than you thought.
It’s time to say goodbye to that chatty little companion that is guilt. And her cousin, shame, too. No need to feel bad about setting them free.
They’ve probably been with you for a long time. That doesn’t mean you owe them anything. You don’t have to be kind and generous to those who only seek to insult you.
That would be ridiculous.
Do you have any stories of introvert guilt you’d like to share?
Ever had to deal with haters who wanted to shame you?
Please share your comments below. 🙂