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.”
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?