If there were another -ism to the widely accepted list (sexism, racism, ageism, etc.) I would lobby hard for temperamentism. Okay, so it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but the concept is spot on. Our society, and the many industries that coexist to form it, is suited to extroverts.
It’s all about them.
And it’s oppressive to us.
We are introverts.
We are not recluses. We are not antisocial (even if we come off that way sometimes!). We are not backward or even particularly quiet or shy.
And you (you extrovert, you!) may be scratching your head because you’d never even considered to categorize us that way. You may find us especially engaging at parties, or surprisingly adept as presenting in front of groups. What you don’t understand (and may never wrap your mind around) is that these kind of engagements exhaust us.
Kind of a shocker, right? Because you, as an extrovert, live for a large gathering. You thrive off of small talk and chance meetings. Doing. Going. Seeing. Meeting. Talking. Talking. Talking. You panic at an empty hour in your day planner and have nightmares about a Friday night at home. Alone. With yourself.
I learned a few years ago (actually five…my god time is flying) in a personality class during which we spent a lot of time on the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator, the true meaning of extroversion and introversion. And yes, we took the test.* I learned it’s not about being shy versus gregarious. It’s about where one gathers and directs their energy.
Extroversion– directing energy toward the outer world of people and objects.
Introversion– directing energy toward the inner world of experiences and idea.
As an introvert I not only enjoy spending time home (and even alone, but that was more of a past-life kind of option), I need to. If I don’t properly care for my introversion I don’t properly care for my very essence. I feel stressed out. Overwhelmed. Misunderstood. And in desperate need of downtime. Extroverts would probably refer to this withdrawal-like state as boredom, disconnection, antsy.
Really, it’s the same shit in a different pile.
The kicker is that we introverts are a minority of the population. And we’re vastly misunderstood. There is an old but fabulous article called Caring for Your Introvert that I highly, highly recommend reading. Here is a snippet:
Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially “on,” we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: “I’m okay, you’re okay—in small doses.”
This was also the article that first put into words what I had long felt but been unable to articulate. Introverts are oppressed. It is incredibly difficult for an introvert to rise in the see-and-be-seen world of politics, or even an ever-socializing corporate machine. These ladders to success are not built for us introverts to climb. We, therefore, are underrepresented in public life.
And the same is true in social life. When we put on our brave faces and step beyond our front door we enter the extroverts’ world. They throw the parties. They are the regular attendees. They cultivate the norms and expectations. Extroversion is the unspoken expectation.
The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward.
We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts’ Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say “I’m an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.”
Another fantastic quote from Caring for Your Introvert. This idea of introversion being the label for the method through which I re-charge my soul was one of the most freeing concepts I’ve been introduced to in my life thus far. I felt explained. I felt understood. I felt normal.
For me, being an introvert means carefully guarding my time, cautiously dolling out my energy, and critically managing my (and now my family’s) schedule. Too be quite blunt, one obligation a day can easily lead to feeling over-scheduled. And my house is my sanctuary. So it comes first a lot. I am conscious not to allow it to get too out-of-control (piles of laundry, chaos of clutter, avalanche of dishes) because if my house stresses my out the whole world could end.
Well not really but…really.
As an introvert I’ve been told I come off as intimidating. This is always the funniest thing to me, because it’s totally a translation of actions and attitude through an extroverted society’s lens. No, I don’t typically approach people at gatherings. Yes, I mostly abhor small talk. But it has nothing to do with being haughty and everything to do with being introverted.
I also find it extremely awkward when people I’m not familiar with are present in a space I am very comfortable in. I am thrown off by the dichotomous nature of being in a setting that signals one thing to me with a person that signals another. I often resort to glossing over (i.e. ignoring) the “offending” intruder…and thus become intimidating.In case you were wondering, no, I’m not inherently friendly. I have to work at even being adequately polite.
There is much lost in translation between introverts and extroverts and I think creating a better dialogue about what introversion actually is, who it “affects”, how they feel, what they mean, and how it comes off can help lessen the chasm. We are not freaks. We are not less than. We are just different, navigating a world that wasn’t made for us.
My name is Ashley and I am a proud Introvert! This is who I am and this is who other people are too. We are ready to make ourselves heard.
*And about that Myers-Brigg Type test? I’m an INTJ (and I have remained one through numerous radical life transitions over the past five years). Especially as a woman, I am rare indeed. I love and relate to my type and hope to do a more in-depth post on it in the future.