Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"How To Care for Introverts"

I found a copy of this poster on Facebook last month:

I was amazed at how accurately this list describes myself and, to a lesser extent, several of my friends. Supposedly, around 75% of Americans are extroverts while those of us who are introverts are in the minority. Unfortunately, that means that a lot of people don't understand our personalities or realize that what's normal and enjoyable for them can be a veritable nightmare for us.

Numbers 1 and 6 have required a lot of patience on the part of my wife. Although I love my family more than anything, my wife and kids have learned that daddy's sanity is often dependent on him having his "daddy time"; i.e., a period of time in which I can sit in a quiet room listening to music through my ubiquitous noise-blocking earbuds. (I've since come to realize that the reason I constantly listen to music is so that I can control the sound around me. Without that control, random noise becomes horribly distracting.) My wife learned about number 6 long ago when she realized that I have extreme difficulty with spontaneity or sudden changes to my routine or my plans.

Numbers 11 and 12 reflect on an introvert's aversion to large social gatherings. For example, I don't know how many people tried to get me to 'get out and have some fun' at a dance or some other activity when I was young. I remember a young woman who was frequently guilty of this and who was able to drag me to the occasional dance. The only thing that made those activities tolerable was the fact that I liked her. That young woman, who became Bride of Atomic Spud just over 10 years ago, eventually learned number 12: "don't try to remake [introverts] into extroverts". The reason why we don't enjoy social events with large groups of people isn't because we haven't been exposed to them, it's because we simply don't like them. It's in our personality to dislike large social events, just as it is in the personality of many people to enjoy them.

Wikipedia seems to have a pretty good definition of introversion and extroversion that tends to agree with the poster:
Extraverts tend to enjoy human interactions and to be enthusiastic, talkative, assertive, and gregarious. They take pleasure in activities that involve large social gatherings, such as parties, community activities, public demonstrations, and business or political groups. Politics, teaching, sales, managing and brokering are fields that favor extroversion. An extroverted person is likely to enjoy time spent with people and find less reward in time spent alone. They tend to be energized when around other people, and they are more prone to boredom when they are by themselves.
On the other side are introverts:
[Introverts] often take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, using computers, hiking and fishing. The archetypal artist, writer, sculptor, engineer, composer, and inventor are all highly introverted. An introvert is likely to enjoy time spent alone and find less reward in time spent with large groups of people, though he or she may enjoy interactions with close friends. [...] They prefer to concentrate on a single activity at a time and like to observe situations before they participate, especially observed in developing children and adolescents. They are more analytical before speaking. Introverts are easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation from social gatherings and engagement, introversion having even been defined by some in terms of a preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulating environment.
Although I've never been comfortable in social gatherings, it seems to have become worse since college. To say that I'm "easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation from social gatherings and engagement" is an understatement. A couple years ago I found myself at a neighborhood Christmas party being held by some friends. I was with my wife and I knew nearly everybody in the house. Although I initially enjoyed talking with our friends, after about an hour I became quiet. Every voice and noise in the house seemed to become amplified and I felt like the people in the house were pressing in on me. Fortunately my wife noticed my discomfort and we left shortly afterward.

I had an even worse reaction earlier this year when we took our kids to an Easter egg hunt sponsored by the local fire department. The various hunts were divided into age groups and my wife assigned me to supervise our four year old while she went with Son of Atomic Spud. Due to poor weather, the event was held in a local school, so I found myself crammed into a room with literally hundreds of people and their children. Although I stayed in the most open parts of the room that I could find, by the time the hunt was over and we had streamed out of the building, my teeth were chattering and I was shaking. I admit that such an extreme reaction may be less introversion and more agoraphobia.

Yeah, it's kind of like this sometimes

At the same time, most introverts don't avoid social interaction altogether. Every couple weeks I play Warhammer 40,000 with several friends. Once a month three of us even watch an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 before the game. The difference between these activities and the Christmas party a few years back is that, first, there are usually only four or five of us in the room during these games. Once or twice we've had up to six people, which I think is my limit. Second, all of us have relatively similar personalities. Given that engineers are considered "archetypal" introverts, it's not surprising that our five core players (i.e., the "40K Cabal") are all engineers or scientists.

I have read of parents that are concerned about their right-brained (i.e., typically introverted) child's apparent difficulty with social interaction who are amazed at how animated and open he or she becomes when interacting with other introverted children. Personally, I have never had more than two or three good friends at any given time. In fact, as suggested by number 10, I think I could define various periods of my life based on who that one best friend was at the time. While I'm silent and closed around strangers (or even when I'm surrounded by too many people that I would call friends), the few close friends I've had can testify that I have plenty to say.


  1. So four kids plus you and La should be at your limit right!?!
    Bill is a semi introvert, some people would say he's an extrovert, but he's just very good at pretending...he plans all year for the possibility of that Christmas party in my house and dreads every second of it!!!

  2. It's a bit different when the crowd is my own family, but I do have difficulty when we're gathered together and things get too loud.

    I've noticed that a lot of introverts are good at pretending just to be polite. I often talk a lot at such events, but it's partially because I can better ignore my surroundings if I'm focused on a conversation with only a few people at a time. Even then, I feel like the noise and the crowd are trying to drown me and I'm just barely treading water. It's when the conversation slows and I can't ignore the crowd anymore that I really start to get agitated.



Related Posts with Thumbnails