This past summer I had a social anxiety attack of the kind I haven’t experienced for a while. I received a perfectly lovely invitation to a gathering, which I accepted with pleasure – and then found myself on the day of the event almost paralyzed with consternation. I wasn’t sure I could handle meeting new people, making light conversation, eating moderate quantities of picnic food. A friend of mine encouraged me to try to be of service – after all, the point of attending the party was to celebrate with friends, not obsess about my own comfort or lack thereof. It was an excellent suggestion, but I would not say that I followed it successfully.

This kind of thing disappoints me. It’s like there’s a barrier between me and other people sometimes that I can’t seem to pierce. Or maybe I only have a limited amount of “parking spaces” dedicated to social interaction in my brain?

Take blogging, for example. As I blog I enter a rapidly flowing river of self-expression – mine and thousands of others – the point of which is, in part, conversation. Back-and-forth. But I find that I don’t read many blogs (ugh, sorry everyone); I don’t necessarily return the blogging favor. I am an antisocial blogger.

Well, to be kinder, I’m an introvert – one of those people who recharges in solitude rather than in crowds. I get overwhelmed easily and, let’s be honest, the amount of stimulus available on the Web confounds understanding. Lots of days I can appreciate this introverted quality in myself, but sometimes, in this very extroverted world, it just feels like a handicap.

Author Susan Cain has written a whole book about this very thing called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” In an interview with National Public Radio in January she said: “Many people believe that introversion is about being antisocial, and that’s really a misperception. Because actually it’s just that introverts are differently social. So they would prefer to have a glass of wine with a close friend as opposed to going to a loud party full of strangers.”

Word.

In college once I agreed to try something called “open air preaching,” that is, standing on the grass in the courtyard of my dorm and, in an outside voice, trying to start a conversation with passing students about the spiritual life. (I cringe when I think of this now, because I absolutely loathe being accosted by strangers trying to engage me in some unsolicited exchange.)

Wow, was I happy when that was over and I could retire to my cinder block room up on the fourth floor. I suppose it was good to try it, because how else could I have discovered that that kind of gig just wasn’t for me? (At the time, the Meyers-Briggs thingy also helped me understand myself better. When I did the questionnaire, I came out an INFJ — not exactly a pulpit-pounding type.)

So what about you, dear readers? Introvert or extrovert – and do you fight it or feed it?

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About Kate

Things are weird in the wide world -- and like everyone else, most days I'm used to it. But to shake things up for myself, I like to notice and write about stuff that strikes me as both beautiful and strange, fascinating and repulsive, sweet and sour -- like how the steamy, stinky air that comes up from the BART vents at 16th Street Mission reminds me of being twenty-two, apparently immortal, and in love.

6 responses »

  1. As usual.. a great post Kate and one that deserves more attention. I am both intro and extro. I love to be around people but I hit a wall around an hour and half and have to retreat to someplace quiet. My partner, because she knows that I have lots of people in my life that like to talk and talk and talk gave me some business sized cards that say “Stop Talking.” I’ve yet to use them, but they give me a chuckle every time I am in a situation where I could use them. My learning is to gracefully let people know that I’m done listening!

  2. deborahkuehner@yahoo.com says:

    OMG, the open-air preaching thing. Good for you… but, I think I can safely say it’s not for me, even without having tried it. I think it took me about 40 years to fully embrace my introversion and see it for the strength it is rather than something to be fought or compensated for. Likewise, when I see my 7-year-old contentedly hanging by herself at a social gathering, I’m learning to leave her alone for goodness’ sake. I’m glad for a world that has both I’s and E’s. The best, of course, are INFJs. ;-)

    • Kate says:

      Can you imagine? What was I thinking?
      It does take a while to come to some peace about introversion and stop thinking that one “should” be more extroverted. INFJ’s ROCK!

  3. Debbie Gilman says:

    Proudly introverted.

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