Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Impulsive introversion

In third grade, I was a little runt. Truly. You wouldn't believe it to look at me now, but back then I was young for my grade, short and thin. These qualities sometimes got me in trouble. One day in early fall, just after recess, our class was lined up outside the third grade room waiting for Mrs. Epperson to come back from lunch, and one of the girls standing beside me decided to show everyone else just how small I was.

"I bet I could pick you up," she said.

"Don't do that," I said. I wasn't comfortable with being picked up by acquaintances.

Unfazed, my classmate bent over, grabbed me around the waist and lifted me high in the air. And I still don't know why I did what I did next, because as she held me up I instinctively leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek.

"Eww!" she shrieked, and immediately put me down. The other kids laughed and a few taunted me for liking other girls. Me, I was busy being dismayed. Wait, what just happened? What was I thinking?

"Why'd you kiss her?" my friend behind me asked. "That was gross."

I had to think fast. "Well, it made her put me down, didn't it?" I reasoned. "I told her not to pick me up."

This was a good enough explanation for a class of third graders, and nobody in my class tried to pick me up again. But long after everyone else had forgotten the incident, I continued to relive the experience over and over in my head, continually mortified at the kiss that seemed to come out of nowhere and the way the other kids had mocked me for it.

That same year I was playing at a friend's house and spontaneously decided we should be wilderness explorers. I led her up to the end of her street and down a steep hill into the city's nature park. We wandered around for hours, running across bridges, exploring creeks, skinning our knees and generally having a great old time together until her parents showed up. They'd been frantically looking for us for a long while, since we hadn't bothered to tell anyone where we were going. Her dad was a large, curly-haired man with a bull-like head, and by the time they found us his face had gone a dark red, his nostrils flaring white and his eyes narrowed to slits. I honestly thought for a minute that he was going to lower his head and charge at me. For weeks afterward I was afraid of going anywhere near him at our church meetings, thinking again and again of that fierce, glowing face staring me down.

A few years and a new school later, I bought a school lunch and got some change back from the purchase. The sound of the coins jingling in my pocket annoyed me for some obscure reason, and to get rid of the noise and the bother of carrying money around I just started handing out coins to people at recess. I hadn't been popular that year, and one of the other girls started running around telling people I was trying to buy some friends. Angry at her comments, I kicked a hole in the dirt of the exercise field and buried the rest of my coins. What were you thinking? my brain continued to ask me, long after it was over. Why couldn't you just leave the coins where they were?

I could provide so many more illustrations, because the hits just kept on a-comin', all through junior high and high school and right into college. I did all sorts of stupid, capricious things without thinking them through, and then repeatedly relived the shame and embarrassment of having done them. Why did you say that? Why couldn't you just keep your mouth shut? What made you think kissing him would be a good idea? Don't you ever think of the consequences?

Frankly, impulsivity and introversion are a match made in hell. If you're an impulsive extravert, you can probably blithely shrug off your less-than-ideal choices. If you're a sensible introvert, you probably weigh the potential consequences of your actions a long time before deciding to act. But if you're both impulsive and introverted, you tend to act without thinking and then compulsively mentally replay the consequences of your poor decision-making, like a one-tune iPod set on endless repeat.

It can get to a point where even if you make a fairly innocuous impulsive decision, you start second-guessing yourself. Last week I attended a stitch-&-bitch-style gathering for knitters and crocheters in the back room of a local craft store. One of the regular attendees had generously brought a batch of her homemade fudge to share with everyone. As I sat there knitting away, I saw one of the craft store employees working alone out front and it suddenly occurred to me that it might be friendly to offer him some fudge too, so I impulsively put several pieces of fudge into some brown paper and carried them out to the desk. Even before I sat back down, my introvert brain was already cranking into overdrive: Wouldn't it have made more sense to check and see if the guy was diabetic first? What if he doesn't like fudge? Did you even think to ask the lady who brought the fudge whether it would be OK to share it with someone? Do you even think at all? What is the matter with you? Fortunately I've learned the handy art of telling my brain to shut up and think of something else instead, but it did come back for a few honorable mentions. And yet I don't think anyone was harmed by that particular impulsive choice. It's just that I've gotten so used to having my snap decisions backfire on me that my brain automatically starts berating me for my stupidity, even if the decision wasn't really all that stupid.

Honestly, these days I do try to think things through. I try to imagine the potential real-world consequences for my actions. I try not to open my mouth before I've considered the possible ways that an offhand comment could be incorrectly parsed. But I still end up putting myself into trouble now and then, saying and doing things that make me want to kick myself later. I'm sure I'm not alone, though. There have got to be at least a few people out there who are also impulsive introverts, getting tired of the taste of their own shoe leather. I wonder if they've learned to cope with it, how they silence the verbally abusive parts of their brains, what tricks they've discovered that keep them from speaking without thinking. Because I could sure use some help in that department.


Furi said...

Thank you for sharing this,
I've been experiencing the same way too. Glad to know that i'm not alone.
And I admire how much you think about others.

If u don't mind, I want to share mine:
At first I've been very impulsive.

Feeling too much comparing with common behavior, in recent years, I tried to ignore/reject every impulses to be more calm and cool. But as the result, there's no passion and energy.
Then i become sort of underachiever and have so many regrets about what I didn't do at the time.

So, now I start to let myself to be impulsive again. However, now with the note to myself to ignore impulses that can distract me from my main goals/dreams.

This not going well so far, up and down, lots of stressful situations and conversation within my head.
Still very far gap to catch up on my dreams.

But overall, now I can feel that at some points that I'm getting better.

So my mission now is to have a clearer understanding about my self, dream, fear, strength, weakness, etc.

So that I can filter better and be more sure about my moves, my choices, my decisions.

Hopefully I can work this out :)

NB: Sorry to write you this much..

thewellbredwomaninprogress said...

I found this post by googling "impulsive introvert" because I wanted to see if it was a thing...and yes, it totally is a thing because it happens to you, too. I check ALL the boxes on the "are you an introvert" quizzes, AND I tell off strangers, let it ALL out, fight for convictions, display passion rather wildly, cannot let ANYthing go....and yes, experience all that remorse and second guessing afterwards.

I definitely agree it's a match made in, ahem, not heaven (I don't swear, it's just not me).

I deal with it by normally choosing to check the impulsivity at the door not necessarily because I want to but because I feel the rewards gained from it are generally less than the consequences....BUT I feel that it is partially because I AM that normally reasonable, predictably calm person that makes my outbursts actually less effective (can we say overanalyzing much?!) Instead of mas effective as I wish they would be. But there are times that I just. Have. To. Act. On the tonight actually, I'm negotiating a business deal and let's just say that the title of my email included the word "ultimatum."

And then I googled "impulsive introvert." Because I was like, if this isn't already a thing, I think I just discovered it (happy I didn't discover it though, I always worry about being too vain).

Your post has encouraged me (not that I needed encouragment...*evil laughter*). So thank you. Also I will follow your blog if I can figure out how now that Google Reader is gone.