Many, if not most, writers are introverts at heart. That being the case, I thought we could all unite here–separately, in the comfort of our own homes, of course–to chat about our common foibles. Sure, I get the fact that we’re far from a new topic. Since the dawn of time–or thereabouts–introverts have been pleading for understanding and offering tips on how to get along with and make life easier for us. Cyberspace teems with blogs and articles about same, and Susan Cain wrote a bestseller about us.
Unfortunately, our cries for acceptance, heart-rending though they may be, all too often go unheard by our bee-busy-buzzy extroverted friends. Still, on the off chance some stray, snowed-in extrovert is dying for company, scouring the Interweb for somebody, anybody, to talk to, I’m willing to oblige. Listen up.
To begin with, seeing as how introverts make up a mere 25% of the world’s population, I decided I ought to provide a checklist of key characteristics you can use to recognize us. You may even discover you’re one of us. If you do, don’t be surprised if your first reaction is denial. That was my first reaction, at least until I learned introversion ≠ shy, a fact I’m constantly explaining to those who know me and my big mouth only too well. As for retiring, you’d be amazed at the far-reaching effects a few good introverts have had on history. For example:
- Albert Einstein (who had enough chutzpah to turn the world of physics on its head)
- Mahatma Gandhi (who had enough chutzpah to turn the British empire on its head)
- Dwight Eisenhower (who had enough chutzpah to turn the Third Reich on its head)
- Stephen Spielberg (who produces groundbreaking movies like ET, Letters from Iwo Jima and Schindler’s List)
- Michael Jordan (fearless on the basketball court, and a terrific salesman, although the less said about underwear here, the better)
- Steve Martin (a wild and crazy guy)
- Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry, Gunny Hightower and the mayor of Carmel, mind you)
- Johnny Carson (yes, the Great Carnac himself)
- Mother Theresa (who comforted millions of suffering souls in India and around the world)
Shy? I don’t think so.
But I digress. We were talking about how to recognize an introvert, and I promised you a checklist. Never let it be said I didn’t have the chutzpah to follow through.
You might be an introvert, if …
- your favorite spot at any given party is that cozy corner where you can happily, albeit safely, observe extroverts in action.
- your first reaction to stress is a desire for space and plenty of it.
- your last reaction to stress is a desire to talk about what’s bugging you.
- you think a good weekend is one when nobody calls, visits, or emails.
- you hold life’s most important bits close to the vest.
- you like people but prefer them in small doses and need time alone to recharge after contact.
- your mental calendar is full, your social calendar, not so much … and that’s fine and dandy by you.
- your worst nightmare is the well-meaning friend or relative who’s decided you’re shy or lonely or depressed and just need to be “drawn out.”
- you visit a new church and hesitate to fill out the visitor’s card, because you know it will unleash a kindly, completely overwhelming flood of invitations to a) join small groups, b) come to dinner or c) “get together and chat.”
There. Does that help? Did you recognize yourself or someone you care about? If you find yourself facing that most disquieting of epiphanies–i.e., that you have (or are) an introvert in a family of extroverts–don’t panic. I’m about to suggest a few coping strategies. Not that we introverts expect to be coddled, mind you, but remembering a few salient points will keep feathers unruffled all around.
- Don’t take it personally, when we go hedgehog. It’s not you; it’s us. We’re not mad, we still love you, we just need some time alone to recharge. Depending on the circumstances, recharging can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 months.
- Don’t ask, “Are you all right?” or “Is anything wrong?” or “Do you want to talk?” The answers are: “Yes,” and “Only the fact that I’m not alone right now,” and “Absolutely not, but I’ll call you, if that changes.”
- If you’re getting grunts, hmmms or other monosyllabic answers, or we’re giving you that I’m-in-an-alternative-universe stare, we probably need some space.
- We do occasionally erupt into nonstop chatter. This usually happens after a prolonged period of “working things out in our heads.” Pretend you’re listening, smile and nod, remind yourself that this, too, shall pass–and thank God these eruptions tend to be infrequent.
- In times of extreme stress, we find invitations, phone calls, shooting the breeze, and Facebook posts that have to be shared to prove our compassion or social consciousness extremely taxing. Like Greta Garbo, we want to be alone. We want peace and quiet, online and off. We need to think, to process. (As opposed to extroverts, who seem to process every live-long thing out loud. I can’t tell you how many times an extrovert has told me–in excruciating detail–about his/her current problem, then concluded cheerfully, “Thanks! Talking to you has helped me work it all out in my mind.” How that happens with all that gabbing going on is a mystery to me, but the system apparently works for them.)
- Finally, when we really start to get on your nerves, remember: While we’re doing our withdrawn-uncommunicative-introversion schtick, we may be formulating the Theory of Everything or composing the Great American Novel or inventing the solution that will permanently straighten your naturally curly hair.
Did I miss anything? Feel free to comment and let me know!