In the beginning of a summer week, I am asked to go out with a few friends on coming Saturday. It’s not a circle of close friends, but one friend and a group of her friends that I have met occasionally. I am happy to be asked and I look forward to an evening out, good food and a few glasses of wine at an outdoor restaurant in the Stockholm summer light. It sounds terrific. The closer it’s getting to Saturday, the more I start to fear the idea.
When Saturday afternoon comes, I just dread going! Literally. It will be torture, I’m sure, I will have absolutely nothing to talk about and I will feel awkward all evening. I just want to stay home. So after hours of anxiety and indecisiveness I come up with some excuse and let my friend know I unfortunately cannot come. Do I feel relieved? No, not at all. I just feel awful. Guilty and awful. An that is not all, cause when I see pictures of the event on Facebook later, I think it looks so nice and inclusive, and I regret not going after all. Would I have enjoyed it? Maybe. Sometimes I actually do enjoy it. Sometimes I just wanna go home.
This occasion was not the first time this kind of thing happened, it was not the latest and I’m sure it will happen in the future. The only thing that has changed is that I now have a better understanding of why I do and feel these things, and I try to one, not come up with fake excuses, and two, not feel too bad about it (but yes I still do). I’ve read a lot about being an introvert lately and I’ve gotten to understand myself better in the process. So the reason for writing this blog post is for you who know me to understand me a little bit better as well. Even if I don’t say yes to spending time together, it doesn’t mean I don’t like you. It is not about you, it’s about me. No really, it is, I promise! For those of you I don’t know well, or at all, maybe you know another introvert, or maybe you are one yourself, and can enjoy my tale anyway and maybe get an insight in why some people behave the way they do.
What defines introversion?
What defines an introvert? Well, let’s start with the words from a famous psychologist introvert, Carl Jung. In his Psychological types, from 1921, he defines introverts as persons who are reflective instead of expressive, who respond instead of initiate, who think first and talk second, and persons who talk less and listen more. Even more perhaps, it is about energy: To be around people, to socialise, takes a lot of energy and leaves you exhausted. To be alone, with your thoughts, at home, gives a lot of energy. Introverts are easily overstimulated. Compare this with extraverts who gain energy from socialising and get drained of energy when being alone. It is quite a difference, and it might be wise to add here that even if it is a scale, not black and white, around 75% of the population is thought to be on the extrovert side of the scale and only 25% on the introvert scale. This makes the extrovert behaviour somewhat of a norm and therefor there could be a need for some explanation or a reminder of the introvert behaviour. I needed to read about this to realize that it all fit like the perfect glove on me!
So the reason for sometimes saying no is not that I’m shy or trying my best to be rude. I like to socialise with people, it just takes a lot of energy and I tend to feel awfully awkward. If I know people well, it takes a little bit less of energy, if I don’t know people that well, it just takes a tremendous amount of energy. Chit-chatting is just very hard to do. So I can only be social for definite amount of time, then I need to be alone. And sometimes I really don’t feel up to it at all. There are very few people that does not require energy for me to be around, just my immediate family and a few other people. The rest of you, I’m sorry, it is a bit of hard work. And I don’t mind the hard work from time to time, at all, but I also need to rest, a lot. And it is not only about meeting people, it’s about experiencing different events. It takes energy too just to be out of the house.
Introversion and friendships
I think I was quite lucky growing up. In books I’ve read about introversion there were stories about children feeling totally misunderstood by their parents, not understanding anything until older age. Me, I come from a family of introverts. It has always been OK for me to stay home in bed (not during school days of course) and read a book. My mother did. And watching TV and movies? Fine. It was my dad’s favourite pastime. Not that I always did, I was actually quite the social kid, with friends and hobbies, but I was always happy being home alone as well.
The funny thing is that even with this background it took a while for me to understand that one of my own daughters is introverted too. She was not much for playing with friends after kindergarten or school, and in weekends, never. This worried me. Oh no, she does not have any friends, she is socially awkward, something’s wrong with her, I was thinking, just because being sociable and extravert is the norm. This was all wrong of course. She is not the least shy or awkward in any way. She just think it’s enough with meeting friends at school and maybe a short while after school. Then she is perfectly content with being on her own or with her family the rest of the time. Basically, she is just like me.
I love to be alone. I am never bored being alone at home. There is so much to think about, so much daydreaming to do. I have a full life with just me and my inner thoughts! And then there is TV. Other notable facts. I don’t mind going to lunch alone at work. Actually, I enjoy it. Especially with a day full of meetings, I crave being alone for a while with my thoughts. I love going to the dentist. I’m not joking. It’s an hour of lying down relaxing, and I’m absolutely not required to talk! Going to the hairdresser on the other hand… Let’s just say I have found a hairdresser that has understood the level of chatting that I am comfortable with during that colouring and cutting routine.
