The Culture of Introversion: Part 1

It’s a good time to be an introvert.

Thanks to books like Susan Cain’s paradigm-shifting Quiet and the wealth of internet articles, comics, and listsicles about them, being an introvert is now less stigmatized and more recognized. But despite the rise of “introvert culture,” introversion remains misunderstood by some while simultaneously being glamorized–to the extent that it makes extroversion seem undesirable.

As mentioned previously, I am an introvert. (Or an Introvert, if we’re going big-I, MBTI-style.) I still remember the exact moment when I had this revelation.

I was 9 years old, and I picked up a book my mom had lying on the coffee table–The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child. My mom was a preschool teacher and a children’s librarian at the time, so I didn’t even consider that this book had anything to do with me right away. I flipped it open anyways, wondering what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks* an “introverted” child was.

Well, Marti Olsen Laney was about to tell me.

Too much external stimulation–activity, noise, chatter–is depleting to [the introverted child] and leaves her feeling drained….I think of introverts as energy conservers, like rechargeable batteries that need “down time” to restore their reserves.”

It is to this day, this is the biggest light bulb/eureka moment I have ever had. I couldn’t have even put that feeling into words 5 minutes earlier, but as soon as I read it in the book, my entire brain screamed YES! This is you!

The next part of the revelation came more slowly. My mom had a book on the hidden gifts of introverted children, as though she was trying to figure out what benefits could come from me being such a weirdo. This introversion thing was something that was considered bad and backwards by some people. Even though the book was preaching the “special talents” of introverts and made it very clear that there is nothing clinically wrong with being introverted, as a 9 year old child who was familiar with being made to feel like a weirdo, one of the messages that I got out of the book was: people think introverts are weird.

So after a thrilling moment of feeling understood, I felt a crush of fear. Was I destined to be misunderstood forever?

Over a decade later, as my growing up coincided with the cultural rise of the introvert, I came to feel comfortable with myself. Some of this was a combination of time, experience, improved social skills, and getting out of middle school (a.k.a. the seventh circle of hell), but experiencing the growth of a market that catered to introverts also played a role. Finding books like Quiet and The Introvert Advantage (also by Marti Olsen Laney), discovering MBTI, dipping a toe into the sea of Tumblr, and spending hours reading articles on Thought Catalog all contributed to my growing comfort with the fact that I would never be considered “outgoing” or “bubbly.”

Then, at some point, the onslaught of media about introversion seemed like too much.

Depending on who you ask, half or more of the U.S. population is extroverted. But sometimes–especially on the internet, which I recognize is a strange, wonderful, and terrifying place–it seems like everyone and their dog identifies as an introvert. I’m all for everyone being proud of who they are and feeling comfortable with themselves, and I’m not about to get up on my high horse and start ranting about how Millennials are ruining everything with their inability to communicate through any means other than texting and Tindering, but I am going to say that something about the current situation makes me uncomfortable.

I’m not alone in this feeling. Molly Owens of Truity recently published a piece that mused about the consequences of creating a world in which “fewer and fewer of our interactions with one another are actually satisfying,” and how this could be a bad thing for extroverts and introverts. An older piece on Thought Catalog gave “21 Reasons I’m Tired of Hearing About Introverts.” I’ll admit that there were a few things on that list that hit a little too close to home, but there is truth in all 21 of those reasons. My personal favorite, number 16, addresses the expanding definition of introversion:

We have all heard and read and seen so much about introversion over the past year or so that I think we’ve all become finally numb to it, and have expanded our definition of it so much that anyone who is not at this very moment performing a cabaret show is considered introverted.”

Look, I think that being an introvert is pretty great in a lot of ways–but I think the same thing about extroverts. And when it comes down to it, everyone has some introversion and some extroversion inside of them. Most people have more of a preference for one over the other, but everyone has times when they want to crawl into bed and be alone days, just like everyone has moments where they really really want to talk to a friend right now.

Sometimes it seems like introvert-appropriation is just hot right now. But being an introvert does not imply that you are a deeper, more intelligent, less frivolous person, just as being an extrovert does not imply that you always have a lampshade on your head and will self-destruct if forced to spend more than an hour alone.

Psychologist Jonathan Cheek is currently reworking the definition of introversion to include the existence of different types of introversion. Specifically, 4 different types: social, thinking, anxious, and restrained.

  • Social introversion: a preference for socializing with smaller groups or total solitude
  • Thinking introversion: tendency for introspection, self-reflection
  • Anxious introversion: shyness, a feeling of social awkwardness
  • Restrained introversion: reserved, slower to warm up and get moving

When I took a quiz to see what kind of introvert I am according to Cheek, I scored highly for all four types of introversion, but especially for social and thinking introversion.

Social introversion is the one most closely related to the traditional view of introversion held by psychologists. In Big Five terms, introversion is simply the absence of extraversion. Thinking introversion is the one that has become more popularized recently, leading some to suggest that many introverts may be covert narcissists.

I personally would argue that a certain level of narcissism and self-centeredness is not so much a product of introversion but rather a product of being human. But hey, maybe I’m just an closet narcissist trying to feel better about herself. Idk.

This post is currently sitting at essay-like proportions, so I’m going to cut myself off here. But! There is more to come. The Culture of Introversion: Part 2 will be up soon, and we’ll get to talk all about kids-these-days, texting, Tinder and online dating, “Netflix and chill,” and whether or not Millennials are going to be the death of us all.

(Spoiler alert: the answer to that last part is a resounding no.)

*Because I’ve been alerted that not everyone knows what “h-e-double-hockey-sticks” means, it is a euphemism for “hell.” H-e-hockey stick-hockey stick. I grew up in suburbia, in case you couldn’t tell.

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