I was sitting in my counselor’s office, chit-chatting, and joked about being an extreme extrovert.

“What?” she asked. “You’re definitely an introvert, hun.”

And that’s how I found out I am an introvert.

For anyone who has experienced such an epiphany, you know that the discovery itself is not the end of the story. It’s a little like this: you grow up being told you have blonde hair. Somehow you avoid every mirror for the first quarter of your life. Then one day, your hairstylist says, “hun, your hair is brown. You know that right?”

This is followed by the stages very similar to those stages of grief. In the above scenario, they would go as such:

1. Denial – “No, my hair is BLONDE, idiot!”

2. Anger – this involves breaking the stylist’s mirror

3. Bargaining – “If only I’d had a mirror, if only…”

4. Depression – “B-b-but I want blonde h-h-hair!”

5. a. acceptance – “brown hair isn’t so bad!”

    b. acceptance – “can you dye it blonde, please?”

I have brown hair already, so I avoided this nerve-wracking situation. However, ever since discovering the Myers-Briggs personality test, I had tested as, and assumed I was, an extrovert. And perhaps I was. In high school. But, now I was a junior in college, someone so very different from the high school version of Maggie; I’d seen more, experienced more, hurt more, in those five or six years since good ol’ Myers told me I was an extrovert. I was different.

It was my junior year, the most difficult year of college for me, during which I made this discovery. And, though I was happy to understand myself a bit more, it wasn’t something that could change my perspective and the way I thought and acted right away. It took time. I had to work through it in stages, as our hypothetical brunette did in the above scenario. I’d used my assumed extrovertedness as an excuse for why I always wanted to be around people, why I hated being alone. I justified clinginess with extrovertedness, when really, there was something much more unhealthy and deeply wrong with my perception of self.

If you’ve recently gone through something like this, I know your pain. On one hand, it’s a joyful thing. It can be freeing. On the other hand, it’s terrifying because you feel as though you got flipped over and now must learn to walk on your hands.

I found solace in these stages of grief. We’ll call them stages of change, in this case. These stages helped me work through this transition in small doses; like my mom always says, “take it one day at a time.”

1. Denial

I laughed when my counselor told me I was an introvert. And then I went home and cried. I knew it made so much sense for why I acted the way I did. I knew immediately that I’d been using my assumed extrovertedness as an excuse for poor decisions. I wouldn’t be able to justify those actions anymore now that I knew I was an introvert, that I needed the very alone time I feared. And because I feared what I needed most, I told myself my counselor was wrong.

2. Anger

While denying the change you’re going through isn’t the healthiest thing, it’s something that you must go through to even begin step two. You must wrestle with these changes. You must think them over. Don’t blindly trust a counselor (or a hairstylist). Consider what makes really sense and decide on your own if they were right. This wrestling will make you angry. It won’t be easy. It may lead you back to step one a few times until you make the decision to believe this new discovery and move on.

3. Bargaining

In my opinion, this is the most dangerous part. This is the stage you can get caught in. Saying “If only? If only? If only?” is a dangerous cycle. If only I’d known earlier. If only the test had said INFP instead of ENFP. If only I was okay with being alone. This is a poor attempt to regain control, but we all know that we can’t change what has already happened. You must be able to set aside the “if onlys”, realize where you are here and now, and take action.

4. Depression

But that action phase doesn’t come so easily. Knowing I needed to learn to be alone was a very scary thing. My mind was saying “get out, go do something on your own” but the rest of me was screaming no! And that combination, no matter what the cause, usually leads to doing nothing at all. The very opposite of action! And doing nothing, surprisingly, sucks up your energy and leaves you lethargic and feeling hopeless.

5. Acceptance

A. The first and true form of acceptance is truly accepting this new you (or new hair color) and learning how to deal with it. Eventually, I was able to purposefully schedule alone time, fill it up with things I love to do, like reading and writing. When I did this, I realized how much time I’d been spending on trying to be with other people who didn’t even want me around. I hadn’t done the things I’d loved in so long! How refreshing it is to get a part of your true self back. If you’re going through something similar, I think you’ll find something like this. You’ll find that, not matter what you feel has been lost in the transition, you have gained something even better. Better friends, maybe, who appreciate you for who you are. Or more time for your passions. Or a better hair style?

B. There is a darker side to this stage, too, however. It looks like acceptance but in reality, it’s flinging you back to stage one. It’s the 5b. “Can you dye it blonde, please?” stage. If you don’t truly begin to accept whatever change has occurred, it’s far too easy to trick yourself into thinking your denial is acceptance. I could have kept telling myself I was an extrovert and continued making excuses for clingy behavior and continued to forgo alone time. Maybe I could have even been happy that way, but I wouldn’t have been myself. I’d be in denial, and denying who I really was.

So, ultimately, it comes down to choice. If you’re like me, decisions are hard, but you can’t avoid them in this kind of situation. You must decide what part of you you want to stay true to. You must decide if it’s better to live a happy, albeit overwhelming life as someone you’re not, or a happy, perhaps different and sometimes intimidating life as who you really are.

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