Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Proud to be an introvert!!

Yes, I am an introvert! People are often surprised to hear this, which in turn surprises me because I feel like I embody introversion pretty damn well! I have realized though that this stems more from a difference in understanding the nature of introversion, than in a misunderstanding of who I am or who I present to the world.

So, what does an introvert do when she wants to understand a concept better? Thats right, she reads a book on it!! I had a basic understanding of myself as an introvert, but true to my introverted form, wanted to grasp the whole picture. (Introverts like to know a lot about fewer topics, while extroverts generally want to know less detail about a broader range of topics) The best book that I found was called The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney PsyD (side note; yay for PsyDs!!!) She is a doctoral level clinical psychologist, so she knows her stuff! (yeah, tooting my own horn here!) But, she writes in a way that is very easy to understand.

Here are some general concepts from the book that I found to be most beneficial in understanding myself and how I function as an introvert. (as you may have noticed, things directly from the book are green) The first major thing is that we are often misunderstood as being socially awkward or shy and introversion is often equated with social anxiety. This is not true, introverts actually do enjoy social interactions, just usually on a different level than extroverts.

1) One concept that I have heard before, but that I find the most useful is to think of it in terms of where you "recharge." Think of an introvert as a rechargeable battery and an extrovert as a solar panel. Introverts can function in social settings perfectly fine, as long as they have the ability to recharge at their home base. This means that we need the time to regroup and consolidate internally in a quiet and safe place where we can be alone (aka: home, bedroom, or some other private place). Extroverts on the other hand, recharge through social interactions, they soak it up like a solar panel!

When I finally grasped this concept, it was like a profound light bulb went off for me! I am able to have fun when out with people, but I have always had this urge that I call my "homing beacon!" Unconsciously, I get to a point where I need to recharge and leave the event so that I can go to my home base. I love that an understanding of this has brought it to the conscious level. Now that I know this and am able to take care of my recharging, I can function better in social settings. This used to cause me problems because I would not listen to my "homing beacon" and then my anxiety would come out in self-destructive ways (drinking too much, becoming irritated with friends, etc). I believe that it is when, as introverts, we do not allow ourselves this space to recharge (or as I call it, feeding our introversion) that is when we get labeled as having social anxiety and/or come across problems.

Another aspect of this point is that we place a lot of value on our home base because it is essential to our recharging and introversion feeding! This is why we generally don't like surprise or extended intrusions to our space. In other words, we are happy to have visitors as long as it is not for a month at a time and we have enough time prior to prepare ourselves.

2) We need time to process information before responding. So, its likely that we will never make good comedians because we are the people who think of a witty retort a few hours later! This is something that I have always been frustrated with in regards to arguments, either in relationships or when debating something that I feel strongly about. (Introverts often have very strong feelings about topics that they have a vested interest in, or are morally attached to) I have learned to compensate by writing my feelings down (often in bullet point, because Im a dork like that!) so that I can organize them before getting caught up in an emotional conversation.

3) We can take offense when we are interrupted. As you may have noticed, we don't talk a lot and are generally the listeners. This particular aspect of introversion is much to the dismay of my partner. Most people in our society are used to being talked over and talking over others. We have a very vocal society that is run by extroverts and this is one area where us introverts do not fit in well. Putting all the prior points together; we generally only open up fully to those who we trust into our emotional home base, we likely have strong feelings about the things we are willing to talk a lot about, and we take the time to process our thoughts before vocalizing them. So...maybe that helps to shed light on why we take it personally when someone interrupts us when we finally talk!

4) We don't function well under a lot of stimulation. My best example of this point; Costco!! I hate the damn place, but my extroverted girlfriend loves it! There is a Jungian concept that describes the differences in stimulation in great detail, but even with a full graduate level class I still do not fully understand it all. So, here is my watered down version. Introverts have a very rich internal world and are overstimulated by an abundance of external stimuli. Extroverts are fueled more by external stimuli than by their internal world, so they thrive on stimuli in the external world (remember the solar panel that I mentioned earlier). This is why I am overwhelmed by all the lights, noise, and crap in Costco. In fact, I usually stay at the cart and read a book (my on-the-go version of my home base) while Rachel goes out into the scary Costco world.

There is sooo much more that I could share because I am fascinated by this concept and how us introverts function in such an extroverted world! But, I will restrain myself :) The most important take home point for any introvert out there is to feed your introversion! Basically just remember that you need to recharge. Listen to your rich internal world (yeah, Im proud of that internal world thing!) and notice when it is telling you that you need some alone time. Figure out what works for you to recharge. For me, its reading a book, spending time in my office focusing on school work, or taking a walk. Then, when you feel like you are overwhelmed by all the stimuli that is in this extroverted world, take time to recharge. And finally, be proud of your introversion! I personally think that we have many advantages over extroverts (I mean come on, we have a "rich internal world!!") and we only need to understand ourselves better to be able to function effectively in this crazy extroverted world!

I highly recommend to anyone who thinks that they are an introvert, or anyone who is dating or close friends with an introvert, to read this book. Also, the most recent edition of Psychology Today has an article that summarized most of the information pretty well.

What do you think? Are you extroverted or introverted? Does it work for you? Did this introverted girl ramble on too much about her rich internal world?!
My idea of a perfect home base to recharge!


Mel's Way or No Way said...

High five from one introvert to another.

Holy shit, I'm going to Amazon to order that book. So many of the points are spot on. You should see me at the mall at Christmas time-A leads me around like I'm a zombie.

crystal said...

Mel - Oh god, the mall at christmas?! No thanks! I totally know the zombie feeling! Yay for introverts though!! :)

rachelgab said...

I am always categorized as an extrovert by tests, but I think deep down I'm an introvert. I am very social, but that doesn't mean I don't have any social anxiety, I do! Especially around stuffy "adult" people. I also really enjoy my alone time and definitely need to recharge a lot and need my space from people. In fact, just living with a roommate is a test for me because I have to be chatty sometimes when I don't want to.

crystal said...

Rachel I totally would have pegged you as a high functioning introvert!

rachelgab said...

LOL! High functioning? I like that a lot. I'm going to steal that. My therapist says I'm a high functioning neurotic...but I guess most of us are. At any rate, I like the idea that I'm high functioning at something ;)

Rachele said...

Thanks for posting this! I used be an "otter" personality but I really doubt I am now. And I really hate being interrupted! I refuse to talk if my parents interrupt me lol. Well time to recharge!

jon_ray said...

according myers-briggs, i'm also an introvert. i can totally relate to the books, long walks, and time to "recharge." thanks for this post... i'm looking forward to the book! keeping doing what you do!

Prion Indigo said...

You said it right, and I could totally relate.
As a child I was a very private person who didn't like being watched, did not like personal questions, did not like to have any one in my room...
Now I spend more time around people and don't mind it as much. But I still need my privacy and get extremely pissed off if I feel "invaded".

Prion Indigo said...

Lol. I spent a lot of my childhood reading books, too. :)