What Introverts Want the Rest of You to Know
There are many people in my life that have known me since I was a kid, and I bet it surprises a lot of them when I profess to being an introvert. In fact, when I first started realizing this about myself several years ago, it kinda surprised me too! If you want to split hairs, I may actually fall under the definition of ‘ambivert’, which is a new term used to describe people who fall somewhere in the middle of the introvert/extrovert scale. Nevertheless, I have some major introvert tendencies and the older I get, the more they seem to take hold.
I’ve talked to a lot of introverts over the last while. It seems that I’m increasingly drawn to fellow introverts and that a lot of these people are ‘my tribe’. When you lean more towards the extrovert end of the scale, or you don’t recognize your own introvert tendencies, it can be hard to understand introverts. They can seem kind of aloof, disconnected, uncaring, too serious, quirky or even downright weird. Most of that is really not the case at all (except maybe the quirky/weird part).
In fact, the more introverts I connect with, the more I realize how totally misunderstood a lot of us folk are. So in an effort to bridge the gap and foster human relations just a little, I figured I would dedicate this post to offering up a list of things that those of us who are more introvert than extrovert, want the rest of you to know. Of course, I can’t speak for all introvert-type people, but based on my own experience and conversations with others who lean towards introversion, these are some pretty common traits.
- Whereas people who are more extroverted tend to feed off the energy of others, introverts get drained by being around large groups of people. This doesn’t mean they never like to spend time with people, or that they hate parties. In fact, some introverts can be the life of the party when they are up for it (extreme introverts may disagree), but introvert-types can only do these things in small doses. If they have to spend too many days/nights in a row in a crowd, they will likely get a little edgy, very tired, and may need a lot of alone time to recoup their energy afterwards. I am a prime example of this. I grew up in a family that entertained a lot. Subsequently, when I became an adult, I also entertained a lot. I loved throwing parties, like all the time, but often felt drained and a little cranky after the dust settled. This became even more evident when I started a full time career that involved being around people all day, stopped drinking like a 20 year old (I suspect a lot of introverts use this as a coping mechanism at times. I don’t recommend it), and eventually had a family of my own that requires a lot of my attention. So we don’t entertain as often, partly because I found out that life as a responsible adult is not one big party (bummer, I know), and partly because I don’t have the time to gear myself up for it, or recoup my energy afterwards. Maybe now that I work from home, alone, and my kids are getting older and need less constant attention, the urge to entertain a little more often will return. Or maybe I’ve tipped the introvert scale and it won’t.
- Introverts aren’t quiet because they have nothing to say. In fact, they have a TON to say, and that’s largely the problem. It can be very difficult for introvert-types to articulate what they're thinking. And believe me they think. They think a lot. About deep shit. They may just keep their mouths shut because they don’t even know where to begin telling you what’s going on in their heads. They fear that when it comes out, it will just sound like a jumbled, bizarre string of words that leave you staring blankly while thinking they are crazy. They also don’t want to risk saying something you don’t care to hear. They like to tell it like it is, and if they sense you don’t want to hear that, they will just shut the hell up... and maybe go write about it instead.
- Introverts aren’t necessarily shy either. Which a lot of people assume when you are quiet a lot. It’s just that they generally prefer to talk when they actually have something worth contributing. Personally, I have very little problem speaking to a whole room full of people, facilitating a workshop, or hosting an event or a party when my energy reserves are on point. The common denominator here is that it’s stuff I care about. Also, I am mostly in control of what happens in these situations. So maybe introverts are control freaks too.
- Further to the two points above, introverts can’t do small talk very well. In fact, a lot of them despise it. It seems pointless and energy draining to them. What introverts want is to talk about meaningful stuff. Stuff that matters to them and to the world at large. They mostly don’t give a crap about the weather, how long it took someone to paint their car, how many calories are in a chicken salad, or how many times Dr. Dead (I just made that up), got punched in the head at the latest UFC fight. That is unless weather, car painting, calorie counting, or UFC happens to be the thing that lights them up. So they will often just remove themselves, or go quiet in those situations where a lot of small talk is going on. It’s not that they aren’t interested in you as a person, it’s just that they aren’t interested in having a long drawn out conversation about... well, essentially nothing. Sure they can hold their own for awhile when they need to, or when they feel up to it, and they love a good laugh as much as the next girl, but mostly, small talk is really not their thing.
