Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How I Know I'm An Introvert

Huffington Post recently posted an article on introverts, with a checklist of 23 signs of how to determine if you are one. I know I’m an introvert. I’ve always known it, and will always be one. It’s not that I’m shy, or quiet, it’s that I’m observing (and there’s nothing wrong with that). It’s difficult explaining the difference. And then there’s the extra challenge of mental illness and anxiety disorders.

Here’s the checklist; the italicized text is a summary from the article, and I’ve added my comments underneath. From the checklist, I would say I meet at least 16 of the criteria, with the other 7 as ‘maybes’ or ‘sometimes’:

1. You find small talk incredibly cumbersome.
Introverts are notoriously small talk-phobic, as they find idle chatter to be a source of anxiety, or at least annoyance. For many quiet types, chitchat can feel disingenuous.
Yup. I have no idea how to start a conversation with someone. Especially if that someone is also not good at chit-chat. Awkward, frustrating and exhausting.

2. You go to parties - but not to meet people.
If you're an introvert, you may sometimes enjoy going to parties, but chances are, you're not going because you're excited to meet new people. At a party, most introverts would rather spend time with people they already know and feel comfortable around.
Yup. I enjoy going out but not with the intention of meeting new people. (This may explain why I’m currently single.)
3. You often feel alone in a crowd.
Ever feel like an outsider in the middle of social gatherings and group activities, even with people you know?
Yup. Why is this? Again, it could have something to do with not enjoying chit chat. It’s difficult for me to have engaging conversations at social gatherings and events. And I know sometimes I give off the vibe of not wanting to be approached. Maybe it’s a self-defense mechanism. I’m working on this.
4. Networking makes you feel like a phony.
Networking (small-talk with the end goal of advancing your career) can feel particularly disingenuous for introverts, who crave authenticity in their interactions.
Yup. So stressful! Smaller, more intimate gatherings are far easier. One of the reasons I left a very good job in the academic sector was due to the expectation of professional networking – conventions, conferences, meetings, social events. No thanks. And, I shouldn’t have to ‘sell’ myself to prove my worth as a valuable employee. My work speaks for itself.
5. You've been called "too intense."
Do you have a penchant for philosophical conversations and a love of thought-provoking books and movies? If so, you're a textbook introvert.
Yup. See point 1. I don’t know how to do,  nor enjoy, idle chit chat. I’d rather have more engaging conversations, which at social gatherings, doesn’t seem to be appropriate, practical or desired. So when I do try to have a conversation with someone, sometimes I come off as being too serious. (Or opinionated. Which I am, unapologetically.)
6. You're easily distracted.
While extroverts tend to get bored easily when they don't have enough to do, introverts have the opposite problem - they get easily distracted and overwhelmed in environments with an excess of stimulation.
It’s not that I get distracted, I get overwhelmed in high stimulus environments (hello, anxiety). It makes it difficult to concentrate or enjoy the moment, often resulting in withdrawing (closing off), or having to physically remove myself from the situation.
7. Downtime doesn’t feel unproductive to you.
One of the most fundamental characteristics of introverts is that they need time alone to recharge their batteries. Whereas an extrovert might get bored or antsy spending a day at home alone with tea and a stack of magazines, this sort of down time feels necessary and satisfying to an introvert.
Somewhat true. As much as I need downtime (me time) I get restless easily. It’s sometimes difficult for me to relax and give myself permission to watch a movie, for example. More often than not, although it’s improving thanks to the practice of mindfulness, there’s a constant dialogue going on in my head, a ‘grocery list’ of things I should be doing, of rehashing the past, and rehearsing the future. Rumination. It’s exhausting. I’m working on this, too.
8. Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards.
Introverts can be excellent leaders and public speakers -- and although they're stereotyped as being the shrinking violet, they don't necessarily shy away from the spotlight.

Yup. Why is this? I’m fine (for the most part) with giving presentations, and when I used to perform as a musician. The nervousness comes afterwards, of facing people and hearing their feedback.

