Thursday, August 22, 2013

An Open Letter: To The Introvert Fandom

Dear Introvert Fandom,

Hello. I am an extrovert. There are a lot of us out there, but, ironically, we don't often talk about our needs under the heading of "extroverts."

However, over the past year or two, I've seen a growing discussion around introversion online. And I think it's great. It's important to understand both our own and others' needs, and introverts have definitely been given the short end of the stick for a long time. But the problem is that, like many quest for labels and identity before it, the definition of being an introvert has been corrupted and corroded, and also glorified as this heightened mental state. And to be quite honest, it's alienating, annoying, and wrong.

Here's the most simplistic definition for an extrovert: one who gains energy from being around people.
Here's the most simplistic definition for an introvert: one who gains energy from being alone.

I didn't know I was an extrovert, and I didn't really know what "gaining energy from being around people" meant until I worked as a secretary. I was alone in an office for the majority of my day, and I felt very flat. I wasn't sad or lonely; I just had no mental energy. But when someone came to visit, or the building was buzzing with activity, my energy took a dramatic swing upwards. Even if no one was speaking with me directly, knowing people were around and feeling the vibe of a full house made me more productive and helped my concentration.

Realising this has helped me take much better care of myself. When I need to get work done, I find a public place to write and read. When I've had an exhausting day at work or school, or I've been alone for most of the day and am feeling drained, I know that going out with friends or just somewhere with people will give me an energy boost. It has very little to do with my emotional state, and everything to do with my mental state.

There are also certain aspects of my personality that are, no doubt, related to my extroversion: I like talking and conversation. I like being the centre of attention sometimes. I like being surrounded by people, even if I don't know them. I like the energy and vibe of crowds, the movement and the noise of strangers all sitting or walking or standing together. It's not all hustle and bustle, though; I like being with a friend and watching a movie, or playing board games, or sitting quietly in a coffee shop reading, knowing that others around me are working or chatting or reading, too.

However -- and this may come as a shock -- sometimes I like to be alone. Sometimes I like the peace and quiet of my apartment. Sometimes I need to read and think in total silence. I like watching TV marathons alone. Sometimes, when I'm feeling sad or tired, I need to turn off my phone and log out of Facebook and curl up in bed and ignore all other humans until I've regrouped.

I'm telling you this, introverts, because I want you to know that introversion does not have a monopoly on silence, introspection, awkward interactions with other people, or the need to be alone.

A few days ago, an article the Huffington Post called "23 Signs You're Secretly an Introvert" started making big waves on the internet. Everything about the piece annoyed me, beginning with the very first paragraph:
Think you can spot an introvert in a crowd? Think again. Although the stereotypical introvert may be the one at the party who's hanging out alone by the food table fiddling with an iPhone, the "social butterfly" can just as easily have an introverted personality.
From the ridiculous implication that the "stereotypical introvert" is actually anti-social - and good on you, Huff Po, for perpetuating a myth you're supposedly trying to debunk - the rest of article doesn't get any better. According to the author, sure signs you're an introvert include being called "too-intense", sitting on the end - instead of the middle - of a subway bench, and having a constant inner monologue.

There's also this chart that's been floating around, detailing ten ways to "care for" - I like to think the creator actually meant "deal with" - introverts. Of particular note to me are #1 "Respect their need for privacy," #2 "Never embarrass them in public," and #5 "Don't interrupt them." (To be fair, there's also an equally stupid chart explaining how to care for extroverts.)

I hate this article and this image because it does what the introvert fandom has been doing for the past little while: it takes anything about life in general that is uncomfortable, solitary, or introspective and turns it into a trait specific to introverts. It makes introverts seem like fragile, wimpy souls who must be cocooned in social bubble wrap lest they shatter into a million fragments at one misplaced word. Conversely, it constructs extroverts as these impenetrable fortresses of self-confidence, arrogance, and power. It is a completely polarizing understanding of personalities. It also leaves no room for the in-between. Not everyone is 100% introverted or 100% extroverted; as with everything else related to humans, there is some grey area.

