The other day I spotted one of those Huff Post links that sometimes pop up on my Facebook timeline. This one was called “22 Things only introverts understand”. Intrigued, I clicked through and found myself nodding along in agreement to many of the points on the list, particularly “we turn into a silent observer when more than three people join in our small group conversation” and “the increasing creep of anxiety when we want to leave a party but our ride wants to stay”.
In a way I wish I’d had this knowledge about myself when I was in my 20s or at any point along the journey really. Self knowledge may not be power, but it is understanding and accepting our own limitations as well as knowing why we have the reactions we do and the amount of energy needed to overcome some of the boundaries that we might otherwise never tackle.
It is also the realisation that it’s OK to enjoy your own company, to prefer staying home reading a good book and having a lovely sleep than going out partying until dawn. That everyone is different and being ‘the life and soul’ is not superior to being quiet, thoughtful or funny and engaging one on one.
I do also agree with the article’s intent to educate those on the other side of the coin about what makes us introverts tick because sometimes in life it has felt like I have been entirely misunderstood even by the people closest to me. Feeling like a fish out of water at a buzzing pub with a friend who was flitting from group to group like a social butterfly and clearly finding my less than enthusiastic presence a bit of a downer; being nicknamed ‘speedbump’ at college gatherings because of my inability to get a foothold in large group social gatherings and inevitably missing out on the nuggets of gossip flying over my (invisible) head; fleeing from a crowded venue on my own birthday, far from home and crying into my pillow because I just couldn’t understand my own impulses – what had made me do that – feel so alone in a crowd?; feeling unable to be by myself for fear of causing offence but at the same time closing down inside – the inversion of an extrovert being forced into solitary confinement.
It’s hard to explain the true nature of who I am and what I want and how I tend to behave to those who would happily party til dawn. I’m a social being just like you and I fear loneliness as much as the next person. I want to be busy and have plans and go places where I will meet new people and learn new things. I want to make friends and retain friends and evolve friendships. I am able to overcome my nature and face my fears in order to do some of those things but it will involve a lot of effort and energy on my part and I may cry off before the end of the event but not because I’m bored of you or your company, but simply because I feel like I’m running on empty.
Interestingly I read part of Caitlin Moran’s (funny but true) political ideology in the Times the other day (she’s about to bring out her new book, Moranifesto, which I’m hoping will expand further) in which she highlights the fact that political leaders – we’re talking those who get to the very top positions – necessarily have to be extroverts: people who are comfortable under the constant spotlight of public attention; people who positively crave the limelight and fulfill the public’s need for newsworthy behaviour; people who are comfortable with public speaking (obviously) and being around large groups of people most of the time.
She then goes on (with humour) to suggest that we have a frontman/woman – a figurehead if you will, the extrovert who’s antics can fill the newspaper columns whilst the real leader is sat in a back room somewhere carefully crunching the numbers and making the decisions without the need to kiss any babies or exude personality every time they pop down to the shop for a pint of milk.
Maybe her actual point is less about introverts and extroverts and more about ego getting in the way of what really matters but ultimately her personality stereotypes, whilst extreme and actually somewhat insulting to both parties, do fall into these two categories.
It’s time that society stops thinking that introversion makes a person inferior, anti-social, boring or incapable of excelling in our own way and to the benefit of others.