I have a confession to make. I…(deep breath)…am an introvert (holds breath and squeezes eyes shut, preparing for verbal attack).
I remember hearing the definition of the word “introvert” for the first time and thinking, “Yep, that’s me.” I also remember thinking how unfortunate it was that I so strongly identified with an identity I thought was the lesser. Unfortunately, I’m sure I’m not the only introvert who has ever felt this way.
In 2010, the American Psychiatric Association considered adding “introverted personality” to the official list of mental disorders. The introverted personality and “introverted disorder of childhood” are included in the World Health Organization’s official list of mental disorders.
Embedded in our culture is the idea that introversion is wrong and that introverts suffer from an impairment that puts them at a disadvantage. So it goes. The introverted life isn’t always an easy one, especially in a world where extroversion seems to be the gold standard for personality. As Susan Cain explains in her TED Talk, “The power of introverts” (which is awesome, check it out!), many of our institutions are built for extroverted individuals to shine. As a result, the influence of the introverted mind can easily be lost, and the prevailing understanding of what it means to be an introvert isn’t very accurate.
So what is an introvert, really?
In the most basic terms, introversion and extroversion simply refer to the way a person gets their energy. Extroverts gain their energy from interacting with others. For an introvert, on the other hand, the way that energy is gained is more solitary. Introverts rely on times of quiet and solitude to recharge and take a break from a world that won’t stop moving and talking. Constant noise and activity can be incredibly draining for the introverted personality, so times of rest are essential to recover from that overstimulation.
“Solitude matters, and for some people, it is the air that they breathe.” – Susan Cain
The loud world makes it difficult for introverts to think (something we love to do), so they need time to withdraw from others and into their own minds. If introverts aren’t given this time, they shut down. If I’ve been out in the world all day moving and talking, I either become quiet and disengaged or I begin completely zoning out. It’s not fun for me, it’s not fun for you, it’s the worst.
But that’s not all…
Don’t get me wrong, introverts aren’t only happy just being alone. The introverted personality also enjoys spending time with others, they just tend to prefer doing so in smaller groups, particularly when those people are ones they know well. Introverts are the type of people who will probably prefer a birthday party with a group of their closest friends rather than a massive ordeal with loud music and big crowds and fireworks and insanity. Horrifying, I tell you.
These are just a few of the common, natural tendencies associated with introversion. There is much more to the introverted mind than this, and there is much more variation that you might think. (Introverts can love public speaking? Introverts can enjoy going to parties? What?!)
In future “Confessions of an Introvert” posts, I’ll point out the misconceptions people hold about introverts, the strengths of the introverted mind, and how introverts can embrace their introversion and learn to shine in all their thoughtful, quiet way.