Food for Thought

What it's like to be an introvert

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Image: The Huffington Post

The World Wide Web is a weird and wonderful thing. While you can get all the information you need to do your research, you’re also bombarded by spam and unwanted photos of everything you can imagine.

A post came up on my newsfeed that a friend posted on her Facebook page. It’s an article on The Huffington Post that I was quite surprised to find was quite accurate called 23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert.

People are frequently unaware that they’re introverts – especially if they’re not shy – because they may not realize that being an introvert is about more than just cultivating time alone. Instead, it can be more instructive to pay attention to whether they’re losing or gaining energy from being around others, even if the company of friends gives them pleasure.

“Introversion is a basic temperament, so the social aspect – which is what people focus on – is really a small part of being an introvert,” Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, psychotherapist and author of “The Introvert Advantage,” said in a Mensa discussion. “It affects everything in your life.”

I knew all along that I was had an introvert personality, but little did I realise how much so. This article was an interesting read to me on many levels, one of which is a result of my background in psychology.

To understand what it’s like for an introvert personality, I’ve gone through each of the points mentioned by various contributors to the article and explained it from my own introverted perspective.

1. You find small talk incredibly cumbersome.

I find that small talk can be a great way of getting to know someone and finding out if you have any common interests that you share, the only problem I come across with some are those who are non-receptive to sharing or engaging in conversation with you. It feels as if your attempts at conversation are being rebuffed.

2. You go to parties – but not to meet people.

I’m not good at meeting new people at parties, I usually know a few people and stay with them to have a conversation because I know them and enjoy their company. I definitely feel awkward when there are other people there who know each other, you feel like you’re intruding in their conversations.

3. You often feel alone in a crowd.

It tends to happen when there are more people in the group, but sometimes you just can’t wrap your mind around what other people are talking about and you go into your own world. Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s polite to try and be involved in the conversation, but sometimes you’re not part of that ‘world’ and it can really make you feel excluded sometimes.

4. Networking makes you feel like a phony.

Anyone can tell you that my networking skills are terrible. I tried to do it after I completed my summer internship at University, but unless I need to talk to someone or enjoy conversations with them, I have trouble keeping up the communication going because it doesn’t feel genuine. It’s like you’re only keeping them around because you need them for something and it just doesn’t feel right. You know that some professionals and other people expect it to happen from being acquainted with you, but it just feels like you’re not forming a genuine friendship through the reminder of what purpose they can serve you, especially if it’s someone who’s your senior on the corporate ladder and you don’t have the basis of a friendship there to connect through.

5. You’ve been called “too intense.”

It can seem like a negative thing, but I also like to think of it as being a ‘deep thinker’. It’s like someone who has a deep passion for something and has put a lot of thought into it. I like understanding things and I like knowing more about what I’ve tasted, seen, read or heard. Sometimes thinking about things too much and trying to explain it to someone though can be a bit overwhelming for that person.

6. You’re easily distracted.

When I’m in a busy environment, like a cafe or bar, I’m trying to listen to the conversation I’m having, but when someone starts speaking or laughing loudly, I hear that and struggle to listen to the conversation at hand. Some people I’ve been speaking to can’t understand why I play music or have the TV on in the background, but in a way I think it helps me focus on what I’m doing and gives me something to occupy my mind when I’m doing something else, say, dressmaking. When there’s silence, you can easily hear everything that’s going on and it’s not a conducive environment for my productivity.

7. Downtime doesn’t feel unproductive to you.

Moments of inactivity is a way for me to unwind. I do like seeing my friends and doing activities I enjoy. There are times though, like this weekend where I’m constantly on the go and I just need time to myself to just relax. Socialising takes energy, sitting at home on the laptop or reading is an activity where I can just do nothing and catch up on sleep.

8. Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards.

It kind of comes back to the first point of small talk. You’re talking to various people you don’t know and trying to gauge whether they’re genuinely expressing their opinion or if they’re just being polite and trying to be sociable. Talking in front of 500 people means you’re giving a speech you’ve prepared, but not everyone is trying to talk to you at the same time or asking you questions you can’t really answer.

