All my life, I’ve struggled with the fact that I am an introvert. Wait…that’s not entirely true. I’m an extreme introvert – possibly the most extreme you’ll ever meet. And I’ve realized that I haven’t struggled with being an introvert as much as I’ve struggled with the world’s definition of an introvert. I was always taught that being an introvert is a bad thing. How could I possibly be happy unless I was an extrovert like the majority of the world? For most of my life, the introverted part of my personality was the thing I wanted most to change about myself. I felt like it isolated me, it made me different, and I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to fit in.
Over the last few years, I’ve started to understand what being an introvert is really all about. In the last few months, it’s something that I’ve not only understood, but something I’ve accepted – proudly. I love being an introvert. Yes, there are still times when I wonder what it would be like to be an extrovert, but the main thing that I’ve learned over the last few months is that the world misinterprets introverts, probably more than any other personality trait.
Most people lump the word ‘introvert’ in the same category as ‘shy’, ‘reserved’, ‘withdrawn’, ‘quiet’, and ‘antisocial’. None of those words have anything to do with being an introvert. Over the course of my life, I have known many introverts. For each of those words that the world considers synonymous with ‘introvert’, I can think of an introvert in my life that does not even remotely display that characteristic.
Shyness is ultimately based in fear. That is not to say that shyness is a bad thing. Shyness can be beautiful, especially in today’s world of ‘tell all’, attention grabbing, spotlight mentalities. But it is rooted in fear. Fear is not always bad. We steer away from danger because of the fear of what may happen. The little hairs that stand up on the back of our necks are triggered by fear. It can be a healthy thing. But it has nothing to do with being an introvert. Personally, I am also shy. Growing up, that was also labeled as a negative thing. Double whammy for me – though being shy and being an introvert were essentially the same thing.
Reservation is an act of caution. It can be rooted in fear as a defense mechanism, but it is most often being cautious about who we share information with. It’s about trust. Can I trust you with the information I share? As with anything, it can be taken to an extreme, making it unhealthy, but I personally see being reserved as a strength. The definition of ‘reserved’ is restrained in words and actions or not excessive or extravagant. I think it’s good to be restrained or to not be excessive or extravagant.
Introverts are not withdrawn. Most of us truly enjoy being around people. If I’ve had enough downtime to recharge, I would rather be around people – especially people I care about. I grew up in dance and theater. Most performers fall into one of two categories. They are either natural ‘hams’ who are always performing and entertaining no matter what they are doing. Or they are introverts who can flip a switch when they are ‘on stage’. I fall into the latter category. I am a great example of an introverted performer. I grew up on stage, and I spent years in front of classes, teaching dance. As hard as it is to believe for most people who know me, I don’t mind speaking in front of people when I’m talking about something I care about.
Introversion is a personality trait. It is a preference relating to how we focus our thoughts, and how we gain energy. Introverts are inwardly focused. We like to think and explore our own thoughts and feelings. Usually, being around people interferes with our desire to be introspective. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we don’t like conversation. We just tend to enjoy deeper conversations about thoughts and ideas instead of small talk. From a personal standpoint, I hate small talk. It bores me. I want to hear about your life, and I want to exchange ideas and connect on a deeper level.
Introverts like to reflect on new information – analyze it, process it – and only make decisions after some time. We very rarely like to tell you what we think if put on the spot unless it’s a topic that we’ve already analyzed, but we are capable of carrying on a conversation about almost anything. We just may not enjoy that conversation very much, and it will drain us of energy.
Introverts gain their energy from being alone. That is how we recharge. It doesn’t mean that we don’t like being around people. We are not ‘antisocial’. I love being around people. If it is someone I care about and enjoy being with, I can be invigorated by the exchange of thoughts, ideas, and emotions. It is the larger settings that drain us – not because we don’t enjoy them, but because they use our energy. I heard an analogy once about the difference between introverts and extroverts. Introverts are like a rechargeable battery. They need to stop expending energy and rest in order to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, are like solar panels. For them, being alone is like being under a heavy cloud cover. Solar panels need the sun to recharge, in the same way that extroverts need to be out and about, interacting with lots of people, to refuel. Introverts need time to restore their energy, and it flows out faster than an extrovert’s energy. In order to function to the best of their ability, they need to calculate how much energy something will take, how much they need to conserve, and plan accordingly. Speaking in front of a group of people will knock me out, and a one on one conversation can invigorate and challenge me, but I have to balance both of those with some alone time to recharge.
I love being an introvert. I love that I think before I speak. I love that I think before I act. I love to listen to other people without always having to add my voice to the conversation. I love that I share with a small group of trusted people. I love that being an introvert allows me to see the world from a different perspective than the majority of the population. It fits the rest of my ‘minority’ personality traits. It ties me together. It’s who I am, and there is nothing wrong with it. It is not a social disease. It is not something that should be changed. It is my preference, and I’m finally ok with that.