Self-Acceptance Can Come and Go

We are still malleable as we age and change.

Posted Sep 05, 2018

Paola Aguilar/Unspash
Source: Paola Aguilar/Unspash

People often say that as birthdays pile up, you stop caring what people think of you. You are who you are and to hell with what everyone else thinks.

I wish that were true for me.

But really, midlife is a time of change. The way you interact with the world and the way the world interacts with you starts to shift, at first imperceptibly, and then very perceptibly. One minute you’re one of the gang, the next minute people you thought of as peers are saying things like, “Oh yes, my mother likes that band too.”

Midlife is as change-filled as puberty. Physically, of course, all the things that blossomed in puberty are now fading. That's hard enough. But among other emotional adjustments, I'm finding that being OK with my own introversion is not a one-and-done self-acceptance project. Self-acceptance seems to ebb and flow. I have moments of supreme confidence and moments of excruciating self-doubt. As my life and priorities change, I’m struggling with aspects of myself I’d thought I’d come to terms with ages ago.

Am I showing up enough? Does my introversion make me less effective in the world? Do I come across as cold and uncaring? Am I setting myself up for lonely old age?

As ever, I do prefer just a few close friends. But over time, people move away, some pass away, priorities change, and those few close friends dwindle in number. The kind of casual comfort I value in close friends takes time and frequent contact to develop, but putting in that time conflicts with my need for solitude and downtime. So if I’m lonely for intimates, it’s my own fault. Shame on me.

And I still need social interaction, so these days I find myself in a lot of group events I might have skipped in in the past. I like people and want to see people, I’m just awkward at and exhausted by these events. I’m the introvert at a party, trying to make chit-chat, dying to get the hell out of there, and feeling torn between self-respect and self-loathing. Why can’t I just relax and have fun like everyone else?

And as I’ve written about ad nauseam recently, I’ve become engaged in political activism. But my introversion is at odds with that, too. I’ll push myself a while, then hit a wall when I don’t want to go to any more meetings or knock on any more doors or register any more voters or march anywhere or meet and greet anyone. And believe me, there’s a lot going on I could be/should be doing. Two important meetings tonight alone, neither of which I feel the least desire to attend. And this makes me ashamed—an emotion I thought I’d banished in relation to my introversion. Even though I pursue the actions that feel most comfortable to me. I compare myself to other more active activists and feel like a loser. Do they notice? Do they think less of me?

I’m too old to feel that way.

Or am I?

Uncomfortable as I am sometimes, I have to admit that it’s actually nice to realize that development is a lifelong thing, that midlife doesn’t mean our personalities are set in stone. I like the notion that I am still malleable enough to feel uncomfortable in my environment. Maybe I’m like a snake, ready to shed the skin of youth, in order to emerge in some kind of shiny “I don’t care what you think” old age. But first, I’m itchy and uncomfortable and self-conscious. It’s hard to just be who you are when you are in a state of transition.

Introversion is what developmental psychologists call a “stable trait,” meaning that if you’re an introvert at eight you’re going to still be an introvert at eighty. But how that trait fits us in each stage of development might change as we do. I'm looking forward to liking myself again. I'm sure to get there eventually.