02 October 2010

An Oddity of Being an Introvert

I AM AN INTROVERT.  In our extraverted society, making that statement is akin to saying "Please excuse my asocial behavior.  I have a condition."  According to what I've read, introverts make up 20% - 25% of the population, maybe less.  So after an incredibly busy week, I intended to write a post about an introvert's perceptive differences, specifically how I coped with a socially-oriented week.

But it occurs to me that before you can have a conversation about introverts, you need a very clear definition.  Like many psychology terms, "introvert" has entered the mainstream vernacular in a way which retains a kernel of the original meaning but has gained some extra, incorrect nuance.  My definition of introvert stems from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), based on Jung's personality typology.  So the introvert that I'm talking about is a person who:
  • prefers small groups or solitude to large groups
  • has a small, intimate group of friends (as opposed to a large group of acquaintances)
  • lives internally, rather than externally
  • expends energy in social situations and gains energy in being alone
Perhaps more importantly, an introvert is not (necessarily) shy, quiet, non-articulate, or anti-social.  Most introverted adults develop coping mechanisms for the largely extraverted world and can appear socially engaged, especially to those who only see the introvert in social situations.  An introvert is also not averse to socializing or meeting new people, although they tend to avoid situations requiring lengthy contact with multiple strangers, preferring smaller gatherings of friends.  MBTI also posits that all people show a combination of tendencies.  Very simply put, an introvert can (and should!) act like an extrovert and vice versa, dependent on their personal energy levels and how good their coping mechanisms are.

That's a long and terribly incomplete definition of introvert.  For more information about introverts and MBTI, an internet search engine will yield a plethora of results, some which are less reliable than others.  I would recommend the following:
  • TypeLogic (a website with good information about the 16 personality types, including a fun bit about who they are historically and fictionally.  I'm an INTJ, which I'll continue to post about.)
  • Socionics Types (a webpage that has a short, easy to understand comparison of extraverts and introverts)
  • Please Understand Me (a basic introduction, complete with MBTI test, but it's a bit NT-centric)
  • Please Understand Me II (further basics with some good information about interactions)
  • Gifts Differing (much more technical but also more complete; written by one of the women responsible for developing the theory)
I'm breaking off the bit about my social week for another post.  The definition of an introvert alone is enough to chew over for the day, but let me leave off with an opinion: It's not socially acceptable to say yes to an invitation and then not hang out with people.  If an extravert is alone and suddenly needs company, she calls someone and goes out.  If an introvert is with a group and needs to be alone, can she suddenly say "I need to be by myself, see you later?"  I don't think our society is set up for that.  What would you all do?  Do my introverted friends have a way to deal with that situation?  Or do you have tells, ways to know that an outing will be too much?

1 comment:

  1. Being an introvert myself, I can speak from experience that I find being in large groups difficult if not painful. Meeting new people is a huge emotional drain for me. Of course, there are differing levels of introversion, and I am pretty far over on the extreme end. My son, on the other hand, can move more easily in the mid-range area and enjoys the company of others more than I.
    Need for solitude is a must for me. I find it very hard to function if I get too "overloaded or overwhelmed" by not being able to re-energize myself with alone time. It is almost like my nerves are being rubbed raw from over stimulation from the outside world. And for me it's not just people, it can also be noise, colors, smells, touch, ect...
    I read a book called "The Highly Sensitive Person~How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You" by Elaine N. Aron that helped me see that my kind is rare, but not freakish. It's good to know we are not alone in our plight.
    My introversion effects virtually every aspect of my life. I can appear to others as aloof, when I really just don't know what to say. It's very difficult for me to assert myself. I am not into competition. No, I really don't want to go hang out at the bar with with girls from work but not because I don't like them or because I am "uppity". I'm not much into gossiping. These few aspects on their own lend to me being left out of a lot of common bonding agents that your average extrovert uses to forge relationships. Trying to explain to an extrovert WHY you don't want to go to the bar just doesn't compute with them.
    Here is a perfect example. One of my extroverted patients at work told me that the BEST way to build self-esteem is to go to the gym and have lots of men lust after you...just wow. I can't imagine anything I would like less.
    In a society that loves the extrovert, we get along as best we can. I will never be loud, voice an opinion on every topic brought up, or to be the life of the party. I'm content to sit and watch human nature and ponder.