Center(ed)

I took an online Myers Briggs test the other day. It will shock no one that I’m an ESFP (extraverted – sensing – feeling – perceiving).

“Where’s the party? ESFPs love people, excitement, telling stories and having fun. And ESFPs love to entertain – on stage, at work or at home.”

So says the website where I took the assessment. An entertainer! The life of the party! The center of attention! Sounds fabulous, right? Maybe. Except when that tendency is the very thing you’re trying to curb.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “center.” For as long as I can remember, I adored being the center of attention. I’m not sure adore is even the right word. It’s more like I craved it. Show me a stage and I was on it. Put me in a room full of people and I’d be in the middle of a group telling stories. Give me a seat at the table and I’d happily tell you what I think about anything and everything.

Those are all textbook ESFP tendencies. While this energy may be harmless for some, I’ve identified it as an addiction for me. I’ve already referenced in multiple posts my bad habit of “checking out” during painful times instead of leaning in and plowing through. I’ve realized making myself the center of attention is one of the ways I used to check out.

Tough times at work? Shaky finances? Sick child? Rough spell in the marriage? My solution was to find as many ways as possible to shove those feelings aside and bask the glow of other people’s smiles and laughter.

I came to rely on being the center of attention as validation of my worth. It felt great to be able to hold people’s attention and make them laugh. If someone wasn’t having a good time, it was my job to make the party more fun with singing, dancing, laughing and stories. In my mind, I wasn’t good enough unless all eyes were on me.

I’ve done a lot of hard work in therapy and on my own over the last year and a half. A lot of the time was spent processing the last gasp of my marriage, working through the grief that comes with realizing the future you’ve always envisioned is not the future you’re going to have. Part of the work was looking in the proverbial mirror, learning to recognize my patterns of self-destructive behavior and taking steps to break bad habits and form new ones.

One of the aspects of divorce I’ve struggled with the most is learning to be alone. After 20 years of being inextricably intertwined with someone else, learning stand on your own two feet isn’t easy. Especially when you’re an ESFP who loves to be the center of attention. It’s easy to want to constantly surround yourself with people, but the hard work of learning who you truly are and who you can become has to be done in solitude.

In order to heal, in order to move forward, I’ve had to shift from longing to be the center of attention to simply being centered. I’ve had to pay attention to my emotions, my decisions, my failures, my successes. I’ve had to tell myself over and over again: you’re enough.

My therapist gave me a wonderful visual to explain this shift – a wheel. I’m the center of the wheel. The spokes of the wheel are the important pieces of my life. The only way a wheel can move is for the center to send energy out through the spokes.

That visual resonated with me, so I colored a mandala and created my own wheel. I labeled the spokes: Emily and Charles, Extended Family, Friends, Chris, Work, Writing. These are the people and activities where I choose to put my energy. They don’t define me. They’re not in the center with me, but they are essential parts of my wheel. The only way the wheel can spin is for me to stay in the center, pay attention to myself, “own my shit” (thanks, Myrtle) and send energy out to those spokes.

I still love to entertain. I’m great at telling stories. I’ll kick your ass at karaoke and host a dance party at the drop of a hat. These days, however, I am trying to embrace my ESFP-ness differently. I do all of those things now because they fill my cup and keep me grounded. I don’t do them because I’m avoiding hard personal work or difficult conversations. I don’t do them to get attention or to make myself feel worthy in the eyes of others. Slowly but surely, I’m learning I don’t have to be the center of any one else’s attention to feel good about myself.

I’m still a work in progress, of course. I’ll slip and fall, no doubt. But right now, I’m working hard to be the center of my own attention – the center of that wheel – so my spokes and I can get rolling.