Acceptance, Introversion, Relationships

Huh! I’m Still an Introvert

introvert graphic

I can pretend to be like the person on the left but I’m really the one on the right.

When I began writing about my experience as an introvert, I entertained the fantasy that assorted people who read my posts would suddenly “get” me. Since I’m one of the introverted personality types who dislikes repeating themselves, I wanted to believe that a few carefully crafted articles would, once and for all, eradicate misunderstanding about who, and how, I am. I wouldn’t have to say another word on the subject and could leave that task to the many excellent writers who blog almost exclusively about introversion. Peace would reign, if not on earth, then in my life.

Ha!

Since then, it’s dawned on me that some folks who read my posts might have thought that I just needed to get something off my chest and, having done that, life would return to their version of “normal”, where I would continue pretending to be an extrovert for the sake of pleasing them or trying to fit in.

Over the summer, an extroverted male acquaintance who’d read some of my posts said to me, “You’re not as introverted as you think you are.” In that moment, we were having dinner in a loud-ish restaurant that I chose to tolerate because its menu was more appealing than other nearby options. But making such a choice on that day, in a particular context, did not mean that I will always want to or feel comfortable making a similar choice again. Yet, extroverts such as my acquaintance might observe me interacting in a certain venue or social situation, take a mental snapshot, and believe it to be consistent because that is how they see themselves and it’s an image they understand. They might not observe or comprehend what needs to happen behind the scenes for me to show up socially; I need to recharge with solitude, quiet, a careful diet, and a consistent sleep schedule. Sometimes managing my energy feels like a high wire act; I have to be careful not to veer too far towards either socializing or excessive solitude to stay balanced.

And it’s also true I can be very talkative and animated in a one-on-one conversation that is intimate or otherwise meaningful; if someone engages me on a subject of mutual interest, they might not be able to get a word in edge wise. But that does not mean that I “scale up” easily. If more people join the conversation which, often but not always, dilutes the intimacy or relevance, it’s likely I would speak less and observe more, and possibly even excuse myself after a while. Why? My particular introvert battery gets charged by focused, deep conversation and is drained by more casual interactions. Which is not to say that casual interactions lack value and can’t be enjoyable, it’s just that I choose them, and their duration, carefully. In introvert parlance, we like to say we’re “selectively social” rather than “antisocial”. And picking one activity over another in a particular moment, based on anticipated energy gain or drain, is not necessarily a blanket rejection of the unattended activity or the people involved in it. Sometimes, if I’m really exhausted, I will choose “none of the above,” an option that many extroverts would not even consider.

I believe that my extroverted acquaintance was well-intentioned when he said I wasn’t as introverted as I thought I am, as if he were giving me a compliment of some kind. Having spent much of my younger years trying to pass as a “more desirable” extrovert in a talk-centric culture, I have decades of practice faking it. When necessary, I can be chatty and engage in small talk that fulfills social expectations but doesn’t reveal the depth of my personality. To play at being extroverted feels like putting on a mask for the comfort, convenience and relief of others, something that women especially are conditioned to do, often at great cost. At times, I’m more attuned to and fascinated by the underlying dynamics of a conversation than its content, or maybe I sense what is not being said. Yet to articulate my awareness of these subtleties can be jarring or discomfiting to others so I’ll sometimes say nothing, the lesser “evil” in social contexts, even though I might have plenty to say.

Still, introversion is hardwired, like sexual orientation, and I suspect it’s just as challenging for many extroverts to imagine what it’s like to be an introvert as it is for many heterosexuals to truly get what it feels like to be attracted to a person of the same sex. Yet, even though it might be challenging to wrap our heads around another person’s experience, it’s difficult to imagine a straight person saying to a friend who has recently come out, “You’re not as homosexual as you think you are,” and getting away with it. What I wished I had said in that moment, rather than letting his remark pass was, “I’m actually much more introverted than you will ever know.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About ilona fried

Writer, Feldenkrais champion, Aikidoka and explorer of internal and external landscapes.

Discussion

14 thoughts on “Huh! I’m Still an Introvert

  1. I “get” you because your description of yourself and your introversion sounds so much like me! Thanks for putting words to it.

    Posted by luministblog | November 25, 2014, 11:51 pm
  2. Great post! I’m an introvert as well and I recharge with time alone: books, baths, etc. Most people would never guess I was an introvert, as it’s simply a measure of how someone recharges their batteries – very tough to tell in another person how they actually do that. Extroverts do it with people, introverts generally do it on their own (unless as you say they are particularly interested in the subject matter or one-on-one conversation and then we can be recharged by that as well!) It’s something that people often get wrong, and I had a chuckle about the “compliment” above as it’s true – I think that extroversion used to be seen as a preferred state as opposed to a different way of recharging, but this seems to be shifting slowly and the unique strengths of both preferences are being considered equally valuable – hurrah!

    Posted by Laura Livesey | November 30, 2014, 11:27 am
  3. I am very interested in your comment about hard-wiring. I recognised myself as introverted from a description in a book I found in my mother’s book case as a teenager, and was relieved to get an explanation, although it would be a few years before I started stockpiling books on the subject. It does seem clear to me that no improvement in my physical energy or social stamina will turn me into an extravert – but I did experience a big jump in social energy and stamina in the second year of the Feldenkrais training (I did the first London training, which started out with 80 people – I spent the first year happily lurking!). All my understanding of these traits comes from reading books – usually from the Jungian/Myers-Briggs angle, I am aware that there has been a recent surge in awareness of this emotional-behavioural dimension, and you sound like you have come across some neuroscience on the subject – is there a particular source you would recommend?

    Posted by maggyburrowes | May 24, 2015, 4:12 am
    • Thanks for commenting, Maggy! I’m intrigued by your experience of a big jump in social energy in your Feldenkrais training. I wonder if that’s because you were in a supportive, unconventional environment where you could be fully yourself? Or are you referring to social energy outside the training? For other reading, I suggest “Quiet” by Susan Cain (should be a link to it on my blog). She reviews some of the information on how introverts’ brains are designed a bit differently than extroverts. It takes us longer to process stimuli.

      Posted by ilona fried | May 24, 2015, 9:47 am
      • Still not sure about putting all the emphasis on design and genes, but I have been intending to read Quiet so will get on with that. Re the training – I am sure that concentrated Awareness Through Movement enabled me to lower the excitability of my vagal system and thus connect better with my “mammalian” social circuitry – but I am still researching this subject! At the time I thought of it more as an increase in my available “nervous” energy as a result of lowering the habitual chronic muscle tension I had maintained up to that point.These two explanations are not really that different, but for me the polyvagal theory is the first really new information I have found to explain how I experience – although I am also trying to get to the bottom of the relevance of Hypermobility syndrome as this too seems very relevant for me!

        Posted by maggyburrowes | May 24, 2015, 4:54 pm
  4. I have begun to participate in an online course in therapeutic writing and I pasted a link to this article in the forum. The self-identified introvert responded with “Yes brilliant article which describes me very well!”

    Posted by Matthew Henson | January 12, 2017, 11:54 pm

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