One afternoon at work, I was sitting alone in the corner of my office kitchen, reading a book. I was on my lunch break, and as always, I was determined to not waste a single minute of it. It’s my one precious hour I get every day where I come as close as I possibly can to relaxing alone and recharging my energy.
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. They weren’t necessarily saying anything bad, and I believe their curiosity about me was innocent. That being said, it never ceases to amaze me how personally people take things — in particular, how I often choose to spend my lunch break (and other times) alone.
But as an introvert, my need for alone time has nothing to do with my coworkers — or anyone else, for that matter. Here’s why.
It Doesn’t Mean I’m Rejecting You
If I turn someone down for a get-together or a hang-out session, I know I’m going to be in for, at best, some light teasing, or at worst, hurt feelings and a fight. Of course, my response is always the same — that as an introvert, I just need some time alone — but that’s usually followed by a look of hurt or rejection.
I cannot seem to win these battles. Sure, I could push myself past my limits and spend more time with people even though it drains me, physically and mentally. But who does that really benefit? Not me, because I’ll probably just be looking for every excuse in the world to leave when my “introvert battery” runs dry. It won’t benefit the other person either, because trust me, I’ll be anything but fun and energetic when that happens.
My need for alone time 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 to socializing, because hanging out with friends can be fun, but I regrettably said no simply because I knew I had hit my social limits, and anything more would push me over the edge into complete and utter exhaustion.
It’s Not Exactly My Choice
Another thing to remember is that my need for alone time is not exactly a choice. And that’s science talking, not me.
According to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney in The Introvert Advantage, introversion and extroversion mainly boil down to this: dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter found in the brain that’s sometimes described as the “pleasure molecule.” Simply put, it’s involved in pushing you to seek rewards and helping you feel pleasure. When something makes you experience a positive emotion, dopamine essentially sounds the alarm to urge you to get more of that.
Here’s the thing: according to Laney, introverts have a higher sensitivity to dopamine compared to extroverts. We don’t need quite as much of it to become stimulated. In fact, too much of it can quickly become overwhelming introverts. By contrast, extroverts can tolerate a “larger dose” — 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 quicker and then need to back off, even when they’re having fun.
Please Understand and Accept Introverts
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 extroverts, so I’m (unfortunately) very used to others being baffled by me.
I also don’t mind because I know it’s normal for people to wonder about things they don’t understand or can’t relate to. Honestly, even though I know the science behind it, I don’t quite understand how extroverts manage to operate the way they do. Sometimes it still seems so foreign to me.
However, this is why I enjoy writing about introversion and sharing my experiences, because 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 about spending time alone — whether on my lunch break, the weekend, or any other time I need to recharge my energy. And the people in my life won’t have to feel rejected when I decline a social invitation. We’ll both understand and accept that it’s all a natural part of being an introvert.
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.
And so can you! Share with your friends, family, and coworkers about your introversion. The more you do, the more you can help make the world a little better for all of us “quiet ones.
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