Posted by: hjelen87 | December 10, 2012

On Being an Introvert in an Extroverted World

Alone at Retreat

Recently, I had someone tell me, as “constructive criticism,” that I need to be better about sharing more about myself to others, particularly in a work setting.  I had only known this person for a short time, and I felt that I did not know him well enough to share more unsolicited information about myself before we had any sort of authentic relationship.  What bothered him wasn’t that I didn’t answer questions about myself when asked; it was that I didn’t just talk about myself without being asked.

This person believed that my inability to spontaneously share personal information could hamper my future career.  As is often assumed by people in the extroverted majority, he believed that being extroverted was the right way to do things, and that I should strive to change to be more like an extrovert.  Of course, he didn’t say it in that many words, or probably even realize that was what he was saying.  He simply had so little experience with or knowledge of how introverts conduct relationships that he didn’t realize that a person could be successful doing things another way than what he knew, or how extremely uncomfortable & unnatural it would be for me to try to do things his way.

As an introvert, I do open up to people and I have very good relationships.  However, it tends to take me longer to open up and share personal information with others than it takes for most extroverts.  The person who told me this was used to dealing with law students, the majority of whom, as in the general public, are extroverts.  This person felt that I should have voluntarily given more information about my life, and it baffled him that I didn’t like to talk about myself to anyone who would listen.

And this isn’t an entirely strange reaction to this part of my personality.  There have been many books written about how American culture is geared toward extroverts.  And knowing many extroverts myself, I find that they don’t quite understand me sometimes.  This is nothing against them, because usually they don’t know any better, but I find I often confuse them.  A friend of mine who is an extrovert recently told me that it took her a little while to realize that when we were together and I wasn’t talking, it didn’t mean that I was upset about something, but that I didn’t have anything to say at that moment.  And this revelation, after knowing me for just a few months, was way ahead of the curve in terms of figuring that out.

It makes no sense to most extroverts why an introvert would want to stay at home on a Saturday night and watch a movie or read a book when there is a perfectly good party or other large social gathering to attend.  Or why we would want to leave said social gathering before it has ended.  When they ask me what I’m doing some nights and I respond with “just chilling at home,” they suggest that I tag along with them at whatever event they are going to, because “chilling at home” does not sound like an enjoyable choice for how to spend a night, but rather a default when you have nothing better to do.  But for me, and other introverts, it really is what we want to do many nights, hard to believe as that may be to all the extroverts out there.

And for a while, it made me feel lame knowing that sometimes I had the desire to skip parties & stay home by myself.  And society reinforces the idea that staying at home alone in lieu of going to social gatherings is not a legitimate choice.  Think about it: kids are regularly punished by being grounded, which is “forcing” them to stay at home by themselves and miss out on social gatherings.  It makes you feel pretty weird as a kid when you want to do the thing that is seen as punishment by most.  But I started learning more about introversion and realized that it is part of who I am, not something to be changed.  Introverts are definitely in the minority, and many people will not understand us, but it is not wrong or bad to be an introvert.  Introverts bring different strengths to the table, and the world needs those strengths just as much as it needs the strengths that extroverts bring.

So to all you extroverts out there, a few tips.  First, know that I really do love other people and spending time with them, just not all the time and with lots of people at once.  Second, I appreciate being invited to hang out with you, but if I choose instead to stay home & watch a movie by myself, just know that it is not because I’m lonely or depressed, or because I don’t have anything better to do, or because I don’t want to spend time with you.  It is a choice that I have made and I will likely enjoy myself.  And finally, if I’m hanging out with you and I’m not talking, it is probably not because I’m mad at you or upset about something else (although this is occasionally the case, so learn to read my nonverbals! ;D).  It is probably just because I am deep in thought, or I just don’t have anything in particular to say right then.

*If you want to learn more about introverts & understand us better (or if you are an introvert & want to read something that will constantly make you say “oh my gosh, that’s exactly how I feel!”), I would recommend this blog, which always seems to have posts that I relate to really well.

**Also, shout out to my lovely roommate, sometimes blog post editor, and often inspiration behind my posts, Laura!  You should all check out her website here!


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