My Temperament Lies Somewhere Between India and Australia
“She’s an extrovert born to introverts,” I told Nish as I passed her my daughter over the table.
“I wouldn't call you two introverts,” Nish said casually, scooping Sufi up in her arms.
I looked at her confused, but realised that there was some truth to that. While I feel content, even propelled and inspired to stay home, ponderous with jazz and a paperback, I may not be a pure introvert. I am fuelled by solitude, yes, but every now and then I also need to to dip in and out of circles of company and make meaningful connections to feel sated and content.
I’m an introvert, who is also a snacking extrovert, maybe? Carl Jung, the psychologist who first popularized these terms felt that there’s no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert.
While the boundaries may be clearly defined for some of us, for others, we fall somewhere along the spectrum of introversion and extroversion that is unique to us. This means the established rules belonging to each of them sort of fly out of the window.
Growing up, I've struggled with making myself fit into the many categories outlined neatly in the tempestuous worlds of teenage girls, categories that everyone around me seemed to have no trouble fitting into. Extroverted party girl. Introverted book worm. Nerdy. Popular. There was always so much to keep track of; so many brackets, and sometimes brackets within brackets — round, curly, square — to neatly fit into. I’d give myself a tough time, severely berate my ‘transgressions’ and routinely hide in plain sight — difficult as that was with my head full of wiry curls and signature peach-fuzz moustache.
It would’ve been helpful to know that as humans, we’re always spilling out of the expectations we we put on ourselves to fit in, we’re always occupying more space — and the important part is — we should.
Recently, I went to India on a shotgun 3-week vacation. It was a vacation I did not know we were taking until barely a week before we had to leave.
I’ve been living in Australia with Sid and our daughter for a few years, and while we deeply miss India, we’ve created a padded, sweet, safe space we now call home; where the stimulation is moderated by us. Added to that that, culturally, the two countries, one of my birth and one of my current home are drastically different. In India, you are never truly alone. People don’t think much of sauntering into neighbours’ homes, picking up a strangers’ babies or offering advice about your fashion choice for the day; and you always have someone at home — your parents, your cousins, the cleaning lady, the eggs guy. Yes, there’s an eggs guy.
Australia, and Western societies largely, work a bit differently. Theres more expectation and availability of personal space and for someone like me, a lot of space to ruminate and engage with your inner life in. And, complete autonomy for fashion choices.
My personality lies somehwere in between both the countries.
The week before the trip, I was gripped with anxiety. Usually, that feeling manifests within me in the form of a tight belly and high shoulders. This then leads to shotrter breathing. Then there is a the final stage, being made inarticulate by the layering of my own thoughts.
This is an emotion that isn't properly understood or validated by people who derive their energies from being around people. “You are going to be surrounded by friends and family, aren’t you? You are visiting home after 2 years — That’s no reason to be anxious.”
But the levels of stimulation that introverts and extroverts consider ideal to thrive in varies vastly.
Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking mesmerised me in her TED talk when she said,
While I was happy to be close to family during my trip, there were people everywhere, and since I was returning after 2 years, they all wanted to see me. More so, I was returning with my baby, a babbling 10-month-old Sufi, who has paintbrush eyelashes, thigh clefts, and a ready grin.
Its tough to explain, even to this day, why it is uncomfortable for me to be around people beyond a certain point. Why I may feel confident at gatherings or on a stage, but I require ample time by myself to feel safe, able and balanced. It’s tough to explain what small talk can take away from me in terms of wellbeing. Sometimes its tough to explain to myself too — introversion certainly doesn't mean you do not get lonely.
In Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, my bookshelf workhorse, she puts writes,
So all that time growing up, I need not have hidden.
Gradually and through a series of life events, mainly age, I’ve gained a better understanding of my temperament(s); of my many oddities, of their solid contribution to my substance as a human, of my wonderful and multiple dualities. I learned about conditioning my hair, about taking the time out to read alone to restore the balance I lose in groups, about yoga and breathing. I trusted myself to walk into parties and talk to people I did not know, trusted that it was OK if my shoes made a sound, that its OK if people looked at me, listened to what I said. That I had valuable things to say both inside and outside of my own head, even if I spoke softly. I taught myself it was OK to disagree with people. Shakily, I showed more of me.
My yoga teacher regularly says, “It is all about non-violence — most importantly to yourself. You don’t need to jam yourself into tricky poses.” Today, by and large, I’m able to accept my core traits, letting them co-exist, sometimes during the same evening. Within the same party, I can nourish my introversion by taking solitude breaks, and also get a buzz from crackling conversations with groups of bright strangers.
The trick here, I’ve learned through trial and error, is acceptance. If you pay attention to your discomforts, you will often notice that the only person giving you a hard time in most cases, is you.
The existance of differing temperaments within the same individual, within the same body, is often looked at as foreign in a culture that rewards homogeneity. But what if we rewarded co-existence instead, what if we nourish the dichotomy, multichotomy even, as a gold standard in our development? Will our children grow up feeling more secure about the parts growing in different directions within their delicate, fledgling minds?
As Sufi chats extensively to strangers in her babble, or goes from one set of arms to another with little hesitation, I do wonder — is this child an extrovert born to introverts? But then I see how she get ponderous when she is among tall tress, how she observers, quietly, the way a tiny bug moves along a leaf, I feel that its not my place, or anyone’s to put her in a bracket.
She will be just the person she is, not adjustments necessary.