On one particular afternoon at work, I sat in the farthest part of my office kitchen, reading a book. I was on my lunch hour and, as always, I was determined not to waste a single minute of it. This was my one precious hour that I get every day where I come as close as I possibly can to being alone.
As I was sitting there, I couldn’t help but overhear a couple of my coworkers talking about me at the next table. The only thing I heard clearly was, “She’s so quiet.”
That’s very true, as an introvert, I am quiet. There was nothing bad said, and I believe human curiosity about others is a very normal and innocent thing. That being said, it never ceases to amaze me how personally people take things. In particular, the times I choose to spend alone.
My Need For Alone Time Has Nothing to Do With Anyone Else
If I turn someone down for a get-together or hang-out session, I know I’m going to be in for, at best, some teasing or, at worst, a fight. Of course, my response is always the same — that I just need some time alone — but that is usually followed up by a look of hurt or rejection.
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I cannot seem to win in these situations. Sure, I could push myself past my limits and spend more time with people even though I don’t want to. But who does that really benefit? Not me, because I’ll be looking for every excuse in the world to leave. It won’t benefit the other person either, because I will be anything but fun and energetic.
My need for alone time actually has nothing to do with anyone else. It has to do with only one person — me.
It doesn’t mean I don’t value your company, or I don’t like you, or I’m rejecting you. There have been times when I wanted to say yes, because hanging out with friends can be fun, but I regrettably said no simply because I knew I was at my limit.
My Need For Alone Time Is Not a Choice
Another thing to remember is that my alone time is not a choice. It’s really not. What makes me so sure? Well, science says so. According to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney in The Introvert Advantage, introversion and extroversion mainly boil down to this: dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in your brain that helps regulate your pleasure center. Simply put, it helps you feel good. Whenever something makes you experience a positive emotion, dopamine sounds the alarm to urge you to get more of that.
Here’s the thing: introverts have a higher sensitivity to dopamine. We don’t need quite as much to become stimulated and can become overwhelmed rather easily. By contrast, extroverts need a larger dose in order to really feel good, and they get that by seeking out as many people and exciting situations as possible to really get their “buzz” going. And we can’t blame them, because who doesn’t want to feel good?
Also, think of it this way: extroverts can soak up stimulation and just keep going back for more. Introverts? Not so much. They reach their limit and then need to back off, even when they’re having fun.
Understanding Introverts Better Will Lead to More Acceptance
For me, overhearing people ask or wonder about me, like my coworkers did, is pretty normal. I happen to have been raised in a family of primarily extroverts, so I am very used to others being baffled by me.
I also don’t mind, because I know it’s normal to wonder about something that you simply don’t understand. Honestly, even though I know the science behind it, I don’t quite understand how extroverts manage to operate the way they do. It is just so foreign to me.
However, this is why I enjoy writing and contributing the things that I do, because I believe more knowledge and understanding will lead to more acceptance over time. More acceptance on both sides means that, eventually, I won’t have to feel guilty and the people in my life won’t have to feel rejected when I decline a social invitation. We will both understand that it is all part of the natural order of who we are.
I’m not going to lie. Most days, it feels like I live in a world full of extroverts who are destined to misjudge me for the rest of my life. But I know that’s not true, and I know that I can help spread the word.
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Image credit: Shutterstock/Peter Bernik