To some extent, I write about this through experience. I am very much an introvert.
For years, that has been a rather unpleasant word, synonymous with “nerd” or “awkward” or “shy”. Because of this, introversion is misunderstood, even to introverts. Many people won’t label themselves introverts because of the negative connotations. I think this is a mistake. Understanding what makes you tick, why you feel and behave in certain ways, makes life much easier to manage. You can look up introversion and find all sorts of things on the internet, but for those interested, here are six things about introverts that I want people to know, because I think it is often misunderstood.
6 (yeah, I’m doing that backwards countdown thing). Introverts are not necessarily shy. I certainly am not, and I am only rarely socially anxious. Granted, these were traits of my childhood and early adulthood, but it’s not true anymore. I actually enjoy social functions. A lot. Many introverts do. Just go to a writers’ conference (most writers, but not all, are introverts) and walk into the nearest bar. You’ll find lots and lots of writers gathered together drinking, laughing and having a very good time. We introduce ourselves to each other and we do enjoy each other’s company. On the other hand, I also know some shy, socially anxious extroverts; that’s got to be a whole ‘nother hell.
5) When you ask me a question, and I don’t answer immediately, I am not being rude. Generally I’m not confused. I like to take my time because
a)I am thinking hard about what you said. Many extroverts process out loud. I suspect that most introverts do not (but I do know exceptions to that rule, too). I’m not sure about other peoples’ reasons, but I don’t process out loud because I don’t think in a straight, linear way. My brain jumps all over the place and grabs all sorts of little bits of learning to process with. If I were to say what I’m thinking out loud, you’d be beyond confused. You’d think I was certifiably crazy. So for both our sakes, I keep my thinking to myself.
b) Once I’ve come up with an answer, I want to put it in terms that are easiest for you to understand in order to get my point across and move the conversation along. It’s not that you can’t understand my thoughts because I am oh-so-intelligent–that has nothing to do with it–but coming up with a metaphor about the desert, for example, for a person who has lived his/her whole life in a rainforest and has never even heard of a desert, will do nothing but confuse. Also, I absolutely, 100 percent, do not want to hurt or irritate you. Certainly not on purpose, and not accidentally either, so I try to measure my words.
And I’m not only talking about deep conversations. Introverts can all-too-easily turn a light conversation into something deep. If you ask something as simple as “Do you want to get some coffee?” I might hesitate because I’m considering some article I read just that morning on coffee and how it has some kind of new beneficial properties for some illness that you are currently dealing with. And I might wonder if I should tell you about it, or if that would sound pushy. Maybe you don’t want to talk about your illness today, but maybe I think it’s very useful information and I really would love to see you get better. I sit there considering a good way to tell you about how coffee is good for your illness without upsetting you. While I do this I am sifting through information: everything I know about your illness, everything I remember about your responses in the past, what I remember about other people’s responses in similar situations, and everything I know about your life as it is right now. It’s a lot quicker than you’d think but, still, three minutes later you’re staring at me like I’m the densest person you’ve ever known and I’m thinking, “Man being an introvert is a lot of work!”
So the truth is I (we) can answer more quickly. Truly. But sometimes if you give an introvert the time he/she wants to process, you’ll get a much more interesting and satisfactory answer. It’s worth it! (Sometimes. Other times, we are just way overthinking, and your interruption is necessary. Kind of like electro shock therapy.)
4) I love extroverts. Truly, honestly, deeply. Some of my favorite people in the world are extroverts. Without the extroverts in my life, I might never leave the house. Extroverts are exciting and fun and know all sorts of cool stuff that they, more often than not, have learned through experience. Most of my knowledge comes through reading. Honestly, I could and maybe I will, write an entire post about how I love extroverts. But for now, suffice it to say there is no introvert/extrovert war. When we work together, we compliment each other and are at our best.
3) I can get just as jazzed by social functions as ambiverts and extroverts. Yes, even large functions and I know many introverts who feel that same way. I like people and I like meeting new people as long as I have had plenty of warning and rest beforehand. I will hold my hand out to random people at large events and introduce myself and start conversations. If I’m with a lot of people who I am pre-disposed to like, like other writers, I will have a blast. I can easily bounce from group to group, laugh and joke and all of that. When it’s over, I could still be bouncing and very excited and you might even convince me to go to an “after party.” The crash will happen however, and once it comes, I need QUIET. Seriously. Don’t talk to me. I will snap or blubber. And the larger the event, the more time I need in my cave. Extroverts, on the other hand, (I believe) will want to do it again the next day. Or the next week. Me, I’m thinking maybe next year.
2) There is a scale of introversion to extroversion. Ambiverts are in the middle. Some extroverts are happiest when they’re with people almost all of the time. Others, most of the time. Some introverts need time by themselves a few hours a day. Some a couple days a week. Some, like me, function best with three or four day long swaths of comparative silence (sometimes that “silence” though, includes family members who don’t interrupt my thinking much) between days of interaction (and interaction could me a couple of doctor’s appointments).
Also, that scale changes. If I’ve been out a lot for a few weeks–for me that would be 3-4 times a week–I want a week or more alone (or with my husband, who I’m so comfortable with, it’s sometimes better than being alone). If I’m stressed because of something going on in my life, I need more time. Extroverts, I believe, but are the opposite. If there’s too much activity for several weeks they might want a night or two home. But most often they’re fighting loneliness and boredom, not information overload. It seems to me that the first reaction an extrovert has to stress is “I need time with my friends to unwind.” For me, the idea of going out when I’m stressed will make me ten times more stressed.
And finally, the number one most important thing I wish people would understand is
1) My gut reaction to any invitation out is almost always “no”. It is not you. I like you. I like being with you. That’s why you’re my friend. However, introverts can become easily overwhelmed through social interaction and when I am overwhelmed, I do not like myself. I get flustered or grumpy, or I just plain shut down. You do not like me when I’m like that, either, trust me. So an introvert’s gut reaction is always “no.” Even when we say yes, in our heads we are still saying “no.” And if we don’t respond to you right away, it’s still not you. It’s us, being introverted. This is the number one thing I want people to understand about introverts, because we don’t want people to stop inviting us out–we do like people, remember? But mostly because we don’t want to hurt a friend’s feelings. We just cope differently.
So please, please understand if that introvert friend of yours says “No” or hesitates, it’s not an insult. Most likely you are loved. And you can be especially sure they like you if they say “yes” more often than “no” (or, gasp, initiate an outing or party!). Most of all, if you care, you might try asking again, gently. Sometimes we can be coaxed out of our little caves with a “Just come along. You don’t have to talk.” or “Come and take your own car. You can leave early.” To an extrovert, that sounds like disinterest. To an introvert, it’s the language of love.