Country Living Series

Friday, March 15, 2019

In praise of introverts

Let's talk introverts. It's estimated that one-quarter to one-third of the population is afflicted with this crippling condition, so it's worth a blog post.

What is an introvert? It's defined as "a personality trait characterized by a focus on internal feelings rather than on external sources of stimulation. … People who are introverted tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation," according to this link.


The interesting thing is how many people (notably, extroverts) think introverts need "fixing." Somehow it's looked upon as a flaw that must be corrected so these poor pathetic souls can function in today's high-octane world.

But as a confirmed introvert, I beg to differ. Since my earliest days, I've liked solitude. In fact I spent a significant portion of my young childhood wanting to be a hermit.

I have a distinct memory of when I was five or six years old and I wanted to run away from home. Not because I had family troubles (on the contrary, I grew up with a warm and loving family, and we seldom had arguments or conflicts) but because I wanted to live in a little house all by myself somewhere in the woods. When my mother stopped me from leaving to fulfill this dream, I remember crying piteously while she held me in her arms, because I still wanted to run away.


Then, and later, I spent a lot of time designing tiny and solitary living spaces out in the woods somewhere. With books. Lots of books.


Yes, books. The best thing in the world for a kid like me was books. "My Side of the Mountain" was my favorite, and for years I wanted to emulate the boy Sam's adventures as he lived off the land in the Catskill Mountains – by himself.

It's no accident I became a field biologist before and after marriage, working in remote areas such as the White Mountains of California, the high Sierras, the deep southwest Oregon woods, and other out-of-the-way places. I relished this work until having babies made it impractical.

Neither is it an accident that we live on a farm in a fairly remote corner of Idaho. As introverts, we thrive on solitude and the company of each other. We can easily go days without leaving home or socializing with anyone other than our neighbors.


Since we chose to homeschool our kids and added the double insult of homeschooling them on a farm, we were constantly on the receiving end of Standard Homeschooling Criticism No. 1: "But what about socialization?" The inference, either implied or stated, was we were doing our girls a disservice to raise them under conditions that could lead them towards becoming (gasp) introverts. The widespread societal criticism of "What about socialization?" for homeschooled children claims that without the constant presence of hundreds or thousands of other students, children grow up psychologically twisted, malformed, and with the social skills of woodlice.

But what if they merely became...introverts?


Most extroverts don't understand introverts. After all, humans are sociable creatures and deliberately seek out interaction with others. But not everyone wants constant socialization. The Charles Ingallses of the world sought to live in distant woods or lonely prairies because they longed for solitude and independence, not constant people and unstoppable conversations.


But the world revolves around extroverts. "For decades, personality psychologists have noticed a striking, consistent pattern: extroverts are happier more of the time than introverts," notes this article. "For anyone interested in promoting well-being, this has raised the question of whether it might be beneficial to encourage people to act more extroverted. Evidence to date has suggested it might."

Bull-tucky.

The article says "people tend to report feeling happier and more authentic whenever they are behaving more like an extrovert (that is, more sociable, active and assertive)." But here's the thing: introverts can be sociable, active, and assertive too – and then they need to go away and recharge their batteries before they can play-act those traits again when called upon to do so.

Once again, "research" like this illustrates the compulsion to "fix" introverts because they're somehow flawed. Extroverts assume introverts are unhappy in their solitude and just need to get out more.

(As a side note, a few years ago I came across an interesting article called "Time alone? Many would rather hurt themselves." The gist of the article is most people "would rather inflict pain on themselves than spend 15 minutes in a room with nothing to do but think." Now tell me again – who needs fixing?)

It's true that introverts rarely become powerful leaders. That's not their style, and they rarely crave power. But never underestimate their strength. It's just not brash, hey-everyone-look-at-me kind of strength.

Even phones are viewed with some irritation. As early as age 14, I viewed talking on the phone, even to dear friends, as a waste of time. (I've amended that now since so many friends and family are widespread and seldom seen.) But to me, phones are primarily instruments to convey minimal information. Once that information is conveyed, the conversation can be over. Maybe that's why I don't care for cell phones except as necessary objects for conveying important information as briefly and concisely as possible, i.e. roadside emergencies.

As it turns out, introversion may be biological – embedded in our DNA: "Introverts have a lot of the chemical that makes them feel stimulated; extroverts don't have so much. This is why introverts tend to avoid crowded places or deadlines – things that are likely to put extra pressure on them – because they already have pressure within themselves."

