“Saying nothing sometimes says the most.” – Emily Dickinson
I have a confession to make: I lead a double life.
Before you get too concerned – especially with the Silence of the Lambs reference in the title of this post – my double life is nothing sinister. Despite the fact that the current pandemic situation dictates that I must dress like a serial killer to go to work, the duplicity has only to do with my personality.
The person I present to the world when I am working is the polar opposite of the one that evolved naturally, and the innate version of myself is by far the one with which I am most comfortable. I have had to work so much harder at inventing my professional persona than I ever had to while completing my vocational training.
I am inherently an almost pathologically shy human. Those individuals who have ever taken a class with me or observed my behaviour in a group setting can easily testify to that. I go out of my way not to speak up or do anything that will draw attention to myself in any way. And yet, as a healthcare professional who needs to motivate people to put in the effort to get up and get moving even when that is the last thing they feel like doing, reticence is of absolutely no use whatsoever. Ask anyone who has ever been my patient or co-worker, and they will undoubtedly ascertain that I am super bubbly and outgoing. But it is all an act and is by far the most exhausting part of my career
I remember a physician I once worked with asking my colleague with utter incredulity, “Jami does yoga?” – the underlying implication being that he believed I was hyperactive and more than a little high-strung. The truth of the matter is that I do so much yoga because I am constantly having to be someone I’m not. The serenity I experience while engaging in asana or meditation keeps me grounded and in touch with the Real Me.
It’s no secret that I like to analyze things – just ask my therapist. But self-inquiry goes hand in hand with anxiety and OCD and the integral control issues associated with both conditions. With a background in psychology, my personality intrigues me. I have taken the online versions of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator several times and had it professionally administered and interpreted by clinicians twice. For those of you not familiar with the MBTI, it is a widely used personality test often employed by companies to determine which candidates are likely to be the most appropriate to hire.
There are 16 distinct personality types in the MBTI, each one based on an individual’s energy, information-processing, decision-making, and organization. I have landed squarely in the INFJ camp every single time I’ve taken the test, so I’m fairly sure it’s an accurate assessment. This personality type comprises people who are introverts (I), process information intuitively (N), make decisions based on feelings(F), and use judgment as their primary means of organizing their lives (J).
Approximately 1% of the world’s population have INFJ personalities, which makes it the rarest category. Shocker. I am already a physical anomaly because I have red hair that is naturally straight, blue eyes, and was born with no freckles. My grade nine biology teacher said that combination is so uncommon that I was essentially a genetic freak. Why shouldn’t my personality be equally unique?
So, what exactly does an INFJ personality involve?
Most importantly, it means I get my energy from being alone or in a small group of people with whom I am exceptionally comfortable, and that my vivacity around others – particularly in a professional environment – is both a learned behaviour and tremendously draining. This is why I do yoga daily.
It also means I process information on a more abstract level than my concrete-thinking counterparts, intuitively focusing on the bigger picture (e.g. saving the world as opposed to solving the problem directly in front of me). It means I can come across as distracted, but that’s because I’m already planning nine steps ahead. This is why I am building a mindfulness practice.
Being an INFJ means I make decisions based on my personal values, then worry excessively about how my choices might affect others. I feel other people’s emotions almost as viscerally as I do my own, and they don’t even need to be people I know. I cry at TV all the time. It’s embarrassing when I’m not alone, but it is what it is. This characteristic is the source of the lion’s share of my anxiety, and it is why I need to spend lots of time alone.
And lastly, it means I am a stickler for the rules and like to have a detailed plan of action. I also work best under specific deadlines and instructions, so when someone tells me how to do something, I take it immediately to heart. If that then changes, and I get called out for doing it incorrectly, my anxiety surges. Being self-employed helps ease that stress, but looking after someone else’s space, especially when it belongs to a friend, as is the case with my current place of work, is often agonizing. I worry that I will do something improperly and cause damage to the space or equipment or get called out in front of other people. When I do get called out publicly, despite understanding that it is merely meant as constructive criticism, it absolutely eviscerates because I loathe doing things incorrectly. I am also extremely conflict-adverse, so I have a hard time using my words to express myself coherently in the moment. INFJs frequently worry that their words with be misconstrued or misinterpreted and as such, often prefer not to say anything at all. This is why I keep a journal.
