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Archive for the ‘Holding the Tension’ Category

My whole life, I’ve considered myself to be an introvert of the card-carrying-you-can-tattoo-it-on-my-forehead-it’s-never-going-to-change variety. I never questioned my introvert status. In fact, in some ways it was like a security blanket I always carried around with me. Other times, I would use it as an excuse to not pursue more social activities. I was a hard-core introvert and nothing would ever change that. Or so I thought.

I recently completed a course in developmental psychology, in which my instructor mentioned that one’s personality is set by age three. Intrigued, I asked her if traumatic experiences could affect one’s personality. She replied that trauma could change one’s displayed personality; however, if the individual underwent psychotherapy, then the original personality would be restored. I was fascinated with this bit of information, especially because at recent Jung group meetings, we had discussed the differences between introverted personalities and extroverted personalities.

Our Jungian expert and facilitator explained that introvertism and extrovertism run on a continuum. Therefore, one could be an introvert but fall on the spectrum closer to the extrovert side. And in truth, the middle is the best place to be, because in traditional Jungian parlance, one-sidedness leads to neurosis. I began to think maybe the time had come to rethink my loyalty to the introvert club, but then the facilitator said something that really piqued my interest: we feel fatigued when we go against type. As such, social activities should make me feel tired or drained of energy. And this had been true in the past; however, I realized that recent social activities made me feel energized, rather than depleted. In fact, I had been preparing to give a 45-minute senior synthesis presentation—a feat that should have filled me fear and apprehension. Instead, I was excited about the public speaking engagement and was hoping to have a large audience. Clearly, I was working against my introvert nature, but I was not feeling fatigued. I felt as though I had made a definite shift on the introvert-extrovert continuum that had placed me closer to the extrovert side.

Another example of this shift came in my decision to apply for the Couple & Family Therapy graduate program instead of Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The Jung group facilitator says that CFT is about being a “Sage on a Stage,” whereas CMHC is for those wishing to be a “Guide on the Side.” I had always planned on applying for the CMHC program because I didn’t want to deal with a bunch of people in the room. But that was my hard-core introvert doing the thinking for me. I ultimately decided to do CFT because I want to work with children, especially those surviving violent home environments. Which brings me back to what my developmental psychology professor told me in class and the way I connected it to my history with agoraphobia.

Individuals are not born with agoraphobia. Agoraphobia typically develops in one’s early 20s, or the age when people start moving away from home and becoming independent. Jung said, “The more intensively the family has stamped its character upon the child, the more [the child] will tend to feel and see its earlier miniature world again in the bigger world of adult life.” Therefore, if home were a place where I was hurt as a child, then as an adult, I would perceive the world-at-large as a place where I could also be hurt. And so began the downward spiral of agoraphobia. In the same vein, what if I wasn’t always someone who avoided social situations? Many family members have told me I was always a happy, smiling child. What if my life experience turned my naturally extroverted-self into a person who displayed an introverted personality for over three decades? The math certainly adds up and while I still believe I am an introvert (and my Myers-Briggs type of INFJ would agree,) I have made a concerted effort to practice being an extrovert. After all, the way I ultimately overcame agoraphobia was to practice acting like someone who wasn’t afraid.

My senior synthesis presentation was an overwhelming success. Many people said that I looked like a natural public speaker and that I belonged leading a group. When I served jury duty last week, if selected to be on a jury, I was going to offer to be the foreman. My previous introvert-identified persona would never have dreamed of doing such things. And most importantly, these activities did not drain me of my energy. At the conclusion of my symposium, I wanted to do it all over again! For my final project for my lifespan development class, I opted to do a presentation and had a lot of fun sharing my topic with the class and enjoyed answering their questions.

I know many books and articles have come out recently to defend introverts. Certainly, being an introvert (or extrovert) is not bad or evil. But I encourage other card-carrying introverts to think about where they fall on the continuum and practice holding the opposite. When we can master holding the tension of the opposites, only then can we have wholeness.

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Two Years Gone: Looking Back and Moving Forward

Two years is a long time. And in that time I have changed greatly. Tremendously. I can say that I am definitely not the person today that I was back then. I am a better person. I was always nice and respectful…of others, yet lacked the skills to be respectful to myself. And if I had been this new and improved woman back then, the shit that happened would never have flown. But fly it did.

