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Caring for your introvert

I’m going to be writing a lot of stuff in the near future as I explore what it means to be introverted. It’s helping me grow, and understand myself better.

There’s an article called Caring For Your Introvert, which is just really good, and has been considered by many (introverts) as one of the best articles on the internet about the subject. I’m going to take bits from it and offer my own thoughts about it.

As you read it, you might also find that you begin identifying with what it means to be an introvert as well. If so, it might be something that you could consider exploring for yourself. Maybe you’re an introvert and you never realised…

Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people

One of the most frustrating things I’ve found has been how I process information. Extroverts, for example, process information by talking. They just need to blurt stuff out, and they’re processing. Introverts process internally, by thinking. So if there’s a social occasion where extroverts are talking and I want to be involved because it just might be interesting (a rare occasion, I know), I find that I’m left behind in the conversation, so I end up just listening, or drifting away.

If Extrovert A says something really intriguing, and I think about how to respond to that, Exrovert B has already responded. How the hell did he find that answer or retort so quickly, I wonder in frustration. And by the time I’ve thought about that too, the conversation has moved on and I haven’t said anything. Whatever fascinating or meaningful comment I might come up with is no longer relevent. In frustration, I go sit somewhere else by myself, and just watch.

“It is very difficult for an extrovert to understand an introvert,” write the education experts Jill D. Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig.

Amen to that! Most introverts are like aliens to an extrovert, and I’m sure many of us think the same about them! The extrovert is the majority of the population, and therefore consider themselves to be ‘normal’. The introvert – less than a third of the population – is thus considered ‘abnormal’. Extroverts are simply unable to understand why anyone would choose to stay inside on a nice day or to stay quiet when in a social setting. They think there’s something wrong with the introvert, and they often do their best to encourage the introvert to become more extroverted. Instead of just letting them be who they are, they think the introvert needs to be ‘cured’ of introversion.

A recent episode of Survivor apparently had someone complaining about one of the other ‘survivors’, and how they were quiet and withdrawn. They were hoping there was medication for that… a perfect example of how extroverts think introversion is something that needs fixing, so people can become more extroverted. Introverts, on the other hand, mostly accept their lot in life and just wish the extroverts would accept them as well.

Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand, because extroverts spend so much of their time working out who they are in voluble, and frequently inescapable, interaction with other people. They are as inscrutable as puppy dogs. But the street does not run both ways. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion.

And there is the biggest problem for many people in introvert / extrovert relationships. Where the introvert can understand the extrovert’s needs, the extrovert just doesn’t understand why the introvert can’t be ‘normal’.

…extroverts are overrepresented in politics, a profession in which only the garrulous are really comfortable. Look at George W. Bush. Look at Bill Clinton. They seem to come fully to life only around other people…

introverts are not considered “naturals” in politics…

Extroverts therefore dominate public life. This is a pity. If we introverts ran the world, it would no doubt be a calmer, saner, more peaceful sort of place…

I agree completely. Extroverts, favouring competition and loudness, are behind most of the conflicts of the world. It saddens us – me – when we’re surrounded by extroverts who just want things their way, and damn the rest of humanity.

With their endless appetite for talk and attention, extroverts also dominate social life, so they tend to set expectations. In our extrovertist society, being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of happiness, confidence, leadership. Extroverts are seen as bighearted, vibrant, warm, empathic. “People person” is a compliment. Introverts are described with words like “guarded,” “loner,” “reserved,” “taciturn,” “self-contained,” “private”—narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality.

In order to get along in this world introverts are expected, even demanded, to be just like other extroverts. Expectations on ‘normal behaviour’ is set for them, and when they’re unable to meet those expectations, it’s considered that there’s ‘something wrong with them’.

How frustrating it is to feel perfectly normal inside yourself, but to be treated by others as if there’s something wrong with you!

Are introverts arrogant? Hardly. I suppose this common misconception has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts. Also, it is probably due to our lack of small talk, a lack that extroverts often mistake for disdain. We tend to think before talking, whereas extroverts tend to think by talking…

I have had issues in the past with people describing me as arrogant because I didn’t want to talk with them about the colour of the tablecloth at a party. ‘Standoffish’ is another term. Aloof and distant are others. All, of course, labels used to make it seems as if it’s a crime to not want to talk to others.

Small talk is for people who, it seems, use their mouth to do their thinking for them. Therefore, their mind is running at such a fast pace that they’re unable to delve into the real meat of something. It’s easier for them to talk about the colours of a tablecloth, or the latest episode of Survivor, or even the weather, because then they can just blurt out nonsensical rubbish without having to think about it.

Where introverts prefer to think before they talk, extroverts prefer to talk before they think. Introverts just can’t keep up, and have absolutely no interest in trying to!

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. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward.

And we all know how unforgivable it is to be rude, don’t we.

Rudeness is, to me, the unwillingness to engage in pandering to the sensitivities of the insecure and needy. It’s only when someone’s sensitivities are violated that they think it’s rude.

If the introvert doesn’t actually grasp what it is that makes it sensitive for the extrovert, they’ll try to understand – that’s their nature. But trying to understand is also considered rude, because the extrovert’s sensitivity is still being violated by the ‘interrogation’, as they see it.

And thus the small talk, to avoid such violations of etiquette and protecting the extroverts from confronting what it is they’re so sensitive about.

Introverts spend so much of their time exploring their own sensitivities, they often don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do the same!

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.

Understanding that being an introvert is simply who you are, and asserting to extroverts who want to change you that it IS who you are, is the best thing an introvert can do.

Care for your introvert, whether that’s your partner, or yourself. Care for who you are, and allow yourself to grow in the way that is comfortable for you.

I am, now.

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