I had a conversation recently with an old friend from high school. He said that he would have never pegged me for an introvert. I was a cheerleader, in the band, and in all of the high school plays – it didn't make sense.
Since that conversation, I've given a lot of thought to the way I was then and the way I am now (almost 30 years later). The truth is, I'm the same person. I've always had an introverts mind. I spent all of my younger years trying to fit in, not even realizing that I was an introvert and that the way I felt was OK. All of the social activity drained me and I spent lots of time alone in my room when not in school or participating in some extracurricular event. My family was baffled by me a lot of the time, wondering why I was so quiet and reclusive when at home. None of us realized that I was only an introvert – no big deal.
Introverts get a fair amount of bad press. The word “introvert” has come to have some fairly negative meanings associated with it, all of them I might add, are incorrect. The idea of an introvert being a painfully shy person who is socially inept, nerdy, and possibly psychopathic is false. Certainly introverts can be painfully shy, socially inept, nerdy and even psychopathic, but so can extroverts. Those things are not intrinsically related to introversion. So what is an introvert?
At the simplest, an introvert is a person who recharges his or her “batteries” either alone, or very peacefully in the presence of a few people that he or she feels comfortable with. We need peace, quiet and calm to recenter ourselves and re-energize ourselves. That's what an introvert is a the most basic level. Extroverts on the other hand, recharge in the presence of people and activity.
Building upon that description, research has shown that the mind of an introvert works differently than the mind of an extrovert. Introverts have more pronounced activity in the parts of the brain that deal with long term memory, planning, complex thinking and organizing. Our introverted mind is always turning and running and because of this, we need very little outside stimulation. The extrovert's brain has more pronounced activity in the areas associated with sensing and processing information from the outside. That's why extroverts seek outside stimulation.
Have you even noticed how an introverted person prefers to be on the fringe of activity, observing? You'll see this in introverted kids, and it's important to allow them to observe and decide whether to join or not join on their own. Have you even wondered why we say so little and share so little about ourselves when we're with people we don't know or aren't yet comfortable with? Or wondered why we seem aloof at times? It's because those with an introverted mind and personality always want to observe and listen before we make a decision to get in the middle of anything – including a conversation. We aren't big talkers unless you get us started on something we're really passionate about, and small talk is not even on our radar (although the smart introvert will learn how to small talk as a necessary social ritual). Our natural tendency is to be more reserved in most situations than extroverts. And we prefer communications that are direct and no-nonsense.
The world is made up mostly of extroverts – about 75% of the human population. That leaves the other 25% or so as introverts. While cast as the consummate loner, most introverts are not shy, but are also not terribly interested in constant interaction. We value our privacy and our quiet time, and need it to keep ourselves in balance. We act the way we do because it's natural for us to do so. It's natural for extroverts to act as they do. Neither is right or wrong, better or worse. They both just are.
Lee Ann Lambert is a busy freelance writer and introvert. She is currently working on her first book: The Introverts Handbook: Learning to Embrace the Quiet Life Without Guilt. Visit her blog at Living Introverted.