For example, I, for one, often sit on the end of a bench in a public area. Sometimes I don't want to be surrounded by people, but sometimes it's just more logical to leave room for others. I have a running monologue in my head all the time, not because I am an introvert but because I am a human with a brain that thinks a lot. I may be extroverted and not mind a laugh at my expense, but I absolutely hate being embarrassed in public. I also don't like being interrupted when I'm talking. And I cannot count how many times I've been told that I'm too intense. According to these facts, then, I must be introverted. There's no other explanation.

And I get why there's been so much discussion and exposition about introverts, especially in the ballooning realm of social media. Because chatting on Facebook and retweeting on Twitter and posting on Tumblr is a social activity. It's hard to escape social interaction, even when we're alone, because the internet is always there. And I empathize, introvert fandom, I really do. It's hard to ever recharge if you're constantly on.

But what isn't fair is an assumption in the fundamental behaviours of both introverts and extroverts. I know some introverts who are incredibly good at small talk. I know some extroverts who rarely say anything at parties. By implying that all introverts behave one way, and all extroverts another, it misleads those who don't fit into those categories and inhibits them from understanding what, fundamentally, they need.

Introverts recharge when they are alone.
Extroverts recharge when they are around others.

And that's sort of it. The specifics will vary from person to person - what alone looks like to one introvert might not be the same as to someone else; one extrovert may be reenergized by being with friends while another needs to go to a public area and walk around.

So, I implore you, introverts, to stop pigeonholing yourselves and us extroverts, so that we don't have to conform to yet another label, and instead can just know how to care for ourselves a little better.

Jillz
______________________
Current book: The Spotted Dog Last Seen - Jessica Scott Kerrin
Current TV series: Doctor Who series 7
Current nail colour: Essie's "Aruba Blue"

3 comments:

Marion said...

Introversion and extroversion are useful categories in some instances, but they tend to set up false dichotomies when taken too seriously, a fact you very nicely pointed out. A collection of behaviours or attitudes can hint at one or the other, but a lot of it depends on situation (e.g. you might be quieter after having a fight with someone else or if you're tired or if you are afraid of the people you're around right now, but then if you get excited about something, you might want to be the center of attention for awhile).

At the end of the day, it's better just to approach everybody as an individual and don't assume you know everything - or anything, really - about them, even if you've known them for a while. Not only do people change depending on mood and situation, but they also develop and grow over time.

So I think it's better just to understand your own needs and respect how other people behave or feel differently from you. You might even learn something that will help you grow.

Oh, and introverts don't lack confidence. I tend more toward introversion and I'm one of the most arrogant people I know ;)

(P.S. Just to be clear: I think you've touched on a lot of good points. Kudos)

drfausty said...

How condescending is that "how to care for introverts" image? As if, first, extroverts *like* being embarrassed, reprimanded in public, surprised by major life changes, etc., and second, introverts are such a bizarre and special breed of person that you need a checklist for how to interact with them. And the wording -- "care for" -- what am I, a sick kitten? No! I'm both way cuter and have a better grasp of social cues. Introversion stigma: This isn't helping.

I consider myself an introvert, but it's not an albatross I carry around my neck. Nor is it a badge of honour. It's just a way of being. I see a lot of people patting themselves on the back for their introvert (and extrovert) behaviour. It seems arrogant to me-- it's just a different way of approaching a problem. Do you congratulate yourself when you drive a different route than someone else? Why?

The internet is a wonderful system where you can easily find people who like the things you do and act the way you do, and sometimes that's nice, but it can also lead to self-congratulatory echo chambers. Maybe it's the introvert in me, but I've never been good with praise, and self-praise seems especially hollow. We're not perfect beings. Situations change. Sometimes, the person interrupting us when we're reading is being rude, and sometimes we're the rude one for ignoring them. Nothing is absolute.

Except me, I'm amazing. But you can't all be like me.

(Hey, that's two posts in a row that end with arrogant introverts! Either it's more common than assumed, or you have a weird way of attracting us, Jill. :P)

Elizabeth said...

The "buzz" about introversion/extroverion has been freeing for me. I lean towards introvert. My workplace is teeming with extroverts. After five minutes of chatter and small talk I retreat into my cave and get my work done. Then my E colleagues charge me with being a hermit. And I worried that I might have social anxiety, until I saw the Ted talk featuring Susan Cain. When it became clear to me that it's just my way of being I relax more with big groups and can actually handle 15 minutes of chatter and small talk.