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Carpet Fuzz

Introverts, in my experience, are highly sensitive in other ways. We can be randomly fragile people (although many of us are, I have found, awfully strong in the long run and I think that comes from all that practice we get steeling ourselves). We are used to having our feelings dismissed. We are used to people telling us to get over it. We are used to hearing it from people who love us and who are otherwise kind to us (like our parents and friends and family).

Here’s an example. When I was a kid — like a little toddling kid still in diapers — I was afraid of carpet fuzzies. You know, those little fuzzies that get up between your toes when you are a sticky-footed toddler walking on acrylic carpet. I don’t quite remember being afraid of them but I do remember sitting, looking at my be-fuzzied toes and feeling despair. (Sensory issues — I’m telling you, introversion is a sensory issue and lots of us introverts have other sensory issues, too.) My big sister used to throw fuzzies at me and it would make me scream.

Of course it’s ridiculous to be afraid of carpet fuzz and it’s ridiculous to feel despair at the way they wind their way around your toes. But I was about two. And when you’re two you don’t have a scope of reference. You are still fresh and new and small things (especially if you are perhaps maybe a little sensory impaired) can feel overwhelming. You don’t know that the despair of unrelenting carpet fuzzies is part of being new to the world and will — for most of us — wear off.

It’s still a family joke about me once being afraid of carpet fuzz and it’s still something my sister teases me about. I am, of course, no longer scared of them. (I can walk barefoot across carpet with the best of ‘em!) I’ve also long learned that there are much more frightening things than carpet fuzz and, too, I’ve learned that there is usually a light at the end of things and that I am unlikely to be permanently undone by temporary discomfort.

Of course I’m also over forty. You can see how that’s a lot for a little kid to know and why they need our help managing their sometimes incomprehensible sensitivities.

A version of this post originally appeared on my old personal blog, this woman’s work.

24 Comments

  1. Thanks for this post, Dawn. I have trouble articulating just what it is about how I was parented that I want to avoid with my kids if I’m not talking more concrete things… like, say, my mother’s domineering and controlling nature and her negativity. I always have this feeling when they leave after a visit that I don’t want to be like that, but when I try to explain what “like that” is to my husband I can’t verbalize it. But I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, only I think I’m still more sensitive to the loving dismissal because it’s right beside a lot of other issues I have with my mother that aren’t so loving.

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    • I’m sorry things are so hard with your family.

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  2. Dawn–

    So often your entries really speak to me. This is one of those entries. As a fellow introvert, I can so relate to what you say. (Okay, what you write.) As a matter of fact, I first read this entry (and tried to comment from my smart phone, but failed) while giving myself just five minutes alone before heading in to watch my daughter’s swimming lesson. I do really like the other moms I chat with during the lessons, and I do often enjoy our little chats, but some days….. Well, I just need a bit of a reprieve.

    I have an extrovert for a daughter and she confuses me to no end. I always wonder why she’s not sick of people by the end of the day.

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    • My extrovert confuses me, too! But I tell you, doesn’t life look easier for our extroverts? She can make her way ANYWHERE and she can find a friend wherever we go. I marvel at it because it is so not me!

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  3. Thanks for posting this, Dawn. I have never responded to anything before (being the introverted voyeur that I seem to be) but this post spoke to me. You summed me up better than I can sum myself up. I could understand and relate to pretty much everything you wrote (right down to the husband that’s stuck with me because he’s the only one who ‘gets’ me and can deal with me!) It was especially helpful to hear I’m not alone with my feelings of ‘prickliness’ and not thinking crowds, parties, etc. are great fun. I’ve been on emotional overload this week with packing up stuff and getting ready to move to a brand new state in 4 days…and having to start all over with meeting people. Not easy for me. So thanks so much for sharing. You made a difference in my week.

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  4. My husband and I were talking only last night about an email I got from Cricket’s mom several months ago in which she worried about him because of his (already apparently, poor little fish) introversion–it does seem to be an awfully hard thing for extroverts to understand. I’d never thought to connect it to a sensory issue, but I have heard “hilarious” tales of how as a very little kid I would cry and cry if I got dirty, and I still have problems with things like that (or having my face wet. Gah!). I wonder if there’s any research on a connection….

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    • We were talking at homeschool park day what a panic an introverted kid can cause especially around socializing. I haven’t seen any research but I haven’t really looked either. But I know that my son is a sensory avoiding kid and a lot of his issues are issues that I have or had when I was a kid and he’s also introverted. Then the stuff I’ve read about sensory avoidance makes me think about how I feel as an introvert so I think it’s connected.

