I've known that I am an introvert for probably twenty years, having been interested in psychology as a teenager. I can sit by myself, nose in a good book, for hours and be perfectly happy. I can go out for a solo run in the woods and feel completely at ease alone on the trails. The world, however, is run by extroverts, who make up 75% of the population. Indeed, being outgoing and gregarious is highly touted as a desirable characteristic, and may leave the other 25% of us feeling misunderstood. Recently, when I was repeatedly called 'unfriendly' by someone, I started thinking about what it means to be an introvert.
Introverts actually process information differently from extroverts. With recent brain developments, we now know that the way information comes in and the way dopamine plays a role is very different. Introverts tend to be highly sensitive to the neurotransmitter dopamine, and as a result can feel overstimulated in situations where we are surrounded by people. I know that I can be very sensitive to not just people, but even the noise of people - I can't tolerate having multiple electronics on at once - say the radio plus the kids playing the Nintendo DS. Multi-layers of noise leave me feeling unsettled and unable to focus.
People sometimes think introverts are antisocial, but we're not. We like being around people, in small and controlled doses. But we find extended exposures draining, and need time to decompress. I often have to bolster myself up to do something as simple as inviting another family over for dinner - it's very mentally draining. It's not that I don't like other people or want to be around them - it's just that I find it exhausting on many different levels. On the other side, extroverts are highly energized by other people and dislike being alone. They can't understand why an introvert wouldn't want their company at all times, which they may assume is always desired.
There are many misconceptions about introverts. We may be considered shy, but in fact many of us are not afraid of people. I'm certainly not. Extroverts may mistake our lack of small talk for rudeness or snobbery. For me, I just don't talk unless I have something to say. It has nothing to do with what I think of you. Extroverts may assume introverts don't like people. That's also untrue. In fact, we highly value the few friendships that we do have, often proving to be extremely loyal. I've always thought of myself as having an inner circle, a la Meet the Parents. It may take me a while to warm up to a person, but once someone reaches my inner circle, they are there for life, and can always know that I will be supportive and there for them. Introverts do make most excellent listeners.
I suppose one of the most disturbing assumptions is that often extroverts think that introverts should just fix themselves and become "normal". Ah yes, discrimination comes in many forms. Introverts need to be appreciated for what is their natural personality type. I could no more change myself to be extroverted than I could rob a bank - it's just not who I am. I don't think it should be up to introverts to change. It should be up to the extroverts to accept and respect us for who we are.
I suspect that there are many other happily blogging introverts out there. It seems an easy way for us to connect with other people safely. We can be social, but shut down whenever we feel like it to recharge. If we don't feel like interacting at any given time, we don't have to. Yet we can bond with others and have stimulating conversations and unite in friendship should we so choose. And if we do meet face to face, it's a little easier, because we already know each other in some sense and have common ground. Are we unfriendly? Nope! Just introverted. I'm so thankful for the friendships I have made with other bloggers who have not only been supportive, but also accept me - and my blog - as I am. Thank you.
I love the way this article sums up how to care for the introvert in your life.
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This post will be linked to Pour Your Heart Out at Things I Can't Say.