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Posts Tagged ‘musings’

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The Pacific Northwest is experiencing the first heat wave of summer. As a result, my small un-air-conditioned home has become the antithesis of a comfortable, relaxing abode. Therefore, I have reverted to my favorite childhood summertime activity: reading on the floor in front of the box fan.

Growing up, I lived less than a block away from the local library. I would go there at least once a week and load up on all kinds of literature, from Francine Pascals’ Sweet Valley High novels to Charles Dickens’ classics to John Jakes’ North & South. I would pile my borrowed treasures on my bedroom floor and dive in for hours at a time while the blast from the fan whipped against my face.

Twenty-five years later, the books belong to my personal library but the scenario is the same. Today, I scanned my bookshelves for the books I’ve proverbially saved for a rainy day. The selections were C.G. Jung’s Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, James Hillman’s Re-Visioning Psychology, Lucy Goodison’s  The Dreams of Women, and Joseph Chilton Pearce’s The Biology of Transcendence. They are not the varied tomes of my youth, but just as satisfying. I scattered them in a semi-circle around me and read a few pages of one, put it down, and scooped up another.

Usually, when I read books such as these, some type of academic intent is behind the enterprise. But today, I read for pleasure and fun. Jung made me laugh hysterically. Pearce put me on the verge of tears. And somehow my annoyance at the sweltering heat dissipated. Tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter, but who cares? I have books to read.

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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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This blog has been sorely neglected for the better part of a year. I didn’t completely forget about it—I wrote the posts in my head, but never translated them here. And that’s not to say that I will never write about my amazing trip to Sequoia National Park last July or the dream incubation retreat I attended in February. But, as I recently completed my undergraduate studies, I keep thinking about the events that brought me here in the first place: to Seattle, to college, to graduate school. I could never have gotten here had I never made a decision in the split-second beat of my heart.

In 2006, I divorced my husband of 8 years. At the time, we lived in Las Vegas, where one could divorce quickly and cheaply. We filed the paperwork ourselves—no lawyers or their exorbitant fees. When the time came to sign the paperwork, it was just us and my mom, who was to act as our witness. When my turn came to sign, I paused momentarily. I had a private conversation with myself in proverbial Angel vs. Devil fashion: “You don’t have to sign this if you don’t want to. You can try to work it out.” Which was countered by, “You already know what this life is. You will never know if there is anything different if you don’t sign it.” I was fearful and afraid. Was I going to fuck up life as I knew it? I felt as though I was closing my eyes before stepping off of a tall building. I signed the paper. Nothing happened. The ground was intact and my world didn’t shatter. And as it turned out, that nothing became the beginning of everything.

I recently saw the quote, “Sometimes you have destroy your life to let the next great thing happen.” The truth of this sentiment resonates throughout my entire being, probably because it reminds me of Edinger’s idea of the Psychic Life Cycle. It’s no secret that I adore Edward Edinger, the author of my favorite book (really!) Ego & Archetype: The Religious Function of the Psyche. He maintained that every individual goes through cycles of ego inflation and ego alienation and that both are necessary for healthy psychological development. Basically, he was saying that we all get too big for our britches (ego inflation) and will eventually fall and suffer humiliation (ego alienation). Then, if we make repentance, we are again accepted, which builds our ego and the whole cycle happens all over again.

In many ways, especially among family and friends, my divorce was seen as me destroying my life. After all, we owned a home, two cars and my husband made good money. Although I couldn’t articulate it at the time, I knew none of it could bring me the happiness such things were supposed to parley. In retrospect, I was drowning and I thought I had no life raft. But it was there along, in my heart—the leap of my heart that spurred me to sign my divorce papers. The leap that made me pack up all my belongings and move to Seattle. The leap that forced me to address my fear of driving so that I could finish my college degree. And all the subsequent leaps that ensued despite my former mantra of “I can’t do this.” In taking those leaps, I found my purchase on the other side of sorrow. For the first time, I found that I had dreams, goals and ambitions. Margaret Shepherd said, “Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.” And sometimes it’s the only transportation you need.

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