07 November 2011

My name is Daren, and I'm an introvert

Over the weekend I saw the following picture and caption on a friend's Facebook page:
Imagine what life would be like if we could see each other's souls
instead of what's on the outside.
The point made by the image is one that hits home to me, an introvert.

Introverts are very often much misunderstood in today's extroverted world.

The image reminded me an article I've been meaning to share with you for several weeks now but for whatever reason have not yet gotten around to sharing: "Caring for Your Introvert: The habits and needs of a little understood group."

Written for The Atlantic by Jonathan Raunch, the article describes the differences between the orientations of extroverts and introverts from an introvert's perspective, with the witty humor customary among introverts.

Reading the article it almost seems as Raunch has followed me around for a couple of days taking tedious notes.  He begins asking a series of questions:
Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice? 
If so, do you tell this person he is "too serious," or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out? 
If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren't caring for him properly.
I don't do a lot of growling or grunting - at least not audibly - but otherwise the questions are straight to the point.  I hate small talk and do need to time alone to recover from "public" activity, which is what I'll largely be doing the first part of this morning.

If you find yourself with such a person, an introvert, what are you to do with them?  How should care for him?

Before answering this question, Raunch describes introversion at its most basic level:
Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say "Hell is other people at breakfast." Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring. 
Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses." 
How, then, do you care for your introvert?  Raunch gives three simple ways:
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. 
Be sure to read the entire article; it is both insightful and humorous and may well help a few of you extroverts to understand us introverts a bit more. If you do read it, you may well understand why we sometimes want to say to you, "I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush."  We don't say this because society says it is rude.


  1. Great article; I remember forwarding it to quite a few people when it came out a few years ago.

    I'm eagerly awaiting a review copy of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking"; I'll pass it on to you if it's good.

  2. That sounds great! Thanks!

  3. That's ME!!! Thanks for the article--heading off to read it now. Did they make a companion piece on "Caring for your Extrovert?" My poor husband...

  4. My name is Karen and I'm an introvert. Great article! I am married to an extrovert and I had to LOL at the comment about 98% content free talk. I confess, sometimes I don't add to the conversation on purpose...just to see how long he will continue talking without input from anyone else.

  5. In my experience trying to explain introversion to extroverts is like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill. You may get your words in and they may hear them, but in the end it will do little good as far as their actual understanding. You end up right back at the bottom of the hill every time.

    My husband and I are introverts and his entire family are all extroverts. nothing we can say, no amount of articles--humorous or otherwise-- will convince his family that we aren't selfish and rude when we decline invitations and fail to make regular phone calls and courtesy visits. They think we are making up excuses or using psychobabble to make ourselves feel ok with our bad behavior. "Don't define yourself by those categories," I've been told. Or: "I used to be shy but I overcame it and you can overcome it too." When I protest that introversion is not shyness, they still find some way to misunderstand.