Monday, May 21, 2012

Introvert Week: An Introduction

For the past year I've had the idea to do a series on introversion.  I don't know why it has been on my brain, except that I feel like I would have to explain myself less.  I've hesitated because my background is in being an introvert... I have no objectivity.  There is no scientific, emotionless person with reams of data and theories and psychology degrees writing the posts.  Just me.  A person who considers my introversion as one of the essential elements that makes me who I am. 

In my twenties I spent a great deal of time figuring out myself and how I function as an introvert.  Not all, but a great deal of the stress I put on myself related to how I wasn't extroverted.  I considered myself lacking as a friend, parent, coworker, and person because of my need to pull back and reflect.  The guilt associated with wanting to be alone haunted me and it seemed that very few people understood. 

Now that I'm in my 30s, I find that I am focused more on my place in the world.  How does an introvert parent?  When will I have the ovaries to tell my friends I don't want to hangout because I need to read?  Will it ever be okay for me to approach my boss about my need for a quiet and calm work environment to function my best as an employee?  How do I learn to ease back on my introversion to be less abrasive and aloof from extroverts?  In turn, when will extroverts learn that I'm not something that needs to be fixed?

This week I'm going to explore the world of this introvert.  Notice I say this introvert.  Lots of things go into making who we are: region, nature, nurture, values, the choices we make and all the other aspects of our personality. If you are familiar with Meyer-Briggs personality assessment, you know that there are typically several areas that impact personality, introversion -- while important -- is only one facet (I'm a verified INFJ if you 're interested).  I can only reflect my experiences, observations, and thoughts.  So yes, this is all a highly subjective "life of an introvert" blog week. 

Today will mostly be a rough introduction.  I'm going to be comparing and contrasting with extroverts, but I'm certainly not an expert on their life experiences, I'm mostly dealing with my perceptions and popular theories about the lives of extroverts. 

A simple explanation is that an Introvert turns inward and an Extrovert looks outward.  In the purest sense of the word, an introvert is concerned with what is internal: thoughts, feelings, dreams... there's loads of thinking, taking things in, and self-reflection.  However, when a lot of folks use the word introvert it takes on negative connotations; some I've heard:  aloof, hates people, shy, quiet, reserved, anti-social, wall flower, snobby, isolated.  If you think about it... I may be in my head thinking about a book or something as mundane as a pattern in the carpet.  An extroverted person, or simply someone how doesn't know me well, may assume that I'm ignoring them, or brooding, or I'm too shy to talk to people.  I have no idea because I'm in my head. 

I'm going to run down some personal applications from the results of my Meyer-Briggs assessment and I'm going to limit it to those related to introversion, but keep in mind my other personality-factors influence things:
  • I am energized and excited when I can work with "ideas, images, memories, and reactions."  -- So mulling over dystopian societies in novels,  thinking about a Matisse painting, recalling in my journal a memory of my mom baking bread, and reading the reactions of others' around me at a work meeting are enjoyable. 
  • I enjoy "solitary pursuits or spending time with a few others with whom I feel an affinity" -- reading, baking, stitching, blogging, writing all relax and rejuvenate me.  Or maybe I want to go book browsing, or stitching or baking with a few friends.  I'm usually comfortable hanging out with 1-3 people at a time.  Add more in and I get quiet and pull back and I will most likely need some solitude afterwards.
  • I prefer "fewer, more intense relationships." -- I have a handful of close friends.  Some of these friends are introverted (my friends Melissa and Shannon, for example) and some of these friends are extroverted (my friends Catherine, Naomi, and Michelle for example).  It doesn't mean that I can't have extroverted friends, I just need to be able to have meaningful conversations and usually a shared hobby, interest, or set of values.  I don't dislike large parties because I'm shy or afraid of others; I dislike large parties because I have to engage in small talk and move from person to person.  I rather have one thoughtful or interesting conversation with one person or a small group.  Large parties are simply boring to me (gasp, say the extroverts). 
  • I may "spend too much time reflecting and not move into action quickly enough."  -- Oh yes.  I remember my mom rearranging my bedroom when I was in high school and then I flipped out when I came home.  I prefer to think through the best place for each piece of furniture and image what everything will look like first.  I don't start by flinging things willy-nilly.  I also don't deal well with meetings at work where everyone is brainstorming.  Everyone is talking and all over the place and no one is slowing down and thinking through their ideas.  I get frustrated and shutdown.  
Another characteristic I've noticed about myself and other introverts is my sensitivity to noise.  I love a loud concert -- like Explosions in the Sky -- when I can stand there and do nothing but experience the music.  However, I get frustrated trying to read or think when I'm bombarded by people talking, television, and music.  You'll never find me at a club, I don't understand how someone can socialize by going to an establishment where you can't hear the other person talking.  I like the quiet, because I have a richer internal experience when I can think, reflect, express, or engage in meaningful conversation with another person. 

This rundown of my core characteristics as an introvert (excitement with working with ideas, enjoyment of solitary pursuits, a thirst for a few meaningful friends, my lack of an ability to quickly jump into things) will be important the rest of the week.  My goal this week is to analyze myself as an introvert and discover how to be the best person I can in different aspects of my life:  as a coworker and employee, as a friend, as a parent, and as a spouse. I want to underscore my strengths, but pick out my weaknesses to improve.  I need to advocate my right to be introverted, but I also need to accept that I could certainly benefit from playing well with others.  I want to embrace the person I am, but I realize that need to be able to adapt in order to have a meaningful life.  Life isn't just about me, but how I react and interact with the world around me.  Lots to think about this week!  I'm open to questions, comments and suggestions!


christina said...

Love this post!

Giggly said...

This is a great post! I can relate. I know people think because I am so outgoing online, that I am the same in real life.

It think the toughest part about being an introvert, is being a parent. My husband and I are both introverts.

I have just recently, over the last couple of years, embraced who I am as an introvert and I am finally able to be comfortable knowing that not everyone will understand me, but over time I am able to communicate my needs better to people so they can accept and appreciate me.

picky said...

So much of this describes me, but the noise is my biggest one.

My mom would get irritated with me for years because any time we were with family, it would get so loud and drive me crazy. She couldn't understand it. But I live alone and have for years. Even when I'm loud, I'm quiet compared to a house full of people. She retired a few years ago, and my dad still works, and she has recently told me she finally gets it. I'm so glad because it is sometimes difficult for me to do anything because it's too noisy. I get irritated and snap, and I hate that about myself, but I can't change it.

Can't wait to see what else you post about this week, as being an introvert is definitely something I think about.

Jillian said...

GREAT series idea! Have you read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain? I haven't yet, but I intend to, eventually.

I'm an INFP, and your descriptions of an introvert sound EXACTLY like me. I used to function as an extravert to "get along" in the world -- until I realized there was nothing wrong with me. :-)