Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How To Lose An Introvert

Understand this: when an introvert is lost, it's usually in thought.

I imagine a scene like the following:

You, the introvert, are talking with a group of people, but you gradually recede into your head. The conversation continues while you process unrelated phenomena, facial expressions, body language, and the random bits of conversation that you are able to pick up. Without your noticing, the conversation eventually becomes about you.

"His eyes are glazed over," someone says.

"I think we're losing him," says another.

"Doctor," says yet another, "he's crashing! We need to resuscitate!"

Believe it: this kind of thing happens every day.

For as long as I can remember, I've had a habit of retreating inside myself -- not retreating because of some threat, but rather because it's where I go naturally. There's comfort inside. Thoughts become real there. Problems are solved there. And something there pulls me into myself, like gravity.

But sometimes the cause of my retreat is external. It always took very little prodding to send me back into myself.

Growing up, I noticed that certain situations would send me there more quickly than others. Personal remarks about me, especially, would trigger a retreat. For some reason, evaluating the truth of the remarks was a compulsion; I needed to understand why things were being said about me. Or I needed to understand something else about the situation. Being in large social gatherings would usually send me there, as well. I'd try to join in and follow along, but very soon I'd find myself failing. I would eventually conclude that I was being over-stimulated: there was just too much going on for me to process it all. Talk became noise. Faces became blurred. Or maybe I was simply too slow.

But after all these years, I've noticed a trend. There are certain kinds of statements, and certain kinds of situations, that will cause me to become lost in my own head. Some things incite me to dive into thought, and that's when I get lost. In fact, it's easy to lose an introvert.

Here's how:

  • Ask him how he feels, or whether he's happy, or ask some otherwise personal question, especially in a public setting
  • Tell him how he feels, or what he is, or who he is
  • Embarrass him
  • Judge him, or tell him that he's being evaluated
  • Have an argument, either with him or within close proximity to him
  • Bring a large gathering of people over to him and commence a conversation (or simply have everyone sing to him)

If he's not lost within moments of any of these events, he soon will be. And it will probably take some time for him to recover. If your goal is to witness an introvert becoming lost, these things will usually do the trick.

All joking aside, however, I have developed some defenses over the years; I'm guessing that most introverts have. When I was young, I would simply recede without understanding why. Since then, I've figured out ways to avoid sinking into my head. I decided at some point that I needed to remain present and available to interact with people, though it wasn't easy to adjust.

My primary defense is actually embarrassing to admit: Whenever I'm with a large group of people, I often only "half listen" to the various conversations. Terrible, I know. I block out the noise, as if I'm speed-reading. I don't even hear much of what's being said -- which is an entirely different problem, of course, but frequently an unimportant one, since much of what people say tends to be filler. What I've noticed is that I can usually pick up on the things that I should be listening to. I can usually tell when someone is being sincere, or serious, or genuine. I can tell when it's not just filler, in other words. I do worry that I miss a lot by defending myself, and I'm ashamed about not being fully there for others, but it's what I've needed in order to cope.

It's what I do in order not to get lost. Or at least not too lost.

A secondary defense is to do what other people do: provide filler. To (more or less) provide meaningless answers. It's something that goes against my nature, and it's a method that I rarely employ, but it's the simplest way to respond. It's the simplest way to remain on the surface, and to remain present, even if it never feels right. Unfortunately, since this tactic doesn't come naturally, I sometimes stumble with words while in the process of trying to use it.

On the flip side, I only use these defenses when I need to. When I'm with a friend or in an intimate setting, I always try to be fully there. I always try to be completely honest and genuine. Most likely, I'm even more fully there and more intensely in tune with the conversation than the friend that I'm with. It's one of the markers of being introverted. We excel during small gatherings.

In any case, despite how easy it is to lose an introvert, I don't really recommend it. Instead, try to keep him there with you. It's surely worthwhile.

End note: I'm guessing there are many other ways to lose an introvert. If you'd like to offer any up, please do. I'd enjoy receiving them.


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