Stef (firecat) wrote,

Introversion: What it is and what it ain't

[personal profile] graymalkin sent me an article about introversion. I think the article is OK and I think that articles debunking myths about introversion are generally a good idea. But there are some ways that this article ends up reinforcing some myths about introversion, and it has some other problems.

Here is my understanding of introversion: Being drained by spending time in social environments (as opposed to gaining energy thereby). Needing alone-time to recharge.

Here are things commonly associated with introversion that I think are not inherently part of introversion: Shyness. Social phobia. Social awkwardness. Invariably being quiet in groups. Being unable to think on your feet. Disliking to perform.

Following are some quotes from the article and my comments.
[Introverts] do seem to process more information than others in any given situation. To digest it, they do best in quiet environments.
I'm not sure what is meant by "process more information" and "digest" information. I don't need a quiet environment per se to recharge my energy. What I need is an environment where no one expects anything of me. It's easy for me to filter out environment noise.

I would use this metaphor: At a social event, I feel like I'm trying to filter out excess sensory stimuli. Eventually the filter gets clogged, and I need a quiet environment to flush out the filter.
Further, their brains are less dependent on external stimuli and rewards to feel good.
Could be. I don't know. It feels to me more like I prefer different external stimuli and rewards, compared to some people. A cool breeze makes me very happy.
As a result, introverts are not driven to seek big hits of positive emotional arousal--they'd rather find meaning than bliss--making them relatively immune to the search for happiness that permeates contemporary American culture.
Ummmmmm. You know what, drawing a dichotomy "meaning vs. bliss" makes absolutely no sense to me. "Finding meaning" is a somewhat specific thinking-type activity. "Finding bliss" is, I don't know, it could be anything, depending on the person. But when I'm enjoying thinking, it feels pretty blissful. When I'm alone in a natural place, it feels pretty blissful. I seek those situations. So I don't think that I'm disinterested in bliss. However, it's probably true that I am driven more by avoiding hassles than by finding meanings or finding bliss. I'm also driven more by avoiding sensory overload than by seeking sensory pleasures.

As for "the search for happiness that permeates contemporary American culture." What does this mean? Is "the search for happiness" being used to stand in for materialism/acquisitiveness/self-improvement? Is it supposed to bring to mind "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"? (If so it's hardly only "contemporary" American culture that's relevant.)

I feel like I'm participating in a "search for happiness," but maybe I'm defining happiness a little differently than the author of this article. I've figured out that having more possessions is probably not the key to increasing my happiness. (Not because I'm into voluntary simplicity or anything -- it's just that I have a lot of stuff already.) I've figured out that I feel a lot of in-the-moment happiness in situations where very little is going on. There's also a sort of happiness that comes from feeling I've accomplished something, and in-the-moment happiness doesn't substitute. Introversion shouldn't interfere with that kind of happiness though. Being able to spend time alone without getting antsy should help me accomplish long-term goals.
In fact, the cultural emphasis on happiness may actually threaten their mental health. As American life becomes increasingly competitive and aggressive, to say nothing of blindingly fast, the pressures to produce on demand, be a team player, and make snap decisions cut introverts off from their inner power source, leaving them stressed and depleted. Introverts today face one overarching challenge--not to feel like misfits in their own culture.
The problem here is that I don't see a connection between an "emphasis on happiness" and a competitive/aggressive/fast culture. Where is the connection? Is happiness being defined strictly as winning, being on top, having the biggest market share? And maybe the money that comes with that? If so, maybe there's a connection. But that doesn't sound like happiness by my way of thinking. When I think of being on top, I think of the stress of having to defend my position, and I can't imagine it would make me feel happy.

Another assumption is that there is only one kind of "American life," and that's this "competitive/aggressive/fast" kind of living. It's an aspect of corporate culture, and so people who are working in corporations, they might feel this pressure. But there are other ways to live. Aren't there? Am I missing something because I'm too privileged? Also, is there really no place for introverts in corporate culture? I did feel pressure when I worked in corporations, but I had a job pretty well suited to my introverted tendencies.
An introvert and a shy person might be standing against the wall at a party, but the introvert prefers to be there, while the shy individual feels she has no choice.
This sentence suggests that all shy people are really extroverts, which isn't true.
Introverts prefer slow-paced interactions that allow room for thought. Brainstorming does not work for them.
I don't think this is true of all introverts. It's true that I dislike answering personal questions on the spot, but brainstorming and trading wisecracks and other fast-paced forms of interpersonal interaction are fun for me with the right people. I just want a lot of alone time as well.
Even a simple opener of "Hello, how are you? Hey, I've been meaning to talk to you about X," from anyone can challenge an introvert. Rather than bypassing the first question or interrupting the flow to answer it, the introvert holds onto the question: Hmm, how am I? (An internal dialogue begins, in which the introvert "hears" herself talking internally as the other person speaks.)
Ummm, no. This suggests that introverts can't figure out that "Hello, how are you?" is a greeting. It did take me longer than some people (which might be due to introversion or might be due to other social issues I have) but I'm perfectly capable of making small talk and using the standard social forms of my culture without starting a whole internal dialogue with myself about the question "How am I?"
While the introvert is evaluating the question on at least two levels (how she is feeling and what she thinks about the question, perhaps also what this says about our society), the speaker is already moving on to sharing something about his day. The introvert must take the incoming message from the speaker and tuck it into working memory until she can get to it, while more information keeps flowing in that demands tracking, sorting, searching, and critical analysis.
As already mentioned, that's not how it works for me with a greeting. On the other hand, maybe it's a good explanation for why I find it difficult to remember people's names after I meet them -- I'm thinking about a bunch of other things happening in the interaction.
The conversation is also anxiety-provoking, because the introvert feels she has too little time to share a complete thought. She hungers to pull away and give time to the thoughts her brain has generated.
This suggests all introverts have social anxiety. Not true, IMO.

What say you? How well do these quotes or other stuff in the article fit with your social energy tendencies?

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