The wonderful book blog Novel Heartbeat has been doing a nice feature to get to know each other, and talk about ourselves aside from books, writing and reading. This week’s feature is about introverts and extroverts, a topic that’s been on my mind a lot recently.
I’m an introvert – and like many introverts, I’ve seen this as fundamental flaw in my personality make-up for most of my life, always trying to push against it, to force what came so easily to extroverts (going out, enjoying parties, being spontaneous etc.). And while I was vaguely aware that there were some positive side-effects to introversion, I did find it hard to really treasure them as much as I should have.
It didn’t really help that I did not understand what introversion really was. And most people don’t – we equate it with shyness or, if we already heard that this is bullshit, then with something nebulous about how we gain and loose energy, which rang true to me, but which I still didn’t quite understand. Reading Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that won’t stop talking by Susan Cain has helped me a lot in defining myself on the introvert spectrum and in starting to carve out ways for me to understand myself, be kind to myself and reap the benefits of introversion.
Here are some examples:
(Not the same as introversion, shyness is the fear of negative feedback, which also extroverts can have)
I’m not shy. I’m often apprehensive about social encounters, I don’t like going out, etc. and I am not great at initiating conversation at a party or get-together. However once I’m there, interacting with people, or when it’s a scheduled one-on-one meeting, I am engaging and I talk a lot, and nobody would believe me that I spent the night before tossing and turning with anxiety.
In her book Susan Cain also talks about this in terms of self-monitoring. The theory postulates that high self-monitors realize can take on different personas at different times, as they are called for. They can pretend to be extroverts by doing what extroverts do in certain situations. Low self-monitors do not, they are the kind of people who prefer to be themselves at all times – even if that is shy and sullen sometimes. Both are good qualities, I think. I often wish I had the courage to just be myself, but it’s also said that high self-monitors put others at ease and make communication easier. It’s a really interesting read.
(The theory that some people – notably introverts – react more strongly to stimuli, get easily tired from them, and so remove themselves from them in order to feel calm. Extroverts, in contrast, are often low reactive, and thus seek out more stimuli to keep themselves from getting bored.)
High reactivity can be found in a myriad of ways – in pure physical manifestation like increased salivation when a drop if lemon juice is deposited on the tongue, and increased sweating when nervous, all the way to psychological ones, like heightened feelings of shame.
Ever since I was a kid, criticism has stayed with me for a long time. I am 28 now and I still remember instances in school and university when I got answer wrong and then couldn’t look the teacher in the eye for a week. It makes absolutely no sense, but that’s how I am.
I react more strongly to loud noises, too, my friends tease me for it: my entire body jerks upright and I do this loud, ingenue-like gasp of fright. It’s a reflex I can’t stop, it just happens. Last Christmas, we were playing Jenga with my family and whenever it was my turn, they’d make a loud noise next to my ear. And yeah, I dropped the damn stack a few times.
I am highly reactive, I get dizzy when I feel shame or embarrassment or the flush of love. I start crying at stupid commercials and criticism stays long and deep inside me. But now that I know what that is, I find it easier to accept and to understand where it’s coming from.
Another common attribute of introverts (although a minority extroverts manifest this as well) has to do with being sensitive towards other people, other lives. It postulates that these people care more about the world, the environment, or just the way the woman working at the local supermarket feels after a long day of rude customers. Highly sensitive people take on a lot of emotions from others around them, are often very empathic, and care deeply. They are people who work in charities and non-profit organizations, who even brave public speaking or lobbying in order to help the planet.
And while this is more awkward to talk about, I really do think that it is the little prize at the bottom of social anxiety and introversion. It is important to me to smile at people, to make them feel good when they are around me, to help them and listen to them when they don’t. The fate of the world, of minorities and really, everybody, moves me deeply and I’ve spent years puzzling why that is not the case for so many people.
It also makes it easier for me to write because I think deeply about a lot of things and a lot of people; they feed my ideas and my appreciation of the world around me. High sensitivity can also help being analytical – whether we use that to analyse our flaws or how people perceive us, or the next big scientific theory or work of art.
In the end, I’m really getting to terms with this introversion thing – with taking the time just for myself, with accepting that multi-tasking is just too highly stimulating for me, that I can say to my friends – I’d love to see you one-on-one, but I’m gonna pass on the party. It’s just who I am.
So now, check out what some other people had to say about their feelings on introversion and extroversion: