Friday, August 23, 2013

Living Life The Introvert's Way

The other night, bloated and tired from an all-you-can-eat fish fry at a local tavern, but still not ready for sleep, I sat down to read The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling. It was a good read, but the author devotes far too many pages to parties and the introvert’s extreme discomfort with mingling and small talk. Since I avoid parties (no one invites me to them, anyway - Thank God!), I don’t need to be reminded why I hate them.

So, what is an introvert?

Sigmund Freud considered it a form of neurosis. Introverts “can’t face reality and think they’ll never have sex” is Dembling’s summation of Freud’s diagnosis. Carl G. Jung, credited with popularizing the introvert/extrovert model, held a different view. Jung suggested that for the introvert, “energy flows inward, while for extroverts, energy flows outward.”

There is, it seems, a difference in the construction of an introvert’s brain that indicates it is not a “condition” that one can change. Even if introverts are not outnumbered by extroverts (it’s a roughly 50/50 split), we aren’t as noisy and, therefore, more likely to be defined inaccurately by those who can’t shut up. If they don’t consider us shy, we are “cold, taciturn, compliant, sedentary, dull, and grumpy.”

I plead guilty to being taciturn and sometimes grumpy. Both are defense mechanisms to shield myself from the pushy chatterbox who wants to converse, but does not really want to communicate. This is the extrovert’s failing; at least it’s a failing to the introvert who does not enjoy and derives no benefit from talk for its own sake. I would rather sit quietly and think than talk. Psychologist Marti Laney proposes that introverts are “Deep thinkers. Creative. Self-reflective. Flexible. Responsible.”

There is confusion on this matter, though, with psychologist Elaine Aron’s concept of the “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP) also being tossed in as a way to define the introvert. “HSP’s are easily overwhelmed by too much fuss and bother, are sensitive to other people’s moods, hyperaware of what’s going on around them,” Dembling writes.

Then there’s shyness which isn’t really introversion at all though there are shy introverts just as there are shy extroverts. “The unhappiest combination is extroverted and shy. Those sad souls want to socialize, but fear it.” I have often been mistaken as shy by extroverts (who are unlikely to read a book like The Introvert’s Way, preferring to simply hold onto to their stereotyped ideas about those quiet types). Indeed, I am often shy in social situations, but that’s because I don’t want to be there and am too polite to say so.

Introverts are often accused of being “too intense.” We don’t go around with a silly smile permanently plastered on our faces, and are sometimes regarded as being “too serious,” as if approaching life as something other than a party is a fault to be corrected. I maintain that life is serious. It ends in death which is often preceded by terrible suffering, by painful and debilitating disease. And, if you believe the Bible, death is followed by judgment.

Such a serious approach to life is typical of deep thinkers, of those who ruminate, as introverts tend to do. Our “awareness of subtleties and deep processing of information” means that we “may take news stories of gloom, doom, and disaster too much to heart,” according to psychologist Aron. “And, she says, because we’re so sensitive ourselves to harsh comments, and because criticism can wound us deeply, we couch things in terms so gentle when speaking to others, they might not take us seriously.”

It is believed, certainly by introverts, that introverts are not only deeper and more creative than extroverts, but more spiritual. Dembling doesn’t ask it, but I will: How many extroverts would consider a life in the monastery? Life as a monk wouldn’t appeal to me (too much loud chanting), but an introvert is likely to experience life more fully, more intensely than an extrovert. We are certainly more imaginative.

“We may have,” Aron suggests, “a thin boundary between our conscious and unconscious minds, living with one foot in the real world and one in the world inside our heads.” (I would argue that the world inside my head is no less real than the one outside, and may even be more authentic, but I won’t go into all that here.)

Dembling says, “I love my active imagination; it means I am rarely bored and that given time and psychic space, my creative output can be prolific.”

It is the extrovert who, sitting home alone and bored, picks up the phone to call someone. If the extrovert calls an introvert, the extrovert’s boredom has been relieved, but the introvert’s boredom is just beginning as he listens, or pretends to listen (which is more often than not the case), as the extrovert rattles on. . . and on . . . and on, usually about nothing of substance. The introvert was also sitting home alone, but, until the phone call interrupted his solitude, almost certainly not bored. There are thoughts to think, books to read, maybe books to write, music to listen to, and listened to without distraction, preferably with headphones to block out competing sounds.

I really can’t help but conclude that an introvert’s life is, indeed, richer, deeper, and more meaningful. Based on the extroverts that I know, I think they could travel the globe and experience less than I could staring at a crack in the ceiling. Extroverts can have their chatter, their parties, and social functions, and all the advantages that usually come with being “outgoing,” or, as I cynically call it, an ass kisser. Extroverts tend to advance more rapidly in their careers, but then an introvert may be less interested in a traditional career, anyway, what with all the annoying extroverts he would encounter among bosses, co-workers, subordinates, clients, and the like.

Because of the way my introverted brain is wired, I don’t have a choice in the matter, but, if I did, I would choose The Introvert’s Way.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


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