9. When you get on the subway, you sit at the end of the bench -– not in the middle.

This only works if you’re sitting on a mode of transport that involves a bench. Where you’re on, say, the bus or a plane, I prefer sitting next to the window, although I do agree that I want to get out of there as quickly as possible, that’s where sitting next at the window seat next to the emergency exit comes in handy. For practical reasons though, I prefer centre seats at the cinema to get a better view of the film on screen, although I get impatient waiting for other people to exit my row when it’s full.

10. You start to shut down after you’ve been active for too long.

In some ways, I’ve kind of explained this with #7. Socialising unconsciously takes energy from me, especially when I’m meeting more than one person and at the end of the day, I feel drained and can’t really focus on the conversation at hand. I’m sure if you ask any of my friends who have been out with me than after spending more than a couple of hours in my company, especially if it’s late at night unless I’ve had a drink or two, I start to go quiet and don’t converse much and just want to go home from fatigue. That’s why.

11. You’re in a relationship with an extrovert.

In some ways, my OH is an introvert. He doesn’t like to talk about himself too much, he enjoys talking about his hobbies, but otherwise he’s more of an extrovert on the balance. He loves socialising and likes to be up when the sun rises to make good use of the daylight. He’s constantly occupying himself with various tasks to keep him busy and wants to go on walks or out to do ‘something, anything’ in the evenings after dinner whereas I just want some alone quiet time. Spending time with him means that I’m not secluding myself and not interacting with others, but trying to find the balance in going out and doing something you enjoy, but getting quiet time, can take figuring out.

12. You’d rather be an expert at one thing than try to do everything.

This probably comes hand in hand with being ‘intense’. I tend to think about things a lot and want to know every eventuality before making an informed decision. I know I can’t be knowledgeable in everything, but I like to learn new things. My focus does tend to veer towards specific activities of creativity (fashion, writing, and hopefully take up the harp again sometime) and some level of competitive sport (currently, Body Combat, or previously horse riding which I hope to take up again at some point). I’d rather excel at a couple of tasks than not have any expertise in any of the activities I enjoy.

13. You actively avoid any shows that might involve audience participation.

I hate getting picked on and being the centre of attention. I can still remember the day I went out to dinner on my birthday a few years ago to a teppanyaki restaurant with my Uni friends when the chef and restaurant staff came out of the kitchen with a birthday cake singing ‘Happy Birthday’ from across the room. Or the time a friend organised a surprise birthday party at our flat while my OH kept me out all day while they prepared. I cried. Sometimes I do like to participate in the witty banter of comedy shows, but that’s a voluntary thing. I don’t like having that control taken away from me.

14. You screen all your calls – even from friends.

Not that I necessarily get a lot of phone calls, but I don’t like nuisance phone calls. There are certain friends that I love speaking to at any time and would never ignore their calls, but I always check my screen to see who’s calling and if I’m not in the mood, I just won’t pick up. Again, it comes back to the whole energy thing – if it’s draining when I don’t have the energy, I don’t do it.

15. You notice details that others don’t.

I like taking note of minor details. Probably comes with being a perfectionist and wanting everything to be right, but it’s also the analytical side of my brain that likes to notice minor details that sometimes bring me joy. The little details that other people won’t notice is like a little hidden message that you want only the recipient to understand. I try and do that with all my dressmaking projects as well, like using mother of pearl buttons on my shirt dresses, a ribbon on the waistband of my circle skirt or adding an exposed zipper to my snake print maxi dress project that I’m currently working on.

16. You have a constantly running inner monologue.

I’m always having conversations in my head and I think sometimes having a conversation with me can sometimes be confusing. Even when you’re speaking to me, thoughts pop up in my head that I want to mention later on. Even when I’m talking, sometimes other thoughts pop up in my head. One of my ‘quirks’ is that I start a conversation related to the one in my head, but only when people ask me questions do I then realise the conversation or train of thought started in my head, but then start talking about it to someone halfway through.

17. You have low blood pressure.

I don’t know that this is factually true. Whenever I’ve gone for my check up with the GP, no concern has been raised that I’ve got high or low blood pressure. I was told this year that my blood pressure was slightly high, but it was probably because I was walking fast to my appointment.

