intro-what?

I’m an introvert. That means a lot of things. But there are a few things it doesn’t mean, misconceptions perpetuated by our extraverted counterparts who just don’t understand how we function. Here are a few:

I’m quiet. Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not. Depends on the situation. But being an introvert doesn’t mean I’m afraid to speak. In fact, I love public speaking. If you want to engage an introvert in conversation, skip the weather small talk and get them onto a subject they enjoy. They may never stop.

I don’t like people. Not true. Sometimes I may feel like hiding in the closet for a little peace and quiet, but I genuinely enjoy getting to know people on a deep level, which happens best in small groups or one-on-one.

I would rather be alone. Being introverted doesn’t mean I want to be a recluse. If that were the case, introverts would never get married. We like being around people we love. But we also enjoy solitude. While it may make our extraverted counterparts a bit squirmy, it’s a comfortable place for us. For me, it’s about a balance between time with people and time alone, to process. But I wouldn’t want to be alone in a quiet room for the rest of my life. (That’s just the place I go to recover from an extravert’s event. Eventually I reemerge.)

I have no social skills. There’s been a misconception, for quite a while, that introverts mumble, avoid eye contact, shift nervously while they’re talking. That has less to do with their level of extraversion and more to do with social skills. And while there’s something to be said for practicing social skills (something extraverts enjoy), there are plenty of introverts with excellent social skills and extraverts with terrible social skills. Just enjoying being around people doesn’t make you good at interacting with people. Social skills are learned.

Your level of extraversion is all about energy and the way you process. Extraverts get energy from people (the more the better!) and process lots of things on a surface level. Introverts get energy from within ourselves (our own entertaining thoughts) and process a few things on a deep level. Because we process everything so deeply, searching for underlying meaning, it can be overwhelming to be around lots of people.

As you can imagine, I could write about this topic for at least 10 pages, and I did (for my communications class. You’ll be happy to know I got an A.) In researching my paper, I came across Revenge of the Introvert, by Laurie Helgoe. It was absolutely cathartic. There was one section in particular that was the best way I’ve ever seen someone explain how an introvert functions. It’s like someone crawled inside my brain, because I’ve had the exact same thoughts. It begins with someone asking the introvert how she is. Here’s the rest of it:

Even if the introvert responds, “I’m good,” she’s probably still reflecting on how she is: Good? That’s not quite right. I really have had a pretty crummy day, but there isn’t a quick way to explain that. She wants to first work out privately her thoughts and judgment about the day. She also may evaluate the question itself: I hate that we so often just say ‘good’ because that’s the convention. The other person doesn’t really want to know. She may even activate memories of how the question has struck her in the past.

While the introvert is evaluating the question on at least two levels (how she is feeling and what she thinks about the question, perhaps also what this says about our society), the speaker is already moving on to sharing something about his day. The introvert must take the incoming message from the speaker and tuck it into working memory until she can get to it, while more information keeps flowing in that demands tracking, sorting, searching, and critical analysis.

Imagine that situation playing out five times within 10 minutes, and you’ll understand how introverts can get overwhelmed. I was still processing what happened in the conversation I had three minutes ago, when you started talking to me about what I do for a living. It’ll take a whole day for me to process one social event to my satisfaction (and possibly gain some fantastic ideas for a new novel).

Introverts can seem like an odd bunch. In a world dominated by the loudest voices (aka the extraverts), it’s hard for people to understand introverts and how to interact with those odd creatures. But we make up half the population (the super reflective, “I’m sorry, did you say something? I was thinking” half). We may not be the belles of the ball, but we can be a lot of fun. Just give us some time to recover afterward.

“Introverts are collectors of thoughts, and solitude is where the collection is curated and rearranged to make sense of the present and future.” Revenge of the Introvert, Laurie Helgoe

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5 Comments

  1. Perry Block
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 10:25:28

    Your post raises a lot of good points, Halee.

    I would comment further, but I’m too introverted.

    Reply

  2. Emily
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 15:18:00

    If only I could make everyone I’ve ever interacted with read this post. Loved it!

    Reply

  3. halee
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 15:24:38

    Take as much time as you need to ponder it, Perry. This is a low-pressure environment. 😉

    Thanks, Emily! I’m constantly amazed by the misconceptions that pop up. In one of my psychology classes, we were discussing who was an introvert/extravert, and one girl commented “isn’t it strange that the introverts speak up most often in class?” And my professor expressed surprise that I was an introvert. But it was class – aka, topics we had read about and already had time to process. Completely different from a social event. Unfortunately a lot of people still don’t understand. I guess we’re just complex like that.

    Reply

  4. halee
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 15:31:14

    Maybe we should carry around a disclaimer and a manual: “Warning, you are about to converse with an introvert. Please read this manual first.” We could even offer certifications. “You have now been certified to interact with introverts.” lol.

    Reply

  5. natalie
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 15:06:18

    This fascinated me, so i’ve been pondering it all day. It explains a lot like why i always offend my extravert friend when i make up lame excuses not to go to her house, and a bunch of different things like that. I love my friends (just got back from spending a couple of hours with one), but i need my alone time! Now time for writing:)

    Reply

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