Introverts endure a large amount of blanket labeling. Most of the time, we just let it go. We may shrug and silently correct you in our heads, but we probably won’t challenge you by saying, “Well, actually…” We figure most people won’t get it anyway.
As a result, myths about us remain. So in this article, I’d like to clear up three of the most common misconceptions I encounter when I talk about my introversion:
1. Introverts hate going out.
The basic core of introversion means that we create energy internally, and when we’re around others, we are quickly drained of our precious supply. Contrast this with extroverts, who draw their energy from external sources and thrive on being around others. If you remember nothing else about introversion, remember this, because it explains everything else.
This means that if we are in any situation whatsoever that requires us to interact with another person, we have a limited supply of energy to give them. Eventually we will crave the moment when we can slog into a room alone and plug our introvert charging cables in, so to speak. We have to ration our energy to keep the supply and demand in balance.
Introverts don’t hate going out. In fact, I love doing things like going to movies and having dinner with my husband. I even love going to “extroverted” events, like music festivals, on occasion. Although I don’t go out of my way to make friends with strangers while I’m there (they couldn’t hear me anyway), I like to people watch and enjoy other forms of pleasing entertainment, like music.
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And yet you offer to bring us to a New Year’s Eve bash at your sister’s house and we reply with an automatic but firm, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Chances are, if we immediately turn you down, it’s because we know we are going to end up overstimulated. It is not because we wouldn’t love to meet your sister or we don’t want to “have a good time.” It’s because we can already foresee the number of people who will be coming at us to introduce themselves and talk and ask questions, and it’s just too much.
2. If you’re an introvert, it means you’re shy.
On the first day of my new job, I sat in my boss’ office as she gave me a rundown of what I could expect. After that, she gave me something akin to a look of pity and said, “Well, all of your old bosses warned me that you’re shy.”
I didn’t respond to her comment (which probably confirmed what she had decided about me), because there was nothing I could say. I could have said, “Well, actually…” then explained how I’m an introvert which means I draw my energy internally, how it is easily depleted, and so on. But what was the use? I had already been labeled as something, even before I had the chance to get to know my environment and coworkers.
Shyness means you have a fear of negative judgment. Let’s say you are walking confidently to the front of your class to make a speech. You are well-prepared and have a passion for your subject. But on the way up, you accidentally stumble over your feet and land on your knees with a thud, which causes your class to burst into laughter. You get up and continue to the front, but you can feel the redness creeping into your cheeks and your confidence waning. The other students are probably looking at you and thinking things like “klutz” or “clumsy.” Now you’re feeling a little shyer than you were because you have been negatively judged for something, and you fear further judgment. Shyness can be felt by anyone and for any reason. Even extroverts can be shy. It has nothing to do with your temperament.
3. Introverts hate people.
This is the biggie and definitely the one I hear the most. That’s probably because introverts themselves help perpetuate this. We are the ones who share memes on Facebook about avoiding people at all costs (I definitely do that). Honestly, we think it’s pretty funny and even just the thought of one people-less day gives us a warm feeling inside.
So this means we hate people? Certainly not. The explanation for this is simple and boils down to our original and most important lesson about introversion: We have a limited supply of energy that is drained by being around others. We have to be choosy for our own health and wellness.
Think of it this way: You want to get into better shape so you start jogging. You’ve just gotten to where you can jog around the block, and though it ends with you panting and desperate for water, you feel good about the accomplishment. Then your friend, a veteran runner, asks you to join her for marathon training on her usual 15 mile run. More than likely, you blanch and sputter and politely decline while explaining that you’d like to get one mile down first before you even think of running three miles, let alone more.
This is what it feels like when introverts think about being around people. What would happen if you decided to try the 15 mile run anyway, even though you know you are pushing yourself way beyond what you can handle? How long would you last, grinding through pain and tears, before you collapse from exhaustion? Just like you would have to work yourself through training, one mile at a time, introverts have to work ourselves through this world one person at a time. It is not because we hate people. We’re not party poopers. And it’s not that we “don’t know how to have a good time.” It is for one simple reason: exhaustion is hell.
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