Shame: A Key to Introvert Energy Drain?

I’ve felt it creeping up on me for a few weeks now. It’s the pressure I feel as the official start of the holiday season begins.

Shoulds start taking their toll on me, sapping my energy each day I consider being something I’m not in order to play along with tradition.

What I’ve recently realized is that my shoulds are intertwined with introversion and shame. Ouch.

This weekend will be Thanksgiving in Canada. While I am beyond grateful for my life in all its abundance, my desired expression of that gratitude has nothing to do with the holiday obligations that have been a part of my life (perhaps of our culture).

It’s partially the introvert in me. Attending large group gatherings overwhelms and drains me (even when it’s family). And on the other hand, hosting (even small groups) in my own home feels like a breach of my ‘personal safety zone’ (an invasion of sorts).

I’m sure it has nothing to do with introversion, but I dread meal planning, preparing the house, cooking, getting “dressed”, entertaining, overnights – it feels like I’m getting ready for a performance that holds no meaning for me. So Thanksgiving, which starts the long holiday season that unfolds over the next couple months, feels like the time I need to start putting on my armour. That requires a lot of energy.

Where does the shame come in?

In not feeling good enough, capable enough, sociable enough. I find myself questioning, “What the hell is wrong with me?” and “Why can’t I just be normal?” and “Get over it, it’s no big deal”.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown describes:

“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

Brown goes on to describe the common responses to shame: fight, flight and/or please. Regardless of which response we choose at a given moment, the end result is disconnection. As an introvert, this was a big ‘aha’ moment.

Well, as I’ve been trying to decide what to do for Thanksgiving, all three responses have run through my imagination:

  • Rebellion (fight);
  • Escape to a private beach-front bed and breakfast for the weekend (flight); or
  • Put on the mask of the “hostess with the mostest” (to please).

Of course, in my mind, I know that none of those choices is ideal (although that B&B does sound wonderful!).

I think back to my mom (also an introvert). She always felt that holidays were important times for families to celebrate together. She would go above and beyond with the baking, cooking, cleaning, decorating – to the point of exhausting herself – to try to make each gathering special. To make us feel special.

It was about connection and memory making. But I think it was about something deeper for her too.

She never got the appreciation (or help) she deserved. I remember how great it was to ‘take in’ all that she created. But since I don’t ever remember contributing, I didn’t realize how hard it was to actually accomplish it. Until it was my turn.

I don’t know how she did it. I do know that I can’t keep up. And I find that, as each year passes, I feel less willing to try to keep the traditions alive. Then I feel guilty (i.e. I am considering doing something bad by saying ‘no more’), and the shame response kicks into full motion (i.e. I am bad).

In truth, I’m happy to take a walk with my little family (a trio), enjoy nature and a few authentic moments with each other, and call it day. Add a good cup of coffee and some pumpkin pie and I’m a very happy gal. Fire on the beach – I’m over the moon. That’s my version of celebrating Thanksgiving.

Indecision and grappling with feelings of “not enough-ness” drains my energy.

So how will I find peace amongst holidays, introversion and shame?

As I keep reading Daring Greatly (which I highly recommend by the way), it becomes clear that empathy and vulnerability are better responses than I’ve been considering. So I suppose that’s why I’m writing…

Can you relate? In what ways is shame showing up in your life and work?

Know that you’re not alone. We’re all doing our best to work through the confusion and to be more true. Be as kind to yourself as you are to others.

Happy Thanksgiving! I AM GRATEFUL…

6 thoughts on “Shame: A Key to Introvert Energy Drain?”

  1. A very probing and perceptive post, Marla. I particularly like how you expose your vulnerability with such honesty and balance because it invites me to be similarly kind and thorough in my own thinking. Here’s what I got. I wonder if age plays a part in our coming to own ourselves comfortably? In my teens I would go along with group social activities, secretly praying there would be tornado or an alien invasion, something – anything! – that would mean I couldn’t go (all the while thinking I must be a freak to think like that). In my 20s, I would say yes and then hope to hell I would have a migraine or some legitimate excuse to say No later. In my 30s, I would say yes but inwardly tell myself I didn’t have to go, then end up going at the last minute so as not to upset anybody. In my 40s, I would say yes, go, grin and bear it, and be glad to get home. In my 50s I would say yes and often surprisingly enjoy myself but say No when it definitely wasn’t my thing. Now I’m on the cusp of 60 and have no problem saying no to things I know I won’t enjoy or am not suited to. I feel entirely comfortable explaining that karaoke or fancy dress or doing shots in a bar doesn’t interest me but I’d be happy to go for a coffee or a walk. I also celebrate big birthdays, Christmas, New Year etc simply and authentically in a way I find meaningful but enjoy hearing about other people’s choices, however elaborate. I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out but it does seem to be getting easier to be me. Was it Oscar Wilde who said ‘Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken”?

    1. I love your reflection on the ‘journey to me’ over the ages. You have such a way with words (I couldn’t help but smile and chuckle – really, no karaoke?)…such wisdom. Thank you so much for sharing, Susanna. Sending positive energy your way and hoping you are well ♥

  2. I love Brene Brown and I will order a copy of her book because it’s been something I’ve been thinking about and haven’t actually done. I am not an introvert but hosting is not something I enjoy. I questioned it a lot, especially because it seemed like a trait that Latin women seem to be born with and I wasn’t. I gave up on the birthday parties and the Holiday dinners. I follow the traditions but add MY spin to it because I want to enjoy them and remember them with love rather than with resentment. What a thought provoking post!

    1. Yes, thanks Elayna – pride in your culture AND honouring yourself as an individual woman. Congrats on doing the reflection to get clear about what matters to you, releasing yourself from stereotypes that don’t feel like a fit for you, and having the courage to create alternatives that respect you, your family, and your cultural history. Love is a powerful force – for self and others 🙂

  3. I find this topic really interesting Marla. I wonder why it is that people feel pressured to celebrate traditional festivities in a particular way? For example, why shouldn’t you celebrate Thanksgiving by going for a walk with your family, having a cup of coffee and some pumpkin pie, and perhaps a fire on the beach, if that’s what would make you happy? Each to his or her own, I say!

    1. Right or wrong, tradition is a powerful force because it’s about values. It’s a way that we inherit values passed on through our families over time and to reinforce what we value moving forward. If we value connection with the people we love, and much of that has been packaged in spending time together over the holidays in a particular way, change becomes more than just what I prefer. It’s disrupting and challenging history. It is deeply emotional. It’s about identity. And that’s why there’s room for shame.

      All this makes questioning or going ‘against’ any tradition difficult. My example is minor in the bigger picture – for example, when we consider global human rights, socio/political/cultural change etc. “That’s the way we do things” is pretty powerful.

      So for me, the goal is to be more authentic, finding a way to maintain the connection without necessarily wrapping it up in the same package. To do that, there’s a lot of exploring of the deeper ‘why’ of choices that I consider…and that’s where the shame surfaced.

      Yes, to each his or her own. That said, I think there are healthier ways than others to go about things, and that starts with awareness. It’s all part of finding our way through life’s complexities. There’s a lot of gray zone!

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