- Introverts like to be alone a lot. They don’t need a ton of other people around to be happy. No, it’s not sad. It’s the way they like it. That’s not to say they don’t need meaningful friendships or connections with others in their lives. They absolutely do. That’s an essential need for all of us on some level. It’s just that introverts can happily occupy themselves for days. The thought, ‘I’m bored’, won’t even cross their minds. Sometimes, sitting with their own thoughts, or reading a book, is all the entertainment they need. They don’t need to be constantly occupied with chit chat, activity and external stimuli. I’ve had so many people ask me how I can work at home alone all day. Are you kidding me? I am in HEAVEN. I don’t need water cooler talk or lunch with my co-workers to make my day. In fact, when I did work in that environment, it drove me bonkers. I liked to have the odd chat with someone I felt comfortable with or had a connection to, and a few words exchanged in the kitchen in passing were all good. But beyond that, no thank you. I’ll eat my lunch alone at my desk and like it! And when I taught elementary school, oi vey! It was essential for my mental health to go somewhere quiet on my lunch or prep periods whenever I could, which was rarely. When you’re a teacher, getting 5 minutes to yourself during the day is nearly impossible.
- Since we’re on the topic of work.... Introverts hate being forced to work in cubicle nation (a term I borrowed from Pam Slim). It sucks the life out of them and makes them far less productive. Being surrounded by non-stop noise and having to endure 50 or 200 people’s energy swirling around you all day is akin to torture for introverts. Seriously, how can anyone get anything productive done in that environment? It’s ridiculous! When the organization I used to work for awhile back expanded and I ended up being moved from an office into cubicle nation, it was the beginning of the end for me. I actually adopted the strategy of wearing headphones all day, even when I wasn’t listening to anything. This, my friends, is an introvert coping strategy.
- Don't single an introvert out in a crowd. Don't say stuff like, "Steve does a great Willie Nelson impression, why don't you show them Steve?" or "Nancy, tell that joke about the guy and the unicorn. It's hilarious!" No, please don't do that. Unless you happen to know them really well and know that they are totally comfortable with the present company. Even those introverts who are super chatty in a small, intimate group (and they do exist), or the ones who are great joke tellers or performers (because they exist too), cannot stand being put on the spot! They'll make like the frog in that old Bugs Bunny skit and go silent and squirmy on you the second you call them out.
- I’ve kind of alluded to it already, but I think it’s important to make this last point outright. Introverts, rather than being the cold, unfeeling people that some folks think they are, are intensely sensitive beings. I’m not saying that extroverts are insensitive by the way. It’s just that extroverts are more likely to make outward, obvious shows of affection. They are more likely to show they care in ways that are more visible. Whereas introverts don’t necessarily go for the grand gesture, so it can seem like they don’t really care or that they are somewhat prickly, when in fact, just the opposite is true. Most of the introvert-types I’ve encountered (myself included), feel everything, like I mean everything. Maybe that’s because they notice everything. I’m not entirely sure. But all that being quiet and taking in your surroundings stuff, seems to make introverts more highly tuned to body language, other people’s energy, and words that are not being spoken. Most introverts I know are very empathic. They can walk into a room and know exactly what’s going on immediately. They can sense tension, sadness, anger, even when it’s not being spoken. And that can make them super uncomfortable and send them retreating into their introvert shells to avoid those overwhelming feelings.
So, there you have it. A few facts about introverts. At least the ones I know. If you suspect you might be an introvert-type person, but aren’t quite sure, maybe this will help you decide. If you have friends, family members or co-workers that are introverts and you are more of an extrovert-type, maybe this will help you understand those people more.
If you’ve got something to share about your own experience with being or knowing an introverted person, tell us about it! Sharing our experiences can help us to accept each other’s differences, and to feel a little more normal, a little more human, a little more comfortable in our own skin.