It’s a Tough World for Introverts

Many writers claim to be introverts. J.K. Rowling is one. She came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series while alone on a train that was delayed for four hours. And there are plenty of others like the famous poet and recluse Emily Dickinson and the melancholy alcoholic Edgar Allen Poe.

I’m no exception. I much prefer to hide in a corner, rather than socialize at a party. I love to spend time observing the lady in front of me in the grocery store, rather than making conversation with her. I enjoy listening to my family or friends talk and not saying a blessed word. My favorite moments in life are when I am curled up on the couch with a good book, or when I am alone in a coffee shop–just me and my tablet (and a tall vanilla chai tea latte, of course).

Oddly enough, no one believes this. My kids accuse me of gabbing too long after church on Sunday. My friends joke that I drill newcomers with twenty questions. People I don’t know often comment on how outgoing I am.

The first time I attended my writer’s group meeting one of the members shouted across the lunch table, “Gee, Amanda, you’re not shy, are you?” She said it as a complement, letting me know that she thought it was great how easily I fit in among the group. And it did make me feel good. But I also knew I was faking it.

Extroverts rewarded
Like most introverts living in America, I learned the lesson early that being quiet doesn’t generate rewards. The most popular girl in my first grade class and through most of grade school was also one of the most talkative. I still remember how she introduced herself to each of us on the first day of school. I remember it, because I yearned to be more like her.

Later on, that same girl rallied the class to catch a teacher who was fainting. About half my classmates jumped up to join her, saving the teacher before she hit the ground, while I sat dumbly in my chair, watching. This incident has bothered me ever since. Why did I sit and stare when I could have jumped up to help? What a horrible reaction.

The answer, according to Marti Olsen Laney, author of The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, it turns out, is a psychological trait I share with other introverts. According to Olsen Laney, if you have a stand-still reaction to emergency situations and tend to shut-down or react in slow motion, you are most likely an introvert.

In high school, I envied the kids who joked and told funny stories. They always seemed to be running through the classroom, laughing loudly with all the other students trailing in their wake, rather than sitting quietly in home room like me. How did they have the confidence to do this–to know that whatever they said would generate a laugh? And where did they get their energy?

How I longed to be a social butterfly, receiving frequent phone calls and party invitations and greeting strangers like old friends.

I always dreaded the awkward pause when meeting someone for the first time and neither one knows quite what to say next. Today, I find myself filling that silence with nonsense to put the other party at ease.

The outgoing girls were the ones who were cheerleaders and got asked to Prom. They had big bubble handwriting and everyone wanted to hang around them. They were the ones that seemed to enjoy life and have fun. Why couldn’t I be more like them?

Why, indeed.

Learned behavior
When I arrived at college, a shy freshman with little social grace, I determined I would change. I would “learn” to be more outgoing. I would start speaking up, even when I didn’t want to. I would force myself to go to parties. I would initiate friendships, rather than wait to be asked. I would go on friendly dates although I didn’t feel like it. I would join new groups and make myself mingle, although I often was afraid.

The weird thing about forcing yourself to conquer a habit or fear? It works.

People began to view me as outgoing. Over time, I grew more confident in social settings. In the work world, I became more assertive in groups, expressing my opinions, which led to leadership roles and assignments. I took the plunge to start my own website and blog about my life. (I still can’t tell a joke. But that’s a topic for another blog.)

I guess it’s true what they say–we make our own reality. But inside, where it counts, I’m still that shy girl who prefers my own thoughts and company. Whose parents scolded her for always having a book in her hands and being too sedentary. I still need plenty of time between social gatherings to recharge my battery, although my life situation and many responsibilities don’t provide it.

In researching this topic, I discovered a new term for people like me: ambiverts.

Ambiverts are a mix of the two–the middle ground. Although the article didn’t state it, I think ambiverts are introverts who have “learned” to be extroverts.

We pay a high price, we ambiverts. It exhausts us to always be making and talking. I often feel like a faker. I find myself wondering why more people don’t see through the clever conversation as a learned device. And then I think… maybe they do.

When I told my family over breakfast that I was going to blog about being an introvert, my children groaned loudly. “Mom, you are not an introvert. Why do you always say that?”

My mother-in-law who had joined us, agreed: “No, I don’t see you as an introvert.”

Only my husband, a strong extrovert and long time member of the ‘Yes, dear’ club, nodded his head wisely. “Yep, she’s an introvert.”

Poor man has had to deal with my regular scolding: Don’t talk to me for at least one hour after I wake up in the morning.

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