July 12, 2010

fat kid syndrome and a touch of virtue

I have several friends who find it very helpful to use temperaments and Jungian personality types to describe themselves and others.  "That's just my melancholic coming out," they'll say, or, "It's because you're so extroverted."

I agree that there is a great deal of good that can come out of these tools, and it's quite fun to listen to the temperaments and see how well I fit into two of the them and Travis into the other two.  They can be really useful in understanding why people do what they do - especially when it seems so ridiculous to me.

But the downside of them, I think, is how pigeon-holed I can feel when I am labeled by others, like they have me all figured out.  So I thought I'd take this post to fill you all in on a little known fact about me.

I realize that I am bubbly, outgoing, and chatty.  (In fact, I've been known to overwhelm some people with my, ahem, outgoing-ness.)  However, please do not mistake my abilities to be friendly, welcoming, and share my feelings as my being extroverted.  I am, in fact, an introvert.

It's true.  I like things to be quiet.  I don't like talking on the phone.  I'd rather read a book or bake.  Solitary car rides are my favorites (most of the time).  Making small talk can be exhausting for me.  If I'm going to host a party, which I do enjoy doing, I need some alone time - even if it is just cleaning the house - so that I can prepare.  I have to build up the charm and energy to remember names, keep the conversation flowing and make sure no one is left out.  During that energy building time I don't want to talk to anyone.  And then, after leaving a party or mom's group I want silence, often riding in the car with the radio off. 

So, how is it, you may be wondering, that for someone who claims to want so much silence I can be so loud?

Well, I think it's two things.  The first is Fat Kid Syndrome.
Sometime in middle school I became a fat kid.  Fat.  And you know how it goes with fat kids, you either are nice and funny so people like you, or you get made fun of.  I somehow decided that I would be nice and funny and honed my craft through high school and even college.  I did fairly well, too, except for a few times when I had too many plates spinning and things came crashing down.  But I was never teased or mistreated, despite being some 50-60lbs overweight and a little on the ugly side. 

Fat Kids Syndrome came in handy when I lost weight - suddenly I was thin, pretty, nice and funny!  - and when I began a job in campus ministry and then in admissions.  I had fine tuned the skill of "being on" and I could make conversations with the most socially awkward of people. 

The problem with Fat Kid Syndrome is that with it I forced myself to be someone I naturally am not.  And because it was so tiring to keep up appearances I often ran on fumes, frequently feeling like I was one mess away from being - well - a mess.

The further into my vocation I go the further I get away from this.  I have let many friendships fade into the background because of the amount of effort it took me to fit into my role in that relationship.  I have redirected that effort into becoming better friends with a small handful of women around whom I feel more relaxed.  There is no need to impress them, no need to be funny, smart or perfect.  It is absolutely freeing.  I have also learned that I don't have to be liked by everyone (that's a hard lesson - one I'm still working on), nor do I have to be close with everyone.  And lastly, I've learned through the deep, fulfilling love of my husband and children that I can be loved for exactly who I am - and I'm even fat again!

The other reason I am often perceived as an extrovert is because I have made a deliberate attempt at the virtue of hospitality.  It is so important to appreciate people, to acknowledge their God-given dignity, and welcome them as I would Christ.  ("Do you want a rum and coke, Jesus?  Have a cookie!")  I already like to prepare food and have a clean house - I might as well serve that food to others as I welcome them into my home.  But more than that, I can sit by and visit with the person who doesn't seem to know anyone else at a friend's party.  I can introduce her to the other people I know, ask a couple questions, and get the conversations going.  (This is not to say that I'm a hit at every party, or overflowing with graciousness and good times.  Oh, no, no, no, no, no.)

Being hospitable like this has been a challenge for me (as growing in virtue usually is), especially as I committed myself to being genuine and laid back.  If things aren't perfect I can't freak out, stress out, or prophesy doom.  I have to shrug it off, laugh it off, forget about it, or do something else to let go.  This is all very easy to type and very hard to live.  But, it is still immensely easier than putting on a smile and trying to manipulate situations so people will like me.

In the end, I suppose I have come to better understand what St. Paul meant by "being everything to everyone."  I had always thought it meant slightly altering my authentic self to better meet the expectations of others, thus gaining their approval.  I now know it means being Christ to everyone - loving, kind and happy that they're alive - while still being true to who He has fashioned me to be. 

The glory of God is man fully alive.  St. Irenaeus
I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.  John 10:10


  1. This is facinating to me! Great post! I've never put much stock into personality assessment things-maybe that's why. What a beauituful reflection.

    Also, I'm EXTREMELY extroverted and always love when I get a glimpse into the mind of an introvert. It helps me undesrstand the "other side". I love your getting ready for a party analogy. I would do it with friends over helping me cook before hand and talk my husband's ear off after everyone had left!

  2. This is so true! I think what frustrates me the most is when people think they know who you are (either because you are a good actor or they are really not perceptive) and they stuff you into that little box. Then when you act differently than the box, they freak out. Sometimes I think my husband and my mom are the only two people in the world who really understand me for me, not someone stuffed in a box.

  3. Bonnie, this might be one of my favorite posts.

    The details you gave about building energy before parties, etc, describes me to a T. My parents come from big families, and at any of these functions I would have to "hide" in a room after awhile just to be alone and regroup. As much as I enjoyed being a missionary, it took so much out of me. Plus, I knew any positive interactions, any well-given speeches, were all God's, because I was (am) a terrified, bumbling idiot.

    Again, wonderful post. I'm glad you shared this about yourself

  4. Nice one Bonnie. I liked this post a lot. Being yourself is so liberating.

  5. Much to people's surprise.... every time I've taken a personality test, I not an extrovert - close- but not really.

    We all have many reasons why we try to develop and perfect qualities that aren't natural to us. I do believe that I have the gift of hospitality. I don't think this gift always coincides with being an extrovert. I