Recently I found a wonderful blog post about being an introvert: “10 Myths About Introverts” by Carl King. I want to write about it here, but I think it’s going to take me two blog posts. This is the first one.
King talks about having found a book that helped him understand his own introversion. And he discusses, briefly, the scientific basis of introversion: “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.”
This is exactly what too much external stimulation does to me. When there’s too much going on in my life, when it gets overwhelming, I have a tendency to shut down. And when I can’t, like this semester, when I just had to keep going and going, I get angry. I feel trapped, and all I want to do is get away.
King says, “Unfortunately, according to the book, only about 25% of people are Introverts.” Meaning that society is not set up for introverts. They often find themselves having to adjust to the expectations of other people. (I could never understand amusement parks. What was amusing about them? They were like the roller coasters that featured as their main attractions: both frightening and boring at the same time. If I want to be frightened, I’ll do something more productive than go around in circles, thank you.)
In this blog post, I’m going to take King’s first five myths and discuss them as they apply to my own life. Partly in order to understand myself, and partly because I suspect many of you are introverts as well, and may find some of it useful.
Myth #1: Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.
That’s certainly true for me. Part of the problem with being a lawyer, for me, was that I could never fake interest in things like sports or who was admitted into the country club. (I’m not joking, the latter was an actual topic of conversation at a cocktail party I attended.) I just didn’t see the point in talking about things that were completely unimportant and uninteresting to me. After all, there’s so much going on in the world that is important and interesting. Always, everywhere, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. I want to live fully and intensely, spending my time on the things that matter. On art, on literature, on the things that affect the fate of the world and humanity. You think I’m exaggerating, but I’ve been teaching Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and we’ve been discussing the ways in which Wilde’s writing and trials mattered. The ways in which the aesthetic movement ushered in modernity. I don’t have time to stand around at a cocktail party, eating shrimp and talking about golf. I have poems and stories to write.
Myth #2: Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.
I’m not sure this is always true. I think meeting new people can be overwhelming, for an introvert. New people are unknown quantities: you never know how they will act. Whether they will be authentic or kind. I think I always approach people warily. And sometimes I don’t approach them at all, but if you approach me, and you are authentic and kind, then I will feel comfortable. Then I will talk to you. But yes, I tend not to talk simply for the sake of talking. I want both of us to have something to say.
Myth #3: Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.
Please just be real and honest. I’m always so relieved when anyone is honest with me. When I can tell that they are being their real selves.
Myth #4: Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.
And once you have lost their respect, which is difficult to do – you really have to prove that you are not worthy, not a friend – then it tends to be truly lost. But I think of my friends as infinitely precious. They are the people that, even when we haven’t talked for a while, I still connect with. That I still want to be there for.
But this is one of the difficulties of being an introvert: that you don’t have a large circle of acquaintances. You have a small circle of friends, and what you want from them is connection on a deeper level. If you don’t have that connection, you tend not to let people in. Which means you can be lonelier than extroverts.
Myth #5: Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.
Let’s repeat that, shall we? Recharging is absolutely crucial for introverts. That’s something I’ve had no chance to do all semester. I think that, after the semester is over, I’ll need to simply sleep for a while. Starting next week . . .
I’m an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs. One of the best things I ever learned is that I am just the kind of person who recharges with time alone, especially time spent alone in nature. There’s nothing wrong with me; that’s just who I am. And it’s ok to give myself time alone to recharge. It’s also helped me to learn a bit about astrology from a Jungian perspective. With my Sun in Pisces, my boundaries are porous. Being around other people is exhausting for me because I’m spending a lot of my time being overwhelmed by their thoughts, emotions, and feelings and by trying to figure out where they end and I begin. Thankfully, my Ascendent is in Gemini, so I can use small talk and banter to protect my inner self. I love to be around other people and to engage in discussion that feels real. But I also need a lot of time alone to process. So gardening and knitting are very good activities for me.
Excellent post.I do believe that every one of us Introverts, should write a series of short essays about our part in the world.
Well…I am easy for the shrimp. Beyond that, those kinds of parties are totally wasted on me.
Otherwise, I operate very similarly to you.
I can’t speak to whether or not extraverts are lonely or not. When they are it must be horrible. The introverts I know have very colorful and developed interior lives. I can only assume that extraverts get the same zip out of having a very colorful and developed exterior life. I know I envy their easy-going ways with people. We all probably lie along a curve (that reaches around like Ouroboros) from introvert to extravert. There are a lot of these circles around.
