Caring for Your Introvert

Caring for Your Introvert March 12, 2009

Many thanks to Miss Vesper for passing this along, re: a recent post of mine. As I mentioned in the post, I’m an introvert, no doubt about it. Reading this article – about me – raised about as many ‘wow – so true!’ moments as when I first read about Borderline Personality Disorder in regard to a past relationship.

Like Borderlines, Introverts are a surprisingly large and misunderstood segment of our society.

Reading this article, happily titled “Caring for your Introvert” I couldn’t help cringing at times and laughing at others. That’s not to mention the pure revelatory nature of it. Not only could I see myself in nearly all that it said, but I could also see my father, and how his introversion meshed so well (and sometimes not so well) with my mother’s extroversion, and how his introversion rubbed off on me and my siblings.. I also saw into my own relationships again, some with introverts, some with extroverts, and laughed as I remembered instances of both levity and tension in this new light.

This lovely article begins:

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

If so, do you tell this person he is “too serious,” or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?

Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Okay, I will criticize him on perhaps over stating things. As I blogged before, you’re not going to find anyone who is 100% one way or the other. Sometimes I don’t need much time alone, if any. Sometimes I don’t care much for ‘quiet conversations’ and so on. But, by and large, I do identify with these statements.

What is introversion? In its modern sense, the concept goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung. Today it is a mainstay of personality tests, including the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.

Having studied Sartre, I was a bit curious about the “at breakfast” part of this quote (“HELL IS—OTHER PEOPLE” being a famous line uttered by Garcin near the end of Sartre’s play, “No Exit”). I think the “at breakfast” should have been outside the quotation marks (and meaning what, I don’t know) – that or it is an apocryphal reference and the author is showing his ignorance of Sartre.

I do agree with the statement that “introverts are people who find other people tiring.” I love the people-time I do have, but yes, it does wear on me. To be my best self, I do need a 2:1 alone-time to people-time ratio; better if 3 or 4:1.

At work, when I am alone things soar – projects fly by, calls are made, emails sent, order comes from the chaos… When my boss and my assistant are around, and chatty, my productivity plummets. The interactions and disturbances serve their function though, for sure, so I can’t complain.

How many people are introverts? I performed exhaustive research on this question, in the form of a quick Google search. The answer: About 25 percent. Or: Just under half. Or—my favorite—”a minority in the regular population but a majority in the gifted population.”

I found this a bit funny, but can’t help but wonder about its truth. People who are around people all the time, fussing about ‘people stuff’, doing ‘people things’, can’t possibly have the time or mental energy to truly be creative and draw upon their gifts. For me at least, to really ‘enter’ that mode of deepest thought and creativity, where my thesis or other work just flies, I need hours of silence, contemplation, rumination, perhaps exercise with headphones on playing pure static – just to silence out the busy world at the college gym.

Are introverts misunderstood? Wildly. That, it appears, is our lot in life. “It is very difficult for an extrovert to understand an introvert,” write the education experts Jill D. Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig…. [Extroverts] cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping.

Yea… I’m just soooo misunderstood. C’est la vie. And yea, when I explain this to most extroverts they give me a fairly blank look and then change the subject to Woody Guthry, their latest Physics Exam, cucumbers, shopping, or whatever other random thought has leapt into their heads. I’m usually left frustrated and wishing for a way out of the now suddenly random conversation.

I got a kick out of the following quotes:

[US President Calvin] Coolidge is supposed to have said, “Don’t you know that four fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear if we would just sit down and keep still?” (He is also supposed to have said, “If you don’t say anything, you won’t be called on to repeat it.” The only thing a true introvert dislikes more than talking about himself is repeating himself.)

Yea, talking is so overrated amongst the extroverts who apparently run our society. Coolidge sounds oh so very Buddhist (or Quaker) here. Sit, be still.

The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves.

I’m skeptical that the lack of content is so high in extroverts, but sometimes I definitely feel that they’re just “thinking out loud” for minutes on end (which, as it so happens, doesn’t, or shouldn’t require me – so it can be done later, or earlier, whichever is most applicable…). Humorously, the article ends with a bit of advice for you extroverts who know an introvert:

How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice? First, recognize that it’s not a choice. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s an orientation.

Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don’t say “What’s the matter?” or “Are you all right?”

Third, don’t say anything else, either.

🙂 Again, this is not to be taken as a rule or a 100% thing. As an introvert I often love being engaged and chatted with; but there are times – most of the time – when I want/NEED to be alone if I am to get anything meaningful done with my time and life.

What this means for having a relationship, kids, career, are all open and flexible depending on the person. I’ve found that academia is a perfect place for an introvert (me at least) because it basically pays you to spend 34 hours a week alone doing research/class prep (except for the random student popping in for an office hour) and 6 hours acting/lecturing in front of an audience.

And again, I’ve had relationships with both introverts and extroverts and found that both can be fine with me (an introvert) so long as we understand one-another’s needs. As for kids, well, I think my dad did a fine job as an introvert and hope to do as well.

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