Up until very recently I thought I was anti-social. I didn’t enjoy nights out. The noise, the crowds it was all too much for me to handle and I’d often find myself sneaking off home early without telling anyone. I found making small talk unnatural and joining in a group conversation even harder. It was exhausting to be honest. I just couldn’t let my hair down.
The problem was I didn’t know why I wasn’t enjoying myself! I wanted to enjoy myself. I’d spend the whole time thinking ‘Come on Matt, relax, enjoy yourself, you’re with friends, this should be fun’. Obviously this internal ‘motivation’ had the opposite affect. I ended up spending too much time in my head and not enough time focusing on the external stimulus of my surroundings. I would become anxious and so self aware it was like a spotlight was shining on me and people were looking at me thinking ‘Look at him being all quiet & distant, he’s so boring’. At the end of the night I would end up disappointed, exhausted and wishing I hadn’t gone out in the first place.
So that is what I started to do – Not go out. I turned down invitations, came up with excuses like I’m tired, I can’t afford it, or sometimes I just didn’t turn up. Initially it actually felt really good. An easy way of dealing with social anxiety is to not go out in the first place, you don’t have to deal with it then. I knew deep down however, that the issue was always going to be there until I decided to do something about it, and so I started to try and understand why I felt like I did.
I was convinced I was just anti-social but then someone said to me ‘I don’t think you’re anti-social, I think you’re an introvert’. I’d obviously heard of the phrase but I didn’t know what it meant exactly. So I did some research.
I discovered a website called Introvert, Dear and all of a sudden every thing seemed to just make sense. Why I hadn’t been enjoying myself on nights out, why I had social anxiety, why I felt exhausted when socialising. The reasons were all there.
The following information in italic is taken from Introvert, Dear. And includes my thoughts highlighted in blue
So what is an introvert…?
The most common definition of an introvert is someone who gets drained by socialising and recharges by being alone. I felt exhausted going out and certainly enjoy my own company But there’s so much more to introversion than that.
Everyone is born with an innate temperament – a way that you gain energy and prefer to interact with the world. Introversion and extroversion are temperaments. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert is largely determined by your genes – meaning you were probably born that way. – I certainly remember being quiet and thoughtful as a young child. In fact I remember a story my Mum told me about Nursery when I was about 2 years old. I used to scream when I was left in the large hall with all the other children but as soon as I was taken into the smaller side room that had fewer children in I was completely fine. Kind of makes sense.
However, we are also shaped by our life experiences. If your quiet, thoughtful ways were encouraged by your parents, teachers and others, you probably grew up feeling confident in who you are. But, like many introverts, if you were teased or bullied or told to ‘come out of your shell’ you may have developed social anxiety or felt like you had to pretend to be someone you’re not. I’ve underlined this sentence as it just opened my eyes and made me start to understand why I was feeling the way I was.
Being an introvert is completely normal and it’s not even that uncommon. US studies suggest that 30 to 50% of the US population are introverts.
How do I know I’m an introvert…?
Have you always felt different? – Yes, I always felt different in my group of friends. I was always the quiet, sensible one and I felt like I didn’t fully fit in because I wasn’t acting the same as they were.
Do you enjoy spending time alone? – Yes, I always take time out on my own. Whether that be getting up 10 minutes earlier than needed to sit and have a coffee in the quiet, or going to the train station early so I can enjoy the sea view on my own before getting the train to London – Which links in with my previous post on Therapy here – INSERT LINK
Do you feel like you are the only person who doesn’t need to talk, talk, talk – or be around people ALL the time? – Yes, it’s safe to say I’m not a chatty person!
Other characteristics include:
- We’d rather stay at home most nights than go out to one social event after the other
- We enjoy quiet, solitary activities like reading, writing, gaming, gardening or drawing.
- We’ll usually choose the company of a few close friends over a wild party
- We do our best to work alone
- Many of us will avoid small talk or other unnecessary social interactions
- You have a vivid, rich inner world…
- …and you’re often ‘in your head’
- You prefer to be out of the spotlight
- You can ‘network’ but it feels fake
- You don’t always know what to say
- You’re better at writing your thoughts than saying them
- You dive deep, both in relationships and interests
- You seek meaning
All these points hit home with me. All of them.
I always thought I was a shy person but I think I’ve been confusing being a shy and being an introvert because the two have totally different traits…
Being shy means you get very nervous and self-conscious in social situations. Introverts & extroverts can both have this trait – not all natural-born extroverts run around chatting with strangers!
Being introverted means socialising wears you out. You might not be nervous or shy at all.
Personally I believe I am little shy even though people I meet say I don’t come across shy when I speak to them. I now understand that I’m more of an introvert than shy.
Being an introvert has negative connotations associated with it, almost like it’s a bad thing. But as I said earlier, it’s a very common and very normal way to be. Can you imagine a world full of extroverts? Or even a world full of introverts? Society needs a good mixture of both to function.
Being an introvert is often mistaken for being socially awkward, but just like shyness, they are completely different traits. Not all introverts are the same. Some will need only a little bit of alone time to recharge and can handle a fair amount of social time before they feel drained. Others drain quickly and prefer to spend very long periods alone. I believe I’m somewhere in the middle. I can handle a fair amount of social time but it’s not easy.
I also want to dispel some of the common myths surrounding what it means to be an introvert.
- We are not necessarily socially awkward. Many introverts can actually be quite charismatic in social situations.
- We don’t hate people. Our lack of chit chat is often misrepresented. People take it as a sign that we don’t like others. The truth is the opposite. Introverts often avoid small talk because we consider it to be inauthentic. We crave a more meaningful connection to talk to people.
- We aren’t rude. If an introvert is completely out of social energy we may be a little crabby, or zone out for a while, but we’re not trying to be rude – and we’ll be a lot more friendlier once we’ve had time to recharge on our own.
- We don’t need to be fixed. Being an introvert is part of who we are, and it can be a source of brilliance. We are at our best when we embrace our nature and use it as a source of strength.
- We don’t wish we were extroverts. Sure sometimes introverts envy an extroverts ability to think quickly or fit naturally into a social situation. But we also take great delight in our inner world and alone time.
There’s a lot of information here and some of you maybe thinking some of it sounds familiar to your own lives. I want to try and dispel the notion that being an introvert or having some tendencies of an introvert is a negative thing. I certainly have gained a lot of reassurance from learning more about it and it has answered a lot of questions I previously couldn’t answer.
So how does this knowledge help me?
Well I looked at the information above and more on the ‘Introvert, Dear’ website and realised that I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. I was ignoring my introverted tendencies. I now know that being quiet at a party, not joining in small talk or taking some time out to be on my own is ok. I don’t have to be chatty, I don’t have to be loud, I don’t have to dance if I don’t want to. I can just relax, enjoy myself by just being me. And if that means being introverted then so be it, because that’s who I am and I’m ready to embrace it.