"Fear of others is part of what makes us human. But I hope it goes some way toward explaining why extroversion is not a byword for bulletproof." Photo: Stocksy
The introvert craze began in 2012 when Susan Cain gave her TED talk
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and released a best-selling book of the same name. Cain made an important point: most modern institutions are geared toward extroversion, which means introverts are underrated, under-used and even demonised. But their skill-set is not only valuable, it's sometimes exactly what the world needs. Cain's message quickly ping-ponged its way around the internets, the way these hot topics do. (Especially when, ahem, most writers identify as introverted.) There was The Upside of Being an Introvert , The Secret Power of Introverts .
But while everyone was dissecting what it means to have no time for face time, introversion became conflated with sensitivity. And creativity. And careful intelligence. As if introversion was a magical giftedness, normally only found in Salinger novels and Wes Anderson movies. And, at long last, found in you.
Psychotherapist Carl Jung, who pioneered this whole introvert/extrovert thing, always said it was not a binary deal, as Cain herself has admitted. Introversion runs on a spectrum. In other words, you're not introverted all day every day, circling a pond in the wilderness, thinking profundities about Thoreau.
So on behalf of all of us loudmouth extroverts: I GET IT GUYS! Sorry - I'll whisper: I get it! You're tired of being overlooked because you can't make the first move. You're tired of forced fun in the office. You're tired of stammering your way through presentations. Well, guess what? Most of us extroverts are tired of those things too. Scoring even 95% on the extrovert scale does not render a person utterly fearless - because nobody is! Extroverts suffer social anxiety. We even suffer regular old anxiety! We get butterflies before we step up to speak in public. We're not always in the mood to dance.
The difference is that our need to connect with others, (and ok, perform. All right, fine - show-off) is greater than our need to keep to ourselves. As Cain pointed out, shyness, which is the fear of judgment from others, and introversion, which is the need for less stimulation from people, are not the same thing. So to those who don't like getting out amongst it, telling themselves they prefer social media because they're introverted, I have a point to make. Do you know what's on social media? PEOPLE. Are you still sure you're introverted? Or is it just plain old fear?
It's ok, I'm not condemning anyone. Fear of others is part of what makes us human. But I hope it goes some way toward explaining why extroversion is not a byword for bulletproof. Do you think we don't ever worry what people think about us? Do you think we don't regret over-sharing? WELL WE DO. Sorry, I'm up in your face again. But those who believe otherwise are confusing extroversion with idiocy.
I know how it happened, though. It's because anyone who identifies as introverted needs time to 'get away' and 'reflect'. So, introverts concluded that extroverts never reflect. They just blurt shit out and shrug about it, while laughing, probably with a mouth full of hot dog. Please allow me to disabuse you of this notion. Not only do extroverts spend time reflecting alone, (remember, nobody is wholly extroverted). But they do their reflecting with others, too. The advantage of this is that you get feedback from an actual person, instead of staying on loop inside your head. When I experience what fellow extrovert and academic, Alecia Simmonds, calls 'extrovert's remorse' I know that the quickest way to assuage my shame is to ask the question out loud "Did I really tell that man to take his entitled male privilege to some other rodeo?"
The other reason extroverts have a reputation for being gum-smacking, shallow a-holes is that we like to talk through everything, even stuff we don't understand. So, sometimes you're hearing from a dumb extrovert. This has led to the misguided belief that we speak first, think later, if at all. Uh, wrong! It's just that we talk more, so we expose our stupidity more often. Some introverts are dumb as a box of dung, but because you remain silent, everyone assumes you have the answer. OH I have seen it in many a work meeting! I'M ON TO YOU!
Okay, sorry – that was aggressive. It's just that extroverts have feelings too and we're tired of being thought of as gauche just because we like connecting. Look at this blog entry, entitled 'Sociopath or just Extravert' (sic). I mean, we might babble on but we're still sensitive. As one commenter from the article's discussion thread pointed out:
'Lol ... Extroverts are not more confident, they're just more social.'
So, introverts, draw in a little closer. Don't worry, I won't hug you. Just as we have been taught not judge you guys for dodging eye-contact, it's my hope that you won't judge us for screaming 'HOW ARE YOU?!' while you're nose-deep in a book. Because when you greet us with that fearful gaze, we feel bad. And I'm sorry in advance, but we're going to tell you all about it.