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    • My (extremely extroverted and gregarious) mother actually took me to counseling when I was little because she was so worried about my social skills. The counselor was like, “She’s just introverted. Back off and let her learn how to be herself.”

      I roll my eyes at most of the memory now, but there were definitely some painful years in which my mom just could not understand that I could be different than her and still be okay.

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      • I used to get the ‘something wrong with you’ comments about my introversion as well, although my mother never took me to a counsellor. She always found it difficult to understand that my social needs were, well, quieter and less frequent than hers. She related far more to my naturally extroverted sister.

        And Dawn, you have hit the nail on the head with the link between introversion and sensory issues. From avoiding noise, hating the ‘vibe’ in crowded shopping centres, to not being able to stand having my toenails ‘too long’ because of how they feel and being mocked as a young child because my eyes watered whenever I was told to look someone in the eyes (I physically could not do that), I relate to that whole package.

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  5. In your writing at least, you do not come across as an introvert at all. I think there is a difference between being introverted and highly critical/sensitive. The two do not always go together. I am mostly an introvert, easily overwhelmed, but I like parades, parties where I know people, and although I am highly imaginative and worry needlessly a lot, I have never had any phobias like carpet fuzzies, even as a kid, Maybe I have it wrong, but to me being an introvert means being quiet, shy with strangers, undemonstrative, inner-directed and introspective. It means liking being alone some of the time, enjoying spending time reading and writing. I do not think I am a fun-killer when out with others who are more outgoing. If anything, I try to not make waves when with others.

    Luckily for me my husband is an extreme introvert bordering on hermit, and my sons, including the one I surrendered, are all basically introverts as well, as were my late parents. I have some extrovert friends, but enjoy the differences as we have other interests in common.

    Just from reading your blog sometimes, I get the feeling you have other things going on besides just introversion that sometimes make it hard for you. We all do, of course, but I would not attribute it all to introversion.

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    • Yup, that’s likely true. I still think introversion is a sensory thing (that’s just my theory) but I think some of us have other sensory things, too, and that having one sensory thing makes it more likely (but not absolute) that there will be others.

      I wonder though — my husbands tests as a low extrovert and he reads a lot like you describe yourself here. What makes him an extrovert though is that he is recharged by being around people and enjoys it even though he isn’t the life of the party. He also enjoys parades, etc. Have you done the Meyers-Briggs? Maybe you’re on the cusp like he is? (And that makes me think that some of it could be the rest of my Meyers-Briggs results — I’m an INFP.)

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      • I’m an INFP borderline ENFP. Right on the cusp on the E/I. I did a more complete Meyers Briggs recently that really fleshed things out in a way that made more sense than just the initial stuff. In the intraversion/extraversion delineation, it further characterized: initiating/receiving; expressive/contained;gregarious/intimate; enthusiastic/ quiet; and active; reflective. So while i’m on the cusp between introvert/extrovert, i’m 5 out out 5 expressive and enthusiastic. All the rest on the cusp. That makes me look like an extrovert, when really i’m just expressive. You strike me that way too, sort of. I have a cousin who’s full on extrovert, but she is insanely contained/private and tested that way too. That makes her look introverted, when really she craves people more than me. Make sense?

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  6. I hadn’t thought about introversion as a sensory thing, but it just makes so much sense. When I start feeling overwhelmed, it all adds up. The quality of noise and light bothers me, and I find I do better if I can take a few minutes by myself to relax. Hannah doesn’t get that, though, and a lot of the time will want to come and chat and, say, jump on the bed while I’m pulling myself together. That, of course, doesn’t help! I don’t ever want her to feel like I don’t want her around, but I’ve managed to explain that sometimes I just need a little quiet time, and that I’d love to have her with me if she can sit quietly and read a book. (She usually can’t, but she tries.)

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  7. Oh! Yes! This is just the way I feel. Well, not about carpet fuzzies, but being introverted and feeling really annoyed by certain things. For me it’s noise. I had not made the connection with sensory issues, but you may be on to something. I feel overloaded in a crowd and shut down pretty quickly.

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  8. This, and your last post on introversion, both had me nodding along in somewhat chagrined recognition. I just thought I’d chime in this time with a fervent, “Me too!”.

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  9. As an introvert, I am sometimes seen as a snob, grumpy or unsocial. I love people, but I do not get strength from being around them and I do not participate in gossip. Sometimes I wish I had a sign, that said “I really am nice!”
    My hubby is at the border of extravert/introvert. He is great at speaking publically and can smooze for his job, but also doesn’t get strength from people. My third daughter just thrives on people, all the time. It is so hard to parent her sometimes because she is so different from me!

