Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ain't It Good To Be An Introvert

A friend was surprised to learn the other day, during a story I was telling about my youth, that I seemed to have put myself into a lot of social scenarios while I was growing up. And so the veracity of my introverted nature came into question. This has caused me to think back on those days (specifically my grade school years and thereabouts) more than I have in quite a while.

It's true that I could be found doing things that would make it hard for anyone to pinpoint me as the unsocial type. Even nowadays it can be hard to peg me unless you're around me for long enough. (This reminds me of the post that I wrote about spotting introverts; I thought about writing something more in depth about the topic, but then I realized that most of us introverts don't really want to be spotted. Being spotted would interfere with our ability to keep to ourselves, to remain inconspicuous, to have our inner worlds protected. Or maybe that's just me.)

No matter what it looked like from the outside, I had a hard time with my nature when I was growing up. I spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. If I'd listened to the people around me back then, I might have concluded that being quiet and keeping to myself was a bad thing. Peers were often uncomfortable with my quietness, and some were even visibly upset about what probably seemed to them like an insistent unfriendliness. Occasionally people were mean. Others tried to change me. Some acquaintances set out trying to make me more talkative. And, naturally, there were those who simply made fun of my quietness.

Growing up, I didn't know what to make of all this. I instinctually knew that I wasn't doing anything wrong and I felt as though I was just being myself. Sometimes I even resented the treatment I got. But as much as I resisted allowing others to tell me how I should be, I couldn't help wondering if everyone was right. Not only that, but there was no one to model for me how I could operate in a social world. Everywhere I looked, people seemed to need conversation; people flocked together. That was my only model of the world, but not a model that made sense to me. Each of us is left to figure our own selves out, but introverts do so in a way that's even more alone. We do so largely without any clues.

So in an attempt to figure myself out, I would put myself into situations that didn't suit my nature. I worked in jobs that required lots of talking. I lived with roommates. I didn't always say no to group activities; I did enter into group settings, though I was always the silent party. I pushed the boundaries of my social comfort level. Oftentimes these choices overwhelmed me, but I did what I could to alleviate that. And I did so without knowing what I needed (at least not in any rational way). How was I to know that I needed to be able to get away, to be alone, or to retreat to an isolated spot? No one else I knew ever seemed to care whether they escaped the company of others.

Still, I'm glad for many of those learning experiences. I'm not sure if I would know myself as well without having had them. I never attempted to change who I was -- I only strived to know whether I could be anything more; I wanted to know whether what I felt about myself was right (or whether I was simply afraid and shy like everyone told me I was). Rather than learn to be ashamed of my quiet nature because of the rebuke I got, I guess I decided to wear my quietness like a badge. And I learned a lot from my resistance to change. Nowadays, I still push my own social boundaries to some extent, but I choose more carefully. I tend towards smaller social settings, more individual ones. I choose friends who are comfortable with my quiet nature. I moderate my activities and balance my venturing out with enough recuperation time to suit my needs.

But sometimes I think it would've been nice to have had access to some of this knowledge while I was still in my youth. It would've been nice to find others who were like me, if only to know that being like me was okay. It would've been nice to know that I wasn't alone, even when I was.

Because it is okay to be an introvert; in fact, I think it's enviable! If only I had always known how much so!



Anonymous said...

Hello. I just discovered your blog. I'm turning 21 in a few weeks and I've been more and more obsessed with my reluctance to integrate fully with society. I tried so hard to relate to others and hve others relate to me, but I'm incapable of doing so. I have very few friends and don't really have any sort of social life. I'm not sure if I'm an introvert though. I think I'm just very detached from society, but I'm happy to find someone that like you.

Zeri Kyd said...

Anon, if you're reluctant to interact socially (at least some of the time), then you probably have introverted tendencies. I can't really speak for you, but I can understand what it's like to work this stuff out. I was never sure whether it was me who was wrong for being quiet or whether others were wrong for making my quietness into an issue. It wasn't easy, but I'm glad I tried to interact socially so that I could come to some understanding of myself; at least then I was able to test out my limits and gain some comfort in the knowledge I wasn't wrong to be the way I was.

Sorry I took so long to respond. Happy 21st!

Anonymous said...

interesting post. I would love to follow you on twitter.

Zeri Kyd said...

Anon #2, thank you; I probably don't post often enough for it to be worthwhile following this, but I appreciate the thought.

Unknown said...

Awesome article. I'm so glad I found this blog. Thank you for writing.

Zeri Kyd said...

AmongTheRuins, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by!

Joanna said...

Being only 20, I can relate to your experiences during your youth, and reading this has made me feel better about myself. Although, I wish I also had the courage to display my introversion without feeling ashamed whenever someone finds out about my 'different' habits. I'm just wondering, did your parents/relatives ever show any signs of disappointment towards your introverted nature when you were younger? And if so, how did you deal with it? I think the main thing that brings me down is my parents inability to accept me as I am. Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated :)

Zeri Kyd said...

Hi, Joanna. My family never outwardly expressed disappointment, per se, but there was clearly a lack of understanding about my behavior, particularly about my quietness and my tendency to go off on my own. More often, they would poke fun at me, or make snide remarks.

I wasn't sure how to deal with it back then, and so I would often do my best to ignore the jabs. But, of course, I certainly tried to explain myself now and then, especially when the opportunity seemed ripe.

Not knowing your parents' perspective, it's hard for me to give advice. If they don't accept you, maybe it's because they don't understand you. Sit with them one-on-one if you can, and have a conversation about it. I'd say that's probably the first step, if you haven't already taken it: tell them how you feel about their disappointment, and ask them what they're unhappy about. It's helpful to know where they're coming from in order to better explain your own perspective.

If all else fails, though, then all you can really do is tell them that you're happy with who you are and that you wish they would accept that. They're your family, after all, and they should be supportive. There's absolutely nothing about introversion to be disappointed about.

That's as honest as it gets. Afterwards, whether they accept you or not, you should at least feel proud of having stood up for yourself.

Best wishes!