Are you really an introvert? 

By Sarah Cannata

If my memory serves me correctly, I can’t recall hearing or being aware of the term ‘introvert’ until I was around 30 years old. Once I understood what an introvert is (someone who generates energy from spending time alone and recharging), I felt like I’d found the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Upon reflection, much of my 35 years on this planet has been a quest to understand myself and why I always feel so seemingly different to those around me.

Being different is not easy

As a kid, I didn’t have the language I have today to express myself. From about age 4, I remember knowing I wasn’t like the other girls around me. I didn’t amass joy from wearing pretty clothes and playing with people’s hair. (Both are clearly massive gender stereotypes.) But that sense of ‘otherness’, of never quite belonging, was about more than the fact I was not a stereotypical ‘girly girl’. Mum revels in telling me I always had some kind of ball in hand because I was sports-mad. From very early on, I knew I didn’t tick like the other kids.

I always had obsessive tendencies, and my focus would rotate like musical chairs. Australian Rules Football, the book Possum Magic, martial arts, the boyband 5ive… I always got bored quickly too. I never quite had the capacity to simply like something; if my attention span gravitated towards something, I did that something to death. Out of the blue, I’d wake up one day and be onto the next thing.

Limiting labels

Since learning more about trauma and the latest neuroscience through embodied processing (a body-based approach to working with trauma), I’ve come to understand the limitations around labels. Labels may help us feel better about certain things, but at the end of the day, they can also confine us to tiny boxes. Am I really an introvert, or have certain things happened throughout my life to make me feel safer identifying as an introvert? I don’t have all the answers (or any, really), and that’s ok. 

The more personal development and learning I do, the more questions than answers I am left with. Particularly regarding my identity. The person known as ‘Sarah’. This can all sound a bit ‘out there,’ but the more layers you start unravelling, the more layers you discover. I’ve learned that co-regulation as an infant and throughout our early developmental years is imperative. If we can’t co-regulate with our caretakers, we likely end up in freeze mode. Infants can’t self-regulate.

An ongoing discovery

I’m turning 36 in a couple of months, and it sounds odd (and feels strange to admit), but I’m still learning so much about myself. When I was in my early 20s, I thought anyone 30+ was so mature. I still catch myself having the expectation that I should have everything figured out by now. (Whatever this ‘everything’ is anyway.) I’ve realised work and what I do for a living are huge parts of who I identify with as Sarah. I don’t believe in labelling things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but often, I wonder, if everything I’ve worked for was taken away overnight, what would be left? 

I am also writing this article about three weeks out from going overseas for a holiday for just under a month. I will only be working on this trip if I need to answer urgent emails. Most of my breaks, especially when staying at home, turn into working holidays on some level. The last time I went away and did not work was over eight years ago. When I feel into this knowledge, it feels exciting and, if I am honest, scary. Who am I without my work? I’ll get a glimpse into that shortly.

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