Just because I like being alone doesn’t mean I don’t like hanging out with friends. Or that I don’t have friends. I do. But my friends have to be low maintenance friends. They cannot expect me to hang out too frequently, they have to be prepared for a few no’s when asking me out to events. Another trait that can be found with an introvert is lack of spontaneity. If I have planned a fabulous night with me and my laptop at home, I won’t be happy getting a phone call for a spontaneous get-together. I like to be prepared. But if we plan ahead, then I’m happy to go out or come over for a meal or for coffee of course, just don’t expect me to stay too long. One of my absolute best friends is an extrovert, always socialising with different friends and acquaintances, and that suits me perfectly fine. Then I don’t feel pressure of having to socialise more than I feel comfortable with.
There is always a risk of course for me, that I understand the friendship wrong. I might consider someone a much greater friend than they consider me, because for me getting together once in a long while, still means a good friend, while it for the other is a mere acquaintance. There is a risk of feeling hurt and left out. And even though I love to be alone, there is in parallell a fear of being excluded. I want to be invited (I don’t dare to ask myself) to the group, but then I’m unsure if I will be able to sustain a high maintenance friendship. Acquaintances are easier, cause they are by definition low maintenance, but it is not as fulfilling since it requires the small talk. It is all a bit of a struggle, that is all I’m saying.
Introversion at work
Reading among other a book called The Happy Introvert by Elizabeth Wagele gave me good insight in why I function at work the way I do. Among other things there were a test for figuring out whether you are an introvert. ”You sometimes procrastinate when you want to avoid interacting with people” That’s my life at work, for gods sake! Especially before when I had to call people on the phone. I hate calling people that I don’t know very well. I have now read that hating that phone is normal for introverts and writing usually is the preferred way of communication, so I have embraced that with full heart. Actually I think today’s technology really has made it easier for introverts. Writing emails instead of calling has never been that appreciated. Email is not for speedy answers, but now when we have all sorts of chatting abilities, this has become an approved substitute of calling people and it is heaven for people like me.
As an introvert I definitely think quietly and seldom out loud. I talk when I have formed an opinion not during which I’m trying it to form it. Sometimes I just don’t always have an answer ready by the end of the meeting, I’m processing information, and yeah, I might be a little slow when it comes to that. If you want my opinion earlier, you might have to ask for it and then I will let you know where I am in the process. I have noticed how my own meeting usually ends with ”Let’s think about this and decide later” instead of actually taking those decisions as originally planned. Now I realize I don’t have to see this as a failure. I need to think and digest an issue before taking a decision. Sometimes it goes faster to come to a conclusion after a discussion with co-worker, but I will still need to debate it in my head for a while before actually forming my opinion and take that decision.
The Happy Introvert also says ”Identifying introverts when they’re playing a roles, such as host, guide, teacher, or performer, can be difficult.” Or manager, I will add. I was a line manager for four years and I don’t think my introversion was as obvious (let me know if I’m wrong), not even for me, cause I played a role. The role of the manager. Then I actually had less problem walking around chit-chatting with the team, and less procrastination in general. I played the part. The same applies when being a hostess or ”on stage” making a presentation or some kind of performance. That is perfectly fine with me. I actually enjoy it. It is the chit-chat at the coffee machine afterwards that I found unbearable. So if anyone wondered why I don’t participate in Friday ”fika” (that is Swedish coffee break), this is the reason. I work only towards deadlines and Friday afternoon serves as the ultimate deadline at work and is when I am the most efficient all week. To interrupt the flow I have at that point, to do some cumbersome small talk at the ”fika” table? Sorry, just the thought it makes me feel scared.
Introversion and (social) media
As mentioned earlier I think the latest technology really have made life easier for introverts. Take social media, Facebook and Twitter, some say these applications have made people less sociable, not meeting people in real life, just virtually. Well maybe extraverts have become less physically social in that way, but I would say it is the opposite for me as an introvert. ”Writing is the preferred way of communicating” and never has it been easier then now to communicate, to interact, to chat and to discuss, with anyone about everything. Just because it is on-line does not mean that it is not sociable. And it is so nice to be able to communicate without having to be present physically all the time. You choose when to interact. You can take time to collect your thoughts and come up with the answer, and choose when you want to be socially active. The person at the other end is doing something else in the meantime anyway. Social media also actually helps in the face-to-face interactions. It is perfect source of information to use in those cumbersome conversations at the coffee machine. You actually now have things to start chit-chatting about. ”Oh, I saw you were at … this weekend” It is just such a good help!
Since I watch a lot of TV and love watching shows, I can’t help but end with a bit of reflection of characters on TV. Without doing any thorough investigation my thinking is that introverts are not that common as main characters in TV shows. Extraverts make such interesting, dramatic and easily understandable characters, because you know what they think and feel, they express it all the time. They express their emotions, blurt out what they think and create conflicts and drama. We get them, we love them, we get how the think and why they react the way they do. But can I relate to them? Not always.
What about introverts, are there any and can I relate to them? Well, there are two characters that come to mind. Peggy in Mad Men, who is socially awkward and likes being alone, and is struggling with how to act at her workplace. And then there is Rayna in Nashville. I don’t know if she would qualify as an introvert, but she is a women that doesn’t express her feelings openly, who doesn’t pick fights and create drama, and therefor is somewhat difficult to understand at times. She is a characters who’s journey is not always obvious and easy to follow, since it is much an inner journey, going on in her head. And that I can relate to too for sure. There is always a whole novel going on in my head!