I am an introvert. Mostly.
The line dividing introverted and extroverted natures in most of us is grey and a bit blurry. It’s a sliding scale, each of us placed somewhere along it.
Our ‘way of being’ can and does change throughout our lives and during certain situations too, so this can mean it’s hard to pinpoint where you fall on that introverted/extroverted line.
I would not have described myself as an introvert 5 to 10 years ago. My final years at school and my first few years into ‘adulthood’ were filled with excitable chattering, going to parties and festivals without hesitation, joining in with group activities, and doing it all with a happy confidence.
But I became burnt out quickly, and slowly my likes and dislikes began to change.
I found I had different needs and wants. I was no longer a night owl, but started to enjoy quiet mornings and time to myself. I would only listen to mellow music, or none at all. I preferred going for walks alone and I'd choose to stay in rather than go out, only hanging out with one friend at a time rather than a whole group. I listened more and spoke less. I became gentle and noticed more in my surroundings.
This change did not happen over-night, as changes rarely do, and it was a long time before I realised just how much I had shifted from my younger self. I started to feel uncomfortable being around anything that wasn’t quiet and calm. This became such a habit of avoidance that made life stressful, I started to wonder if something was wrong with me.
Many people question when others are quiet. They notice the ones sat on their own at parties and point out that they are not joining in.
When other people did notice me and questioned my actions, or lack of, I found it hard to respond. I didn’t mind that they were more boisterous or lively, so why did they seem to mind?
I was fine being left alone, but I started to realise that people who are more extroverted simply want everyone to be having a good time like they are, and quiet people can come across moody or 'unsociable'. It can be difficult to understand that there are many forms of ‘having a good time’, especially as we are living in a world that is mainly designed for extroverted people, and that creates more spaces where extroverted people feel more comfortable.
If you are the life and soul of a party and you see someone sitting by themselves, don't worry! Often these people are content by themselves or talking quietly with one other person.
Of course, sometimes, they’d rather not be there at all. Sometimes they are thinking longingly of an exit strategy as many social situations are geared towards loud and action packed activities. The thought of a hot cup of tea and a good book draws many introverted minds away from the crowd and wondering how long they should stay until they can politely leave the ‘fun’.
I know this, because I have been the quiet ‘unusual’ person at many gatherings and was more often than not simply content to socialise with the household cat rather than with the other guests.
This isn’t to say that sometimes introverts can’t have extroverted moments, or that some extroverts can’t be mellow and quiet. It’s my view that we all have both sides within us, and our ways of being fall somewhere between the two on any given day.
The process of living requires change, it naturally is change. So much of who we become happens so incredibly slowly, that we’re hardly aware of it taking place.
Attaching labels (such as ‘introvert’ or ‘extrovert’) can seemed final, with no room for development or to evolve. They can feel restricting. But they can be useful and very much needed too.
If you describe yourself as an extrovert, you immediately have a long list of attributes which you can use to your advantage; confident, out-going, social, uninhibited.
Of course, there are disadvantages too. Everyone is made up of many characteristics, some more desirable than others. The problem is, that ‘introverted’ attributes are not so widely valued or socially acceptable.
I hadn't thought in that much depth about the characteristics of introverts and extroverts until reading the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
In her book, Cain explains how, especially in Western cultures, often introverted qualities are underestimated and cast aside, leaving many introverted people undervalued and never fulfilling their talents due to trying to fit into an extroverted world. Square peg, round hole.
Cain draws on most aspects of life; family and romantic relationships, school and education, working environments, and social situations. She gives in-depth explanations on issues people face as well as where strengths lie in being both introverted and extroverted.
She sets up a powerful message to everyone; we all have qualities and gifts that can be explored and utilised, but never ignored, stifled, or taken for granted. And what are considered ‘down sides’ of either way of being can be turned into a positive, depending on your perspective. It also shows that how we choose to narrate ourselves and our own characteristics can play a huge role in how we are perceived.
This book is heartfelt and passionate, as well as being a strong academic read with well researched data. It definitely opened my eyes to my introverted nature and spoke to my extroverted side too. It allowed me to see all my attributes as qualities and become comfortable with them, without needing to choose.
It’s been amazingly useful in understanding who I am, what my needs are, and how I can interact and be successful, without getting burnt out trying to catch up when being extroverted all the time is clearly not in my nature.
This book has helped me to not overlook my own skills, or those of others, just because they don't fall into the category of being 'extroverted'. And to see how I can use my introverted qualities to contribute and be of service. I’ve found so much joy in my own sense of ‘quiet’, and now really appreciate this part of myself.
There is strength in every way of being, and we are all so much more than one thing.
It can help to identify where you are on the scale, but if you’re not sure and you feel you move between both ends, then don’t worry. You’re fine as you are, in being what feels natural, and you never, ever, have to compare yourself to anyone else.
For those of you who do identify strongly as being introverted, then yes, you may find yourself living in a space directed towards extroverted people, but you have a lot to offer the world too and there is space for you. Use up the room that is for you, and don’t hide away from the qualities you do have. They will serve you, and all aspects of your life in the long run.
I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t really matter where you are on the scale between being introverted or extroverted. You are somewhere on that line, and you have power to embrace wherever that may be.