In the course of the past week, I’ve been seeing a lot of things around the interwebs about introversion: Moorea wrote a great post about being an introvert and broke down some commonly-held myths about introverts, The New York Times ran an article about negative cultural perceptions of shyness in the U.S. and how introversion is actually an evolutionary benefit, and Thought Catalog featured a characteristically clever blurb about the pros and cons of being an introvert. I spend a great deal of time pondering my own introversion in general, but seeing all of these mentions of introversion has kept it on my mind more so than usual.
I’m a major introvert. I have difficulty hanging out with more than a few people at once, and I get very quiet in large groups. I silently observe situations until I feel comfortable enough to speak. I get overstimulated easily and often have to excuse myself from situations that overwhelm me. It makes me flustered and nervous when someone puts me on the spot or tries to shift the focus of a conversation onto me when I’m in a group of people. I treasure my alone time, and sometimes I would rather be by myself than be around other people. And occasionally, my introversion is absolutely paralyzing, to the point where I can’t speak or interact like I suspect a normal person should be able to. Call it introversion or call it social anxiety: whatever it is, it sucks. I’ve mostly come to terms with the fact that this is just the way I am, but sometimes I seriously lament my inability to step outside of my introversion and I feel like I may be diseased, or at the very least, that there’s something seriously wrong with me. I think the NY times article says it well:
Though the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual) did not set out to pathologize shyness, it risks doing so, and has twice come close to identifying introversion as a disorder, too… But shyness and introversion share an undervalued status in a world that prizes extroversion. Children’s classroom desks are now often arranged in pods, because group participation supposedly leads to better learning; in one school I visited, a sign announcing “Rules for Group Work” included, “You can’t ask a teacher for help unless everyone in your group has the same question.” Many adults work for organizations that now assign work in teams, in offices without walls, for supervisors who value “people skills” above all. As a society, we prefer action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. Studies show that we rank fast and frequent talkers as more competent, likable and even smarter than slow ones.
One of my brothers is extremely tall (6’7″, to be exact), and he constantly hits his head on low hanging doors or light fixtures, can barely fit into an airplane seat or a seat on an amusement park ride, and has had difficulty finding clothes that fit him for years. When circumstances like that arise for him, I always think to myself “The world was not made to accomodate people as big as him.” I sometimes think the same thing about being an introvert: it’s difficult to feel like there’s a place for me in a world full of extroverts and in a world that loves and admires extroverts.
I truly wish I could be the kind of person that is confident and at ease in most social situations, who can fearlessly start a conversation with a stranger at a party or who can be bubbly and effervescent no matter the circumstances. Apocalypstick wrote a very funny blog post about how to survive a party alone, and I found her commentary very relevant:
“I’ve gone to parties alone and only one — ONE — was awkward and not fun. So what did I do? I left. It’s that simple! You say your polite goodbyes and then get in your mini cooper and get the hell out of there. Was it an icky experience to just talk to people and have them wander off so I pretended like I had a really urgent text message? Yes. Even Apocalypstick lets her self doubt take over sometimes. That’s the worst, when you feel doubt inside and so it seeps outside and it’s like, seep the fuck back in, but it’s too late.”
I feel like this is characteristic of nearly every party I’ve ever been to. I feel like I’ve tried every trick in the book to deceive my brain and body into thinking it can be an extrovert, but it never works. In situations like that, I usually just try to find an exit that isn’t completely graceless, and then kick myself and internally scold myself for being a thorn in my own side.
But what I find the most fascinating thing about the fact that I’m an introvert is that I used to be an extrovert. When I was in Georgia for my brother’s graduation, my mom and brothers and I watched some old home videos from when I was between the ages of approximately 4 and 6. And I was so outgoing! My mom often tells stories about me at that age in which she worries that I’ll get abducted because I had no qualms about going up to any stranger in a shoe store (or some other public place) and volunteering information about myself and my mom, and then returning to my mom with said stranger and proceeding to rattle off a litany of information I’d learned about them. I used to sing in every Christmas program at my church in Michigan and not give a thought to stage fright or discomfort at having people’s attention focused on me. What happened?! All signs point to me being a born extrovert, but somewhere in my early tweens I did a flip and became an introvert. Which makes me wonder: if I flipped once, is it possible that I can do it again?