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."
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.