Posts Tagged ‘introvert’

Since I wrote my essay on ambiversion last summer, I’ve been thinking about the introvert-extrovert continuum a great deal. Perhaps even more so because that essay is by far the most popular one on this site and continues to draw in a fair amount of search traffic. This makes me think I’m not the only person who cares about such things.

What have I been thinking? I’ve been embracing my identity as an introvert, actually. I’ve spent most of my life unconsciously believing that being an introvert is a Bad Thing. Because, you know, those extroverts have all the fun. While I do believe that American culture contributes to this belief, I see no reason why I can’t be as nonconformist about this as I am about other widely held issues.

So here is my official announcement: Being an introvert is AWESOME! I get to have deep and interesting conversations with people, either one-on-one or in small groups. I get to do amazing creative projects that often require heaps of hours by myself, and it doesn’t bother me. I can be perfectly happy and content and charged without having to take the trouble to make sure I have social plans every single free moment of the day. I get to spend lots of time thinking, which means I get to analyze and learn and have plenty of “aha!” moments. And I tend to think more before I speak, which means I have a better chance of being able to support the people I care about (not to mention a better chance of avoiding saying the most stupid things that pop into my head).

Sure, being an introvert means I have to work harder at being assertive. But since I’m not down at the far end of the introversion spectrum, a lot of the more difficult aspects of it don’t bother me. Basically, I’m an introvert who can pass. (Perhaps this is the real definition of an ambivert: Someone who is not so extreme on the spectrum, so they are able to pass for the other if convenient.) This means that often I can enjoy the best of both worlds, and I’m not dodged by people’s perceptions of my introversion.

What I have realized is that being an introvert and lacking social skills are not the same thing. Imagine my surprise at this discovery! Someone can be an introvert and still have excellent social skills (or successfully develop them). Or someone can be an extrovert who has zero social skills. While there may be a certain amount of correlation between extroverts and social ability, it certainly doesn’t seem to exclude these other possibilities.

This became even clearer to me when I took another personality test based on colors (here is a version of it if you love taking personality tests as much as I do). My highest color is blue, which is the social helper type. Yes, I’m a self-esteem builder who gets the most satisfaction from work that allows me help and inspire others and make a difference in their lives. No surprise that I’ve spent most of my adult life being a teacher and writer. It even fits in with this blog of mine, doesn’t it? And yet I’m also an introvert. These two parts of myself are not in conflict. In fact, I believe that being an introvert actually assists me to better understand and inspire others. How’s that for some positive framing?

Here’s my question for you: how does being an introvert or an extrovert help you in your life? And if necessary, can you pass as the other type (be an introvert who appears to be an extrovert or an extrovert who appears to be an introvert)?

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I’ve been working to become more assertive (and less like a doormat) for a long, long time. I think it was in seventh or eighth grade that I realized that my shyness was a problem that would hold me back, and I’ve been peeling various layers from this issue ever since. While it’s true that I used to be an introvert (and maybe I still am, depending on your definition of the term ambivert), introversion hasn’t ultimately been the cause of my problem. Much more pervasive and destructive of my peace of mind and overall happiness has been my tendency to be a people pleaser.

Mac (from the TV show Veronica Mars) shows some signs of being a people pleaser.

This insidious condition shows itself in many guises. At its worst, here are some of the symptoms:

– constant placement of others above yourself, often without much thought or communication. (Please note the word constant. This isn’t the opposite of being selfish so much as it is door mat behavior.)
– constant second guessing of your interactions with others
– being quick to feel guilt
– conflict aversion (desire to avoid making people unhappy/upset/angry)
– allowing people to take advantage of you, OR struggling to prevent this and feeling overly upset as a direct consequence; inability to say no or stand up for yourself
– ease of seeing another person’s point of view and using this skill to make excuses for them
– getting ensnared in one-sided conversations, in which the other person basically delivers a monologue, won’t ask you questions about yourself, and will do their best to divert the conversation back to them at all times
– perfectionism; a lingering worry that if you fail to be perfect, people will no longer like you
– a sense of isolation; feeling that nobody cares

Early Willow

Early Willow (circa Seasons 1-3) is definitely a people pleaser to watch out for.

Just to be clear, this list is no longer an accurate description of my state of mind. I’ve had twenty years to improve, after all, and I’m nothing if not dogged. (Some people think stubbornness is a bad thing. Does not compute. It’s one of my most useful traits.) But these are the sorts of things I have to guard against because I might fall into one or more of them if I’m not paying attention or am otherwise not at my best (ie sick, tired, worried, discouraged, etc.).

These are the social responses I was raised to have, compounded by female gender expectations to “be nice”. Unfortunately, they are not particularly effective if one wants to have a happy life that isn’t completely overrun by anxiety. They are also not helpful if one wants to be treated with care and respect. (Sad to say, there are plenty of people out there who will treat others with disrespect unless doing so has personal consequences–consequences that people pleasers are often ill-equipped to give.)

I’m writing about this problem because I know there are many people out there who struggle with one or more items on my list. And yet so often we don’t talk about it, and sometimes we even pressure each other to conform more to societal expectations of the unhealthy roles we play. (Have you ever looked up general interpersonal advice on the internet? It can get pretty scary.)

Next week I’m going to write about some of the thoughts and strategies, especially those I’ve discovered more recently, that have helped me break out of the people pleaser mold. In the meantime, can anyone think of any fictional characters who fall into people pleaser territory? Have any questions or experiences you want to share? Comment below!

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