18. You’ve been called an “old soul” – since your 20s.

Maybe not necessarily ‘old soul’, but I’ve definitely been called ‘mature’ for my age and I’ve felt that way since I was about 14. I think the fact that I liked to read since my mum brought home interesting books in primary school, to my dad sitting with me through documentaries and historical TV series and discussing all sorts of matters under the sun helped to increase my thirst for knowledge and wanting to know more about the world.

19. You don’t feel “high” from your surroundings.

My OH enjoys being around other people and the energy from the interactions. Socialising, in a way, gives him the positive energy he needs and also fulfills that need to be active. For an introvert like me, I enjoy spending time one-to-one with friends whose company I enjoy and talking through what’s been going on in our lives is a way for us to share information about each other and allows me to get to know them better and get advice or sympathy where it’s needed. My ‘rewards’ and ‘highs’ come from an activity that gives me that feeling of having accomplished something, like Body Combat raises my endorphin levels and I feel good from having pushed myself further physically than I thought capable when I want to give up at certain parts, or seeing that I’ve created something that is aesthetically pleasing when one of my dressmaking projects are complete. Big parties and loud noises do nothing for me, unless it’s at a gig for one of my favourite bands like the one I went to at the 02 Academy in Glasgow in 2011 for Evanescence.

20. You look at the big picture.

The part of me that likes everything planned and in order likes to know how things are going to work out. I need to know what steps need to be taken before making a crucial decision, that I can achieve this and where it will bring me before even taking a step to achieving it. I like to think ahead whereas my OH likes to look at the here and focus on the now. I tend to think about what decisions you make at this moment in time will affect your future and where that will lead you in the long run.

21. You’ve been told to “come out of your shell.”

Whether it’s a result of my upbringing or the fact that I’ve just been that way in school doesn’t really change the fact that it took my A Level English teacher to bring me out of my shell when I was 16. I used to be really shy and had trouble interacting with people I didn’t feel comfortable with. I didn’t like to raise my hand and participate in class although I did well enough in school. At times I might seem ‘cool’ with people especially if I’m not sure how to interact around them.

22. You’re a writer.

I think this one is quite obvious with you reading my blog. It comes with the inner monologue thing. I have an easier time expressing myself with pen and paper than I do verbally. When I write, the words seem to just go straight from my head to my hand where it’s all written down. When you’re trying to explain it to someone, you have to think about how to put it in a way they can understand. It might seem like a simple straightforward task, but what goes on in my head is different thoughts intersecting with each other and it jumps from one thought to another before re-focusing on the original thought. Writing it down, it gives me a visual cue to which to focus on what should come next and is a way for me to work through the various thoughts in my head.

23. You alternate between phases of work and solitude, and periods of social activity.

Nobody wants to be an island. Everyone needs interacting and moments of socialising with other people. I prefer to do things in the company of those I enjoy, but sometimes due to differences in interest (like when I want to watch films like the Saw series or The Amityville Horror), I end up doing things on my own. I prefer shopping on my own sometimes, only because I prefer the alone time to make my own decisions based on what I think about what I’m trying on, but some things are better done with other people around. I don’t feel the need to always go to activities with people I know, because then it’s based around whether the other person is also going that day that affects your participation. Body Combat is usually full of other people with the same goals and the need to improve my own skills and techniques is what motivates me to go. If I were left to my own devices, I’d probably set my own targets which don’t get me very far. It’s satisfying for me to know that the goals are what other people have set and that I’ve made it.

Maybe from identifying with almost all the points raised in the article it idebtifies me as having typical or definite introvert personality, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a bad thing. Sure, sometimes overthinking things can lead to negative thinking cycles, but it all depends on how you manage your thoughts and what you do with them. I like to plan ahead and know what’s happening in my life, but I feel that the analytical part of my brain allows me to think about how my actions will affect the world, and the people, around me. Sometimes, you want time to yourself as well and having ‘down time’ means you’re recuperating and there’s nothing wrong with being the antithesis of the ‘social butterfly’.

After the busy weekend that I’ve had, I’m slowly but surely making progress on the snake print maxi dress. I’ve finally got all the pattern pieces sorted and should hopefully get started on the dress sometime this week.

Would you consider yourself to be an introvert or an extrovert? Are there any other introvert characteristics that you feel has been missed out of the article?


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