9. When you get on the subway, you sit at the end of the bench - not in the middle.
Whenever possible, introverts tend to avoid being surrounded by people on all sides.
Yup. Again, my anxiety disorders play a part in this, in that I can’t have my back to a door/opening, I prefer facing the door/crowd/group. I feel safer this way.
10. You start to shut down after you’ve been active for too long.
Do you start to get tired and unresponsive after you've been out and about for too long? Everything introverts do in the outside world causes them to expend energy, after which they'll need to go back and replenish their stores in a quiet environment. Short of a quiet place to go, many introverts will resort to zoning out.
Yup. I get cranky. Once I’m done, I’m done, and I need to go. But it’s difficult communicating why you need to go, so I usually come up with an excuse. How do you say to a friend, “I’m sorry, I’ve had enough of you, time for me to go be by myself now!”
11. You're in a relationship with an extrovert.
It's true that opposites attract, and introverts frequently gravitate towards outgoing extroverts who encourage them to have fun and not take themselves too seriously.
Exception: I’m currently not in a relationship, and I tend to gravitate towards other introverts, probably because I can’t keep up with extroverts and find them overwhelming.
12. You'd rather be an expert at one thing than try to do everything.
The dominant brain pathways introverts use is one that allows you to focus and think about things for a while, so they’re geared toward intense study and developing expertise.

This too is probably an exception for me. I crave knowledge and learning new things. I often have several projects on the go and get impatient with myself when trying to learn how to do something new. If I had the time and finances, I would be a constant student.

13. You actively avoid any shows that might involve audience participation.
Because really, is anything more terrifying?
Yeah… no thanks!
14. You screen all your calls -- even from friends.
You may not pick up your phone even from people you like, but you’ll call them back as soon as you’re mentally prepared and have gathered the energy for the conversation.
Yup. Guilty. Sorry!
15. You notice details that others don't.
The upside of being overwhelmed by too much stimuli is that introverts often have a keen eye for detail, noticing things that may escape others around them. Research has found that introverts exhibit increased brain activity when processing visual information, as compared to extroverts.

Yup, although I wouldn’t have indentified this as a trait specific to introverts.

16. You have a constantly running inner monologue.
Most introverts need to think first and talk later.
Yup. See point 7. It’s frustrating, because it means not being able to express myself in the moment and not saying what I need or want to say, which I often later regret. Because of not wanting to have an uncomfortable conversation or an argument, I avoid confrontation at all costs, even it if means not being able to stand up for myself. I’m working on this too.
17. You have low blood pressure.
A 2006 Japanese study found that introverts tend to have lower blood pressure than their
extroverted counterparts.

Huh. I do tend to have lower blood pressure. Interesting.

18. You’ve been called an “old soul” -– since your 20s.
Introverts observe and take in a lot of information, and they think before they speak, leading them to appear wise to others. I think hard, and analytical.
Don’t recall every being called an ‘old soul’, but I’ve often been told I’m wise or mature. Ha!
19. You don't feel "high" from your surroundings.
Neurochemically speaking, things like huge parties just aren’t your thing. Extroverts and introverts differ significantly in how their brains process experiences through "reward" centers.
Another exception: If I’m at event I’m really enjoying, like a concert, or doing something I really enjoy, I do experience euphoria. And I pick up on the energy of others, so if I'm at an event and everyone is really into it and there's a positive vibe, that makes me happy.

20. You look at the big picture.
When describing the way that introverts think, they're more interested in ideas and the big picture rather than facts and details. Of course, many introverts excel in detail-oriented tasks -- but they often have a mind for more abstract concepts as well.
Yup. I’m much better at discussing concepts and theories than relaying facts and figures. I love trivia but am really not very good at it. Give me the answer, and I can start a discussion on it, but not the other way around.
21. You’ve been told to “come out of your shell.”
Many introverted children come to believe that there's something "wrong" with them if they're naturally less outspoken and assertive than their peers. Introverted adults often say that as children, they were told to come out of their shells or participate more in class.

Yes! Stop saying this! I don’t need to come out of my shell, I have no shell to come out of.

22. You’re a writer.
Introverts are often better at communicating in writing than in person, and many are drawn to the solitary, creative profession of writing. Most introverts say that they feel most creatively charged when they have time to be alone with their thoughts.

This is something I’ve been working on, as I feel it would be therapeutic. I’ve tried journaling, but it doesn’t come easy to me.

23. You alternate between phases of work and solitude, and periods of social activity.
Introverts can move around their introverted “set point” which determines how they need to balance solitude with social activity. But when they move too much -- possibly by over-exerting themselves with too much socializing and busyness -- they get stressed and need to come back to themselves. This may manifest as going through periods of heightened social activity, and then balancing it out with a period of inwardness and solitude.

Yup. My social activities, hobbies and interests are cyclic. I’m getting better at balancing the cycles and for the most part I feel my friends recognize that I do go through phases, which I think is pretty common and not necessarily specific to introverts.