While INFJs are well-suited to the healing and helping professions because we are caring by nature, those same personality traits that make us good healthcare workers or social justice advocates also leave us prone to burnout.
The main goal of yoga is to unite the individual with the greater Consciousness, and that involves a turning inward – which means silence. And that silence is the life blood of an INFJ.
If you have any experience with yoga, you will likely have heard of the chakras. Chakras are energy centres in the body that house different needs. The one most often in a state of imbalance for INFJs is vishuddha, or the throat chakra, and is associated with speaking your truth and kind communication. It is also responsible for listening and hearing.
I rarely have the luxury of getting to keep my mouth shut in my professional life. I have to explain everything I am doing and make very sure my patients understand and consent to treatment. Then I often leave that environment and go directly to teach one of several yoga classes. And don’t even get me started on the level of discomfort talking on the phone elicits. There are nights I get home and my hands are literally shaking from the adrenaline coursing through my veins. And if I have experienced any type of conflict, it takes literally days for me to get over it.
All this is to say that when I am not working, I need quiet. My phone is always on silent. I don’t listen to the radio in my car. I get squirrely when the TV is on and no one is actually watching it. I get panicky when too many social engagements pop up on my calendar, because it means more time I have to spend being On.
Wearing my Extrovert Suit is unnatural and exhausting. While it isn’t comparable to the creepy Woman Suit in the Silence of the Lambs, I do equate the daily hullabaloo to Clarice’s description of the screaming sheep being herded to slaughter and how much relief she experienced when the screaming finally stopped. Once the day’s noxious noise ceases, I finally get to savour that nice chianti in peace and quiet – minus the liver and fava beans, obviously. Sidebar: if you haven’t actually seen that movie, you’re probably uber confused right now. Also, you totally should because it’s a classic.
Silence has many benefits. Simply sitting in contemplative taciturnity can improve focus and reduce stress levels dramatically. Taking time for relaxation and meditation every day allows your body to recharge both mentally and physically. Your heartrate and the breathing slow, which in turn can positively affect blood pressure and chronic pain over time.
Creativity and productivity also prosper when sound distractions are removed. This includes the constant background din of social media. As someone who needs social media as a platform to run my business, I know it has enormous professional benefits. But when I’m not actively working, the feeds are off.
Silence enables us to listen to our inner voices. Intuition can be a powerful guide, but it can only help us when we are able to hear it. Developing a practice of turning inward allows us to unearth our personal style of knowing. We become our own guides and learn to trust our judgment.
Exercising silence also allows us to actively listen to those around us. Humans are inherently helpful creatures and when someone has a problem, our natural instinct is to try to fix it. But when people are experiencing hardships, they don’t always require our unsolicited advice. Sometimes they just need to be heard.
Nothing brings this more to the foreground these days than the Black Lives Matter movement. I wholeheartedly believe we need to use our voices to speak out against the injustices we are witnessing, but we need to be careful not to drown out the people who need to be heard most. Sometimes the best way to advocate for those we care about is to stand beside them in silent support so that their voices can finally be heard.
In yoga, the throat chakra is believed to be a bridge between our hearts and our minds. The practice of observing silence is called mouna, and it elicits a conscious effort to align our words with our thoughts to promote kind communication. Silent retreats are common among yogis, but you can create a mini retreat in the comfort of your own home. Designate a specific time when you are not likely to be disturbed, turn off your phone and laptop, and either practice some yoga poses, meditate, journal, or engage in quiet introspection. It will help you find grounding in a world in which it is not always easy to find our footing.
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