Things were messed up from the get go but I truly didn’t know any better. I didn’t think to ask for a job description and what was explained to me seemed ok enough. But there was one omission—I was expected to drive as part of this job. Had that fact been made clear to me at the onset my story would end here, as I would not have accepted a position that required me to drive. I could have declined without explanation and no questions asked.

I am a recovering agoraphobic. The last manifestations of my condition reside in driving. I am comfortable driving my own car around my regular haunts. But my new job required me to drive a company car—a sedan that was much larger than my compact Toyota. I was really nervous the first time out and had to do some breathing exercises to stave off a panic attack and I even went to the bathroom to cry upon my return. Subsequent trips in the company car lessened my anxiety and then the unthinkable happened: the company car was taken away and I was expected to drive a company rig. The rigs are pick-up trucks with canopies and you can’t see out the back window and must rely on mirrors to see behind you. I was told I would have to drive these vehicles before my lunch break one day. I went home and had a panic attack, fervently reading and re-reading my employment contract to see if I missed anything regarding this driving obligation. I hadn’t.

Allow me to back up the truck a moment. When I interviewed for this job, I told my potential boss who is also a counselor about my struggles with agoraphobia, my success with therapy and that I still have problems with driving. He didn’t seem to have a problem with it and I think he appreciated my candor.

After the aforementioned lunch break, I returned to work and spoke to my office manager about having difficulties with driving unknown vehicles. I even mentioned that this was brought to the attention of the owner at my interview. Her solution was to have another employee take over the driving. Fast-forward several months to when my office manager tells me “We really have to get you into a rig” and of course I panicked. I thought this was over. I made my reservations known and I was “taken outside.” We work in a small office with little privacy so anytime someone is to be reprimanded, it is done outside, in front of the office. She told me “I thought we were past this.” And I was perplexed because even though I was in therapy, learning to drive foreign vehicles was not on my list of things to accomplish. I told her it was stupid for me to have to consider quitting my job because I didn’t want to drive a truck, especially when it wasn’t made clear to me that I would ever have to do so. She told me that if I quit it was my choice and that lots of office positions require you to drive. I pointed out that she had seen my resume and that I came from a background of food service management and retail customer service—neither of which require one to drive. She told me that she had reservations about hiring me due to my lack of office experience but decided to give me a shot. She then said that the two owners didn’t know that I had “this problem” and she had been covering up for me and insinuated that if they found out that I wasn’t driving that I would be in trouble.

I was furious! How dare she use my condition against me, and then claim that I should be past this by now? That is not her determination to make. And I knew she was lying because I had told the owner myself about my struggles. I went to the other owner because she was in the office at the time. I explained to her my struggles regarding having to drive for this job. Imagine my surprise when she said “Honey, if you don’t want to drive you don’t have to.” Simple, just like that. Imagine the immediate relief and the subsequent rage that all of this could have been avoided. That perhaps all of this was manufactured just to make me feel bad about myself and my condition. And yet I persevered. I thought about quitting but I didn’t because this job paid very well and I desperately needed the money.

And that was just the first issue of many. Others included the garden variety office drama of people talking behind your back and being harassed and insulted by the crass, insidious man whose behavior was excused because “That’s just Steve.” Another occasion found my sales records being sabotaged by a co-worker, which resulted in my desk being moved into another room to get away from her. And yet another was having to report verbal and physical harassment by a male co-worker. In his case, he was forced to sign something saying the behavior would stop and even one infraction would result in his immediate dismissal. Are we sensing a trend here? I did. The violators are not prosecuted and the burden of all the bad seeds was upon me. Why didn’t I just leave? Long story short, I wasn’t the person I am today. If I had been I would have left the first time my agoraphobia was used to shame me and make me feel bad about myself. But for some reason I kept working towards a change.

Which brings me to today. I have my resignation letter written and ready to turn in to the powers that be. Part of it is that I’m going back to school full-time to become a psychotherapist. Part of it is that I’ve grown out of the job and wish to do something different with fewer constraints on my time. But the biggest part of it is retribution for what should have happened long ago and didn’t. For all the bullshit I had to put up with. If anything was learned it is that age does not dictate behavior as all of the offenders were old enough to be my parents and should have known better. I can speculate as to reasons why I was targeted but that’s a story for another day. In the end, what is important is being able to look back and see that I have grown and have developed boundaries and self-respect. And I will take those qualities and find a place where I can project them and have them reflected upon me in a way that is healthy. It will happen because it is supposed to happen. As Joseph Campbell said “The adventure the hero is ready for is the one that he gets.” I am ready for mine.

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