Inspiring Introverts interview: Claire Schrader

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  •  Who are you?

I started out in life as a shy introvert with very low confidence and self-esteem, until I discovered drama in my early twenties. Then everything began to change. The quiet girl who no one noticed suddenly became a lot more visible and the “real me” began to come out Big Time.

After that my life began to take a very different direction – I went into theatre, performed on the alternative comedy circuit, became a playwright – all things I would never have dared to think I could do as a shy introvert. And then there were the hundreds of other situations like meeting new people, promoting myself, making friends, going to parties, etc. that just became an awful lot easier, and made a huge difference to who I was, how I expressed myself and what I’ve been able to achieve.

As a result of these experiences, I have developed a drama-based approach for people like me who experience themselves as a wallflower because they are shy, introverted or lacking in confidence. I now call this the Sunflower Effect and I have just published my first book From Wallflower to Sunflower: the quiet person’s path to natural self confidence, a huge undertaking – but very worthwhile.

I define a sunflower as a person that is naturally confident – because this is within everyone. It’s just been suppressed or knocked out of us due to our conditioning and the way our society operates. Introverts are not lacking in confidence, but we lose confidence because of the expectations that are unrealistically placed on us by others. It is literally knocked out of us because of the very extroverted world we live in – which is tragic and completely unnecessary. So I feel I’m on a mission (along with others) to change this that so introverts can start to have a much easier time out there in the world – and to start being recognised for who they are and what they have to offer.

I have been running my courses and workshops for 20 years now, and the transformation I see in people is quite remarkable. Even people who are very seriously locked away can break out their box if they stick with it.  I absolutely love watching the magical moment when a shy or introverted person discovers their “real self” and before long that this is beginning to show up in their outside life in all sorts of wonderful ways.

I have proved to myself that the Sunflower Effect is far faster and a lot more effective than other methods of building confidence – certainly for quiet, shy and introverted people. But of course being an introvert, I am nervous about saying that, because I don’t want to be too “braggy” – which is definitely an introvert thing – or I feel self-conscious about making such a bold claim just in case there is something else out there that’s just as good. Like many introverts, I have a tendency to doubt myself. But this is what my life has been all about: helping people like me say goodbye to these limitations so that they can start to take their place in the world. Most introverts have no idea of the incredible skills, abilities and talents that lie hidden within them. Through this process, they discover as I did, they are not who or what they thought they were.

  • When did you first discover you are an introvert?

It was probably during my early thirties when I was doing a lot of personal development work. I seem to remember being in a support group after one of the courses, and this became an area of interest to the group. I vividly remember it being a huge clunk discovering I was an introvert because lots more people in the group were extroverts than were introverts. I can remember feeling it would be so much better to be an extrovert!

After the monumental effort of overcoming my shyness, I had developed a tremendous sense of the possibility of what I could now do with my life through all the self-development work I was doing. It was the eighties, and it was all very Anthony Robbins: “go out and do it, overcome your fears and create the life you want”. At the time I was pursuing a career in acting and getting nowhere fast – not because I lacked talent, but I just found it excruciating doing all the things you were supposed to do to get acting work and I was not making the progress that I saw other people making.

On discovering I was introvert, I realised that most of the things that I was finding so difficult: networking, promoting myself, phoning up casting directors, etc. were classic introvert difficulties. I had been beating myself up for being so bad in these areas. So it did make sense, and it was relief that there wasn’t something terribly wrong or lacking in me. However, I can remember feeling that I wished I wasn’t an introvert and that I really had the odds stacked up against me. I came to the conclusion that I probably wasn’t going to achieve many of the things I wanted to achieve. Everything I was doing required extrovert skills and I didn’t have them.

  • What difference did this make to your life?

