Wednesday, June 26, 2013

It Is Not Your Job To Expand My Comfort Zone

(This has been rolling around in my head for awhile. I'm still not entirely sure it's come out coherently - it's a very emotional subject for me and sometimes that can be hard to put clearly into words, much less edit - but it was really on my heart and mind today, so I wanted to publish it. In a year or so, I may look back on this and think, "What? What was I talking about?" And at that point maybe I can refine it a bit more to convey my thoughts. But for now I'll post it with this disclaimer.)

Introverts, especially more extreme introverts like myself, always have our fair share of people deciding we will be their pet project so they can fix us.

It's the people who say, "I am going to get you to come out of your shell this year."

The ones who say, "Come on, come to this party! You'll have so much fun! It'll be good for you! You need to get out more!"

Worst, it's the ones who push you into situations you never wanted to be a part of, and then when you complain that you're not comfortable, they say, "You need to lighten up!"

Let me say this. Yes, sometimes I do need to come out of my shell. Sometimes I do need to get out more. Sometimes I do need to lighten up.

Here's the thing: That is not your call.

I ranted a little bit about this trend awhile back when I talked about why I stopped watching the sitcom Go On. Sitcoms and movies have formed this completely awful view of friendships in which, if someone thinks they are your friend, they are entitled to drastically reorder your life in order to push you and challenge you into being a better person, especially when it comes to "getting out of your comfort zone" or "letting people into your life."

There are a few practical problems with this.

1. Sometimes the things you think are flaws... aren't. My analytical friends have been told to stop overthinking. My introverted friends have been told to get out more. My optimistic friends have been told to face reality. Are these things flaws in and of themselves? Absolutely not. Sometimes what you may think is a flaw is actually just a piece of their personality. While it may be different from the way you would do things, they and others may truly appreciate that aspect of their personality.

2. If I wasn't uncomfortable before, I sure am now. For many introverts, calling attention to the fact that you think they're not social enough will suddenly take all the fun out of the socializing they do partake in. I'll do it to make you happy (or get you to leave me alone, depending on how close we are) but it's not going to be effective or make me change my mind.

3. It can break the relationship. Deciding you're going to "fix" me and my introversion is essentially telling me the following: "You're a pretty good person, but you'd be a better one if you were more like me." It implies that I don't see my own flaws, am powerless to overcome them, and want desperately to be like you. It's extremely condescending to just self-appoint yourself my guru. It tells me that you think of yourself as the superior and me as the inferior (especially if you don't believe me if I tell you I'm fine or would rather not do this) . If I thought we were on pretty equal footing up until this point, this is a huge blow to the friendship.

So what can you do if you really want to help out an introvert? What if an acquaintance spends most of their time alone and you really genuinely feel they would be happier if they had people to hang out with on a regular basis?

The answer is simple: You make the offer and accept their decision.

If they are looking for a chance to get a little bit more social interaction but don't know quite how to make their way in, this gives them a good one.

If they say no - maybe they're overpeopled or have a lot of work to do or don't like parties or want to finish their book or don't feel comfortable enough with you yet or don't know the other people you'll be with or are just completely socially fulfilled and aren't looking for new friends - then you say OK, no problem, and that is your answer for today.

Imagine a comfort zone as a home. People who like routine, precision, and planning (many introverts) live in small, cozy cottage-sized comfort zones. Outgoing people who love going on adventures, meeting new people, and doing things they've never done before live in enormous mansions.

When you take it upon yourself to expand my comfort zone without my permission, it's like dragging me out of my house and pushing me into yours and then exclaiming, "Isn't this better?"

Well, I don't want to live in your house. I want to live in mine. You can invite me to visit yours any time, and sometimes I'll say yes. Sometimes I may even visit, find a room in your mansion that I like, and decide I want to expand my own home to make room for it, but in the end, my home is mine. My comfort zone is mine. And you're not allowed to kidnap me from it just for fun.

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