We’re not all the same.
There you go. If you’d like to stop now before the next 1000+ words, feel free (although I would appreciate if you did stick around; there is some more to explore).
There has been what could be described as an explosion of discussion about introverts online in the last 5 years. The first piece of this that I noticed was Susan Cain’s “The Power of Introverts” TED Talk from March 2012. Personally, I’ve found much of what I’ve seen to be very helpful in better understanding myself, why I function the way I do, and that other people are similar to me. There is a large amount of information that I’ve found to be surprisingly specific to how I see and interact with the world, but there is also a lot of information that seems very generic.
Many list-type sites that have articles (the kind with a random woodland scene as the header image) about introverts that paint as broad of a picture as possible to explain all introverts; stuff like – Introverts like quiet and need to be by themselves to recharge, so don’t feel bad if an introvert is sitting by themselves or leaves your party early. That’s a sentence I just made up, but this is often the type of statement I see in these articles, a statement so broad as to apply to a huge number of people in a wide variety of situations.
It also seems like these articles can make it seem like introverts hate being around people. Sure introverts recharge by spending time alone, but that doesn’t mean we all always hate being around people. So many of these types of posts feel like they paint that picture, and then I for one seem to spend even more time alone or uncomfortable around people because of this perception. It’s taken me a fair amount of time to realize that I like to spend more time around people than I thought, and I think part of the reason is that even I bought into this perception of not liking to be around people because I’m an introvert. Some people need more or less time to be by themselves, but having a period of being alone turn into being lonely really sucks, and spending too much time alone can create this feeling. Additionally, just because I may be hanging back in a group or conversation doesn’t mean that I’m not interacting or fully engaged; I enjoy listening much more than I enjoy talking, and I don’t need to be talking to feel engaged with the group.
I can understand the desire of trying to paint as broad of a picture as possible. For one, it brings in clicks and readers, but for another, I think some places do try to be helpful in explaining how introverts function (often because a lot of us, especially me, don’t spend a bunch of time talking about our thought process). This is an extrovert’s world (or country) in many ways (especially my current job), and finding ways to help explain to people how certain people function can help with empathy and understanding in numerous situations.
I have been in many situations and have had many different experiences that felt very extrovert heavy or oriented, at least from what I understand of extroverts. In many of these situations, I felt that there were ways I wished I could interact or change the situation, but not necessarily with motivations that I feel are portrayed as typically introverted. Personally, I always dreaded things like group projects more often because I had to interact with a group of people I didn’t know for a short period of time, and I wouldn’t be able to actually get to know them or get to be more fully comfortable around them, than because I had to be around people at all. It takes me time to get to know people because I push back at the thought of a surface level interaction, but this surface level interaction is often what starts relationships. It is because of this that many jobs I’ve had with high levels of interpersonal interaction have been more difficult to get comfortable in than others (also, unfortunately, many of these jobs have not been long enough to find that comfort level).
In many cases, I have felt the pressure (either real or perceived) to engage much more quickly, and while there is probably room for growth or to move faster than I think I can, this pressure (again, sometimes perceived) can be overwhelming to the point of being detrimental. This is one reason I appreciate the effort to explain more often and more in depth about how and why introverts function as they do. I also understand the reason that a broad brush is often used in the description of introvertism – writers are trying to expand on the experiences and thought processes of millions of people. Unfortunately, painting with a broad brush can lead to articles that are very much like astrology readings: things can be so vague that they could apply to anyone in any situation, leading to information that isn’t actually helpful. My family is all introverts, and we all function pretty differently. The core of recharging on our own holds true for all of us, but how we function around people, what we’re comfortable with, and how we process information are all different (somewhat similar, but different nonetheless). If I can see that in a small number of people, I know that it’s true for the bulk of all introverts.
I don’t mean to lean here into an “everyone’s special, one-of-a-kind” type mentality. But there also isn’t one-size-fits-all introvertism. The greater thought here is the ability to move from a general understanding of introverts and introvertism to a more personal understanding of individuals. It is important to have a flexible understanding of what or who an introvert is that allows for differences to common conceptions to fit into the definition of being an introvert.
In many ways, I’m sure that my sense of individualism is informing my view of the material I’ve seen in the last 5 years. At the same time, I’m sure I’m projecting a large amount of my thoughts and experiences onto these articles and their authors. Still, as I go through the process of better trying to understand myself, I also have the desire of being understood by others, especially the people around me. Likewise, I also want to be able to understand others. Understanding the group and understanding the individual are tasks that go hand-in-hand, and my hope is that we can continue remaining open enough to understand both as well as possible.