Being an Introvert in an Extroverted World

Do you know someone who can make a show-stopping presentation to colleagues, but is never seen at the company Christmas party? Who, despite the urging of family and friends, prefers to spend time alone? Who can carry on a lengthy, deep conversation with one or two people, but seems at a loss for words when put on the spot in a social gathering? Who would much rather complete a project alone than as part of a group? If so, you probably know an introvert.

INTROVERTS DON”T NEED TO BE FIXED: Introversion is not something that needs to be “fixed,” but ask any introvert how hard that is for the extroverts around him to understand. Extroverts have a terrible time understanding how anyone would rather stay home than go out with the crowd. How could they leave that young lady to eat alone in the restaurant? Surely, someone needs to intervene. Right? Wrong. I know. I am an introvert.

Marti Laney, a self proclaimed introvert and author says, “We’ve all grown up in an extroverted society, and there really is quite a concept of negativity attached to introverts.” I definitely think extroverts wrote the books on manners. It is perfectly acceptable to say you cannot attend a function if you are ill, but considered very rude to decline simply to spend time at home alone. Therefore, introverts get good at making excuses, or just not showing up.

WHAT IS INTROVERSION? Take the famous Myers-Brigg personality test and the first category you it defined is introversion or extroversion. Introversion is not a phobia. It is an orientation, one that is shared by at least 25% of the population. Introversion is not the same as shyness. Shy people tend to get nervous or anxious around others. Introverts are not usually anxious. They just prefer their own company to the company of others.

The majority of the population feels recharged by spending time socially with others. The introvert feels drained of energy being with others, but give them some alone time, to reflect and enjoy the quiet, and they will be perfectly content. Introverts need lots of quiet time. My own experience has been it usually takes me three hours alone for every hour in a social situation, sometimes more, before I feel like I want to come out of my room and join my family. Introverts tend to focus on the “inside world” rather than the “outside world.”

In my own life, I tried for years to make myself be social, thinking that in doing so, I would “fit in better” and be happier. For many years, I tried to fit into that role, and failed miserably. I also found myself exhausted most of the time. My family begged, pleaded, bribed, and schemed to “get me out of my shell” only to find I would crawl back in it given any opportunity. It wasn’t until I faced my fiftieth birthday and decided to go for some therapy to help me “become more like normal people” that I found someone knowledgeable enough to tell me what introversion really means. I wasn’t “withdrawn” because people who isolate frequently are experiencing depression. I wasn’t depressed. I was perfectly happy spending time alone. That’s what introverts like best.

Recognizing myself as an introvert meant I was not crazy, not a recluse, not anti-social, and not shy. It just means I am like the “other normal” part of the population, the part that is very misunderstood. The therapist suggested I read Marti Laney’s book, The Introvert Advantage, and in those pages, I felt like my own story was written. I am normal. I am OK. And if you are introverted, please know you are normal, too!

ADVANTAGES TO BEING AN INTROVERT: There are some advantages to being introverted. Studies show that many of our world’s geniuses were introverted. Introverts make great researchers, as many love the methodical thought process a good investigator needs to have. Most introverts love details. They also love to ponder, so they make great philosophers, spiritual mentors, teachers, and writers. They also can be great at making speeches, but not so great at the impromptu questions afterward. Although they know what they think, some introverts experience a difficult time putting words to their thoughts when called upon. However, introverts usually make great listeners. Famous introverts include Stephen King, Sissy Spacek, Albert Einstein, Andy Warhol, Robert DeNiro and many others. Introverts can be very creative, but rarely give interviews or make public appearances unless it is necessary to their careers to do so.

ACCEPTANCE: Book stores are full of books giving how-to information on becoming more outgoing, overcoming the need to be alone. If you believe you are introverted, take one of the free Myers-Briggs personality tests online to find out. But if you are, don’t feel you have to change. Rather, accept yourself just as you are. If you want to become more outgoing, then learn those skills, but don’t do it to make yourself what others want. Give The Introvert Advantage to your family to help them understand it is nothing personal if you bow out of their invitation. Introverts should not be changed to extroverts, any more than short people should be forced to change to being tall.

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