Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I'm not real good at that

Suz, in comments to this post (and really, read her whole comment; it's great):

Sabra, I'd like to play the devil's advocate on one point. No, you absolutely should not change who you are to please others. BUT, (you knew that was coming...) there's something to be said for modifying your outward appearance and behavior as a means of adapting to your environment. And it's a lesson worth learning. School is a repressive, conformist hell, and for anyone who has an imagination, the best thing to do is just get through it. I managed to make myself all but invisible in school, so as not to attract the attention of bullies, but outside of school, I was a totally different person. "Don't act so gay," is a horrible thing to say to a kid, because it justifies the bullying. On the other hand, being openly "different" in any way, is seen by the conformists as defiance. It's not true, and it's not right, but it's a fact of crowd mentality. I decided it was a lot easier to keep my personality to myself, than it would have been to defend myself. I didn't want to waste time or emotion proving my worth to people WHO WEREN'T IMPORTANT to me. I didn't fit in with group, or subgroup. Hell, not even the nerds! To a degree, I'm the same way now. Most of the people who think they know me, don't have a clue what I really think. And with very few exceptions, I see no reason to enlighten them.
And the thing here is that Suz is absolutely right.  I am actually a big believer in being appropriate for the situation at hand.  Which is why I still do the whole eyebrow-raise at some of the things people wear to church.

That said, I pretty much suck at conforming, unless I do it accidentally.  It's part of my personality type, if you want to get all Jungian about it.  The whole "INTJs spend a lot of time inside their own minds, and may have little interest in the other people's thoughts or feelings" thing?  That's me, pretty much to a T. 

It's not that I am trying to be weird.  It just often works out that way.  As Suz said, most people you encounter in high school just aren't that important.  Where she and I diverge, though, is she has the ability to blend in and sail through smoothly.  I lack that ability altogether, most likely, although it could certainly be a mere disinclination to blend in. 

I am not blowing my own horn (as my husband would say) by declaring this.  I do not think it makes me any better than anyone else that I don't even try to blend in.  I can actually trace a few of the problems I've had over the years to just this aspect of my personality.  (Well, this and the fact that I'm pretty easily annoyed.)  But because logically there is nothing wrong with being a bit weird and not fitting in, I can't make myself do it even when it would mean smoother sailing.  Over the years I have built up a small-but-strong network of more socially-savvy friends to whom I can turn and say "What would a normal person do in this situation?"  There are a handful of people who seem to really have their shit together and who are "normal" at least in the sense that they fit in society better than I, and I study these people carefully and store it away for the times when I might need to pretend I'm not a total wingnut.  (IE, when dealing with representatives of a government agency/my more straitlaced professors/the girls' teachers.)  But I'll freely admit that it's a pretty steep learning curve.

For the most part, though, I will never give a damn.  And although I understand that there are certain societal standards, I will never insist that my kids adhere to them simply because they exist, especially since so many are simply arbitrary.

Somewhere, though, I will need to find a primer on raising extroverted children when you're an introvert.  


suz said...

Thanks Sabra! I have to tell you it has taken me decades of observation to learn how to blend in! I still feel uncomfortable around most people, and I see it as a secret victory when they don't notice.
I hope you're kidding about raising extroverted children; PFC turned out OK, but he likes his solitude as well. No matter what their personality types, your girls will draw strength from your own self respect!

Bob S. said...

I feel your pain Sabra. I truly do.

I also am a INTJ and was bullied - we called it 'being picked on' in school, a lot.

I was the perpetual new kid, I was skinny (6'1" & 118# at High school graduation), I was intelligent, I have a speech impediment.

There was so much about me that I couldn't change so I decided not to bother trying. I decided that people could like me or not, it was their choice.

A great read on personality types is a book called the Art of Speedreading People. It breaks down each of the 16 Meyers-Briggs personality types and talks about their communication styles.

I highly recommend it for just about everyone. It helped me dealing with my children who are so much different from me personality wise.