The weight loss programme my doctor referred me to last year, involved several sessions with a Motivation and Change Therapist, and during one of those sessions, we talked about how I often find social situations difficult.
I said to her, ‘The thing is, you can put me on a stage in front of hundreds of people, and I will happily sing or speak. You can stand me at the front of a classroom or church, and I will happily teach. But if you were to put me in a room with a handful of people I don’t know and ask me to talk to them, I’d just want to run for the hills. I find that kind of thing really, really, really hard work.’
And her response was, ‘You sound like a confident introvert.’
‘Ooh,’ I thought. ‘A confident introvert? That sounds interesting. I must find out more.’
So I did, and one of the things I found out is that being an introvert is not the same as being shy. Whereas introverts enjoy time alone, people who are shy don’t actually want to be alone; they just choose to be alone because they’re afraid of interaction. Whilst therapy might help a shy person become less shy, it isn’t going to fix introversion because introversion isn’t something that needs fixing. It’s a way of being. Introverts are not antisocial, and they’re not friendless loners who lack social skills. They simply have a different set of needs and preferences to extroverts. For example, introverts:
- prefer fewer, closer friendships to having lots and lots of friends,
- need loads of personal space,
- need time to recharge their batteries after social interaction,
- prefer to be on the sidelines at parties and events,
- prefer individual activities, such as reading and writing
- like to hang back and familiarise themselves with something before joining in,
- often have two distinct persona: a public one and a private one,
- avoid talking about their achievements and underplay their gifts and talents,
- dislike smalltalk and prefer ‘meaningful’ discussions,
- hate interruption,
- need lots of thinking and reflecting time,
- prefer to express themselves through writing rather than speech,
- pause a lot and can have word-finding problems when speaking,
- become irritable if they have to spend lots of time with lots of people,
- feel drained even when they’ve enjoyed social interaction, and
- can find it difficult to share their feelings.
But while introversion may look like shyness (or even weakness) on the outside, it certainly has its strengths. Introverts:
- are excellent listeners,
- are deep thinkers and reflectors,
- are creative,
- are focused and good at concentrating for long periods of time,
- like to explore subjects deeply and thoroughly,
- are very aware of their inner worlds – their thoughts, ideas, beliefs and feelings, and
- can be very observant.
This is me to a T. But what does it all mean? It means that some of my ‘weaknesses’ are actually strengths. It means I don’t need to feel that daydreaming is a waste of time. It means I don’t need to feel that I’m being rude because I would rather work on my own than in a group, or feel stupid because I can’t rustle up an instantaneous opinion during a discussion, or feel selfish because I need to leave a social situation because I’m craving personal space. It means that feeling irritable is a natural response to interruption and over-stimulation. It means it’s okay for me to say no to something when it feels like doing it would be too much. It means it’s okay for me to take time out in order to recharge my batteries. It means I don’t need fixing. I’m okay as I am.
And if all this still sounds like weakness, then have a watch of this: The Power of Introverts, a TEDtalk by Susan Cain.