The Plight of the Introvert

Are you an extrovert? If you love interacting with people, refer to yourself as a “people person,” get your energy through interacting with other people; if you hate being alone, like to bounce your ideas off other people, confident and busy all the time, your extrovert side is probably dominant. Of course we all have some extroverted and introverted characteristics, but in many people one side or the other dominates. If your extroverted side dominates, you will reap many benefits, for the world is arranged for the extrovert. Others react positively to extroverts, find them chatty, friendly and outgoing, trustworthy, socially skilled, worthy of admiration and emulation.

So what about the poor introvert? Introverts seem designed by the Personality Gods to attract approbation to themselves. Introverts like to be alone. They jealously guard their physical space; they react badly when interrupted, need to think about everything, and they prefer to do it away from other people. They don’t usually consult others to get their feedback before making a decision. They trust their own judgment. If you drop in on them without phoning first, they may show irritation. People say of them that they’re “shy,” or “aloof,” or “unfriendly.” While others embrace extroverts as “the way people ought to be,” they shun introverts as “weird,” or “ingrown,” not to be trusted. Introverts don’t have many friends. People say they are “grumpy.” Introverts find it annoying when people constantly ask “What’s wrong?” or “Don’t you feel good?”

Introverts might also feel alienated because extroverts outnumber them three to one. They may feel badly about themselves because other people (confirmed extroverts every one!) give them sidelong glances as though to say, “What’s wrong with you?”

My friend Bill Clauson, a confirmed introvert, notices this all the time. He goes to parties but doesn’t stay long because he’s uncomfortable in a crowd. “Other people take one look at me and go sit somewhere else,” he says. “I don’t mind, though. If I’m talking to a few other introverts and an extrovert approaches, we sort of draw in. Soon everyone is gone, including me. I’d rather go home and listen to music. I like my own company best.”

Bill says he derives energy from being alone, from mulling over ideas, observations and his own reactions. His wife, Vernie, is a definite extrovert and is constantly trying him to persuade him to attend events, to speak out in public, and involve friends and even neighbors in their personal problems, which Bill resists vigorously. He hates talking in public and particularly hates chit-chat.

Speaking about a lecture on introversion he attended in the mid nineties, Bill laughs. “It was so funny,” he says. “By some odd circumstance, there were exactly twice as many chairs as there were attendees. Between each introvert or pair of introverts was a empty chair.”

Extroverts seeing that would think it strange, perhaps even suspect.

Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung quarreled over this very question. Jung saw temperaments as falling on a line with extremely extroverted at one end and extremely introverted at the other. Freud disagreed, and after some bitter words that destroyed their relationship, Freud began connecting introversion and narcissism. Introversion began to suffer from a bad reputation which prevails to this day. That is unfortunate, because introverts have a lot to offer the world. They are thoughtful, focused and good at strategizing – valuable traits in the workplace and elsewhere.

So what should introverts – round pegs in square holes – do? Should they try to make themselves into extroverts by rearranging their personalities? Give in to pressure to be like other people?

No, but here are some steps innies can take to make life easier for them:

� Nature is good for you. Try to get out for at least 15 minutes every day. If this is difficult or impossible, get a fish tank. The motion of the fish is definitely soothing.
âÂ?¢ Make sure there are plenty of “time-outs” on your calendar.
âÂ?¢ Write “It’s ok to be an introvert” in large letters on your bathroom mirror and look at it every day.

It is indeed ok, but there are times when you need to adjust your behavior a little to fit in. (Don’t worry, following these suggestions will NOT make your turn into an extrovert!) For instance, at work:

– You may not want to speak at meetings, so afterward, write a not to boss or co-workers with your comments and suggestions.
– Make sure your boss and co-workers know that you want to think things over before commenting.
– If someone compliments you, say “Thank you.”
– Aid your own reception by appearing at events/meetings to help set up, and linger to help clean up.
– Be polite – say hello, make eye contact and hold a little longer than you normally would. Offer a short statement about your job in relation to the subject of the meeting. Try not to be negative.

And in relationships;

– Let people know where you are going and when you’ll be back. They’re not nosy, they love you, and they want to know.
– If you have temperament differences with your spouse/children, talk these over with them.
– Discuss how conflicts will be handled.
– Make sure you have some solitude at home, and that the family knows this is a need for you, not just a selfish demand.
– Plan for brief visits with friends and relatives. If it drags on too long, go outside or into a quiet room.

As for socializing:

– Remember, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.
– Attend social events, but take frequent breaks. Go outside or into a quiet room and rest.
– At a party, try to find a serious conversation to join (Introverts hate small talk – you can even buy a button that says you do!). If you can’t find one, join any conversation and try jump the titter-tatter to a more rewarding subject. If that doesn’t work, go outside or go home.
– Keep back and check out what’s going on before mingling with anybody.
– Discuss with your spouse what time you’ll arrive and what time you’ll leave. Take your own car if you feel so inclined.
– If you are absolutely at your wit’s end and need a support group, visit THE INTROVERT NATION at www.introvertnation.com, a site especially for those of us who would rather be alone.

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