Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Field Guide to the Introvert


Those of you who know me only from might assume that I'm an outgoing person. After all, I've been gamely sharing details about my life and posting photos for years. I must be the life of the party!

If you've gotten to know me one-on-one over a length of time, you might say I'm quiet with a strong independent streak, but that I'm otherwise normal.

If we met at a larger social function, you probably came away with the impression that I'm aloof, boring, unintelligent and humourless. Actually, it's more likely that we didn't meet at all even if we stood beside each other at the same gathering because I have such a hard time introducing myself and talking in a group setting.

You see, I am among the 20% of all people who are introverts. Here's how Psychology Today explains introversion:
If a crowded cocktail party feels like a holding cell to you, even as you gamely keep up your end of the chatter, chances are you're an introvert. Introverts are drained by social encounters and energized by solitary, often creative pursuits. Their disposition is frequently misconstrued as shyness, social phobia or even avoidant personality disorder, but many introverts socialize easily; they just strongly prefer not to. In fact, the self-styled introvert can be more empathic and interpersonally connected than his or her outgoing counterparts. The line between introversion and lonely loners gets blurry, however, as some introverts do wish they could break out of their shell.
It's true: I find myself exhausted by socializing. I am stumped for words and I have difficulty interacting when I meet new people. It's not even that I'm super-shy: I'm fine when I have to speak in front of an audience or perform on a stage. It's just that I prefer solitude over almost all group socialization except with my closest friends. In cases when I force myself to go to an event, I'll usually arrive late and leave early and spend a goodly amount of time studying the venue's artwork or sending an unnecessary text message or anything else that makes me less conspicuous.

The absolute worst situation for me is any kind of big event with very loud music where I know only one or two people (e.g. fundraisers, the last two HoHoTO parties or any Yelp Elite event). In fact, here's a candid photo of me in typical wallflower mode at a big bash last summer. Painful, isn't it? Obviously, I'd have much preferred to stay home and skip the whole thing. It takes me a long time to recover and recharge myself after such an event.

The good part about being an introvert is that I am, truly, never lonely. I can miss particular people who are absent, but I feel no disappointment or panic about being alone. I have 'a low need for affiliation'. I'm in good company when I'm by myself and I'm happy even to travel to the other side of the world on my own. I am not one of the many people who complain of being unable to sleep in an 'empty house' (really, how is the house empty if you are in it?).

The bad side to being an introvert is the feeling that I'm negotiating the world incorrectly. Simply put, in person, I am overlooked. I'm not memorable, I fail at networking. I let myself down because the assumption seems to be that only very forward individuals are capable people. I've been told time and time again, "Why don't you just be more outgoing?" It's not that simple. I can't change this about me any more than I can change the shape of my skull or the place of my birth.

Findings from a new study suggest that "the brains of shy or introverted individuals might actually process the world differently than their more extroverted counterparts".
The new results show that these highly sensitive individuals also pay more attention to detail, and have more activity in certain regions of their brains when trying to process visual information than those who are not classified as highly sensitive.

Individuals with this highly sensitive trait prefer to take longer to make decisions, are more conscientious, need more time to themselves in order to reflect, and are more easily bored with small talk, research suggests.

Biologists are beginning to agree that within one species there can be two equally successful "personalities." The sensitive type, always a minority, chooses to observe longer before acting, as if doing their exploring with their brains rather than their limbs. The other type "boldly goes where no one has gone before," the scientists say.
If this description sounds like one of your friends, please keep this in mind: if your friend resists joining an activity you've proposed, don't push. Cajoling with "come on, it'll be fun!" or telling them they're bringing you down won't help. Really, we know what will be okay for us so if we decline, please understand that we may be needing alone time or that we aren't feeling up to joining in with a group. Don't take it personally. Here's a list of introvert-approved activities. Maybe there's something there you can suggest doing together?

Weirdly, this entire thing is turned upside down for me in situations when I'm naturally on the social periphery. For example, if I'm one of just a few foreigners at a party in Japan or I'm the only girl in the Kendo club, I become quite extroverted. It's as though I only shine when the pressure to fit in is non-existent.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Mirror in the Bathroom


Anonymous said...

I am the same

meghan said...

I love this, Andrea. I've been tempted to print out this article for people in my life who just don't get it:

greg said...

Me too, Andrea.

I've been an instructor, so I've obviously spoken in front of a group. I wasn't outwardly nervous, but it was draining, as you said.


Tom Morrison said...

I am definitely an introvert... relationships have definitely ended because of it too.
It's nice to read it explained so well.

Peeved Michelle said...

I used to think I was an introvert, but now I think I am just shy at first and take a little time to get going.

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