Introvert Extremism

Have you ever misinterpreted something or taken it to an unhealthy extreme? It’s easy to do this with religion or politics, but what about less-controversial topics? What about the theory of introversion and extroversion? Can that be taken to an unhealthy extreme? At first glance, this topic seems harmless. In my life, however, it wasn’t.

During the last few years, I’ve done a lot of reading on introversion and extroversion, particularly as it relates to “the power of introverts.” I devoured every word of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, as it gradually became my “bible.”

At first, I felt empowered. Finally someone was giving a voice to the culturally-marginalized of America. No longer did I feel guilty for being quiet and loving solitude. No longer did I feel obligated to conform to the cultural imperative of extroversion. I was finally becoming comfortable with the way God made me, and the unique strengths that coincide with the gift of introversion.

However, what began as a loving acceptance of myself, slowly morphed into close-mindedness. Somehow, I forgot about the notion of the introvert-extrovert spectrum, and opted for a perspective more black-and-white. As far as I was concerned, I was pretty much 99% introvert.

The problem with this perspective is that there truly is a spectrum of introversion and extroversion, and no one is a pure – or even close to pure – introvert. By labeling myself as an introvert, I put myself in a box, and suppressed my occasional need for socializing.

Like any human, I desire connection. However, I also have a little bit of social anxiety. This fear provided incentive for me to deny my desires, and hide behind the Introvert label as justification for avoiding conversation.

It didn’t end there. My newfound self-acceptance slowly deteriorated into bitterness – “how dare they ask me to conform!”

What seemed like freedom from people’s expectations was not freedom at all. As I became increasingly confined to my office cubicle, I became so starved for connection that I began to dislike my introversion all over again. This isolation, I thought, was irreversible. Who can come back from that and not expect weird looks from coworkers when you finally start engaging again?

Only recently did I realize that my introversion wasn’t the cause of my loneliness. It all became clear one day when I came home from work after a going-away party for a coworker I had known for almost four years. I was sad that I had never made the effort to get to know her. Blaming this solely on my introversion made little sense. There was clearly something else going on.

Digging deeper, I discovered that I had been operating under the false belief that I was the most introverted person in my office and the only one with social anxiety. So I put the onus on others to approach me, exempting me from having to take any initiative.

Holding onto the wall of the ice rink, I wondered why everyone had stopped holding my hand. They seemed so friendly at first. Where did they go? Just like with ice skating, people will assist you at first, but if you continue to grip the wall, they will eventually let you do things your own way since it appears you prefer it. They can’t read your mind.

Though I was holding tightly to the wall, I wanted to let go and I truly wanted to ice skate – not as a way to conform but because I wanted to enjoy it for its own sake. I want to socialize – not as a way to conform but as a way to get to know people.

Looking back at the way I approached the introvert-extrovert theory, I wish I hadn’t turned it into “us vs. them.” Quiet Revolution – Susan Cain’s empowering website for introverts – was never meant to create division or cause introverts to embrace extreme isolation. Perusing this website and reading Susan Cain’s book, I saw what I wanted to see:  another excuse to stay in my comfort zone.

I hesitate to call myself an introvert anymore, but it is true that, most of the time, I prefer solitude to socializing. It’s ok to recognize this about myself and allow myself time to re-energize. It’s ok to seek solitude at work when I don’t desire socialization. However, there will be times when I do desire socialization, and – though there may be fear mixed with that desire – I don’t want to deny my need and desire for connection any longer. Fortunately, it’s not too late to change my mind!


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