"As an introvert, you are more energized by spending time on your own, or in very small intimate groups of people you trust," states this article. "So when you are out in a social environment that is very highly stimulating, what happens is that while the extrovert gets more and more incandescent and magnetic, the introvert starts shrinking and shrinking away."

Yep. Been there done that.


In short, extroverts think introverts are wrong and must be changed. Many extroverts think introvert tendencies can be overcome if the introverts in question are exposed to enough socializing opportunities, whether it's nightclubs or parties or merely get-togethers or even frequent phone calls.


But socialization for introverts is like eating hot chili peppers: a little goes a long way. Too much spice – too much socializing – mentally exhausts (rather than exhilarates) introverts, and they need a period of recovery before the next social occasion. That's the way introverts work. We need a lot of alone time to recharge our batteries.

Extroverts get their batteries charged by social interaction, so the more social time they get, the happier and more energized they are. They thrive on social situations. It feeds their souls and energizes them. Solitude is boring, depressing, and something to avoid.

Bottom line, it's not that introverts don't like people or fun events; it's just that we can't handle too many or too much.

But give us stacks of books, a quiet room or porch or meadow, a bunch of poufy clouds to contemplate, a country road to walk on, a corner of a coffee shop, an empty park, an intimate gathering of friends, a library or bookstore on a rainy day...and we're happy as clams.


I should make it clear introversion and extroversion fall along a spectrum. While there are extremes at both ends, most people fall somewhere on the continuum. Many introverts are terrified of public speaking, for example, and I'm not. Nor does introverted necessarily mean shy (I'm not in the least bit shy). It's all a continuum.

If there's one thing to remember about introverts, it's this: they're not broken. They don't need fixing. They are still perfectly capable of functioning in society, performing their jobs, making friends, having happy marriage, etc. They just do it a little differently.

So don't try to fix them.

35 comments:

  1. I fully agree, I am well along toward the extreme introvert end of the spectrum.

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  2. sooooooooooooooooo AMEN

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  3. As a child I was a pretty bad introvert. Everything frightened me. Unfamiliar places, activities, people just froze me. Teachers would scold at me for balking at activities, church ladies would drag me into the room where the other children were dancing the Hokey-Pokey. My mother would find me laying on my tummy under a leafy bush in the summertime, watching ants and inspecting the details of how a plant grows, and scold me for not being out playing some game with the others.

    I discovered, though, that shy introverts are targets. Bullies and predators prefer the weakest prey they can get and shy is considered weak and it's true up to a point.

    When I forced myself to open up and stand up I discovered I could deflect, and even reverse bullying behavior, turning the effects of their behavior back on them.

    I love people in general. I can happily talk to strangers in a waiting room, do presentations to groups, even be "the boss" of a crowd. Pushy entitled Type A's do not intimidate me because I learned, well I learned how to be mean. I'm never unkind, especially to anyone I peg as unsure or shy, but to those who have the habit of flashing and dominating their way through things I'm not afraid to call them down.

    But that is not the real me. Truly, I'd rather have my closest loved ones around and live on a distant bluff in Montana. I could live entirely alone in my garden with the bees and bunnies for days and not be unhappy. I don't mind my own company.

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  4. I still re-read My Side of the Mountain occasionally. Of course it's totally unrealistic (Into the Wild is a bit more like it) but who doesn't want to live in a hollowed out treek trunk with a fireplace made of clay?

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    1. Might I suggest you make the acquaintance of the "Primitive Technology" channel on YouTube. A young chap in the Australian jungles makes a "homestead" from the ground up; he starts with literally nothing in his hands then makes a tool from a rock. There is No talking, just doing.

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    2. Thank you for that recommendation! Those are fabulous!
      XaLynn

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  5. Oh, My Side of the Mountain! I wanted so much to live that book! Later, in high school, we would take those "career interest surveys" to see what we should like to do "when we grew up" and mine would always come back 1) "Forest Ranger" and 2) "Priest" - the family joke is that those were the results only because "Hermit on a Mountain Top" was not a listed career on the tests. I am fine in a crowd or interacting with people for awhile, but then I need to be alone to recharge/recover. To be around people constantly is incredibly draining. I want to be left alone to read, quilt, hike, take care of the farm... I'm happiest that way. I see no reason to change. Introverts get things accomplished because we aren't spending all our time chatting up other people! Just let us be!

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    1. I identify with your experience. My test came back as "mortician" or "government worker". So after my career as a police officer, I've disappeared to a farm with cows and a pond. Much happier now.

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  6. I was always that kid, with her face in a book. But I could be social with people who I knew well, good friends, etc.

    Yes, we DO often and regularly need to recharge our batteries with alone time.

