I am an introvert. This fact won’t surprise people who I have lived with (there’s only so much you can hide when you share living space) but, it often causes my other friends a bit of confusion, prompting things like, but…you’re so happy and good with people. There is a lot of confusion about what it means to be introverted in American society, most of that confusion coming from the perception that all introverts are shy, which I, and most introverts, are most certainly not.
There is a difference between being shy and being an introvert. Being shy involves social anxiety leading to social isolation. Introverts, however, get their energy from being alone, extroverts from being with others. But, how do you know if you are an introvert? What does being introverted mean to me?
1. I prefer small gatherings or one-on-one versus big groups. Large amounts of people are overwhelming to me, like my brain is being overloaded with too much information, too many people, too much talking and, usually I like to take a break for a few minutes away from the group to take a big mental breath. That doesn’t mean that I can’t thrive in a big group – I just don’t prefer it.
2. The internal monologue in my head does not stop from when I wake up to when I go to sleep. I am always day dreaming, escaping into my brain every second that I can. I often find this happening when I feel particularly overwhelmed. Randomly, I have a lot of imaginary conversations with characters from whatever book I am reading that week. Despite this, I am a good listener and pick up most details other people miss.
3. I feel exhausted after a lot of social interaction. After a long day of talking and interacting at school or work, I need to be by myself for an hour or two and if I don’t, I feel mentally drained. Likewise, when I go out with friends, regardless if I have a lot of fun, I need to balance that time by spending some time alone afterwards. This need is like the equivalent of eating a snack when I am hungry – it’s part of sustaining myself.
4. I prefer a few close friends versus a lot of acquaintances. Authenticity is super important to me in my personal relationships, which makes small talk seem silly because it feels like there is a glass wall between me and the other person – we are talking but, we aren’t really connecting on that big level yet. When I do socialize in my personal life, I like the interaction to be as meaningful as possible.
5. People have called me an “old soul” since I was a child. I contribute this to the amount of thought that occurs in my head about even the smallest thing, like whether or not a paper clip is more appropriate than a staple (yes, seriously). I rarely do anything without seriously considering it – this is a big introvert quality. Relating to#2, I think a lot. That sounds intuitive but, I think the amount of thought I put into things gives the allusion of me being “wise” vs. young and reckless.
If you are an extrovert, these things may seem very weird and anti-social to you but, I am writing this because whether you believe it or not, there are a lot of people like me in the world who are made to feel weird about being introverted.
Recently, I’ve been reading Susan Cain’s, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which has really got me thinking about being an introvert in an extroverted society. The truth is, Americans do not encourage introversion – in fact, it’s frowned upon. Americans want extroverts and, we are taught introverts are weird i.e. thinking it’s bad to want to spend time alone because it’s shy or anti-social.
I have felt embarrassed about being an introvert for a lot of my life, believing that my need to recharge by spending time alone is selfish, bad, or wrong. However as I have grown up, I have learned what level of socialization works for me and makes me happy.
I love hanging out with my friends and, I have a lot of fun being social. I like doing stuff and going places. I need social interaction. But, I also need to be alone sometimes. The key to being a happy introvert is finding the social balance that works for you, and finding people who respect what you need (even when that means giving you time to yourself) and love you all the same.
Because in the end, it’s okay not to go to the party if you want to spend the night in your PJs watching Gossip Girl. But, it’s okay if you want to go to the party. It’s okay to leave early. It’s okay to stay the whole night. As long you are doing what makes you happy, really happy, then everything is just right.
Are you an introvert, extrovert, or do you fall somewhere in the middle?