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  10. I did the Meyers Briggs years ago and remember I came out introvert but do not remember the other letters:-) Maybe I should look it up and take it again on the internet. Nobody has ever accused me of being an extrovert of any kind and I can’t take really loud confident aggressive types for long, nor extreme crowds. Small crowds are tolerable.

    I like being around people I like, generally other quiet bookish types, and especially anyone with a witty sense of humor, preferably of the dark variety. People with no sense of humor are annoying and boring to me. I admit to loving gossip, but being very private myself. Hence no blog, no Facebook etc.

    I like being alone too, especially with my cats. My husband is very sensitive to noise, bad music, etc. I am really good at tuning most things out, including my messy house, and do not even hear some of the sounds he hears and is annoyed by.. I don’t think I have sensory issues, more like emotional issues, like I cannot stand to see or hear about cruelty to animals in any form, and prefer not to watch adoption-related shows that upset me as a birthmother.

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  11. do you think you can turn an extrovert into an introvert? My Hubby is an introvert, and now after hearing MILS repeated comments about how he was a “playpen” baby and how they “raised him to entertain himself” (usually in response to my daughter seeking their attention while they read or do Sudoku…) I wonder… Was her taught that he had to make do on his own? (He’s an only child) Was he ignored into being happy and comfortable on his own? Thoughts? Is it nature/nurture/both? I always thought it was an inborn tendency but when I imagine his childhood I wonder…

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  12. Oh, I so relate. I’m a total killjoy. And I don’t like it either. Except in my case, I come from an entire family of introverted, killjoy people. Extended, both sides. One of my earliest memories is of a family trip to Disney World and my mom and dad having an argument in which my mom accused my dad of being unable to have fun. Looking back on it, I’m sure he WAS unable to have fun in such a forced, superfun, loud, hot, etc. environment.

    Have you seen this article?

    http://www.livescience.com/health/shy-brain-process-information-differently-100405.html

    It substantiates some of what you discuss here regarding an overall sensitivity.

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    • I recently had our old family 8mm movies converted to DVD as a present for my dad. It’s pretty illuminating to me–I was super hesitant as a child. I was nervous about water and I was not the super happy eating cake baby on my first birthday. I approached that cake very, very tentatively.

      My mom always talks about how people always describe “good babies” and how I definitely didn’t fit that description. I was very clingy and pretty easily shaken. As an adult, I still need a lot more processing time than the average person.

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  13. I identify with all of this, very much so, except the introvert part. I kind of hate the designation, but I think I’m a highly sensitive person. I’m actually reading “Parenting your Highly Sensitive Child” looking for hints for my kids, one of whom appears to be an introvert and one who is an extravert. I think “HSP” is another way of saying sensory issues, and, as you and others have said, it can affect introverts and extraverts. But I think being an introvert would make it even harder. I worry that I wasn’t nice enough about this stuff with my daughter. It was so frustrating sometimes. And I should have understood, being that way myself. But sometimes you just want the kid to do what you want them to do without having things take forever and involve so much processing! She’s grown out of a lot of her issues, and I was nice to her most of the time, but I feel bad anyway.

    My mom was super mean about this stuff. She didn’t like it in herself, so she didn’t like to see it reflected in me. Now, I get that, although I chose to be kinder.

    Also, the hotel room person? Was an asshole. You bear no responsibility in that situation.

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  14. Your posts about being an introvert really speak to me Dawn – in fact, I had to save this one to read more carefully, hence my late commenting!

    Because I am a person who is generally friendly, very good at small talk, and easily adapts to new social situations (something I attribute to moving around quite a bit as a child), it took me a long time to figure out that I was an introvert at heart. And Oh My Goodness to I agree that there are some funny sensory things that go along with introversion! Its been a struggle to accept that about myself in a society and career that values outgoing people. I am still figuring out what that means for me now and for my future – but I see a lot of fun spoiling ahead!

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  15. I am the same way….never enjoyed parties, get togethers, crowds (however larger or small). It is not fun and i have to this day – psych myself up to handle them. And I am 38.

    I would much rather be alone with my pups – or my sis (nieces) and mom.

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  16. There’s a great book by Elaine Aron called “Highly Sensitive People” that distinguishes highly sensitive stuff from both introversion proper and shyness. HSPness often goes along with introversion, but extroverts can have sensory stuff, too.

    It was *so helpful* for me to really GET that I can’t handle noise and crowds unless I’m reasonably centered, prepared for it, and have time to recover. Most of my people are non-HSP extroverts and I was trying to keep up with them. FAIL!

    Now I’m much more comfortable just declining things I know won’t be fun for me. (Carnivals? No thank you!) But there were years and years of feeling like a big freak for not enjoying things everyone else thought were fun fun fun.

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