On a side note: Andrew Weil speaks of ruminative thinking (as a symptom of depression) as a species survival trait because it takes that sort of obsessive thinking to come up with a solution sometimes. And thus came the wheel!
Excellent post. I believe that every one of us, Introverts, should write a series of short essays and tell the world who we are and how do we feel about the world around us.
Very interesting! I’ll have to check out King’s post and the book he read. I remember reading an article once about how it truly is painful to be painfully shy, nodding my head through the entire article. I’d never thought there would be an actual physiological cause for the shyness itself though. But it makes perfect sense now that I think about it. My youngest daughter, who is an extrovert, completely drains me and the dopamine/adrenaline quote describes us to a T. She is constantly seeking stimulus, and I am constantly running from it.
Myth #1: Definitely not true. When I worked at Borders, I loved talking to people about they books they were buying, because I knew we had something in common to talk about.
Myth #2: I’m not sure either. Part of it rings true — e.g., talking to everybody in line at Borders. But in other social situations, such as WisCon, I’m still afraid to approach people. My theory is that it’s easier at Borders because I was in a position to help people.
Myth #3: Definitely agree. The pressure to fit in is absolutely crushing and I have no use or patience for the social lies people tell each other.
Myth #4: Agreed. I’ve known two of my closest friends since we were 10 and 16 years old.
Myth #5: Yes! This actually helps me understand my relationship with my youngest daughter better too. Some days I feel like I need a break from her to recharge and I’ve felt horrible about that.
It’s hard to untangle some things in my mind though too. Like, when World Fantasy came to Madison, I literally hid in the bathroom and cried the first day I was there. It was just too much for me to handle alone. I’ve always chalked it up to social anxiety, but the sheer volume of people there was also overwhelming, which leads right back to the dopamine sensitivity.
On the other hand, I do get charged up from certain high-stimulus situations. Like I always loved thrill rides. Another example is pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I’ve consciously pushing myself to do this over the past few years, and every time I do, I get an enormous charge out of it. I get very anxious first, but once I’ve done it, I feel a thrill. I suppose the difference is that, unlike my youngest, I don’t constantly seek these thrills out, I really have to work myself up to them.
Thanks so much for posting this!
Re: Myth #2, I’m extremely shy when meeting new people, with this lingering fear that I’ll immediately say something stupid and look like an idiot. I guess that would be Social Anxiety Disorder, though I’ve never bothered to be diagnosed as such. I’ve tried to put myself out there anyway, but that quivering anxiety is always there.
We (introverts, I mean) seriously need to form an international organization, with buttons that say “Dopamine-Sensitive, Please Back Away”. I really get tired of having to explain myself, and to endure the incredulous reactions from extraverts to articles and blog posts like this. The effort is just so exhausting.
@Jason Re “Dopamine-Sensitive” buttons. I regularly attend a local convention here in WI. One year, I wrote “I’m shy!” on my name tag. I chickened out of writing “Please handle with care” or something similar, but the response it got was very sweet. Complete strangers came up to me and very gently said kind things to me–some even shared that they were shy too. It really made the convention, which usually makes me nervous, much easier to handle. So “Dopamine-senstive” buttons may be the trick!
I was a child and young adult introvert who got through by being a class clown, then an actor introvert for a few decades, protected by the third wall, then a worker introvert, over cautious and often paranoid. Many nervous break downs and outs, several therapists, and lots of life experience later, I become an old woman retiree, a gardener, writer, and artist–Buddhist leaning, and far more compassionate toward myself and the rest of the human family. We suffer so, and never let up. It’s over so quickly, this little life, so I’m passing along a David Foster Wallace quote that means a lot to me:
“The realization that you have something of value to contribute to the greater world necessarily involves prying your mind off yourself for a minute.”
Very good post and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on it. This year has been dark for me and your blog is a lantern of comfort.
Excellent and thought provoking Post. Thank you.
Thanks so much for this. Speaking for myself and my daughter, I thibnk you’re on target with all five. And I agree with commenter Nina that the world needs to kno more about what introverts are and aren’t.
Thanks so much for this. Speaking for myself and my daughter, I think you’re on target with all five. And I agree with commenter Nina that the world needs to kno more about what introverts are and aren’t.