I am an introvert. There, I said it. Most people, sometimes even family members or others I know well, don’t see it. They see a fearless person who is avuncular, even loud-mouthed, and a sometimes a clown. They see a person who can stand in front of a room full of people and make a speech without fear. I’m painfully shy but have perfected the art of saying nothing while appearing engaged at every turn. It’s a ruse, but not an intentional one.
They don’t see a person who melts inside at parties and meetings. They don’t see someone who would rather be inside his head than out rubbing shoulders with others. They don’t see a person who prefers a trip to the dentist more than a Christmas party. It’s just me. I don’t see it as a good or bad thing, it is just a thing. My thing. It’s also something many extroverts understand about as well as string theory.
An Introvert is Born
There are reasons I approach the world this way. I wasn’t very well socialized as a kid. Until starting first grade I had one playmate, a boy from a public housing project behind our house. We played through a chain link fence. His older brother once stole a toy from me and after the ensuing brouhaha we never saw each other again. But I was also perfectly happy to play with my imaginary friend, “Hurricane”.
My mother was mentally ill and as an adolescent I sometimes spent days alone while she stayed locked in her room. I sat in the cool dark and thought a lot. I was my own companion. At night I listened to people in far away cities on my transistor radio. It was soothing. I even prefered it.
An Introvert is Made
Surely genetics play a role too. Both my mother and grandmother were painfully shy in addition to their illnesses. My mental health gene pool has a very shallow end. I suffer from clinical depression, another condition many people don’t grasp well. My down days are not like your bad hair day, dismissable with a tab of St. John’s wort or yoga. It is a different quality altogether, just as loving time to yourself has.
That’s not to say my life has been so hard I don’t live it. I can be content. I am exceptionally functional. My introversion is a strength. I think through things carefully and methodically and see both the forest and the trees. I often see things long before my less reflective friends. I recently read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It reminded me about what I already knew. It was empowering in the same way women value their strengths. Introverts aren’t superior, we just think and live differently. Like women, introverts aren’t always understood or respected for their strengths.
I like who I am. I like being an introvert. Constantly being badgered to act like an extrovert…not so much.
It’s OK to ask us introverts to come to a party. We appreciate the thought. But when we say no, please take it at face value. Don’t try to convince us how much fun the dancing and chit-chat will be. For us, it will be torture. We feel like you would feel if we tried to convince you how wonderful a dinner or movie by yourself is. We know who we are. We’re OK with it. You should be too. It’s nothing personal.
Introverts are happy you like the hustle-bustle of people and noise and “fun”. Sometimes we even envy it. But like offering prayers to an atheist, we don’t need it. We’re good, really.
Now, let’s party! Or not.