After beating myself up for a while for being an introvert, I realised that I was punishing myself unnecessarily and just getting resentful – which wasn’t getting me anywhere. I couldn’t change the fact that I was introvert, but given I had got over shyness, I could maybe try to find a way round it? It just so happened that life took me in another direction and I started writing plays. Being a playwright was a more introverted career and better for all sorts of reasons – but I soon found I was hitting the same difficulties. Getting my plays performed required a lot of the same extroverted skills as acting did – and along with being an introvert I also had pretty low self-esteem. So for a long time, I felt I was banging my head against a brick wall, and part of that was my introverted nature.

I started looking for other avenues and eventually trained as a dramatherapist. Finally, I found a career that was much more suited to my introverted nature and my innate skills. I set up Making Moves and over time I developed Sunflower Effect which uses a mixture of dramatherapy and personal development wisdom that I found really worked for me – and here I am 20 years later supporting people like me in setting themselves free from the internal restrictions that are holding them back.

One of the things which is great about the work I now do is that I can operate from the sidelines – an introvert strength – and certainly one of mine. Quite a lot of the time I am sitting by the side of the room while the group is exploring the dramatic scenario, quietly supporting them. And I like that. I don’t feel comfortable being in front of the room, holding forth, for any length of time. When I first started, I often couldn’t wait to get out of the spotlight so that I could have a bit of “time out”. However this is actually what my participants need – is for me to get out of the way so they can have a bit of space to set themselves free. Most of them feel acutely self-conscious in group situations, and on top of this, I am asking them to do drama, which is incredibly challenging. They need a safe space so bit by bit they can come out of hiding. Being an introvert, I have the capacity to make myself invisible so that they don’t feel that I am watching them. I am quietly encouraging them to use the process to set themselves free and giving them space to do this in their own time and own way. This is terribly important as introverts and shy people have a tendency to clam up when they are under pressure.

I am an INFP, so I am using all my introverted preferences and strengths of intuition, the capacity to feel empathically and to perceive what they are experiencing so that they in time can find their own way forward. I am giving them space to do that, and it’s still incredibly challenging, but that’s why it works. I don’t think I could do the job if I weren’t introverted. My participants feel safe with me because I’ve been a shy introvert and because I’ve had all the difficulties they’ve had.

  • Which of your introvert traits/strengths are you most fond of?

The capacity to go within. I love being alone and having time to think and feel. Often I will just wander around my flat thinking and feeling. It is like water and food to me. I find it intensely nurturing.

Learning how to access my intuitive side was immensely important to enable me to draw on these inner resources. Otherwise, I was just in my head, worrying myself sick, which just created anxiety and stress and didn’t solve anything. It was doing Keith Johnstone’s improvisation work that changed all this and enabled me to access this incredibly powerful part of myself that is now such an important part of who I am and how I operate. It is through my intuition that I am now able to access a far deeper (and superior) wisdom within me. So far it’s never let me down. This is one of my main teachings. It is a skill that has literally changed my life and enabled me to operate far more successfully as an introvert.

  •  What is the main challenge you face as an introvert?

There are two areas that I notice. I am very easily overwhelmed if there’s too much going on – or too much on my plate – particularly when the tasks ahead are new or will mean learning a new skill. I operate best when I have a feeling of “space”. However, it depends a lot on the activity. If I’m doing something that’s within my skill set, I rarely if ever get overwhelmed. For instance, I can run groups till the cows come home.

I am more likely to feel overwhelmed when something technical thing goes wrong. Then I become very stressed and very soon am on a downward spiral. I can feel as if I am falling to pieces. I have to catch myself because it can take me days to get out of it, and just recognise that this the kind of stimulation that is really bad for me. So I have to get myself out of this very stressed place and do something else until I am ready to face the challenge or even better get someone else to do it for me.

The other area is the “hiding-away/wanting-to-be-seen” paradox. I have discovered that in spite of the enormous progress I have made in being more visible in the world, there is a part of me that likes to stay hidden and from time to time reasserts itself. It’s a paradox that plays itself out inside me – and sometimes takes me completely by surprise. There’s often no rime or reason to it! And a bit like I was describing before, it’s as if there’s some timer that goes on inside me that can only be in the spotlight for so long before I can feel the pull of the sidelines. It’s not so much these days about being afraid or being fearful of other people’s judgments. It’s more I just need this space from time to time for my own sanity.

