“One is the loneliest number…” – Harry Nilsson
For a long time I have thought that there was something wrong with me (well, apart from the obvious, of course) and it has only been in the last twelve months or so that I have discovered that it’s not true.
You see, I am an introvert.
Most of my life I have wondered why I preferred my own company to that of others, why I would rather spend a night home reading then go to a party. I wondered why having lunch or even just coffee with friends was such an ordeal and why, after forcing myself to socialise, I always felt drained and couldn’t wait to shut myself away again.
Was I a narcissist? Selfish? A snob?
As a child I was classified as shy and was forced to confront my shyness and overcome it. Apparently being shy is a character flaw. But this only made my need for solitude more acute.
As a young wife and mother working as a Beauty Therapist, I struggled to understand why, when I got home and my husband and children wanted my attention, all I wanted was to be left alone for an hour or so. For years I felt I was letting them down or that I was somehow damaging the bond between myself and my children.
Now I realise that I was working in an industry that made me spend at least eight hours a day up close and personal with other people. I was literally in their personal space, touching them, and they were in mine, all day. As an introvert, it left me so depleted that all I wanted to do was run and hide from the world.
Losing a close family member, grieving, living with depression and anxiety have forced me to really look at what makes me tick, to find what it is that I need so that I can find my equilibrium and function like a normal human being.
I have been a journey of self discovery over these last twelve months or more and have finally been able to make peace with that one part of myself that has always eluded me. I am an introvert and I am proud of it.
The topic of introvert vs extrovert has become a popular one recently, or perhaps it’s just something I have become more aware of as I discover this thing about myself – a case of always seeing cars like your new car. And the more I come to understand what makes me tick, the more I realise that it’s not one versus the other, but more a spectrum thing.
But before we get into that, I should probably explain to you my own definition of the difference between introverts and extroverts.
In my experience (limited, I’ll admit, but being an introvert myself and being married to an extrovert, I have had some experience in the two camps) the difference lies in where you get your energy from. For example: Introverts tend to gain energy from being alone and being in a crowd drains them of energy. The opposite is true of extroverts – they get energy from the people around them and being alone drains them.
Does this mean that an introvert never wants to be around people? No. What it means is that when you realise why being around people is so draining, you can manage it better. Nobody lives in a vacuum and we all need community – even us introverts – but if you know that being in a group is going to tire you out, you can bank some energy beforehand and even plan to have some alone time afterward to restore what has been depleted.
Being an introvert doesn’t necessarily mean you’re shy, either. I know of introverts who are more than happy to share their opinions loudly and proudly. I, myself, used to love to perform on stage and considered a career in dance when I was younger – despite my being an introvert who was also shy around new people.
Being an introvert doesn’t necessarily mean you are weak, either. Despite my battles with grief, depression and anxiety, I believe I have a deep strength, a resilience that means I can keep moving forward in spite of the things that try to pull me down. I also have strong opinions and a strong work ethic and don’t you even try to start something with my husband or my kids because then I’ll be barrelling down on you like a wounded momma bear.
As I eluded to earlier, I also believe that we all have aspects of both in us and it’s more of a spectrum than one versus the other. I happen to be very much towards the introvert end and my husband is probably my match on the extrovert end. In other words, I need more alone time than people time and he needs more people time than alone time.
And that’s okay.
It is actually quite liberating to understand this about myself, especially when for so long I thought I was defective. And it’s good that my husband understands it too because it means we can give each other what we need. I can identify when he needs people time – his mood gets low and he becomes less like himself – and he can identify when I need to leave a party – I become agitated and withdrawn. We can support each other without judgement, especially when we understand each other’s needs.
And that’s the key here. Understanding that not everyone is like you or has the same needs as you. When you can identify what you need, what makes you tick, then you can be more understanding and accepting of what someone else in your life needs.
I titled this post “In Defense of Introverts” because for a long time I felt that this part of me made me a lesser person, a person who could never succeed because of this terrible fault in my makeup. But there are a lot of recent studies that disprove this long-held belief of mine. Being an introvert doesn’t determine my success or failure. Being an introvert doesn’t make me a lesser person.
Knowing that I am an introvert and knowing how to manage it means that my options are open, it means I can have a successful career and I can have a long and happy marriage (even though I’m married to my complete opposite) and that I can educate my children on their own introvert and extrovert tendencies so that they can have successful careers and happy marriages.
It all comes down to knowing yourself and using that knowledge effectively.