Dear Diary — Today I went to a mandatory employee gathering at work and it was awful. The marketing director made everyone stand and say something nice about springtime, in front of all 50 of us! If that wasn’t enough, my boss’s assistant kept thrusting photos of her grandchildren in my face, essentially challenging me to think they are anything but adorable.
I still did my best to fade into obscurity by sipping a Coke and looking too interested in examining a potted plant to be bothered with anything else. But then the human resources director forced us into some sort of team-building exercise. All that did was make me so anxious that I decided to fake an intestinal virus and go home.
And it got worse from there. I am, in fact, an introvert, although I don’t fit many of the stereotypes. If you Google my name, you’ll see I have some very public and extroverted aspects of my life – especially things like being on TV, public speaking, and teaching. As it turns out, that’s not so unusual. But if you’re not an introvert yourself, you may not fully understand. So, let’s clarify a few things, shall we?
First, what is an introvert? That’s a great question because there is an inherent bias toward introverts in American society, and it’s high-time people got their facts straight. Not all of us are created equal.
According to the dictionary definition, an “introvert” is typically a reserved or quiet person who may be introspective and enjoys spending time alone. I’m not crazy about the narrow view of that definition, but it’s a start. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg and what most people probably don’t realize is that introverts come in many flavors.
In 2011, psychologists Jennifer Grimes, Jonathan Cheek, and Julie Norem, researched introversion, identifying four specific types: social introvert, thinking introvert, anxious introvert, and restrained introvert. Each is pretty much as its name implies but allow me to summarize for our purposes.
The social introvert prefers solitude but may still enjoy time with small groups, probably the stereotypical behavior people most identify as introverted. A thinking introvert is more cognitive, spending a little more time than usual pondering a situation. They may be lost in thought more often and appear to “zone out.”
An anxious introvert is, well, anxious, or nervous, and will shy away from people and situations that may overstimulate. The restrained introvert, sometimes referred to as an inhibited, introvert, tends the be someone others can count on, often appearing thoughtful and
grounded. But they also may seem unemotional and remain socially guarded until they get to know someone.
Although this information helps us better understand introverts, it’s important to remember not everyone fits the same mold. Some introverts, I included, might very well exhibit characteristics of multiple types simultaneously.
Based on the research, I’d probably be a mix of the social and restrained introvert types. I’m not wild about large gatherings, nor am I outwardly emotive, and I’m sure those closest to me would confirm how cautious I am about social connections.
I’m not what most people would call, shy. I’ve no problem speaking or performing before a room full of people, or a packed theater for that matter. One-on-one, though, is another thing, entirely.
That brings me to the myth that introverts don’t like people. I don’t think that’s true; it’s just that people can be overwhelming. Some introverts don’t even need to be in the same room with you to feel anxious or uncomfortable. A phone call can trigger it, or a text. It’s not about the person, it’s about the interaction and the expectations.
That’s because the mind of an introvert reacts differently to dopamine, the chemical that triggers the reward and pleasure-seeking part of the brain. While it generates an excited buzz in everyone else, it’s exhausting to the introvert, they feel overwhelmed and sometimes just shut down.
If you’re an introvert, take a deep breath. You’re not as odd as you might have once thought you were. As for everyone else, be patient. We introverts want you in our lives. It’s just that sometimes what we need is, silence.
Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at www.gldcommunications.com.