I am an iceberg. Not in the sense of being cold, distant, or unapproachable. But in the sense of my hidden depths. Depths that were so hidden, it’s taken four decades to begin to uncover them. It has taken a long time for me to embrace my quiet strength, and the job’s not done yet.
In my family I was “the quiet one.” This epithet was pinned on me by my parents, siblings, and teachers, and it became the dark cloud that I could never shift. It came complete with a set of assumed character traits like: sensitive, reserved, bookish, and, worst of all, shy. And in an extroverted, welcoming, and friendly place like Liverpool, England, the worst thing you can be is shy. Over time, however, I realized that being introverted wasn’t the burden it appeared to be. I began to discover and develop my “hidden” powers.
A journey of self-discovery followed that led to a volunteer role, which would fundamentally change my relationship with my introverted self. I became a support worker for victims of crime. In this role, I discovered my silent superpowers—superpowers shared by many introverts. These are: the power of presence, the power of silent support, and the power of intelligent empathy.
The power of presence is really being there for someone in crisis. It requires you to allow yourself to fade into the background as you attend completely to someone else. When I began supporting victims of crime, I noticed that I could focus completely on that person, without being distracted, for as long as it took. I developed the ability to read someone like a book. I could tell if the physical story and verbal story matched. I could tell when a victim was becoming overwhelmed. Most importantly, I could get myself out of the way.
Then, I began to develop my power of silent support. While many people act as if they have two mouths and one ear when they offer someone emotional support by “talking through it,” I believe that we introverts are organically good at two aspects of silent support. We are naturally active listeners and comfortable with the power of the pause. We generally don’t feel the need to fill the silence.
I remember supporting a young man who had been a victim of a hate crime because he was gay. He was like many victims: once a rapport had been established, the emotional floodgates opened, and a deluge quickly followed. However, when he began to talk about his childhood and deeply religious father, a long silence unfolded. I kept with it. I said nothing. He then whispered the words I would hear many more times in my work: “I haven’t ever told anyone this before…” and explained how he had been abused as a child by a family friend.
When you attend to someone completely and unconditionally, they feel safe in your company and feel able to give birth to their buried trauma. It is under such circumstances that my hidden qualities began to surface. Qualities such as intelligent empathy.
In my opinion, introverts are naturally good at offering logical emotional support. I mean that we can normally avoid becoming emotionally distracted. When someone is sharing their deepest agony, your emotions will only get in the way and prevent you from fully attending to the person you are trying to receive. As I experienced clients in increasing amounts of emotional agony, I discovered in myself the ability to put my emotions aside. This left me free to fully explore the victim’s emotional terrain. It was then that I could help them discover potential roads to recovery.
My time at Victim Support became my own quiet revolution. I dove into the waters below my iceberg to discover what lay beneath. Instead of cold, frigid waters, I discovered a warm, tropical lagoon.
How about you? Are you ready to dive deep and see what powers await you when you look below the surface?
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