I’ve noticed this a lot in connection with my book. I was OK for a while with promoting the book. The actual book launch was wonderful. And then shortly afterwards I was completely unable to do any more promotion. I just shut down and went into hiding. Partially I was exhausted, but I couldn’t bear to look at all the video that had been shot.  I’m just about coming out of it now. I have found it is no good trying to force myself out when there’s a huge “no” inside me. I just have to wait till there’s a little bit of willingness to come out of my hiding place, and hope that the gap hasn’t cost me too much!

  • What are your top tips for being a contented introvert?

Being kind to yourself. This is easier said than done – but resisting the desire to judge yourself for the things you find hard or think you don’t do well. Often you are not the best judge of yourself in these areas. Just learning to talk to yourself in a much kinder way, and acknowledging what you are achieving so that you can gently support yourself in moving forward in the areas you find challenging – really helps to overcome the introvert’s capacity for self-criticism. Remember the tortoise reaches the finishing line before the hare.

Discover what truly gives you pleasure and don’t try to fit in with what other people like doing. For instance, I used to feel obligated on my birthday to have a party or some kind, or a birthday dinner. I was often so exhausted with all the preparations and anxieties of who’s coming and who’s not, that I couldn’t really enjoy it or have any meaningful contact with the people I’d invited. Now I prefer a much smaller gathering with a few special people where we can have quality time together.

When you notice that shut-down place: be interested in this. Ask yourself what is this about? Do you need time-out? Take that time until you feel ready to emerge. At one level this is a place of resource, at another level it can become a prison and a stuck place. As soon as it starts becoming a stuck place, gently invite yourself to make another choice. Are you avoiding something that either scares you or is a new area of growth? Do you need help to get out of it?  Sometimes it’s just necessary to push through the layers of resistance. A couple of my participants recently identified their habitual area of avoidance. Noticed it and took action. In reality, the thing they were avoiding was not as scary as they thought.  I have written an article about overcoming fear, which may be helpful to readers on this site.

  •  What/who inspires you?

All the people who have achieved amazing things in their lives in spite of being shy or introverted are of deep inspiration to me. They are trail blazers for all of us. This includes people like David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Emily Watson, Alec Guinness and Richard Branson. I was surprised doing research on my book just how many famous people had experienced these difficulties, and how these very difficulties had become a springboard for them. All were driven by something in them that was much more powerful than the difficulties they experienced. (Funny enough an awful lot of actors are introverts because acting requires you to reach deep within yourself, an introverted skill. However many older introverted actors admit that they would never have made it in the industry as it is today which is so much more competitive and puts much higher social pressures on young actors. More and more highly gifted introverted actors are suffering as a result of this, I am sad to say.)

Not all of us have the same level of talent or drive that these famous people have. (But maybe we do – we don’t yet believe enough in ourselves?) However, we do have the capacity and opportunity to make the best of ourselves and to find our own way to take our place in the world.

I have great admiration for Susan Cain, of course, and the extensive research she did for her book on introverts. She has put introverts on the map and drawn attention to the many qualities that introverts have that is so needed in the world today.  She has started the campaign: The Quiet Revolution.  I really love the boldness of the term as we don’t associate quietness with “revolution”. We think of revolution as dramatic, and we associate this kind of action with extroverted, outspoken people. She is suggesting that not only is it time for quiet people to have a revolution but that it is a revolution because we just don’t expect quiet people to “revolt”. It is not characteristic of introverts.

Quiet people are often ignored because it is assumed that they have nothing to say. However quiet people are often sitting on a mountain of unexpressed wisdom and anger. They are both angry with the world that it is so difficult to be heard, or angry with themselves for feeling afraid to speak out, or resigned because when they are heard, louder people steal their thunder. So they are ready to revolt. It is high time for the voice and wisdom of quieter people to be heard. This will be what I will be saying in my next book!!

Read more about Claire’s courses and workshops on the UK-based resources page

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