Oct 29, 2012

Being an introvert in an extroverted society



Definitions

“Introversion is an inward orientation to life, and extroversion is an outward orientation. Though you probably use both introversion and extroversion, one of these orientations usually feels more like home – more comfortable, more interesting and more energizing – than the other. Introverts prefer introversion; we tend to gain energy by reflecting and expend energy when interacting. Extroverts have the opposite preference; they tend to gain energy by interacting and expend energy while reflecting.” 
-- ‘Introvert Power’ (by Laurie Helgoe)

A bias towards extroversion

Have you noticed how western society has a bias towards extroversion? In our society it is ‘normal’ and ‘desirable’:
- To have a wide social network;
- To have many friends;
- To engage in group activities for pleasure and fun, particularly night outs with drinking and dancing and a considerable amount of loudness;
- To socialize in big groups of people (and not so much on one-on-one);
- To be connected 24/7.

On the other hand, introversion is generally regarded as ‘weird’, selfish, or sometimes just plain unhealthy.

I believe almost everyone is convinced that there are much more extroverts in this World than introverts. Well, at least I was, until I read this book: ‘Introvert Power’ (by Laurie Helgoe). In fact, studies indicate that there are approximately as much introverts as extroverts.

Before I continue, it is important to remember that there is a continuum between a highly introverted nature and a highly extroverted nature, with people lying along that continuum. And people (generally) tend to drift towards the middle point along their lives.

But back to the surprising equilibrium between the percentages of both tendencies. Why does it seem that there are more extroverts? First, extroverted people are louder and more effusive, while introverts are generally quiet and go much more unnoticed, and second because, in a society that values extroversion, many introverts tend to adapt and force themselves to behave more ‘extrovertedly’. So, in an extroverted society there are very likely many introverts that, for example, are staying at late night parties while secretly wishing to go home and curl up in a blanket with a good book, and participating in the loudness when they actually prefer quietness. And there are certainly many introverts secretly feeling defective… 

My introversion: from acceptance to rejection, and back to acceptance

As a child I always had two or three (very) close friends, and not more. I’ve always found contentment in individual activities that allowed me to dwell in my inner world – like reading. I remember my first intense contact with books. I was just 5 and went with my older brother to a mobile library that stopped in our small village. I immediately gathered several books to take home, only to find out I was too young to register at the library. So my brother kindly took some books for me. And... Oh, the wonder! It was the beginning of a fascination (and almost addiction) that lasts until today. I would lose myself for hours with my books in a quiet place. My grandmother used to say something like “You read so much that you’ll end up crazy!” Well, perhaps I did (just a little bit) :P

I think that maybe the most important thing to note is that as a child I felt that my introversion was ok. But later, particularly in adolescence and university, many of my tendencies, in contrast with what society transmitted me - sometimes in a very direct and tactless way -, began to feel wrong. Of course, this sense of wrongness highly increased with my (unhealthy) social phobia. Yes, the social phobia was unhealthy, but not my natural tendency toward introversion. But I began to regard it all as wrong. And I let this sense of being defective/wrong tear me down (too) many times throughout my life. I could only see the bad things about my introverted nature, and overlooked the good things. In fact, my introversion gives me:
- The capacity to fully and deeply concentrate;
- The capacity to easily play with abstract concepts;
- The tendency to analyze (and thus – hopefully – comprehend) stuff deeply;
- The capacity to escape to my own elaborate fantasy world :P
- Etc.

I only began to acknowledge and value my introversion when I read ‘Introvert Power’ (and then other useful information written about this topic). Now I recognize and accept as normal some of the introvert features that used to bother me, like for example:
- Tiredness while in a loud energetic group of people;
- Strong intensity of thoughts and emotions after (seemingly) harmless events;
- The desire for time alone to digest and recuperate from experiences;  
- Total involvement in what I’m doing and the apparent oblivion of the world around me.

So, the simple conclusion is that accepting and valuing my introversion tendencies contributed to a much happier me :P

A final word

Of course, I must note that both extroversion and introversion are ok. Extroversion has many wonderful advantages, and so does introversion. The problem lies in a society that highly praises one tendency while discouraging the other. 

In the future I will be writing more about introversion, and I hope that this first peek at this thematic may have been of value to some of you. And I would love to hear about your experience with introversion in the comments section :)

6 comments:

  1. I'm definitely on the introversion end of the continuum. I can enjoy a night out with people once in a while, but I usually can't wait to get home to recharge my batteries. I'm not on Facebook, I only have a few close friends, and I absolutely prefer to be alone. Luckily as I get older, my friends are busy too and the social pressure has lessened - nobody minds (or even notices) that I stay home for days at a time without seeing anybody but my husband and kids. Since I started working from home a little over a year ago, and having the days to myself, I am SO much happier, relaxed, and more productive. I thought I would maybe miss the social aspect of working in an office, but it turns out, I don't really like people. ; P

    I'm a total bookworm too, and find reading to be much preferable to watching tv or even hanging out with most people. Even an activity that I LOVE, like art class, leaves me wanting to be alone for several hours afterward, to process what I've experienced, rather than rushing headlong into the next thing. Sometimes I feel like that makes me weak, but I definitely do better when I give myself that time to decompress.

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    1. Hi Shelley,

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience :) I identify myself with almost everything you wrote. And I’m not on Facebook either :P My colleagues (at University) keep asking me to join Facebook but the whole concept seems unnatural to me.

      It’s great that you’re feeling so much happier and relaxed now that you work from home. Professionally, in the long run, I want to be able to work independently (on stuff I actually care about).

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  2. Hi Mopsa, I found this piece fascinating. I consider myself more introvert than extrovert by nature. If I am with a group of more extrovert people I will happily let them take over and sometimes I find social interaction draining. However, I do like the stimulation of human contact and I love how being with extroverts can lift your spirits and take you out of yourself. What I'm pondering on is the difference between shyness and introversion. As a child I was very shy and self-conscious, which definitely held me back in different areas of my life. I felt inferior (maybe because of society's bias towards extroverts) and was very self-critical. However, I have steadily gained confidence over the years and this has allowed me to take more risks socially and interact more fully with the outside world. Self-acceptance has led to confidence. I shall definitely be reading 'Introvert Power' - we introverts need all the confidence we can get. Thanks for a great post xo

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    1. Hi dolly!

      I’m really happy you enjoyed this post :) And thank you for sharing your experience.

      From what I’ve been reading, introversion is something much more innate than shyness. Shyness is constructed mainly through our experience (with our family and peers). But of course there are biological characteristics that may favor the development of shyness. As a child, I was shy too, but not too shy. I became much more shy in adolescence :P

      And yes, self-acceptance is fundamental :) I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. I read it a few years ago, and it’s still helpful. And I explained the most important points of the book to my sister (also an introvert) and she seems to have gained from it too.

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  3. I've always been on the introvert side of the scale, and identify with many of the qualities you list above. see? they're qualities :P I'd rather have 2 close friends than a million acquaintances. I have ventured over to the extrovert side before, but I always needed time to myself to balance it out.

    I agree, extroverts get most of the attention as it were, but we will just sit and observe.

    I guess we might be more prone to self-confidence issues, but I'm working on overcoming those. So many jobs and situations are almost "designed" for extroverts. but we will find a way :)

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    1. Hi Linda,

      Thanks for reading and sharing your experience :) Yep. I also prefer a few close friends with whom I can establish a meaningful relationship.

      And I agree, in our society many introverts are prone to self-confidence issues. And in Eastern societies, like for example Japan, it’s a whole different story because introversion is actually valued. But again, both tendencies are valuable. We just need to learn no accept and love who we are, as we are.

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