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19 Aug 2016

11 Introvert Myths

Introverts get a bad wrap. Not the sort of prejudice that brings uprising (which wouldn't happen anyway... it's against the very nature of being introverted), but the quiet, deep-seeded prejudice that comes from a long history of being misunderstood and misrepresented. For as long as I can remember I have been told I'm shy, passive, weak, moody, and all-around not the life of the party. But maybe I don't want to be at your party... or any party for that matter. Maybe I want to be at home with my cat reading a book and eating grapes. Or maybe I want to be sipping coffee with a good friend, talking about the meaning of existence. Or maybe, just maybe, I want to be dancing my ass off at a party but as soon as it comes to socialising or meeting someone new I'd like to call it quits and get out of there as quickly as my legs will take me. Maybe I just charge differently to you, or maybe you're like me and want to set the record straight for the introverts of the world. Either way, this post is for you.

It's commonly thought that introverts don't like company and whist I can see the confusion, it is nowhere near accurate. We love company, we just prefer to have one-on-one or small group encounters. The frivolity of small-talk and self-introductions is a cause of much stress and overwhelm and so when in large groups or meeting new people it can send us into overload. While, for extroverts, it may seem fun to go to a bustling party, for introverts it's something that we need to mentally and emotionally prepare ourselves for or, preferably, avoid all together. However, meeting up with good friends (ones that don't require polite small-talk) allows us to flourish in our element. Having meaningful and heart-felt conversation is what we seek and it allows us to feel comfortable and be authentic.

"We introverts are not anti-social, we're differently social."

Introverts are often thought of as judgmental and rude but this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, we often get sensory overload and so when others are talking around us we're often trying to cope with overwhelm from our surroundings. This happens on an instinctual basis that even most introverts wont know is happening. Being quiet is less of a choice and more of a side-effect of taking in all of the smells, sights, sounds, and feelings around us. In our modern society, this can come across as not wanting to participate in conversation or even seem like a refusal or rebellion in some situations. Unfortunately this is widely misunderstood and the best way to entice an introvert to converse is not to make them feel guilty for being quiet, but to make them feel included or, even better, have smaller gatherings in quieter places to let us flourish in our element – after all, you can't put strawberries in the desert and expect them to thrive.

"Everyone shines, given the right lighting."

Something I was labelled as a lot as a child and teen and probably my least favourite word. Because introverts are withheld (a trait that is exacerbated by being ridiculed for being quiet... but that's another topic altogether), it is often confused with being shy. Shyness is a product of feeling anxious and stressed when around other people, introverted is an entirely different kettle of fish. Introverts are introspective and so are naturally inward thinking and self-reflective – this is not something that is simply switched on and off, which can be difficult for extroverts to understand as their mode of operating is entirely different. Introverts feel deeply and often find it difficult to translate their emotions into words. We also prefer much more intimate meetings and deep conversations that allow us to bloom. A large number of introverts, as a product of living in the modern Western world, have manifested strategies to help them come across as sociable, confident, and more extroverted. This often happens without the introvert even knowing they are doing it, but these methods are praised and encouraged every day by subtle signals that being chatty and loud are positive qualities to have. For a lot of introverts, myself included, this chameleon-like system doesn't happen... despite trying (which I have come to love and admire about myself – more on this another time).

"Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful, introversion is not."

This one is completely subjective and although introverts and extroverts make great pairings for friendships and relationships, what to do can be a point of contention. After a long day introverts need time to recuperate and recharge which usually means staying in and indulging in solitary hobbies like reading, cooking, or binge-watching Netflix. For extroverts, unwinding usually consists of being around other people... sometimes rooms filled with them. For us introverts, this is something to work up to only after we've completely recharged and so we're often labelled as 'boring' (along with coinciding tags like 'lazy', 'selfish', and the infamous 'anti-social'... we've just gone full circle back to number one). Going out can be fun for introverts, too, but we have to be fully charged to enjoy it whereas extroverts need it when feeling depleted.

"It's as if they have thinner boundaries separating them from other people's emotions and from the tragedies and cruelties of the world."

sad / angry
Introverts are naturally introspective and we often have a lot going on in our minds. This means our focus is more on our internal world and less on our surroundings... which makes us not as outwardly expressive as extroverts and can therefore come across as cold or uninterested. If you've often been asked "are you okay?", "what's wrong?", or "are you in a bad mood?" when you're perfectly fine, you know what I'm talking about. The truth is, we're just as happy as Larry, we just show it differently. The chances are that we are happiest in different situations to extroverts and so may be showing signs of being uncomfortable in settings where extroverts thrive and feel perfectly relaxed like parties or in groups of people. Take me to a park, farm, or anywhere with animals and you'll see my face light right up (according to numerous sources).

"We don't ask why God chose as his prophet a stutterer with a public speaking phobia. But we should. The book of Exodus is short on explication, but its stories suggest that introversion plays yin to the yang of extroversion; that the medium is not always the message; and that people followed Moses because his words were thoughtful, not because he spoke them well."

