The funny thing was, I didn't know it for the longest time. Until a few years ago, I didn't even know what an introvert was. I knew I liked to be alone and that being with people tired me out. I knew I preferred a small get together to a large party. But I didn't know that it was a fundamental part of my brain.
My mom thought I was reserved because I had been bullied in my younger years. Fair enough. many kids withdraw after being bullied. Except I didn't find myself staying at home alone because of fear but just because... I had stuff to do when I was alone. I was perfectly entertained while alone. And I was, for the most part, happy.
For my Extended Essay (a huge research paper we had to write over the summer as part of the IB program at my high school) I wrote about the difference between introverts and extroverts and the struggle of an introvert living in an extrovert world. Over the course of my research I discovered that I am, indeed, an introvert and that it is part of who I am, not something I can change.
But what kind of an introvert am I? Introversion and extroversion are on a spectrum. You can't just categorize people as one or the other. Some introverts like to go out as much as the next person and some extroverts really need their time away from people. So taking a break from writing advice today and diverging on a path that I know many writers will still relate to, lets talk about introversion, extroversion, and how to understand both.
1. Its all about stimulation
So a lot of introverted and extroverted tendencies can be traced to the brain and how it processes information. Simply put, introverts are far more sensitive to stimulus than extroverts. A loud party that seems normal to an extrovert will quickly wear an introvert down and make them tired. Introverts are also more sensitive to taste, smell, sound and other things that stimulate the five senses. If they have to process too much information at once, they might quickly become stressed and exhausted. This is why extroverts tend to be better at multi-tasking. Their brain can handle more stimulus at once.
But there's a downside to this too. Because and extrovert can become easily bored or down when alone. Without stimulus to hype them up, which their body craves, they can't work to their full potential. Extroverts are very likely to run a TV or radio in the background of their work. But they'll also look for lots of opportunities to go out with friends because they get stir crazy. Introverts, on the other hand, thrive in this environment. They don't need too much stimulation to keep themselves entertained or focused. They might not be as good at multi-tasking but they can focus hard on one project at a time. When they can put all their attention into one thing, they are at their most productive.
Obviously you can't change how your brain responds to stimuli. Extroverts can learn to work even without much stimulus and introverts can adapt to parties if they need to, but they're still more comfortable on their home turf. Which is why its important not to pull and introvert or extrovert too far away from where they are comfortable. You won't be getting their best if you do.
So let's talk about adaptation. Introverts and extroverts handle change and new environments very differently because they have a different focus. Extroverts tend to look outward. They see the world around them and the people and the setting. Introverts tend to look inward. They see their thoughts and their state of mind and their own personal sense of well being. An uncomfortable extrovert pushes out and an uncomfortable introvert pulls in. This means they have a different way of adapting to situations.
An extrovert is more likely to adapt to the world around them. They can change to fit in with a group they wouldn't normally connect with. This makes them very good in social situations or meetings because they find it easy to mesh with other people, no matter who they are. This can make them easily likable (depending on how extroverted they are)
Introverts on the other hand are more likely to change their environment rather than change themselves. They are more immovable and have trouble fitting into a mold when they don't already fit into it. So, instead, they change the mold. Its easy to see why we don't always thrive in social situations. We are less outgoing and relatable. We're not bad people or anything but we are more difficult to swallow sometimes.
Which brings me to the nature of expectation and how it effects extroverts, but especially introverts.
3. The Extroverted World
We live in a world that is built for extroverts. America especially is tailor made to be an extroverts country. But it didn't start out that way. It was around the height of urbanization when people started moving to cities. They were thrust into a world of crowds and big business. So those who adapted to the social environment were more likely to fit in. This resulted in a deluge of self help books and advertisements geared toward becoming more social and grabbing people's attention. The new norm was extroversion and introverts started being swallowed up.
You can still see this system today. If you're an introvert you know the horror you felt whenever the teacher spoke the words 'group project' or 'collaborative work'. Some of you might even have hurried up to the teacher and asked if you could work alone. I know I did. Schools in general are geared toward extroverted learning. Desks are arranged in pods. The majority of work involves discussion or collaboration with peers. If a child is withdrawn or reads a lot, teachers seem to think something is wrong with them. They talk to their parents about how little Johnny isn't making friends or how little Suzie doesn't play at recess with the other children, she only reads. This sends a message quickly to these children that there is something wrong with them. It did the same to me.
Really, different children just respond to different ways of learning. They make friends but not in the same way other kids do. And schools, especially elementary schools, aren't yet tailored to serving both types of children.
4. Expectations for the Genders
Because yes, people respond differently to introverted men than they do to introverted women. This isn't as much an issue for extroverts (though I'm sure many extroverted women have been called out on being too bubbly or too outgoing. We just can't win, can we?). But introverted women are far more stigmatized than introverted men. I mean, the world has always had a place in its heart for a stoic, mysterious man, am I right Mr. Darcy? Introverted men are often assigned attributes such as 'thoughtful, controlled, mysterious'. Those aren't such bad things to be known by. Introverted women on the other hand? They're 'too shy', 'haughty', or 'prudish'. Not the happiest adjectives to be saddled with. People were more willing to accept all kinds of men depending on how successful they were but women had to fit a very specific mold. And what did we say about introverts and molds?