The Sponge

No, I’m not referring to the Seinfeld episode.

In this case, I’m talking about my innate ability to absorb emotions from the people around me. Some people rave to me about what a blessing they think it would be, while others recoil in horror. Truth is? It’s both a blessing and a curse, and definitely a major defining factor in why I’m an introvert.

I wish I could say definitively what it is that made me this way, but honestly I don’t remember a time where I wasn’t. It’s tied into me being INFJ (Myers/Briggs type), and some people call me an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), but I’m not anything special because of it. Of course, me being hyper-sensitive is also tied in with a nerve disorder I have, but that’s for a different post.

Being an emotional sponge can be a blessing because I can usually tell when a person is feeling overwhelmed, sad, anxious, etc., which gives me the opportunity to help them. When I ask the person if they’re ok, even strangers are usually quick to open up and tell me their problems, leaving them happier and grateful for the listening ear. That’s all most people really want, after all. Understanding and validation of feelings is something we all need, and I’m happy to serve that purpose if I can.

It also helps me in my writing, being able to understand every character’s point of view and knowing how they would act in a given situation. I share the emotions of my characters, often laughing, crying, or getting angry as the story unfolds, just as they do.

There are a few downsides to this ability. One is that I not only sense what people are feeling, I actually feel those same feelings. So, it becomes extremely exhausting when I have to be around a lot of people (or one strongly emotional person), because I experience it all. I don’t always understand where the feelings are coming from, or what they mean, and because they’re not mine, it can be hard to process.

I discovered the magic of boundaries a few years ago, which I have to actively work on all the time. Recognizing which feelings are mine and which are not, help me to discern what I am and am not responsible for. I imagine I’ll be working on this for the rest of my life, but I’m forever grateful to the therapist who introduced the concept to me and gave me some great literature on the subject. She saved my life.

Another downside is, once people get to know me, they have the opportunity to take advantage. I believe that humans are basically good. We all make bad choices, but this doesn’t mean we are bad people. This fuels my desire to help them, and opens me up to being used. I’ve been called naive or gullible, but the truth is that I can usually (not always) sense when people are being deceptive and/or manipulative. I never let someone know I have doubts about them. Me being me, I give them the benefit of the doubt and hope against hope that I’m wrong. I’m sad to say, I’m usually not wrong.

It doesn’t matter. I’m still going to give them that chance, because once in a while I’m right. Those times are worth it. Not to mention, if someone does wrong me in some way, it has nothing to do with me. It’s something in them that is hurting or lacking, and they deserve the chance to make a different choice. Like I said, we’ve all made bad choices. I’ve had multiple occasions in my adult life where people who wronged me in the past actually came back and apologized. The fact that they were willing to self-reflect enough to do that takes a lot of courage and awareness, something we should all strive for.

Those things being said, keeping up my boundaries all the time is exhausting in its own way, so I tend to keep to myself. I have always needed vast amounts of alone time, even as a kid.

I remember going to family gatherings, where I got to play with all the friends and family I didn’t normally get to see, and by about halfway through I’d be sitting in a bedroom, bathroom, or closet to decompress. No matter how much fun I was having, I could only handle small doses. I even got in trouble once in a while if someone found me, the weirdo child hiding out in a dark room, because people didn’t understand what could possibly overwhelm a kid at a party. Hell, I don’t always understand it myself, even now.

My one escape? Books. I could escape my body and non-stop thought process and focus on an adventure. Fantasy fiction has always been my favorite, non-fiction my least favorite. Because of my ability to relate too well, I like books with problems I’m never going to face, but which I can still imagine vividly and feel the excitement. I’ve ended up writing in the fantasy fiction genre for the same reason.

So, you know a little more about me. Now, I’d like to hear from you. To the other introverts out there, what factors do you think contribute to you being the way you are? Extroverts, same question: what experiences or personal traits made you, you?

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