Every morning, I read my horoscope in the newspaper — out of habit, mostly, because it’s so general that it rarely has any relevance for me. But an occasional message resonates, like today’s:
“Planning ahead for an event might be your saving grace. This requires more thought that simply how you’ll get there and what you’ll wear. Consider who will be there and what you’d like to talk about.”
Actually, that made me laugh. Welcome to my life — or life as an introvert.
This mural near the Santa Barbara Beach speaks to me. Wonder if the artist is an introvert. (2011/RO)
Everything I do that involves interaction with other people requires preparation. If I’m going to a party, for example, I always think about who might be there and what we have in common so that I have an idea of what we might talk about. I’ll flip through my memory and review our last conversation for reference points. It’s not far out to say that I spend more time on the mental preparation than I do on getting dressed and made up.
Prep work for social and other occasions calms me and is a way of making sure I’m not overwhelmed in a social situation. If I’m overwhelmed, I shut down, go blank. Oh, it’s not pretty.
I’m sure that sounds strange to some, especially folks who thrive on being in crowds of people, who can chat up anyone and who think while talking.
Introverts like me — type INFP — spend a lot of time looking inward. We’re constantly evaluating and reflecting on our behavior, attitude and reactions. We want to understand — on a deep level —what we’re thinking, feeling and experiencing.
We can’t help it. To us, it’s essential to understand ourselves because we see the world and other people through the lens of that understanding. It’s how we figure out the external world.
Believe me, being introverted isn’t easy. Someone once asked me if I’d rather be introverted or extroverted. I answered that I’d rather be introverted — that’s what I am, after all. But, honestly, I will admit there are times when I wish I could change, that I could be an extrovert — extroverts make everything look so effortless.
I try to imagine would it be like not to not overthink every decision, every conversation, every word I speak or write. I wonder what it would it be like to never be at a loss for words, to draw energy from being with other people instead of feeling drained, to not need to understand everything.
But, on the other hand, I enjoy the thinking and the fact that I don’t require a lot of external stimulation, activity and people for fulfillment. I’m happy to have accepted that I’m an introvert, instead of living life dissatisfied with myself, feeling out of synch with others and actually believing something is wrong with me because I want — and enjoy — a significant amount of time alone (although, please understand me, there’s more to introversion than a need for solitude).
Before I found out about the different personality types, I thought needing to be alone more than my friends meant I was depressed or destined to become the weird cat lady of the neighborhood. The fact that solitude replenished my energy didn’t factor in. I judged myself on standards set by a society that values sociability, being a team player, living a go-go-go! lifestyle.
Understanding what it means to be introverted flipped my self-image from negative to positive, although that didn’t happen instantly.
Even though we need time alone to recharge our batteries, that doesn’t mean introverts want to feel like or be outsiders. Discovering our true nature and learning that others think and feel like we do can be liberating. It was for me.
Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours reading other introverts’ insights about introversion. There’s one writer who refers to introverts as “my people.” I like that. We’re a people. We’re together in being energized by the internal world of ideas, impressions and emotions. We’re not alone in our desire to understand.
That understanding is our holy grail. To that end, introverts are constantly questioning why they react to certain things as they do — for example, why do introverts use Facebook? Why do introverts often feel more lonely when they’re with other people than when they’re alone?
What fascinates me about this — in addition to my inherent interest, as an introvert, in introversion — is that extroverts don’t need extensive internal reflection, plus they don’t seem to need or want to talk about their extroversion with other extroverts. It’s not that extroverts live lives free of self-reflection, but deep knowledge of themselves isn’t essential for relating to the external world. And the majority (I know some exceptions) don’t talk about that.
Out of curiosity, I searched Facebook and Twitter for groups focusing on introversion and found them on both. I also searched for groups devoted to discussions of extroversion. I found none — not one. Everything that included the word “extrovert” in its name was related to an activity or person. One FB page was for a musical group named Extrovert.
On Facebook, I participate in an introvert group of about 800 people. Facebook works for us — the majority of us would rather be forced to listen to John Tesh than have to attend a physical meeting together. We’d all blank out from the pressure.
Online, however, we’re able to interact at our own pace and when we choose. We discuss myriad aspects of introversion and share ways of coping with expectations in the workplace, at home, at school, in our communities, and so on. Our discussions are aimed at understanding, of course, but also have a support aspect. For example, members in densely populated countries with cultures or religions that push togetherness find validation and comfort in our virtual musings.
While some people may think that external validation is contrary to the nature of introversion — surely introverts aren’t people who need people? — it’s not. When you live in a world that places a premium on social skills, it’s incredibly affirming to know you’re not the only one for whom a certain amount of solitude is as necessary as air.
I first learned about introversion nine years ago when a friend (also an introvert, although a different type) pushed David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me II at me, saying in a do-not-argue-with-me tone, “Take this test.” I was annoyed and almost blew her off, but her insistence made me curious.
I took the test — which contains questions such as “Is it better to be just or merciful?” — and found out that I’m an INFP, specifically the Healer variant. Was I happy? No. Healers make up about 1 percent of the population, which, to me, meant the chances of ever being understood were one in never.
But as I continued to learn about my personality type, I relaxed. It explained so much. Although everything wasn’t spot on, the author seemed to be describing me. I realized that so many things about me that I had always thought were wrong weren’t. They were simply personality traits that run contrary to expectations of a society dominated by extroverts — who make up 70 percent of the population, to be precise.
Since then, I’ve done a lot research into introversion, and talked to many, many introverts. I’ve gotten to where I can recognize a kindred introvert almost immediately — even if the other person doesn’t know he or she is an introvert. I often feel like I’m on a mission to help other introverts feel good about their introversion. By the way, trying to make things better for others is a characteristic of the healer personality.
One of the most helpful books I’ve found for introverts is The Introvert Advantage. In it, Marti Olsen Laney provides the results of scientific studies — actual tests on brain function — that reveal physiological explanations for why introverts and extroverts approach life differently.
But that’s a topic for another post. For now, fellow introverts, focus on not judging yourself harshly for being yourself. Accept. Nurture.