Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Truth About Introverts

I stole this from my new favorite blog - owlcityblog.com which is Adam Young's (of Owl City and Sky Sailing) blog. I have to agree with him on this, as an extreme introvert who finds it exhausting "playing extrovert" in public, reading this gives me hope that there are people out there who understand how I think and feel and process information. This blog describes me perfectly. I've been asked so many times in my life in large groups of people "Why are you being so quiet?" My normal response is to just shrug my shoulders and half smile when really what I want to do is bluntly say "Because I have nothing to say." But that would be considered rude, so I just shrug my shoulders and half smile, hoping that they'll get the point. I've also been asked "why are you sitting over here by yourself?" Maybe I find hours of social interaction with large groups and making small talk exhausting. Once again, that would be rude to say, so instead I smile and say "I like sitting by the window." They usually just look at me like I'm weird and run over to join the loud and boisterous group of extroverts across the room. We introverts are often seen as shy, scared or downright rude when often, the opposite is true. Thus is the plight of the introvert in a predominantly extrovert world.

The boldface writing comes from the original blog by Carl King, who extrapolated his information from the book The Introvert Advantage (How to Survive in an Extrovert World) by Marti Laney Psy.D. The regular writing is my own personal commentary. 

A section of Laney’s book maps out the human brain and explains how neuro-transmitters follow different dominant paths in the nervous systems of Introverts and Extroverts. If the science behind the book is correct, it turns out that Introverts are people who are over-sensitive to Dopamine, so too much external stimulation overdoses and exhausts them. Conversely, Extroverts can’t get enough Dopamine, and they require Adrenaline for their brains to create it. Extroverts also have a shorter pathway and less blood-flow to the brain. The messages of an Extrovert’s nervous system mostly bypass the Broca’s area in the frontal lobe, which is where a large portion of contemplation takes place.

Unfortunately, according to the book, only about 25% of people are Introverts. There are even fewer that are as extreme as I am. This leads to a lot of misunderstandings, since society doesn’t have very much experience with my people. (I love being able to say that.)

So here are a few common misconceptions about Introverts (I put this list together myself, some of them are things I actually believed):

Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

This is so true. Ask any of my family members or closest friends. If I get started talking about something, I won't shut up about it. It's not the quantity of conversation, it's the quality. I often feel that small talk is a waste of time. Unfortunately, in our society, small talk is a necessary skill to be polite. 

If you want to start a conversation with someone who is an introvert, the best way to do it is to launch right into a topic you know they care about. Instead of bringing up the weather, start a conversation by saying "I found a new band that I think you'd like," or "have you finished that paper for English class yet?" We won't think you're rude or abrupt. We'll be thankful that you skipped the small talk and pour our often hidden enthusiasm in passion into the conversation.

Myth #2 – Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.

This ties back to #1. Wanna talk to me? Just jump into a conversation about music, church, theology, my family, ANYTHING that I care about, and I will talk to you. DO NOT put me into a group of 20 people when I only know a couple or no one at all and expect me to be the center of attention or the life of the party. Especially if they are a noisy group, I will shut down immediately. Put me in a group of 20 people that I know really well and I will be perfectly comfortable being loud and boisterous. It all depends on the people I'm with.

Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.

As I said before, I detest small talk. I feel like I'm working hard to put a smile on my face and talk about absolutely nothing. Some people have even told me that sometimes I seem like I'm aloof or ignoring them when they first approached me and that they feel like I was being rude. This leaves me feeling helpless. I try my hardest to be polite but it's really hard to talk about silly things that mean nothing. I value my time and if I feel that it is being wasted, I have a hard time concealing the way I feel. I feel like I'm acting, like I'm wearing a mask and it's downright exhausting. 

Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.

Don't get me wrong, I have lots of friends. I enjoy forging new friendships and building relationships. But I can count on one hand my closest friends. I have a handful of people that I  feel I can trust with anything. I would do anything in the world for these people. It takes me a while to open up to someone with that degree of trust. If I feel the other person retreating even slightly, I'll back off completely. And believe me, that has happened more than once in my life. 

I've had a couple of retail jobs and I hated them. You have to make small talk with customers and you're only seeing them for a short amount of time. My concept of a good job is one where I can see the same people everyday and build long lasting relationships with them. For example, I worked at the YMCA for 3 years. I build friendships with the staff and with the kids I tutored and still keep in touch with several of them today. This is also why I enjoy working in the ministry. My closest friends are people that I go to church with and minister with. We have the same passions and interests and we have the most time to bond with each other. These are the people I'm most comfortable to be myself around.

Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.

Honestly, I can party for hours as long as it's with people I'm comfortable with. However, if I'm out with people I don't know or barely know, it quickly gets exhausting. 

Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone.
Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.

I value my alone time. I really do. But I still get lonely. I enjoy spending quality time with my closest friends in small groups. The smaller, the better. Even if it's just knowing that someone is just in another room, that they're reachable, is better than being alone all the time. I am a huge daydreamer and thinker and I like to play one-person games like solitaire or mahjong, or read or listen to music, but I will gladly give up my alone time to go for coffee with a close friend or dinner with my family.

Myth #7 – Introverts are weird.
Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.

Well...sometimes we are weird. But so are extroverts. ;) 

Individuality is a big deal for us. We don't like to do things the same way every one else does things. Our worst fear is being told that we're "just like everyone else." That's one more reason that I thoroughly enjoy being Apostolic. ;)

Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds.
Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.

Kind of reiterating some earlier points, but very true. I can sit in a crowded, noisy room and read a book or write a blog because early on in life, I learned that what's going on in my brain is often way more interesting than what's going on around me. 

That being said, it can also be a bad thing. I find myself daydreaming in class or at work when I'm feeling a little bored. That doesn't happen a lot at IBC though. Because theology and music are two things that I'm very interested in and passionate about, I can pay attention and listen for longer periods of time.

Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun.
Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Just look it up.

Once again, a resounding AMEN! I love nature walks, hikes, bike rides, walks on the beach or chilling on the couch with a friend watching a movie. These are the things that energize me and refresh me.

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.) Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ.

It can be terribly destructive for an Introvert to deny themselves in order to get along in an Extrovert-Dominant World. Like other minorities, Introverts can end up hating themselves and others because of the differences. If you think you are an Introvert, I recommend you research the topic and seek out other Introverts to compare notes. The burden is not entirely on Introverts to try and become “normal.” Extroverts need to recognize and respect us, and we also need to respect ourselves.

You can't force an introvert into a busy social environment and expect them to change with time. Yes, they might seem to become more comfortable with it after a while, but it's probably just that they got better at acting. I can say from my own experiences that expecting an introvert to become more of an extrovert is like putting a dog in a houseful of cats and expecting it to become a cat. It might adopt some of the behaviors of the cats but at the end of the day, it's still a dog, just acting like a cat. And if there's anything that introverts hate, it's fakeness.

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