Monday, December 9, 2013

Being an introvert

I have always known that I'm an introvert. I probably first learned this concept as a teenager, and it explained a lot about my feelings and preferences. I have been thinking about this again recently, and one aspect of being an introvert makes sense of a lot of my experiences: the idea that introverts have their energy drained in social situations and replenished when they are alone.

Throughout my life I have found social gatherings exhausting. At school and university, I sought solitude during the breaks, when other people sought social interactions. To get through the day I needed to spend time alone. This is now true when I'm at conferences.

This preference made my three experiences of working in an office difficult (each job lasted less than a year), and had a strong influence on my decision to work from home. I feel very fortunate that I have a profession where working from home is the norm.

My preferred form of socializing is in groups of up to 4-5 people, preferably somewhere quiet where we can talk. I have largely avoided going to parties since about 7th grade. My discomfort in crowds has meant that I have been to very few rock concerts or demonstrations. The desire to see my favourite bands play live or to support good causes is usually outweighed by my knowledge of how the crowd would make me feel.

Looking back, I now realize that much of what I found difficult when I moved to Israel at the age of 9 was not acclimatization problems or a culture clash, but just another expression of the introversion. I tried to fit in with my peers, but often social gatherings or parties ended with me in tears, for reasons that I couldn't explain. I was something of an outcast and a loner throughout school and university, but I now realize that this was just as true before I came to Israel. I used to think I didn't fit in because I was different, being half-English and half-Israeli, so I couldn't belong fully to either culture. In fact, it was something more primal in my nature, and would probably have been expressed no matter what circumstances I encountered.

Being introverted is not the same as being shy. I have worked hard over the past years to overcome my shyness, so that I no longer expect to be rejected or ignored by other people, and also so I don't care so much what others think of me. This has been a very important step for me. However, I don't know if or how the introversion can be changed. When I try to go outside my comfort zone, I inevitably end up feeling uncomfortable! Perhaps introversion is an innate tendency, while shyness was something I learned and had to unlearn.

I think extreme introversion like mine is a problem, because I believe human beings are social animals, and we find meaning in life through our interactions with other humans. Everything that people do that makes their lives meaningful has some relation to other people. This includes family interactions like raising children, caring for ageing parents, and of course intimacy with a partner. Our work is done to be of some benefit to other people, and our creative lives are intended to have some influence on an audience. Our ideals and values reflect what we consider to be the best way for human beings to live.

In this respect, I am fortunate to have a close relationship with my husband and family, and my work and my creative writing give meaning to my life and benefit other people without forcing me to spend hours in the company of others each day.

Western society seems to be biased towards extroversion. There is an expectation that people "should" be social, and loners are often treated with suspicion and/or pity. I imagine that many people are introverts without being aware of this, not understanding why social situations are so difficult for them, perhaps accepting the judgment of others or even feeling guilty for not wanting to socialize. I hope this can change. Awareness of the differences between introverts and extraverts should be raised, and society needs to find ways to value and nurture both types of people and allow them to live fulfilling lives.