Believe it or not, I spent most of my life believing I was an extrovert. Honestly. I’m feel incredibly stupid for this, but I don’t know whether it has been the ageing process that has accentuated the traits and made it much more obvious or whether I’m just better educated now. Maybe both.
The reason I thought I was an extrovert stems from my teens and 20’s. I had relatively queit friends and I am very talkative. I am a chatterbox. I looooove to talk. My aunt rang my mum once to check up on my throat infection and asked if I had stopped talking. The answer was no. As well as the talking a lot, filling the empty silences that people insist on putting there (why, why do they do that?) I quite like having the floor with friends. I have very fond memories of having one too many drinks and practically doing a stand up routine or often a bit of improvised slapstick for the amusement of those around me. It took me a while, but I started acting in my early 20’s, eventually coming to the UK in the 90’s to study drama, meet my husband and do a bit of professional acting before realising I wasn’t up for the struggle and quitting.
That sounds like an extrovert doesn’t it? Attention seeker. Drama queen. Actress.
It always confused me when I did quizzes or a Myers Briggs personality test in early 2000 and I didn’t come out as an extrovert. Why do they keep getting it wrong?
So, it’s taken me a while, but in the last 5 years I think it has slowly trickled into my head. Around the time I had children and found myself in situations where I was meeting new people for the first time at NCT antenatal classes or at children’s birthday parties. It probably wasn’t until this year that I made the jump to actually realising I was an introvert. To go from being an extrovert, right the way down the scale to the Introvert was a bit of a shock to the system. It has helped me though.
I’m no longer critical of my inability to make new friends. I’ve stopped getting annoyed at my anxious disposition about a night out with people I don’t know very well. Best of all, I’ve started to find like minded people on twitter and in real life who are just like me. I’ve been able to give advice to my husband, advice that wasn’t obvious even to me (like this picture), to help him understand why I am the way I am.
There are quite a few myths out there about introverts and on my googling, I found this really interesting blog post by Carl King. In it, he had the exact same realisation and found a book that helped him to understand it better. Here are the myths he outlined. I shouted “yes” to everyone:
Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.
Myth #2 – Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.
Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.
Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.
Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.
Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone.
Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.
Myth #7 – Introverts are weird.
Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.
Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds.
Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.
Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun.
Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Just look it up.
Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.) Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ.
These made perfect sense to me. I often engage with people at my daughter’s school, because we have a common interest and our children are in the same class and I like to be inclusive. Just because I do that, doesn’t mean I like to chat to strangers. It depends on the circumstances and my mood.
What has been the biggest realisation this year, along with my understanding of my anxiety, is that not EVERYTHING I do is a result of my anxiety. Quite a lot of it is just my personality, my introversion. This blog post about my daughter, helped me realise that. I’ve always encouraged her to be social, so the fact she finds it hard sometimes is another example of our genetic makeup, hers and mine.
We can’t change it, nor should we want to. I’m planning on using my new found knowledge to be kinder to myself and accept how introversion is part of who I am.