In the Mind of an Introvert

In other words, from my highly introverted perspective, from the whole world.

Before I begin this ramble, let me start by defining my terms.  I want to lay aside all the stereotypes and bullshit and break this down as simply as possible (come back to this previous sentence at the end):

  • Extroverts approach the  world in an exterior manner, focusing on what happens outside the self
  • Introverts approach the world in an interior manner, focusing on what happens in their own minds

There is no value judgment there, and I mean no stereotypes or other implicit personality trains.  I have met painfully shy, socially awkward, and really quiet extroverts.  Why?  Because their gratification and mental “recharging” was from interacting with other people and things in the world.  They are an extrovert.  The converse can certainly be true; a friendly, expressive, even talkative person who nonetheless finds social situations draining and needs time alone to recharge.  An introvert.

If you disagree, well, I think you need to check your definitions (and your stereotypes at the door).  Introverts can often be shy, and extroverts can often be friendly, but that isn’t the defining characteristic of introversion versus extroversion.

But I’m not here to give you the big-picture view of introversion versus extroversion.  Just put aside the stereotypes (introverts as loners, shy, or socially awkward; extroverts as loud, obnoxious, or incredibly chatty) and listen as I share the only thing I really can:  what it’s like for me, an Introvert.

The biggest thing for me is that social situations are draining, mentally so.  That doesn’t mean they’re not rewarding, as they are, but after a night out (or in) with friends, I need time to myself.  I’m not being rude (well, intentionally), but I get worn out from that and start to feel frayed.  A bit of time losing myself in my head and I’ll be fine, but that’s where I recharge and best engage.

I know it has also led others to believe that I am unfeeling, or uncaring, or that I’m not that interested in people around me.  I can assure you, that’s not the case.  For me, the reason why social situations are so draining is that I’m paying so much attention to everyone around me – reading, learning, empathizing, and without a good filter.  With one or two people, it’s fine, but when I’m in a crowd, I try to do that to all of them and it is too much.

Most of the time, I am quite happy being by myself.  All my favorite hobbies are there – reading, writing, art, programming, even cooking.  Sometimes, I do like being social, and I greatly value and care about my friends.  It just takes energy, like exercising, with the difference that I’m not getting more extroverted – my endurance does not increase.  But it is good for me, and fun, so I do it.

This all came up (recently) from conversations on twitter about the introvert subreddit, and one of the things noted was that introverts feel persecuted by extroverts.  I don’t believe that for a second, at least not on a wide scale (there probably are extroverts that hate introverts, but the converse is also true, and neither is representative).  However, that doesn’t mean that introverts don’t have a lot of trouble fitting in.

Hell, fitting in is in and of itself a social concept, and for the inward-facing introvert, prioritized and understood differently.  At least in American culture, and I think more so in Southern culture, extroversion is the norm.  People are expected to be outgoing and friendly and sociable, and you stick out (negatively) by not doing so.  I know that is something that I’ve felt.

I feel like I’m struggling to adequately express myself, which frustrates me as a writer and doesn’t surprise me as an introvert (after all, I’m used to living in my own head first; understand, it’s the connection to other people that is problematic).  The biggest problem I’m having is that I don’t understand extroversion, not intuitively.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think it’s wrong or that extroverts are bad people (or aliens from another planet).  It works for them, I’m happy for them.  I can even intellectually grasp how, theoretically, being around other people could be positive, how collaboration and networking could be fun, rewarding, and energizing, how small talk and small, friendly gestures can be good, but it stops there.  It stops at a theoretical, intellectual exercise for me, not something that I can start to understand.

For me, most of that sounds tiring.  Potentially rewarding at the same time, as some draining activities can be, but it’s not the kind of thing I’ll walk away from feeling uplifted, open, and engaged from.  I’d walk away from it full of ideas and observations, even more lost in my own head and needing space (really, needing to not have my focus drawn to other people) to sort them out.

I was going to include my Myers-Briggs personality profile here, but I think it would be tl;dr on top of detracting from my entry.  So instead, I invite you, oh gentle readers, to fill me with your thoughts.  Maybe you can explain to me what being an extrovert is like, or give me your own take on introversion.  You can also ask questions, which I promise to bungle as little as possible.

Oh, and for additional reading, if you’re interested:  A Time article on introverts.

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