Friday, December 26, 2014

Embracing Introversion

For my birthday this year, a good friend of mine gave me a book called Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe. This friend and I, along with a sizable portion of our shared group of friends, are all introverts and discuss our introvert preference on a weekly basis.

"Introvert" has become a word I use to describe and identify myself and my personality. I'm a big fan of MBTI and I feel that my ISTJ personality type is an accurate descriptor of me in relation to work, school, and often, my personal life. I was excited to start this book so that I could begin to more deeply understand my introversion, as being one has often been a source of stress and awkwardness in my life. Growing up, I felt that I was wrong for being an introvert and actively tried to change this about myself.

Anyway, Introvert Power was an interesting and eye-opening read. Dr. Helgoe raises a lot of very good points about how introversion is considered a disorder, a "shyness" that needs to be "fixed" in order for a person to normally function in society. This is a lot more prevalent in "shy" children, but, as she points out, America is an extroverted society, and all people are expected to be extroverted and enjoy extroverted activities. If not, we are "boring" or "anti-social"; we may even be passed on for jobs or promotions due to our lack of enthusiasm for small talk and social engagements. It is true that whether in a social or work setting, not enjoying a party atmosphere is considered abnormal in America. Dr. Helgoe notes that she and many of her clients (she is a psychologist by trade) have lost friends because of their lack of excitement about parties in general and in instances they have attended parties, they spend the entire time counting down the minutes until it is socially acceptable to leave said party.
I have experienced this and echo these sentiments. It should be noted that, for me, and I daresay most introverts, the parties I'm referring to do not exclusively refer to ones at bars or ones that center around alcohol. I don't care what the instance is, if I enter a situation with a large group of people, especially if I don't know many of those people, I find very little to say, and when I do say something, I am often talked over. I would much rather stay home or hang out in a small group, if not one-on-one. This, however, is considered wrong, anti-social, or rude.

What exactly, Dr. Helgoe asks, is wrong with avoiding a situation you dislike for one that your prefer?

For all that is good about this book, I found the general attitude towards extroverts to be somewhat hostile and the manner for expressing your introvert preference to extroverts to be unrealistic and downright rude. Though it is frustrating to be expected to enjoy parties and large, overwhelming groups of people, it is not the extrovert's fault that they enjoy these situations and that they want you, as their friend, to also be a part of it. It is, however, society's fault for expecting all people to love these situations and love being outgoing.

Extroverts were described as draining and lacking understanding about the introvert mind. Even if this is true, I do not fully understand the extrovert point of view and do not expect myself to ever understand the thrill of mingling with new people. A lot of the interviews in this book led me to believe that a lot of introverts avoid extroverted friends and I think that is an absolute shame. In my experience, good extroverted friends will meet you halfway and will also be a support to you in your introversion in times when giant parties do happen. They may want to stay and socialize longer than you, but that's okay - that's who they are.

I feel that as introverts, it is our job to protect ourselves from feeling overly stimulated by our surroundings, but to also be realistic about the expectations of society. Yes, it's annoying that meet and greets are a regular part of life, but these do not always have to be painful experiences. Yes, it's true that a large portion of jobs require a lot of interaction with people, but as an introvert in a field that sees patients, work is a great time to let your tiny extrovert shine.

Embrace the positivities of your introversion and learn from the positivities of your extrovert friends and family. I keep a good group of introverted friends, but I also have many close extroverted friends that push me to broaden my horizons socially. These friends also take over the conversation and allow for me to sit back and enjoy their company without the pressure to speak. It's a beautiful thing.

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