    Later on in life I took the Meyers Briggs personality test. Boy, was that spot on! Apparently, I am in a category of one percent of the population. An extreme introvert.

    I was well aware of my introverted type, and was ok with it, but the Meyers Briggs really helped me to understand my dynamics with others so much better.

    I recommend it. Find it online.

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  7. Thanks, Patrice, for another great article.

    I feel sorry for anyone who cannot abide their own company, who don't know what to do alone with themselves.

    I feel sorry for those who have to have noise (radio etc) going all the time. Silence terrifies them.

    I feel sorry for those who have scant interior life-- whatever do they do while waiting in line, or at the doctor's?

    Maybe it's those extroverts who could use some 'fixin' LOL!

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    1. I agree Walburga. Many extroverts live lives consumed by constant stimulation, drama and frivolous pursuits. I do feel sorry for them.

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  8. Ah yes! You're talking straight to me, I know :-) I often say "I'm peopled out." I can chat w/ the best of them, but down time is sacred. I've always been thankful that I don't have to be entertained. We live in such an entertainment society, and children aren't even allowed to be alone in a room unsupervised. How do they learn to rest or quiet their mind, ponder a thought, or contemplate an idea?

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  9. For us nerdy/geeky types: How do you tell when an engineer is introverted? When he stares at his own shoes when he speaks to you.

    How do you tell when an engineer is extroverted? When he stares at YOUR shoes as he speaks to you.



    Steve Davis
    Anchorage, Alaska

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  10. I am definitely an introvert. I used to get in trouble with my parents for reading too much! I love being alone. I hate talking on the phone. If I am in a group I won't join in the conversation. It is just too much hassle trying to "out talk" a group. You just have to be so aggressive to get a word in edge-wise and it isn't worth the trouble. I remember being in my first adult church group (as an adult) and I was standing with a group of young 20-something ladies. I never said a word, I just listened. The girl standing next to me said, "How come you never say anything?" I can't believe I said this but I responded, "Why do you talk so much?" that ended that conversation! As a dental hygienist, I found the high energy, talkative patients to be exhausting. It was so much easier to work with calm, quiet people. I like myself just fine as an introvert!

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  11. Everything you write is so true. Started my life as an only child, raised on a farm. My greatest enjoyment was time spent out in the field on a tractor. Did play sports in high school and two years of college. My eight to five employment turned out to be in law enforcement , but always farmed at the same time. After 34 years at the eight to five job, I had been around the public more than I needed. For the past 17 years I have enjoyed again being an introvert. Enjoy being with a few friends, but that is enough. My crowd of folks is being in the middle of the garden, with my dog, or again out on the farm operating a piece of equipment. Don't knock the folks that have to socialize, but am not one.

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  12. As a teacher (tiring job for an introvert, which I am too) I just finished a very interesting book study on Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain. It’s “bestseller-y” thus a quick, engaging read, but she made some very intriguing observations about introversion and our culture’s bias toward extroversion. Since many introverts are fans of reading, I thought I’d suggest it for others to enjoy. Our book study leader also suggested a Meyers Briggs quickie test called 16 Personalities for those interested in finding out more about their personality types. They are trying to sell something, but give pretty detailed personality descriptions before they get to the sales pitch. I found it to be helpful enough that I had my husband, daughter (already guessed their results) & several of my students try it. Fun to discover what those around you are and think about how that colors their reactions to life. Some of the most vehement opponents to homeschooling I’ve met are extroverts. In our book study, they were the ones also passionately calling for introverts to “change”, while introverted teachers were asking how we could make classrooms more comfortable for both types of students. Learning how people tick is so interesting!

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  13. I loved “My Side of the Mountain”! I read so much, that as I grew up, my parents disciplined me by grounding me from reading! It was awful to go even a day without reading a book. I love being around people which is great for our occupation (missionary) but I also need to spend time by myself. My husband is an extrovert so he is the face of the ministry. Growing up, I always paid attention to the conversations around me while I was reading. That made me feel like I was a part of everything, and I could still enjoy the introvert role.

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  14. So introverts are more self-sufficient ;-). I'm pretty introverted myself, and one of my biggest clutter problems is books. My shelves are all overloaded. I'm very content alone, but also have meaningful relationships with people at church and with others. I have to step into an extroverted role at varying times for work and other situations--and can do so successfully--but I definitely don't need to rely on social stimulation from others to be happy.

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  15. My husband and I have been called "hermits" because we love our little piece of heaven and don't want to go anywhere. I don't even like going to town. We spent 2 1/2 months driving in Alaska and people asked us how did y'all spend all that time together? We like each other's company.

