• My extroversion isn’t a persona, it is, for better or worse, who I mostly am. I still blush sometimes, but I’ll never be as shy as I was as a teen. (Cultura RF)Source: Cultura RF
In the playground and at parties I had a reputation for being, well, a loudmouth. But stick me in front of a parent and I was a goner.
By
Nat Reilly

10 Sep 2020 - 8:39 AM  UPDATED 10 Sep 2020 - 12:04 PM

‘Now, when you meet my mum, don’t freeze up, OK? Because I know you’re not shy.”

This was the direction given to me at 13 years old from my then best friend. I remember her telling me this and I remember thinking almost immediately, “But I can’t help it!” 

Although my friend, like a lot of people I knew, thought I could. As if I had selective introversion.

Sure enough, when I met her mother, (who was honestly, a little scary and humourless) I blushed and stammered. I tried to project my voice – a skill I could do with ease in drama class – but it only cracked. “Nice to meet you, Mrs Gordon,” I said, in my voice-cracking whisper, before gingerly backing into a wall.

Why was I like this? At school I was extroverted to the point of rambunctiousness. Some people called me a show-off and they were mean, but they weren’t wrong.

Why was I like this? At school I was extroverted to the point of rambunctiousness. Some people called me a show-off and they were mean, but they weren’t wrong.

I sang, I did stand-up, I did impressions – and that was just Maths. In Biology I had a terrible habit of belting out Whitney Houston’s climactic “And I-I-Ieeeye -will always love YOuuuuu” while the teacher was trying to explain the functions of a plant cell. It was attention seeking and obnoxious but one thing it was not was shy.

Lest you think I was prejudiced against the sciences, let me assure you, I played the roles of Iago and Cassio in the reading of Othello for English. And yes, I did relish reading a scene inhabiting the dual roles of Shakespearean dudes out to the class. The teacher, not so much.

In the playground and at parties I had a reputation for being, well, a loudmouth. But stick me in front of a parent and I was a goner. At my weekend job, as check-out operator at Woolworths, the self-consciousness was crippling. I was 16 by this time and I couldn’t speak without blushing and stammering. Little wonder I was let go after Christmas.

At my weekend job, as check-out operator at Woolworths, the self-consciousness was crippling.

I thought about all of this when Ellen DeGeneres claimed that the reason she didn’t talk or make eye contact with non-celebrities was because, she said, she was an introvert. How can this person, who had her own sitcom, TV show and hosted the Oscars for crying out loud, claim to be introverted?

“You most certainly can be introverted and be a successful comedian or work in the entertainment industry,” Samantha Symes, a psychologist and psychotherapist tells me.

“When introverts are working on a set or on stage, they will pull from the creative, artistic or even business part of themselves and come across as quite extroverted people. They are on a stage right?”

Right.

“But this does not mean they are like this 24/7,” says Symes. 

“Clients who are introverted will often say they feel comfortable performing in front of a crowd but don't like crowds or even people,” she says. “They may finish a performance and be drained or will quickly want to be alone afterwards. It might take all of their energy or require a huge build up.”

And there, to paraphrase another Shakespearean dude, is the rub. It’s the extrovert that’s the persona, the introvert is the real person underneath, who needs a moment.

“How they engage may not seem warm enough by those expecting a friendlier, more outgoing connection like their onstage persona,” says Symes. “But that is not to say introverted performers are rude, [rather that] they are conserving their energy for their performances, which might leave those around them feeling cold.”

Ah ok. But what about me? My extroversion isn’t a persona, it is, for better or worse, who I mostly am. I still blush sometimes, but I’ll never be as shy as I was as a teen. What was happening?

Symes says I had a Reverse Ellen thing going on. Well, she didn’t say that, I did. But she did infer it. The persona, in this case, was my introverted self.

“Your good friends accepted you for who you were, they knew you and there was freedom in that space for you to be authentic without thinking,” explains Symes.

“When you’re at work or being met by a parent as a young person, there is your perception as to how you 'should be' and so it's not as free and so you become self-conscious.”

“When you’re at work or being met by a parent as a young person, there is your perception as to how you 'should be' and so it's not as free and so you become self-conscious.”

Yes, that’s it! That was exactly how I felt.

Symes continues: “Personal levels of extroverted-ness and introverted-ness can be situational.

“You may have found once you were more comfortable in your job or got to know the parent that you relaxed and were able to safely be more of your extroverted self.”

Well, I never did feel comfortable around my friend’s mum.

Maybe she was just an introvert.

Nat Reilly is a freelance writer.

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