Every status update since the dawn of Thomas


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

I 'spose I'm an introvert, really. But I don't like to shout about it.

~or~ On being unapologetic about wanting to stay in.

Accept yourself

At the risk over coming over all “hey lets all love ourselves and celebrate our differences, you go girl!” – which I try to avoid if possible as it’s not a good look on me – I have recently had reason to accept a part of myself and, frankly it’s a relief.

No, I’m not gay (sorry about that). I have no announcement, no news for anyone who has known me for any length of time... just a few fresh (but quiet) thoughts about something that has come into focus again recently: That I am, fundamentally, an introvert, really.

Now, I’m by no means the most introverted introvert. In fact I have consistently chosen career options that have required me to communicate and assert myself, which may seem odd, but not to me – having spent much of my childhood feeling vaguely threatened and misunderstood by pretty much everyone except my immediate family and closest friends, I slowly discovered that communication was a kind of super-power – to be able to explain yourself, articulate your case and express what the hell was going on in that inner world of yours was a transformative skill to develop, and I developed it rather well.

I still think of myself as shy and retiring, which in a lot of cases I am – but I forget that isn't what everyone sees when, for example, I'm happily babbling and gesticulating away in a violent conversation, or boldly and bolshily schmoozing with strangers as part of the day job. But that I am fundamentally an introvert seems so obvious to me, a fact known practically from the egg, that - remarkably - I seem to have almost forgotten it, or its significance, of late.

"Say baby, what’s your Myers-Briggs type?"

First a couple of important things about introverts and extroverts – the terms have kind of entered everyday language to mean “quiet” and “loud”, but that’s not quite on-the-money. While shy, socially-awkward people will of course be introverts, that doesn’t mean all introverts are shy or socially awkward – any more than all extroverts will be loud and un-thoughtful. Invented by Carl Jung, the terms would more accurately be defined as “internally focussed” and “externally focussed”, and are key in a lot of more modern theorising about personality (not least the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator which, nauseatingly, appears to have replaced “what’s your star-sign” as the dating-compatibility question of choice for the "rational" set).

An introvert is most comfortable when immersed in their own “inner world” of thoughts and feelings – and likely to be uncomfortable and unhappy if they’re not regularly allowed to spend some quiet time “there”. Meanwhile an extrovert is most comfortable focussing on external things – objects and events in the “outside world” – and likely to be unhappy if they’re not regularly allowed to go out, find stimulus and do stuff “out there”. Clearly very few people are all one or the other, and we all experience both modes depending on our situation, the company we're in, activities required of us, etc – but the idea is that most people tend more in one direction than the other.

Underwhelming revelations

Now, I’m wary of labelling and pathologising myself as anything - this “Oh I'm an Aquarius which means I'm just like this and everyone just has to accept it” kind of business is both self-fulfilling and limiting - but in this case I am so very clearly an introvert there is nothing remotely controversial about "diagnosing" me thus.

That is not the revelation. The revelation, in two parts, is this:

A) That somewhere along the line in the past couple of years  - without realising it – I seem to have "internalised" the idea that being introverted is probably a bad thing and I should fight it because when I indulge my introverted tendencies it kinda makes me a loser.

B) That F*** THAT SHIT, in the most robust possible terms. The above unconscious attitude has been contributing absolutely nothing to my life except a vague sense of sense of guilt, vague self-esteem issues (as if I needed any more) and a party-pooping pall over stuff I enjoyed.

Actually, this is less about "accepting myself" in a warm, airy-fairy way, and more about rather selfishly saying: "Screw it - I'm not apologising any more, I'll do what I damn well like". I had allowed myself to become convinced that solitary, internally-focussed activities were kind of worthless, directing one away from the practical and worldly stuff one should be doing. But recently I've indulged myself in a couple of projects unashamedly on my own - and the knock-on effects have made me realise I have been missing something of late.

Purpose is key – this is not about mooching around idly on your lonesome, but using the fabled “me-time” in a focussed and productive way to do things you really want to do. To my surprise I’ve found a sense of re-engaged purpose and achievement that lasts well beyond the activity itself and casts a life-enhancing, optimistic halo into other areas of life – a benefit that was obviously there before, but I must have previously simply taken for granted, and then forgotten.

As alluded to in previous posts, one becomes more "worldly" as one gets older - the practical concerns of society become more and more salient as you get more “adult”. Of course extroverts are much more naturally focussed on both practical concerns and society – it’s their home turf. So society values extroverts more immediately and obviously – despite the fact that society benefits just as much from what introverts produce with their thought and creativity, away from its glaring eye (which, I gather, is what this book is all about, though I rather shoddily don’t seem to have read it yet).

Prejudice against my people

The upshot is, in everyday modern living, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking “I must be more like those extroverts” at all times. Which is a crying shame.

Having gone through an entire childhood and adolescence being constantly asked “Why are you staying in? Why aren’t you out playing football like a normal kid?” one comes out the other side and breathes a sigh of relief, with a vindicated “See? I turned out a reasonably normal, functioning, well-adjusted individual, after all - and there are plenty more like me who are now very successful and cool and stuff cos of their staying in and being a bit weird as a kid". One finally shrugs off all that crap you had to put up with, just to get your drawing done or your book finished, as the well-meaning but ill-informed bluster of people who just didn’t understand...

...only for it to come back, in another form, as one drifts towards middle age, FFS. I’m 37, and again people are going “Why are you staying in? Why aren’t you out travelling, sky-diving, marathon running and downing cocktails, like a normal adult? Life is for living YOLO.”

It’s the same shit. And it’s basically prejudice against my people, dammit.

Yes, maybe I should have got out more when I was a kid – but it wasn’t me. I was never going to be any good at, or interested in, football. In the same way “getting out” and forcing myself into social situations when I’m not in the mood can leave me feeling more distracted, bored, anguished and disconnected than if I’d stayed at home. Extroverts have no idea how much effort it can be for an introvert just to maintain "normal social face" when they just want switch that side of themselves off and be left alone. There is only so much socialising an introvert can take before they need a battery recharge of quality leave-me-alone time. Forcing them out of that doesn’t wean them off being introverted - it just makes them miserable and uncomfortable.

A healthy, balanced diet

I do understand that there is a danger for any introvert of locking themselves away too much, of being too wrapped up in their own world to get things done and grasp all the opportunities the world has to offer. But I at least have some sort of natural barometer of this – I do feel it when I’ve overdone the solitary stuff. I, too, go stir crazy, feel down when I've not spoken to anyone properly or left the house, and sometimes really need to get out. I love socialising and frankly sparkle with it when I'm in the mood. At work I'm almost always happier for having got out of the office, and feel bereft on days when it's empty all bar me - so I'm not a without extrovert needs, and really not the misanthrope I sometimes pretend to be.

But I do have a vivid, active and varied set of introverted interests, too, thank you very much. And when I indulge them, far from feeling like a sad hide-away, I actually feel  more alive and engaged with the world – because my mind is active and I am experiencing, learning, exploring the world in a different way; and doing that means I feel sated, invigorated and fired up with new discoveries and passions to go back into the more social sphere with. It is a balance - a hearty helping of introversion is just fine as part of a healthy balanced diet, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

There are vast rewards to spending quiet time on things alone, that simply cannot be gotten by any other method – whole vistas of intense, mind-expanding experience. But you don’t get introverts telling extroverts “Why are you going out? You need to stay in more, read a book, whittle some wood or something”... Extroverts are always mouthing off, judging us introverts.

Actually, of course, introverts are always judging extroverts too. But we keep it to ourselves.