This month’s speaker talks about introversion and how introverts are misunderstood by our society. Perhaps you will be able to relate to this speaker, perhaps you won’t. Either way, it’s time we listen to introverts and let them speak up. I suggest that you don’t try to guess who this speaker is, don’t give into judgement, just read.
What is my idea of a perfect day? I’ve got so many perfect days. Reading a book, definitely. When I’m tired, all I want is to read a book. Being surrounded by people I’m comfortable with, that’s a perfect day. A couple of people who I feel really comfortable with. Cooking for them, chatting, laughing–but never in a big group.
A lot of people used to say I was strange. If societies are valuing extroversion, you always think that you’re strange because everyone says you should speak up or you should say something or, you know, be a good team player. You always think you have to be out there. Constantly!
Introversion and extroversion are scales. You’re not just an introvert or an extrovert. You slide in between that scale. So I have moments where I can be extroverted and moments where I am totally an introvert. When I was growing up as a kid, I thought I was quite an extrovert because I was bubbly and I used to have lots of energy. I don’t think that has changed a lot but how I direct that energy has changed over time. How I regain energy has also changed and that’s when I realised that I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert.
There’s the biological aspect of introversion which is now something that is being studied. Extroverts love being around people. They regain energy by being with other people so they’ll be the ones who go out and socialise after a full day of work. They will socialise, go for drinks, organise a party.
Introverts, on the other hand, would like to go home and read a book, for example. That’s how they recharge energy. There’s a mistake between people thinking that introversion and shyness is the same thing. It’s not. You can be an introvert and be confident. In fact, many studies have shown that whilst there are many good extrovert leaders, there are also many very good introvert leaders. These introvert leaders are good because they will go away, they will think about what needs to be done, they will think of everyone else’s ideas and integrate those ideas. They have more time to think because they like that space to think.
There’s also something introverts feel, what we call emotional flooding which is when you put an introvert, such as myself, on the spot, and you know that you have an opinion or you have to think but your brain just goes blank. That’s what’s called emotional flooding: when people feel a very intense emotion (the feeling of being flooded by that emotion) and not be able to act immediately. They need time to think. If the emotion if flooding them they cannot respond automatically. They can but it can be an inadequate response. And this is same with an argument for example. When some people feel emotional flooding, the best thing for them to do is to just step away, think, come back and solve the issue. There are two reasons for this: first, to calm down and the second is to reorganise their head and know what they want to think.
At school, I never liked being the one to put my hand up and talk unless it was English class (I would really like to show off my English) and I always wanted teachers to give me time to think. If a teacher asked me a question and wanted an answer immediately, I would panic because I needed time to think. If I’m put on the spot with an argument, I will say something inarticulate or perhaps just be caught dumbfounded, and then I go away and I think, “I should have said this,” or “I should have said that.”
Even in a social situation with my peers, if there is a group of eight or ten people and we are at a party or we are sitting down in a meal, I will always be the quiet one especially when there are big personalities. I step back and I observe. That could be two-fold. It could either be because I don’t feel comfortable talking about a particular topic or I just think people are thriving on it and therefore I don’t feel the need to take part, just observe.
The level of things I like to talk about involves intellectual discussions like putting the world to right, or talking about emotions or behaviour — for me, that’s a lot more enjoyable than if I’m going to be with a big group of people where I have to talk about things I don’t relate to. I think spending time with a couple of friends is better for me. The safety of the relationship makes it enjoyable. You can be yourself with them, giggle and be serious all in the same encounter.
Something I do regret is I wished I had talked to someone about this before knowing that it was normal. I wish I was calmer in the process of doing certain things. I think that’s what not knowing about the introversion and the extroversion bit caused.
I don’t think that the label of “introvert” has made a difference. What made a difference was to know there were a lot of people like me. That made me happy. Or made me understand why I did certain things the way I did. I want to be clear that I don’t think the labels are important. I think the labels help you to accept certain parts of yourself but I don’t think you should let the label define you.
If the label gives you an understanding of something that is important to you, that’s fine. But that’s as far as it should go. You shouldn’t just label yourself, “Oh I’m an introvert” or “Oh I’m an extrovert” because there’s a continuum of introversion and extroversion. You will change in your lifetime. Sometimes, you’ll be an introvert and other times, you’ll be incredibly extroverted. It all depends on the context.
With that being said, my advice to an extrovert is: learn to recognize an introverted friend. They need space. Your friendship will become stronger from it. If they don’t want to come to a party with you, that is not a reflection of how much they like you or not. It just means they like would like to be with you another time when it is quieter. Introverts, get out of your comfort zone because sometimes it’s easy to say you’re an introvert and use it as an excuse to not experience new things. Don’t say no out of habit. You should be a risk-taker but do it in a way that makes you comfortable. It doesn’t have to be because you know someone asks you to do something. It has to be your decision and you shouldn’t feel pushed to do it. You need to have the confidence to do it.