My post last week touched on being an introvert. It brought a lot of my introverted friends out from their inner reverie to share a few thoughts they’d developed on their internal brainstorming-for-one white board.
The common thread of our chats: the challenges we face dealing with (read: living with) extroverted friends and loved ones. In these extrovert-happy times where group exercises and brainstorms and Fun! Parties! Are What We Do, introverts can feel deficient. Thus, as Susan Cain explains in her TED talk, introverts wind up apologising for themselves a lot.
For this is the thing: introverts constantly feel like they’re letting people down.
This pains me. And confounds me. But I have a few thoughts on the matter that have helped me find a little peace.
To be clear an introvert isn’t someone who’s shy and plays Dungeons and Dragons in a dark room. The official definition of an introvert is someone who turns inward. An introvert can stand on stage and be as erudite and bold and entertaining as an extrovert. It’s just that they’ll go back to their hotel room straight after, skipping the post-event drinks.
This is the other thing, which often doesn’t come up in a world where extraverts design the party, send out the invite and keep the drinks flowing: introverts can find extroverts hard work.
I’d go as far as saying that I can sometimes find extroverts – not show-offs and bombastic arm-wavers necessarily, but those who draw their energy from other humans – to be energy vampires. These people are positive, kind, abundant and generous (far more so than me). This, as I discussed with fellow introverts this past week or so, is what makes the whole issue so difficult and upsetting. I’ve really struggled to figure out why I become so exhausted in these lovely people’s company, why I become impatient and, in fact, avoid them. I feel like a bitch. It confounds me. It kills me.
It upsets them, too. I can see it in their crushed faces when I dash home from somewhere or decline an invite to hang out because I need to go bushwalking on my own.
These folk are doing nothing other than… wanting my energy and for me to be on the same plane as them.
They’ll look at me when they crack a joke, awaiting my laugh, they’ll want to have a drink with me after an event at which I’ve been showy and energetic (thinking this is what would help me wind down), they want to do group holidays with me and say things like, “Hey, next time you go for an ocean swim, let me know and I’ll come, too”. As an introvert I like to crack a joke and leave others to their reaction, I want to go home early (from everything) and travel and exercise is a time to go into my own realm. Gosh, my tricks for avoiding communal exercise are comedic!
And here’s the final thing that really makes me a bit of a nightmare: I’m not like this all of the time. Sometimes I’m really quite cool to hang back and hang out. I don’t find parties or concerts energising, but I can find them bearable sometimes and I can look like I’m having Capital F Fun! (Apparently introverts like to explore phenomena…this makes sense in this context. I’ll find the phenomenon of the event fascinating to observe. This is fun; the event, inherently, is not.)
Which can make it confusing for all. It’s certainly confused me. But a bit of reading and chatting cleared things up a bit. According to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, author of “The Introvert Advantage”, introverts can move around their introverted “set point” (how much solitude versus social activity they need). But have to keep it balanced. They can do “fun” and social and be as ra-ra-ra as the next extravert…but if they push too far, they freak out and withdraw. To recharge.
So I share all this in response to a request to discuss introversion a little more on this site. I share it just to get a bit of a conversation going and because I know that I’ve – until very recently – been very confused by my own behaviour and deeply upset by the way it impacts on others. I figure others out there are, too.
Before I sign off…two other fascinating things I found out during my digging around:
Introverts hate small talk. But not because they hate people or interaction. “We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people,” says Laurie Helgoe in “Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength.”
Also, a 2006 Japanese study found introverts tend to have lower blood pressure than their extroverted counterparts.
Well, there you go…your inner thoughts?