Introversion has received a lot of negative publicity lately – I recently read a post on reddit stating that introverts are “depressed, unhappy, and antisocial people that hate the world”. This surprised me because I had never seen introversion connected in any way to mental illness before, and it motivated me to do an internet search. I ended up finding a lot more negative and inaccurate assumptions than I ever realized existed, so I wanted to write about introversion today to attempt to clarify this issue. I should probably also mention that the following is my own experience with introversion, and others may experience it differently – basically, your mileage may vary.
I am an introvert, but I do not identify with any of the words above; in fact, I would argue that most introverts probably don’t either. What I am is introspective, thoughtful, analytical, and reflective. I tend to see the world through a critical lens, but this is more to examine all sides of any given situation rather than an inclination for negativity or human judgement. This may come as a surprise to some, but generally speaking I actually adore other people. I enjoy socializing, and I generally find it rewarding being with others. What I have an issue with is being around A LOT of people all at once. This is because I tend to get overwhelmed by disorganization, chaos, background noise, and conflict.
I do most of my interacting internally. That may sound strange – after all, the word is INTER-acting. Would that not mean that it must be done with others and therefore, be external? I don’t think so, no. Because, when you think about it, anything we do starts with a thought; it must first be conceived of in order to bring an action to fruition. It then becomes a series of steps which are organized into some sort of a plan to carry out the thought. Now, granted, a lot of this happens automatically; we generally do not have to think about all of the steps our mind goes through to complete something. For an introvert, though, this process can be more deliberate, because we like to examine all aspects of something. We spend a lot of the time in our own heads, but this is because we are the most effective here. We don’t always verbally share information, but we write, we draw, we imagine.
This translates to socialization as well. We may not be great at expressing our feelings in the traditional ways, but we identify and interpret emotion in a way that almost seems psychic; we can look at a person and instantly know more about them than words can identify. We listen. We observe. We conclude. We contribute, but usually only when it has meaning for us. Introverts typically are not in love with small talk, surface conversations, or manipulation. We generally see value in the abstract, and we communicate freely when there is trust.
When it is time to recharge our batteries, we retreat inside of ourselves. Where an extrovert regains energy through interaction with other people, introverts need quiet contemplation. We need a break from others – a pause. This is because for us, socialization can be exhausting; there is so much brainwork involved in being introspective. Conversations with like-minded people about the answer to the question of the meaning of life, the universe and everything is much more exhausting than small talk. This isn’t to say that small talk is bad, it is merely that this is not usually how an introverted person prefers to connect in social circles.
Some may argue that we overwhelm ourselves, and maybe that is true on a certain level, but we also gain so much value by being the way we are. I think we tend to seek out other introverts, not only because of like-mindedness, but also because it is less exhausting for us to try to explain ourselves to a non-introvert; we can simply skip that step and be comfortable with who we are and what we do. Introversion is not a choice, it is more or less the way we process the external world. And it is alright to do things differently, but it is important to understand that this isn’t a character flaw that needs to be changed, and it has nothing to do with mental illness.
We are not depressed, anxious, or sick because we process most of our information internally. Yes, we may be depressed, and we may be anxious. But this has nothing to do with being introverted, and I would argue there are probably just as many depressed or anxious extroverts. We are happy, and we lead very fulfilling lives whether we are introverted, extroverted, or otherwise. When we connect with another person, or a group of people, the important part is the ability to see the person or people we are establishing a connection with; it matters less that we do things or process information in the same way as other people, because isn’t connection the whole point of socialization?