Embracing My Introversion

on October 1 | in Psychology | by | with No Comments

Community can be different for introverts and extraverts.

Until age 59 I functioned as a flaming extravert, life-of-the-party kinda guy, but then I discovered who I really was: a strong introvert.   How is that even possible?   Because all those years I was way out of touch with my feelings, living in denial of the real me.  I wanted to be a somebody, and my path to somebodiness was being a leader, and I felt that leaders need to be emotionally healthy, and that emotionally healthy people are outgoing.

Living in an extravert-dominated society is hard for introverts, especially strong introverts, because introversion is not well understood, by extraverts, and also by many introverts.  Introversion is frequently confused with shyness, but an emotionally-healthy introvert is not at all shy.  Introverts thrive on solitude.   Extraverts thrive in social situations.  Many introverts have developed great social skills in order to succeed in Extravertland, but introverts need downtime, solitude, away-from-people time, to get their batteries recharged, so they can engage in the next social situation.   Extraverts think introverts don’t like people, are conceited, aloof, uncaring, unfriendly.   Not so.

The introvert brain works differently than the extravert brain, typically thinking more profoundly, needing more time to process before responding, so that spontaneous interaction is much more problematic/stressful for introverts.   The neural pathway is much longer for introverts, and much shorter for extraverts.  So extraverts thrive in spontaneous situations, such as face-to-face speaking, phoning, texting, but introverts thrive when there is time to process before responding, such as the writing required for email, message boards, articles.   Introverts tend to be bored with superficial discussion, preferring that which requires more thought.   More and more introverts are spending less time in extravert-forms of socialization, because it’s so exhausting, and many times, just plain boring.

So, what was it like for me, trying to be something I am not, from highschool until ten years ago at 59?  Unbelievably stressful.   People time requiring spontaneous interaction, all day, and people time requiring spontaneous interaction, every evening.  Not to mention our SIX kids.  My poor digestive tract.  Food, chemical, electromagnetic-field sensitivities galore.   Creating insomnia problems galore.  I learned that if I walked two miles in the evening, it helped my insomnia problem, because walking worked some of the adrenaline out of my body, built up from stressful workdays, and stressful evenings of volunteer work.

Discovering my introversion was a life-changing turning point for me.  When I was in my early fifties I’d taken the Myers-Briggs test, and tested strong extravert.   So when I was having lunch one day at age 59 with an friend who is a professional novelist, a guy I have a lot of respect for, he made some statement about introverts being superior to extraverts.  Hit me like a ton of bricks.   I’d always thought the opposite: that introversion is pathological, something to be pitied.  I asked him to unpack that, and he did.   And then he said, “I think YOU are an introvert, Dave.”  Shocked, I went home and googled “introvert”, and began studying the subject.   I would never have been able to open my mind to the possibility of me <shudder> being an introvert, a “loser”, if my friend hadn’t made it easier by making a case for the superiority of introversion, giving me permission for the first time, to be okay with the possibility.

Even so, I don’t think I would ever have been secure enough to even explore the possibility of me being an introvert, if I hadn’t gone through a discipling program, where my identity grew to be more rooted in who I am in Jesus, than in who I am as a performer/achiever/somebody.  This helped free me to look inside and explore the real me.

How has my life changed?  I’ve gone from being a phone-growing-out-of-my ear extravert, life-of-the-party kinda guy, to a RECLUSE.  I rarely engage people f2f (face to face), or by phone, rarely do social stuff, and even then, typically with family, and even then, much less than before.   I still mentor folks as a life coach, but I do it by email.   Many of the folks I mentor I’ve never met, never talked to by phone.  I used to be a world-class people pleaser, keenly interested in what others thought of me, but over the past ten years, I’ve become more and more indifferent, in a healthy way, to what others think of me.

As I’ve grown in self-awareness, I’ve also grown in self-acceptance, and while I’m still a dysfunctional man, I ain’t nearly as dysfunctional as I USEDTABE.

Because we introverts thrive with the written word, and because introversion is not well understood by extraverts, more and more introverts are getting their social needs met online, through online communities, and are spending less time face-to-face, than in years past.   True for me too.  Online relationships between introverts can be just as intimate and meaningful as any f2f relationship.  The Internet has been the greatest boon to the socialization of introverts, who formerly had no choice but to socialize in extravert ways, which led many to be more reclusive.

Because marriages between extraverts and introverts frequently are disasters, unless the extravert spouse has an understanding of, and respect for, introversion, our marriage could have been a disaster beginning at age 59, if my wife had not been open to her own hidden introversion.  The extravert spouse wants tons of face-to-face social, while the introvert spouse wants tons of quiet.  Introverts who come to discover who they are, typically find other introverts to marry the second time around.   Or they find an extravert who understands introversion, and doesn’t mind doing social stuff without the introvert spouse.  Fortunately for our marriage, we two strong introverts absolutely love our new reclusive lifestyle.   Extraverts, who need lots of external stimulation, might feel sorry for the seemingly-boring lives of Dave and Jan McCarty, but we’re laughing all the way to the, uh, er, not bank, but living room.

I still struggle to be myself in social gatherings, because it’s so knee-jerk/natural for me to be outgoing, from years of conditioning, and I still have superb social skills, although I’m using them less and less, and there is some atrophy, which bothers me not in the least.   But it’s hard for me to just sit quietly in a room full of people.  Perhaps it’s because I want others to feel at ease, and I’m good at putting people at ease.   But it’s also because, folks who’ve known me in the past, EXPECT me to be Mr. Social, and I think I sense their disappointment if I’m not the old me that they have come to love and enjoy.  It’s complicated.

I have never struggled with solitude.   I now realize, that I’ve always felt extremely comfortable, all alone.   I turn down offers to go motorcycle riding with others.  That’s an extravert thing.   See a solo rider on a beautiful weekend day: there’s an introvert for you.

Old friends and acquaintances are shocked with disbelief when they hear my story: Dave McCarty the consummate extravert, now a recluse.  They can’t get over it.  I still remain somewhat connected to many of them through Facebook, and many of them in deep ways, through email mentoring/relating.   If you’da told me forty-five years ago that I’d be living this kind of life, I would have laughed loudly.   But I’ve never been so happy and fulfilled.

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