Ever since I was a child, I felt like a weirdo. In primary school, it was okay, though, because I was the weirdo that everyone knew and liked. But at age 12, something happened that changed my whole life and forced me to reconsider myself: My father accepted a job in France. We left my native Hungary and moved to a new country where I didn’t have any friends, and I didn’t even speak the same language. A truly challenging situation (or in my words at the time: the “worst case scenario”) for someone who is highly sensitive as well as an introvert — which I was unaware of being.
Needless to say, I really struggled to make friends, let alone connect with people. First and foremost, it was because of the language barrier (I somehow became friends with a Chinese girl, though – we spoke in a kind of sign-smile language). But that wasn’t the only reason; I was quiet, reserved, and shy. Even though I learned French in about six months, no one knew this for several more months because I didn’t speak at all. When I did, everyone was astonished at my great pronunciation and grammar.
Although I was bright and studious — the opposite of a problem child — teachers were not happy with me. They urged me to speak up, to be more open, to start conversations with classmates I didn’t know. They wanted me to make friends, basically, but in my world, the methods they suggested seemed intrusive and obnoxious. How could I just speak to random strangers, asking them random stuff? I would hate for someone to do that to me. But here, it seemed to work for everyone. I know that it is culturally determined – French people are direct and frank, but Hungarian people like me, not so much. But I realized that there was something else.
I was a classic introvert, but my community wasn’t having any of it. They wanted me to be an extrovert. I know they meant well; they felt like it was the only way for me to succeed and be happy. But not being accepted for who I was had a major impact on my self-esteem and self-confidence.
It made me remember that I already had some issues with speaking up and making connections with strangers back home. I was afraid that something was wrong with me. I felt that I had to improve and change to be someone else. I only knew a few people who were like me, quiet and shy. And even I thought that they were a bit weird; their way of being was nowhere near the norm.
Some Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
This mindset obviously led me to some very unhealthy coping mechanisms. I beat myself up every day that I didn’t speak more or strike up conversations easily. At about 17, I came in contact with alcohol and realized pretty quickly that drinking makes me more extroverted. I started to use and abuse it. One summer, I drank every single day, and I felt accomplished and happy because I made a lot of new connections and had tremendous fun with my friends.
But deep inside, I was often miserable. Sometimes, being an introvert hit me like a hammer. Why couldn’t I just walk up to a person like everyone else and have a conversation? What was wrong with me? If there was a miracle cure, I would have taken it because no one – not my parents, not my extroverted friends, not my first love – seemed to understand me.
I considered going into therapy because of my shyness, but I never actually did. Calling a complete stranger to ask for help? No, thank you!
Then, some years ago, I did it – for completely different reasons, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. It took me almost three years of therapy and extensive reading about my personality type (INFP) to finally figure it out. I was different, sure, like everyone is different from one another. But I wasn’t weird or faulty — I was special (my therapist still repeats that phrase to me every time we meet). Only 4 percent of people fall under this personality type, and we are the official weirdos (in a good way) in the MBTI universe. No wonder I always felt out of place! And no wonder that teachers kept trying to change me; they just didn’t understand how I function. And neither did I, which meant I couldn’t explain to them what was going on in my mind.