Posted by: Hannah | 11/25/2012

so I’m NOT crazy!

This weekend I read The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney.

Now, I’ve known for years that I am an introvert. I think the first time I encountered Myers-Briggs was in a junior high health class, and I remember being shocked when the result showed me as an introvert. I mean, every report card I had in elementary school said I talked in class too much! Surely introverts don’t talk all the time, right?

I never really had a clear understanding of the difference between introverts and extroverts.

As I got older and started reading a bit more, I began to see those behaviours that clearly indicated an introverted personality.  I need frequent quiet time to recharge. I get overwhelmed by too much of anything; noise, colour, light, people, even tasks. I dread social situations. I don’t like being touched, sometimes even by my children or husband.

I started the process of explaining to my family and friends that I am, in fact, an introvert. It’s been an uphill slog because most people have deep-rooted misconceptions about what introversion actually looks like.

It’s been tough, sometimes.

Imagine then the feeling of recognition and validation I had when I read this passage, right at the start of Laney’s book:

Just being around people can be overstimulating to introverts. Their energy is drained in crowds, classes, or any noisy and invasive environment. They may like people very much, but after talking to anyone, they usually begin to feel the need to move away, take a break, and get some air. … When overstimulated, the introvert’s mind can shut down, saying, No more input, please. It goes dark.

And this – THIS – is at the root of so many things that I struggle with, every day.

***

My grandmother was one of ten children; six girls and four boys. When I was a kid there was a standard phrase that got tossed around a lot about the sisters: “her nerves are bad”, my Nanny would say about this sister or that one, curling her lip slightly. It was a standard catch-all to explain away reneging on invitations, avoiding church, maybe skipping a scheduled outing.

I do all of those things. Sometimes I’ll punk out on social activities at the last minute because the thought of leaving the house and being around others makes me physically sick. I’ll imagine all sorts of horrors, get sweaty palms, a churning stomach, the whole thing, and I’ll find myself incapable of leaving the house.

This frightens me. My great-grandmother was crippled by agoraphobia and I am terrified of ending up that way.

When I’m tired or stressed, I struggle with indecision. Stupid things, like what I should order if we get Chinese takeout.

Sometimes in the course of everyday life, we need to make simple phone calls to the mechanic or the school or the library. I have to psych myself up for these, sometimes for days.

Secretly I have been terrified that as I age, I’m slipping further and further into ‘bad nerves’. The relief I felt as I read through the book that described all of these behaviours & reactions – and more besides – as those of an introvert low on internal resources and needing a recharge almost brought tears to my eyes.

***

There are some simple strategies and tips in the book for helping introverts cope in a world where they are outnumbered three-to-one by extroverts. I was able to put some of them into practice today, when my kids couldn’t play outside thanks to a bitter November wind and were thus noisily bouncing off the walls all day long. Even just remembering to breathe deeply all the way down into my stomach helped me return to centre, to reset, to calm.

It’s a simple book, cleanly written in simple language, and well-organized. Everyone should read it, but especially introverts – or people with introverted spouses or children. I highly recommend it.

 

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Responses

  1. I test as an extrovert, but my extroversion is tempered by my tendency toward misanthropy. Why are there so many stupid people in the world who won’t do exactly what I tell them!?

    Since I am married to an introvert, so I’ll keep my eye open for this book. Thanks.

    • One of my sisters is an extrovert with social anxiety. She has a hell of a time.

      Speaking as an ‘innie’ married to an ‘outie’, your husband will thank you. 🙂

  2. This! The dreading social events even though I generally enjoy them once I’m there, psyching up to phone people – and worse having to answer the phone! I’m married to a fellow introvert – great in some ways but sometimes it would be fab to have someone who would happily make the phonecalls, deal with the tradespeople etc. I’ve been struggling recently and this is great reminder that I need to get my backside in gear to properly structure my days to build in the downtime I need.

  3. I’m definitely an introvert, and recognising that fact has been really important to my mental health. It’s part of my slow learning process of learning how to say “no” to things! Just recognising the reason for my aversion to doing things can help me to do them if I really have to, and give myself permission not to if I don’t really have to.

    • YES, exactly. My big issue has been that I will lie to people to avoid social engagements that I am just not up to (“I’m really sorry but I can’t, I’m sick / the kids are sick / the car broke down”). Then I feel guilt about lying and shame that I don’t seem to be like other people. I can see that owning my introversion and keeping the option open of just telling people I am simply not up to socializing today might actually make me more likely to participate in things.

  4. I’ve have taken so much shit from people over the years because I cannot just “do” social…I end up going to things I’m not able to handle and then people get pissed at me for clamming up, withdrawing, etc, or pissed at me for cancelling or…etc etc. *I* am ok with how I am-it’s taken awhile but I really am, I understand my limits and I do what I can, when I can. What’s always been infuriating is when other people think I’m doing it to be an asshole, or to make their lives harder, etc. I’ve tried just telling people I’m not up to X, and in many cases, it just turns into this thing…I’ve honestly always found it easier to maintain an arms length approach so there’s no expectation of me doing things, rather a happy surprise when I do.

