Introverts are a highly misunderstood bunch, even though they make up at least a quarter of the population.
Many people still wonder why they don’t go to parties, why they look angry, and how they can be such loners.
There’s so much fun to be had, why can’t they just enjoy themselves? Don’t they know a good time when they see one?
Yes and no is the precise answer there.
As an introvert myself, these same kind of questions have crossed my mind plenty of times. I have wondered why I can’t just “lighten up” and be “like the rest.”
It’s an internal struggle that you eventually get over because you realize that everyone is quite unique and prefers different things.
While this may be true, however, that doesn’t mean everyone will understand you when you finally understand you.
So let’s clear up a few misconceptions, miscommunications, and misunderstandings about introversion.
High Quality Attention and Communication
Everybody needs attention. Even the toughest tough guy you know needs positive attention and affirmation that he’s good enough.
Introverts, however, need very specific attention.
While being on a stage with lots of eyes on you or getting complimented by people will serve some very well, this is most likely not the case for an introvert.
This is because what we really want is undivided, authentic attention.
A common reminder from myself to my girlfriend is that I want her to fully pay attention to me and communicate with me in a meaningful way.
It’s very often the case that she is driving home from a day at work and she’ll call me through the bluetooth system in her car and tell me everything that happened that day.
While this is something, and I certainly do want to talk to her, it’s in one of the lowest forms of communication I could have with her. I have no eye contact with her, no sense of touch, no body language, and I don’t have her full attention because she’s still driving.
Then when she gets home, we have nothing more to talk about from the day.
This is a constant work in progress for us because I understand that when she gets home, she wants to relax because she’s tired from work. But if anything, I would rather wait to talk about the day’s happenings in person with full involvement in each other later that night than on the phone.
The same goes for texting. Introverts oftentimes don’t value these lesser forms of communication.
They are meant for planning or sudden updates in our minds. They’re not conducive to real, engaged conversation.
In reality, that’s all we value anyway so now you’ve almost lost us entirely.
If we’re being frank, smartphones in general are a direct threat to an introvert’s social values.
Communication is boiled down into very simple, even emotionless, words. It removes so much of what we crave from our social engagements.
This doesn’t even include the blatant scrolling through whatever app that goes on while someone else is trying to speak.
Personally, I find this to be one of the most disrespectful things that happens today. Clearly, you can’t be focused on what the other person is saying.
I will oftentimes stop talking when the other person keeps checking their phone or pulls it out to respond to someone else. It just screams to me:
“I don’t care about what you have to say.”
Allow Them Their Space
While this point can seem obvious, it’s actually very hard for many people to apply this in live time.
Sometimes it hurts to have someone deny an invitation you extended to them or hear that they’re not interested in spending more time with you.
On the flip side though, an introvert has to muster up the courage to say no without offending a real friend. Saying no is a skill to be developed, and as much as it hurts to hear it, it can be very hard to say. It boils down to this:
Don’t force an introvert to do anything they don’t want to. Introverts inherently believe that all involvement should be voluntary.
We never want to be forced into anything or surprised by what we have to deal with. So if we’re saying no with conviction, it probably means there’s good reasoning for it.
For me personally, I tell my family and friends no to offers when I feel my energy stores or my patience getting low. After a certain point, I am a complete Debbie-downer.
If I feel forced to be somewhere that I don’t want to be and have to “fake” my way through it, let’s just say I don’t sell it well. My misery shows.
It’s like playing ‘Wicked Game’ by Chris Isaak at a wedding; completely out of place.
Introverts Are Not Failed Extroverts (Manage Expectations Accordingly)
In the book, The Introvert’s Way, Sophia Dembling makes the case that introversion is viewed as the lacking of extroversion. From her book:
“Introversion is often treated as the space where extroversion is not. It’s treated as a vacuum. An absence rather than a presence.”
She goes on to explain:
“This has particularly been true in the study of personality psychology. In that field, the five stable traits, called the Big Five, are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Researchers measure these traits with questionnaires of positively and negatively weighted items. If you answer yes to a positively weighted item, it indicates extroversion. If you answer no, it indicates lack of extroversion — or, scientists assume, introversion.”
Even in this field of study, we essentially operate from the viewpoint of, “Why are they lacking the positive trait that we like?”
It’s important to remember that introverts are not extroverts who are missing a few good traits. They’re different, and that’s alright.
A person can share traits from each but there are some stark differences that introverts have that extroverts might not.
There are certain triggers that make an introvert completely shut down and disengage from a situation, for example. It’s wild but true.
I had to learn that I have several of these triggers. One is being forced to react or feeling instructed on how to treat someone.
To illustrate, my girlfriend will do something or accomplish something and be really proud of herself. She can be quite vocal about how she feels and at times, this feels like she’s pushing something in my face or down my throat.
She expects me to rise to her level and be vocal the way she is about her success. This expectation does not sit well with an introvert, however.
This is a very uncomfortable feeling because while I want to support her and congratulate her as well, I can’t because her intensity is shutting me down.
The added expectation and disappointment from my lacking reaction compounds this. Then I get really quiet and essentially distance myself from the topic and it looks like I disagree with her, even though I don’t.
When we talk about it later, I try to explain to her that she can’t will my reaction to life by being extra vocal; she has to allow me to voice it.
All of the prompting feels like I’m being told what to say and how to say it so the feeling goes from genuine to not, therefore turning me off to the whole idea.
To reiterate, introverts are not failed extroverts.
I never feel that it’s a shame I can’t compete or be heard in situations where people don’t want to have a real dialogue. An introvert wants to have authentic dialogue.
As soon as we can sense that the person or group wants something specific out of the conversation, the authenticity is lost and we don’t feel like what we want to say will be valued anymore.
It’s fine to have different goals but this is why you will see introverts distance themselves from certain environments.
They can’t always be expected to partake in things that require them to leave their natural habitat to meet an unfamiliar expectation.
It’s abundantly clear that introverts require a specific set from their peers. They need focused attention from those they care about, as well as real communication.
This means that to an introvert, the face-to-face conversation you could have later in the night is worth much more than the text message that arrives with the news 15 minutes earlier. Quality connection means everything.
Introverts also need space. If something is off and they sense it, the whole idea could be out of question now.
Respect their wishes to sit some things out and you’ll find them coming back when they are fully recharged.
The last point to remember is that introverts are not failed extroverts, so don’t be surprised when they can’t perform like one.
Introverts operate under a different set of rules than most but when conditions are right and their needs are met, they will shine like no other.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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