Thursday 24 October 2013

On Being an Introvert

In a world that is mostly filled with extroverts, introverts stand out and find it often hard to fit in or blend. Statistics say that introverts are about 25-30% of the population; so yes, we are a minority.

Since I blogged about being an empath (by the way, intuitive empathy is quite rare at about 3% of the population and is one type of empathy), the response has been overwhelming. First, this is by far my most popular post, and I do get many hits for it. I've been getting emails from many readers sharing experiences and thoughts. By the way, I do plan on updating that post with more thoughts.

I've also been asked to share my own thoughts and experience on being an introvert.

Let me clarify something: You can be an introvert, but not necessarily an empath. An empath is not that common.

Now, let me explain - from my own experience - what it is like being an introvert:
  • Socializing, even being around people, exhausts us; and afterwards we NEED to recharge by being on our own. 
  • In fact, sometimes when in a crowd of people, we will get away from the crowd for a while, get out of the room, the house, garden, etc. and re-join them when our mind is calmer and we're feeling less stimulated.
  • If we socialize and don't recharge afterwards, we are miserable, angry, unable to concentrate and/or depressed. That is because we lose energy from being around people for a long period of time. In contrast, extroverts gain energy from people and social interactions. Extroverts are drained/out of energy if they spend too much time alone. We're completely different.
  • Recharging is as crucially essential to us as sleep.
  • That's because our brain works differently; we process far more information... in other words, we're ultra smart, or rather... possibly geniuses.
  • We LOVE spending time alone, or with a few close friends/family. We need it to recharge our batteries, aka our brain. Extroverts consider this "doing nothing"; but for us, it's awesome and performance-enhancing. It's a necessity, not an option. We can read, daydream, write, watch TV, cook, listen to music, and it will help us relax and recharge. Doing activities by ourselves is fun. 
  • Of course, most people (extroverts who don't acknowledge introverts) will mistranslate that as depression, shyness and being anti-social; they may even ask if we need help.
  • We often cancel plans with friends and/or relatives... if we don't feel like going out/getting out of the house/more people and guests are being invited/etc. When someone else does it, it makes our day.
  • Last-minute surprises can upset us. For instance, the idea of someone dropping by unannounced is beyond annoying, since we're not mentally prepared for their arrival/presence. 
  • We don't like small talk; we prefer deep conversations with close friends.
  • We have a small circle of friends; anyone outside that circle is an acquaintance. We do prioritise our loved ones. If we use our limited socialization energy on everyone, we won't have enough energy for the ones who matter the most to us.
  • We need silence to concentrate and think. We find it impossible to work, focus or study when there is noise, or loud non-stop chatter around; which is why we'll often be found wearing headphones.
  • We work best alone, uninterrupted and undisturbed. 
  • Only then we're able to concentrate for a long time.
  • If we go out with friends or attend a party and cannot for whatever reason leave early, or when we want to, we will become really awkward, fidgety and/or stressed.
  • Being told often: 'You're just so quiet. Are you okay?'
  • Being unable to deal with that friend/person who is overly extroverted, who always wants to go out, socialize, make new friends (that it starts to get on your nerves)... and telling them we just want to be on our own for a while.
  • Having to listen to others tell us: 'You just need to be more social.'
  • We get irritated if someone interrupts our thoughts.
  • The idea of working from home, or on our own, THRILLS us.
  • We feel alone in a group of people or a crowd (unless we're with someone close to us).
  • We don't like networking all that much; mostly because it has to do with small talk and superficial expressions/topics/connections.
  • We've been told we're "intense", "philosophical", and/or "an old soul".
  • We'd choose hanging out with a few close friends over a party where we can meet tons of new people. 
  • Personal space matters A LOT to us.
  • We prefer expressing our ideas in writing than in speech.
  • There is an inner monologue inside our head at all times.
  • We hardly answer our phone unless we're mentally prepared to talk to that person. Most of the time, we actually have our mobile phones switched off, or set to silent.
  • We're quite happy with who we are; deal with it. If that makes you uncomfortable; it's your problem. 
Here are scientific facts about introverts:
  • Introversion is a naturally occurring neurological configuration. Introverts have a naturally high level of activity in the anterior part of the brain; thus, introverts are not in need of significant external stimuli. Or in other words, we are already mentally stimulated. Extroverts, by contrast, live in a form of chronic activity deficit and must therefore seek external stimuli to maintain a certain level of activity in their brains. Extroverts need stronger influences before the brain understands the message. So our brains operate differently.
  • Introverts' brains have a greater amount of dopamine which is a neurotransmitter, a chemical responsible for transmitting signals in between the nerve cells (neurons) of the brain. One of the things that it does is help release chemicals (endorphins, for instance) that make us feel pleasure. Extroverts have little dopamine in their brains; thus, they need more stimulation to feel pleasure, etc. For introverts, it's the other way round, we are in danger of being over-stimulated, or flooded by dopamine.
How to best deal with the introvert(s) in your life:
  • Respect their need for "alone time", personal space and privacy.
  • Don't embarrass them in public, jokingly or not.
  • Don't demand instant answers from them on the spot. 
  • Make them feel welcome in a group.
  • Give them enough time/advance notice of upcoming plans/changes/visits, etc.
  • If you need to reprimand them, do it PRIVATELY.
  • Don't tell them they need to be more social. Don't force them into having more friends. All they need is one (or a few) best friends they share A LOT with.
  • Don't try changing them into extroverts. It doesn't work, and they will stay away from you eventually.
Being an introvert is a gift, despite what many may think. Introverts are more likely to maintain life-long relationships and friendships. For us, it's about the quality, not the quantity, and we are great listeners and attentive. Unfortunately, this may attract negative and/or toxic people to us; they crave attention and sincerity. Watch out for those.

We also choose our words carefully and think before we speak. We don't blurt out nonsense. We're definitely creative, imaginative and often think outside the box. We have excellent analytical skills and pay a lot of attention to detail.

By the way, introversion doesn't necessarily mean social withdrawal or crappy social skills. Many often assume I'm an extrovert because I do have very good social and communication skills that tend to come out every now and then in the right setting. But I'm still an introvert at heart.

Did you know that Meryl Streep, JK Rowling, Steven Spielberg, Bill Gates, Gandhi, the lovely Audrey Hepburn, Chopin, Larry Page (Co-Founder of Google), Anthony Hopkins, John Lennon, Yeats, Shakespeare, Orwell, Plato and Einstein are/were introverts?

Celebrate your introversion!


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