    It sucks being like that, but in terms of keeping me away from the anti-anxiety meds, it’s been good.

  5. Hmm. I don’t know what I am. I like/need quiet time and time to myself, but I also love outings and social engagements. Although, much of the time I prefer to stay home and cozy. So I guess introvert who likes parties? But only parties that end early so I can go to bed.

    • Almost no one is strictly on one end of the continuum or the other. There was another quote in the book where the author said a typical introvert might say something like “It was nice to catch up with Bill at the party. But my, am I glad to be home!” I like socializing – to a point. But I always need an escape route, and I am *always* ready to go home before extroverted Michael. The book even suggested going to parties in separate cars, and we did do that for his 20th HS reunion. It was great – I was actually comfortable for longer than I might have been if I’d felt trapped.

  6. I’m a moderate introvert married to a strong one. Everyone needs social connections, we just need them in differing amounts and intensities. I’ve been meaning to read that book for a long while. My only cause for concern is the tenor of your post makes it seem like introversion is a handicap to be overcome, and I’ve *never* seen it that way.

    Introverts don’t need many social connections, but they tend to go deep with the ones they have. They are (speaking in generalities, of course) better at introspection, analysis, critical thinking. They are comfortable with themselves. They know how to savour solitude. They’re good listeners. I *like* being an introvert.

    There’s also the perception that introverts by definition aren’t socially skilled. That’s simply not true: There are socially skilled introverts, and socially inept extroverts. My husband is a socially skilled introvert; he does absolutely fine at parties … for about 45 minutes, and then must go home and decompress in a quiet room. I’m fine with that.

    And who doesn’t know the socially inept extrovert? I’m sure you’ve met one: That absolutely boooooring person at the party who pigeonholes you and won’t stop talking about his/her wonderful self, can go an hour without asking you a single question? That person?

    The world needs both, but North American society certainly is biased in favour of the extros, no doubt. That’s the biggest challenge of being an introvert .. but the problem is not the introversion, just the bias against it.

    • If I made it sound that way, I missed the point – the author is an introvert herself, and continuously stresses throughout the book all the many wonderful qualities and strengths that introverts bring to the table. HOWEVER, she does offer suggestions for coping in an extroverted world, particularly for people with extroverted spouses, bosses, or children. It’s all about the different ways intros and extros communicate.

      For me, the book was a revelation because I come from a family of extroverts – except for my dad. He is an extreme introvert, and his behaviours have long been a source of merriment for the extros in the house. I certainly didn’t want to be an object of ridicule! As we all age, we are both becoming more comfortable with our innate selves, but it hasn’t come without effort.

      I guess that’s what showed through in the post.

  7. I think so. I was fortunate to be an introvert raised by introverts. My two siblings are extroverts, but they’re the only ones: mother, grandparents, aunt (it was an extended family; I grew up with these people) were all introverts. I hadn’t thought, prior to this very moment, how foundational that was in my sense of myself and my way of reacting to the world as right and normal … even when it’s unusual. Huh. How about that?

    • There’s a whole section where she talks about how hard it can be for introverted children growing up in an extroverted family. One example was of a woman who was the only introvert in her childhood home; she would sometimes go to her room with a book to try and recharge. Her mother would follow her, take the book, and demand that she join the family as a whole. *shudder*

  8. Agh! I almost broke out in hives just reading about that mother. My mother and sister are more extroverted than my father and me, and their habit of aggressively chattering at us in the morning almost precipitated homicide many times. I think I’m an outgoing introvert, married to a less outgoing introvert, raising two fairly outgoing introverts, so there are no horrible misunderstandings, which is nice. I’ve lied to get out of social engagements I couldn’t deal with too, but I feel less pressure to do that these days – my friends know me and I know myself, and the people that don’t know me can (to borrow a colourful phrase from Stephen King) take a flying f*ck at a rolling doughnut.

    I’ve been meaning to look at this book. Thanks for scoping it out for us.

  9. Yes, yes, and yes!! I’m definitely an introvert, I just happen to be very good at being social, so most people don’t realize how much I need to not be around people all the time. Growing up, I didn’t get a lot of alone time. If I was babysitting, I was at least surrounded by the constant noise of a large family. I think that’s why I got into listening to loud music and tuning out with art at an early age. I hated how everyone at church knew the family and thought they knew me. I liked school (sort of) but hated going. Etc. As I got older, I think that I become less tolerant of people because there seemed to be more and more of them all the time. Eventually, I hit a point where I honestly thought I was crazy and/or agoraphobic. I didn’t want to go anywhere and I locked myself in my room away from my room mate. Turns out, I just needed to live alone without much noise (i.e., proof of existence) from my neighbours. I’m much more successful at dealing with crowds, leaving the house, enjoying the rare party or get-together I go to now that I know that I have a safe (read: quiet) haven to return. I honestly don’t know how you put up with kids and a husband. But, as MaryP said, we all need differing levels of social connections.


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