Introverts are naturally reluctant to show assertive behaviours and tend to be more agreeable in order to "keep the peace" and diminish the opportunity for conflict. This often comes across as complacent or  weak and can lead to the belief that introverts can be walked over. However, this lack of authoritarian desire does not mean we wont hold our own if pushed to our limits. Everybody has boundaries and although introverts are natural peace-keepers and often people-pleasers, when our line has been crossed, you will know it. Like anyone else, we only take so much before breaking, the only difference being that we don't retaliate or "kick up a fuss" until the last straw has been taken. So be careful how much you take an introvert for granted... they wont necessarily tell you but they will notice. And then whoosh, they're likely to move on and leave behind the people who don't align with them.

"We can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Bill Gates is never going to be Bill Clinton, no matter how much he polishes his social skills, and Bill Clinton is never going to be Bill Gates, no matter how much time he spends alone with a computer."

It's a common misconception that being alone inherently means being lonely. For some people this may be a reality, but for introverts this couldn't be further from the truth. Being around other people, although fun, can be draining on our system and alone time is necessary to recover. We also just enjoy being on our own. There's so much to do – books to read, existence to ponder, creativity to exude – that sometimes we just don't get round to seeing other people... there's simply not enough time in the day! Being alone means total comfortability, freedom of speech silence, and the ability to drift off into a state of pure thought for as long as we like. Ahhhhhh, bliss.

"Solitude matters, and for some people, it's the air they breathe."

'away with the fairies'
Introverts are highly creative and have are easily distracted by wildly imaginative thoughts. We're also on sensory overload at any given moment so if we seem distracted in conversation, we probably are. But the good news is that we're highly adept at multi-tasking, so don't worry, we're still listening. With our minds and eyes wondering, we're often mistaken for not paying attention and, worse, being downright rude. But we're also highly empathic, which makes what other people are saying just as important to us, and we just so happen to be terrific listeners. If you want to talk with an introvert, consider taking them somewhere quiet and calm so they don't have to work so hard at drowning out their surroundings; find a quiet corner at a party, step outside at a concert, move away from the playground at the park.

"The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions – sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments – both physical and emotional – usually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties hat others miss - another person's shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly."

not natural leaders
The common image of a leader is someone who is brash and outspoken. Leaders like Clinton, Churchill, and Antoinette come to mind, and have been at the forefront of the minds of many when it comes to leaders. But introverted leaders are just as powerful, passionate, and revolutionary (perhaps even more so). Gandhi, Lincoln, Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Einstein... these are all monuments of leadership history and made a huge impact on our social structure not despite being introverted, but because of it. Being a great leader means you need to be a good listener, cool-headed, reflective, and have humility... things introverts have in bucket-loads. Sure, extroverted leaders may get heard sooner, but their power quickly dwindles as people realise their bark is louder than their bite and all they have to offer is hot air. Introverted leaders have a history of being misunderstood, overlooked, taken for granted until people can no longer ignore the unassuming powerhouses they are. 

"There is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas."
While this is true a lot of the time (externally anyway), introverts are as chatty and boisterous as they come once they've reached a level of comfort. For me – and I know it to be true of many introverts – all my life people have told me that they were shocked at how different I come across at first meeting compared to how I am once we're friends. I sing, dance, cackle, debate, and all-around act like an ape. At first meeting, however (and I am completely, crushingly aware of this... though totally lacking in any power to change the fact), I come across polite, timid, sensible even. So yes, a basic way to spot an introvert is to scan a room full of people and scout out the one nervously holding a drink (or downing it), backing themselves into a corner, and looking around the room anxiously searching for the exit sign... but place this same person with a small group of friends, a partner, or on their own and they'll be far less obviously "introverted" to the untrained eye... you may even mistake them for an extrovert.

"If you're an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain. As a child you might have overheard your parents apologise for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come "out of your shell" – that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and some humans are just the same."

we have a choice
Probably the bane of my childhood (and still something I struggle with) is dealing with people who think that being introverted is a choice. Of course it tells you right away that these people are extroverts because they have no idea how physically crippling modern social pressures can be – completely clamming up when speaking with someone new, wondering if everyone around you can see the beads of sweat dripping from your brow because you're in a room filled with people you hardly know, panicking because you've been invited to a party. These things are not instances we long for, nor are they something we can do much about. While we each have our methods of coping with situations that spark terror (or just a little shaking of the hands), saying that someone can 'cure' being introverted is like saying someone can 'cure' being extroverted. Let's tackle the causation of the breakdown of the nervous system rather than telling people to 'deal with it', 'grow up', or 'stop being so shy'.

"Don't think of introversion as something that needs to be cured."

But perhaps the saddest part of wanting to change an introvert's nature is that these people are overlooking introverts as a whole, including the wonderful, remarkable, even magical aspects that come with. Being introverted doesn't just mean you get a fight or flight response when the doorbell rings, it also means you're trustworthy, compassionate, deeply in tune with yourself, highly creative, and maintain the strongest friendships.

Those who're still in the dark about introverts and all their glory are missing all the best parts of us. But those who embrace it and acknowledge it for what it is (simply a different way of re-charging), will see the magic that introverts bring.

"...I also believe introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I'm never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know that I can always turn inward."

[all quotes by Susan Cain] 

— Coming Soon —