Introversion is often misunderstood. Introverts are sometimes assumed to be simply antisocial, but introversion is far more complex. Having a better understanding of the ways one can be introverted can be immensely helpful when it comes to understanding and respecting your own needs (if you’re introverted) and the needs of others (whether you’re introverted or extroverted). Just as importantly, a deeper understanding of the nuances of introversion may even help introverts foster their own adaptation and personal growth.
I’m a classic case of introversion in all its forms, of which there are four. Of course, there are sure to be all sorts of underlying reasons why one may prefer solitude or require time to decompress after social situations, but each one likely falls into one of the following categories:
- Social – Preferring intimate groups over large ones
- Thinking – Spending lots of time thinking and reflecting
- Anxious – Feeling awkward or self-conscious in social situations
- Restrained – Moving slowly and embracing contemplation
Just as we know introversion versus extroversion exists on a spectrum, and that one’s standing can change over time, it’s also widely understood that each of these four types of introversion can be fostered or diminished depending on the situation at hand and life events that someone goes through. It’s highly possible and maybe even probable for people to adapt and perhaps even overhaul their whole social identity thanks to certain triggers for change.
I’ve witnessed this happen in my own life. As soon as I moved to Australia, I became a different person, all the while barely recognizing what was happening. I never consciously made the decision to embrace extroversion in this new country, but it developed automatically as a means of self-preservation and adaptation.
When I was living in the US, going to house parties and trying to navigate dating and juggling school and work and other societal pressures, all the signs of introversion were there. I actively avoided going out whenever possible; I was exhausted by even the thought of socializing; I felt my gut drop and my cheeks flush every time I had to walk into an already-filled room. And most prevalent was my aversion to extending myself socially in the hopes of making friends.
Don’t get me wrong–I wanted and needed friends. But I didn’t know how to naturally approach people and I definitely didn’t have the courage or the energy to “make the first move.” That’s why it’s still such a shock to me that my friends in Australia would classify me as extroverted and highly social. They recognize me as the one to organize plans, invite the most people to parties, be the common denominator within a group, and make friends easily. This is a label I never thought I’d have, but one I’d come to embrace … until recently.
I remember when I first moved overseas and was having trouble getting beneath a surface level with certain acquaintances that could be friends. I realized that for a lot of them, their friend groups were already established and they did not care to add to them. While I took offense to this at the time, I’ve slowly come to get it. Perhaps these people were not averse to new people, but they simply did not have the time and incentive to devote to grabbing coffee and making small talk. I understand because that’s me. I had somehow forgotten about my innate tendencies and needs when I had been forced to adopt new habits, but now I’ve come back to introverted behaviors… Just for different reasons.
Once upon a time, the thought of catch-ups and dinner parties and unread Facebook messages from semi-strangers filled me with dread; now it fills me with fatigue. I’m in the camp of not wanting to make new friends again mainly because I’m happy with the ones I have and I don’t feel I have the mental and emotional means to deal with more at the moment.
Society would tell me that this regression back to my old ways would be tragic. Everyone wants to be social, right? Everyone is expected to be. When I was more actively social, I still felt true to myself, and I felt content in my actions. Honestly, I did struggle a bit with the thought that I was losing that drive. But I’ve chosen not to feel bad, or to criticize myself. It’s unrealistic to think you can develop a relationship with every person you come across. Just as extroversion was my means of self-preservation when I moved, introversion is providing that protection now. It can be healthy to say no, to opt-out, to stay in, to avoid new friendships.
That doesn’t make you a bad person. In fact, when I’ve opened up about this tendency to others, they’ve been shockingly understanding. Maybe that’s just my inclination towards making friends who are just as likely to cancel plans as me, but perhaps it’s indicative of a greater trend. Perhaps in a few years, or after a few influential life experiences, I’ll change my tune, but for the time being, I’m perfectly happy saying no to new friends. If someone comes into my life and we click, I won’t write them off out of principle, but I probably also won’t be the first one to initiate contact, and I think that’s alright.
Have you witnessed a similar shift in your own life? Feel free to share your experience below!
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Photo: Ben Duchac via Unsplash