“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Gandhi
When I run into people who knew me way back when, they’re often surprised I became a massage therapist. I’ve never been much of a people-person. I’m certainly not a hugger, I struggle with that kind of friendly physical affection. When I was kid, my favorite place was in my room, reading a book, undisturbed for hours. I hated Thanksgiving, because it was the holiday when the big, loud family came to my house. As much as I loved the fun of my aunts and uncles and cousins, I wore out quickly and usually mid-mashed potatoes I just wanted to hide in my room, not sharing my cabbage patch doll or being friendly anymore.
Even now, parts of my work (the teaching, attending conventions) require me to be very social and gregarious for hours or days at a time. I can do it. I even enjoy it. Right up until I don’t, then I need to recharge in solitude. (See #7 of Susan Cain’s manifesto here.) There’s a common misconception that introversion = wacky, fragile hermit tendencies. And that is most certainly a misconception.
We like people, but not lots of ‘em at once
Introverts tend to prefer one-on-one situations. We may have fewer friends but our friendships are deep and long-lasting. Sometimes this preference comes off as a dislike for people, but we know it’s not. In fact, we like people, and we especially enjoy helping people. That’s the primary reason we become massage therapists, right? (It’s certainly not because we like folding fitted sheets.) The therapist/client relationship is perfect for us, because really, we can only treat one client at a time. Not only is it one-on-one for an hour or more, but much of that time we’re not expected to even speak or make eye contact. When we do say something, it’s a topic we’re pretty well prepared for: massage and the human body. No panicking and trying to remember whether you have a mutual friend or wracking your brain for anything you might know about the latest blockbuster action flick. This individual focus gives introverts the energy needed to knock out a full day of massage and be present for each client.
We’re pretty good at boundaries
Introverts don’t love when people invade our privacy or our personal space. And by don’t love, I mean actively loathe. While this can be a liability in a mosh pit, it also makes us pretty great at observing our client’s boundaries. We don’t pry or ask unnecessary questions during a massage. We don’t manhandle our clients or enter their space without asking permission. And we certainly don’t flirt with our clients or come onto them in a sexual manner. Heck, we find it difficult enough to flirt with people in bars. There’s no way we’re going to cross that line without realizing that something is horribly, horribly awry.
Actually, those wallflower habits we introverts picked up in middle school serve us very well as massage therapists, because they also boosted our powers of observation, allowing us to intuitively, gently respond to a clients’ cadence of speech, body language, breathing, and any other signs of comfort and discomfort. Introverts, out of all the people in the world, know well that what people say is only a fraction of what they feel. We’re much less likely to trample over clients’ unspoken needs as a result.
We think before we speak
(Okay, I may not fit the mold on this one.) The very best trait a massage therapist can have is good listening skills. Introverts can rock that. We process ideas carefully before we apply them, and get pretty good at responding quickly, and intuitively, to requests and feedback.So many massage clients report lousy experiences that ring of, “I told her my right shoulder hurt and she barely spent any time on it!” or “I asked for less pressure, but he still kept digging his elbow into my back.” And just as important, we don’t initiate idle conversation, also a common complaint among massage consumers. Being liberated from the social requirement for small talk as much a relief to us as it is to our stressed-out clients. We’re perfectly comfortable in silence, keeping no conversation but the ones inside our heads. In fact …
We rock at introspection.
While extroverts are consistently focused on the outside world, introverts have a habit of peering inward for new information. This means we can be more likely to catch early twinges that are the result of overwork or poor body mechanics, rather than failing to notice the issue until it becomes a full-blown injury. Our attention to our own emotions can also help us tell when something is making us unhappy in our work. Do I need to repaint my office? Switch to a different online scheduling service? Should I recommend a client find a different massage therapist who’s a better fit? Meditate? Our habits of reflection help us adjust our plans and adapt to our own needs, not just those of the people on the table. This is only good for career longevity!
We tend to prefer quiet, minimally stimulating environments.
We work best in solitude. Massage rooms are kinda like that, huh? Sure, you can have a vibrant, loud, fun practice in the middle of a gym or a physical therapy clinic, or do lots of vivacious chair massage all over town. But the majority of massage rooms are quiet, soothing places. And as a therapist, we can tailor that massage environment to our own needs as much as our clients’. After a draining day of networking, calling the plumber, fending off idle chat from random people at the laundromat, and listening to incessant Christmas jingles at the mall (doesn’t that start in August now?), it can be so relaxing just to … go to work. In a small room, with quiet music playing, and only one other person (who appears to be halfway to dreamland and isn’t interested in getting your business card anyway).
Does this mean that extroverts can’t be great massage therapists? Of course not! But that’s a whole other blog post right here.FreeDigitalPhotos.net