Life has a funny way of not turning out how you expected, or at least, maybe not how you wanted. When you look around at the world around us, everything tells us that it’s normal to be outgoing, have a ton of friends, always be bustling about, and, in general, being an insatiable people person. We live in a very extroverted world. Which would be great, if only I wasn’t an introvert.
I’ll be 32 this year and I’m only just now putting together the pieces that reveal just how much of an introvert I really am, which is something I never wanted to be.
Throughout my life there have been situations that I just knew I didn’t like the way they made me feel, such as giving presentations in front of the class, working in groups in school, being embarrassingly awkward with small talk, and not usually enjoying crazy parties. The list goes on and on, but all of them are things that, I thought, just made me finicky and grumpy.
I don’t remember when the fog lifted for me but one day I realized that I’m not an anti-social party-pooper, and that these things I’ve felt my entire life can be explained!
Growing up, our extended family was often times at odds with various other family members, so several years would go by without large family gatherings, which is where I would normally have learned how to cope in those environments. Having grown up in a four-person family, my comfort level began and ended with groups of 4, maybe 5, people. Truth be told, I didn’t even make that connection until Chicago John pointed it out to me. Looking back, even all of my friends lived in small families as well. Whether that detail is a coincidence or subconscious decision on my part, I don’t know.
One of the misconceptions about introverts is that we don’t like people and don’t enjoy being around others. In my case, that’s definitely not true. I love having a good time with others and only wish I enjoyed it more. I simply find groups of outgoing people and their energy levels to be very draining to my own energy level and sanity. If I’m hanging out playing games with friends, I can do that all night long and thoroughly enjoy myself. If I’m out and about all day long, usually by late afternoon I’m exhausted and irritable. Not because I want to be that way, but because I’m overwhelmed (usually by witnessing the stupidity of so many people in public, but that’s another post entirely!).
When I was in my junior high years I enjoyed being at my friend’s house with a handful or two of good friends, blasting music and being rambunctious. Looking back, that was a comfortable environment where nobody hassled me if I sat on the couch for a bit, or retreated to my friend Chris’s room to flip through some Iron Man comics for a few minutes. When I was ready to rejoin the mayhem, I did.
As I grew up, I realized that my coping mechanisms for certain situations were so much of a habit, that I didn’t even realize what I was doing. When I’m in an environment that taxes me, I’ve realized that I find some excuse to get up and steal a few minutes for myself. Sometimes that’s just pacing around someone’s backyard, finding a reason to walk out to our car, or lock myself in the bathroom for a few minutes to give myself a break from the constant talking. Many people assume that introverts are shy or afraid of being around other people, which is simply not true. I enjoy the company of others, just usually in smaller doses than my extroverted friends.
What’s ended up happening over the years, is I’ve gained an apparent reputation – due to myself and others not understanding exactly why I did these things – of being anti-social. I’m not anti-social, I’m just “differently social“. In a blog post over at space2live.net, the writer describes this feeling pretty well: “We get out and rock it, but then we need to withdraw from that buzz because if we don’t we will feel like an overdone steak, no life, no juice.”
In another blog post on space2live.net (“There’s Nothing Wrong with You. You’re an Introvert.“), the writer articulately explains many of the things I’ve felt my entire life. I can relate to the experiences she writes about because I, too, am an introverted parent with three children. Some days the normal, non-stop activity of everyone in the house is just too much and I end up mentally withdrawing and that makes everyone assume that I’m angry.
A great resource that lists and addresses some common misconceptions about introverts is Carl King’s post, “10 Myths About Introverts,” where he shares a Cliff Notes explanation of the neurological difference between introverts and extroverts:
…it turns out that Introverts are people who are over-sensitive to Dopamine, so too much external stimulation overdoses and exhausts them. Conversely, Extroverts can’t get enough Dopamine, and they require Adrenaline for their brains to create it. Extroverts also have a shorter pathway and less blood-flow to the brain. The messages of an Extrovert’s nervous system mostly bypass the Broca’s area in the frontal lobe, which is where a large portion of contemplation takes place.
The issue I’m finding as I try to read up on what makes introverts tick, is that most things are very biased and point semi-jovial fingers at the other side. Many sources paint a picture of extroverts as drunken barbarians parading about, clueless about the feelings and disposition of their introverted friends and family. Conversely, many sources portray introverts as crotchety Grinches who are using “the way they are” as an excuse for crawling into a shell.
On one hand, realizing how introverted I am is a comforting because I feel a bit more normal about the way certain situations make me feel. On the other hand, I’m annoyed because I really don’t want to be this way.
One step at a time, I guess.