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  16. Great article Patrice. Im an introvert but I’ve given many a speach, countless sales proposals and have been on radio shows and podcasts. I also teach classes here on our homestead. Go figure! Those extroverted activities are tiring and not my comfort zone, but I do them well. People are stunned when I explain that Im actually an introvert. I so enjoy my solitude, my wifes company and our quite life we have created on our homestead.

    I should note I have some friends that are very extroverted and get frustrated with me because I rarely “hang out” with them. It creates friction. They don’t understand that Im wired differently. Im also very busy (as you can relate) with our homestead, raising/butchering animals and growing/preserving our food. I sure don’t want to be “fixed.”

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  17. What's the name of the person in the middle of the scale? That's me, I enjoy being alone, but need regular interactions too. I have children at both ends, which is interesting. Having homeschooled our children and dealt with that stupid question: What about socialization, I believe most people who ask it don't really know what it means; which is the teaching of and passing on of social manners, customs and mores. And all that is best done in the home by loving parents! Not by a pack of uncivilized peers. The world would be a pretty dismal place without all the deep thinking introverts, and a lonely place without those who are the "life of the party". We need all kinds of people to make life complete.

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  18. I've been an introvert as far back as I can remember. I'm in my 50s now and more comfortable with it than ever before, having been divorced and now live alone with only my cat, I spend most of my time by myself when I'm not at work and have never been happier in all my life. I read a lot and have other solitary hobbies that keep me occupied, life is good.

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  19. Count me in as a happy introvert too. I like my own company and can find a multitude of things to keep me occupied and content. Too much outside stimulation from others wears me down quickly. Your article was great and the other comments from introverts put a big smile on my face. Ok, enough...back to being an introvert...CWfromIowa

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  20. You described me 'exacly'. Thanks, it's good to know there are many, many of us, especially out here in the sticks. Your neighbor in ne washington, maggie

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  21. If you want something designed and built, hire an introvert. If you want to sell it, hire an extrovert. Which does this country need more of?
    Montana Guy

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  22. Another very thought provoking article. I looked up the test and turned out as a 90+ introvert. Not something I was not aware of but it was nice to see it in blue and white. Thanks for the article and to the person that mentioned the test.

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  23. I'm the introvert , but was forced into having to fake extrovertism LOL several years ago ..when I have to , I just open my mouth and let my brain pour out for awhile...it seems to work but I feel annoyed for a few hours afterward..I not only do not understand true extroverts , they honestly scare me a little , the ones who can NEVER be alone or be in the quiet just with themselves...

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  24. So enjoyed your post and glad to know I'm not alone! You are very fortunate to have found your soul mate and comfortable living together away from everyone else. I do not have a soulmate (and too old to find one now!) but have always enjoyed my own company since I was a child. I too talk to people in stores, meetings, have taught many simple living classes, but most happy reading books, sewing, etc. with my cat and dog.

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  25. Great article Patrice. I expect that most of your fans are of the same inclination. I sent this up to my wife's computer and entitled it "SEE, it ain't just me". Again, well written.--ken

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  26. I'm definitely an introvert. I find myself longing for quiet after awhile in a group. I want to think my own thoughts, contemplate what other's have said and often just long to sit with a book. Sometimes I have to force myself out of my head and into what's going on around me. Maybe that's because I spend 99.99% of my time home alone. I do not turn on TV or radio because background noise irritates me. During long telephone conversations I find my mind wandering to where it would rather be! After a day at work, I often did not want to talk to anyone even dh. Now I'm retired and dh is gone and I think I probably spend too much time alone, but I'm not unhappy or restless wanting to change.

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  27. 30 introverts have commented and not 1 screeching harridan. Just an observation.
    Montana Guy

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  28. I find it odd that the same people that think you can "fix" an introvert with social opportunities will be the same people who will stand up and say that homosexuals are not driven by choice, but are born to that orientation. That is a view that I accept, because for it to be a choice in the face of all the scrutiny and discrimination and shame from family, no one or hardly anyone would make that choice consciously to make their own life more difficult. That said, how can these same people make the 180 and decide that introverts have no biological imperative to be introverts, and that it's not O.K. to be introverted. I think the most harm comes from denying who you are in the first place.

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  29. It is so nice to know that, as an introvert, I am not alone. Good to meet you all! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to be by myself for a while.

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  30. *raises hand* Another happy introverted homeschooling mom to happy introverted children here!

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  31. How about nobody needs fixing, whether introvert or extrovert? We need all types of people. 'Nuff said.

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