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Caring for your introvert (theatlantic.com)
139 points by kwamenum86 on Apr 14, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments



My favorite quote:

many actors, I've read, are introverts, and many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors

When I talk to strangers, I often internally wonder to myself (during the conversation), "Can this person tell I actually have no interest in what they're saying, or am I properly feigning it?"

It seems that only after I come to know someone well (or I'm discussing a topic dear to me) can I manage to have a real interest in what they say, so I spend most time acting in social situations. Sometimes I'll dedicate effort to summoning all my ability to appear to care, but other times I just won't bother.

I've also found that at times when I have to both maintain my act and keep up with my internal monologue (or whatever it is), I lose the ability to retain the information being provided. For instance, until I've spoken with someone a few times, I will be unable to remember their name. I'll likely never remember what they just told me more than a few hours after it was said, either, unless it was exceptionally memorable. When trying to get me to remember someone, it usually requires a few examples of things they've said/done and a lot of context to piece them back together.

Think of all the effort; people are far more tiring than programming!


Another introvert and I refer to this as "human emulation mode".

;-)


I've also found that at times when I have to both maintain my act and keep up with my internal monologue (or whatever it is), I lose the ability to retain the information being provided. For instance, until I've spoken with someone a few times, I will be unable to remember their name. I'll likely never remember what they just told me more than a few hours after it was said, either, unless it was exceptionally memorable. When trying to get me to remember someone, it usually requires a few examples of things they've said/done and a lot of context to piece them back together.

Man, this describes exactly how I feel when meeting new people and why I find it so draining.


Actually, once I realized that I'll never remember their name anyway, I stopped fretting so much about trying to memorize their name, or what they look like, or pretty much anything else about them.

If I never see them again anyway, who cares; and if I see them again enough times, that information will start to stick naturally.


It's a second and third time that may get embarassing though.

You still have not seen this person enough times, but everyone around already knows that you've been introduced. And then you need to call this person by the name. Ugh! Hate these moments. :)


I won't go into details to spare the person shame, but this happened to me recently. I hope people aren't as adept as I am at reading expressions, because they would have instantly noticed I had no idea who they were as I was shaking their hand, despite seeing them only weeks earlier.


We had a team bonding day in which we were split up randomly into small groups. Random or not, the group I was put on was all introverts. We were given a problem [a clever problem-solving exercise] and the observer (who was an extrovert) noted that (to him) 'it was like they were all just staring at the puzzle for 5 minutes. They were just sitting there thinking. No one in the group said much of anything until they arrived at a silent consensus.' Contrast that to other groups where members debated the relative merits of their solutions. We won the game.

In another company exercise, done after a Myers-Briggs session, they split the I's and E's into groups. And then they said (hypothetically) 'You have the day off. What do you guys want to do with the day? You have $100 each'. The I's were like - I'm gonna read a book, run errands etc. And the E's were like - 'Who's going to Vegas? Party at our house.' The E's were planning parties while the I's were planning alone time.

It really doesn't matter if you're an I or an E. Or switch between I/E. As long as you can accept yourself. The rule of thumb I use for I/E orientation is does that person get energized around other people...


The rule of thumb I use for I/E orientation is does that person get energized around other people...

In social situations, I often find interaction tiring. The one exception for me is highly intellectually stimulating conversation. It doesn't necessarily have to be anything deep; it could be witty repartee or even trading quotes from favorite movies. Though the latter seems juvenile, something about the act of recall feels extremely rewarding and rejuvenating.

A close friend of mine calls it "mental sex," a phrase she apparently borrowed from the popular television show House.


I often find interaction tiring. The one exception for me is highly intellectually stimulating conversation.

I've noticed that my I/E orientation differs based on who I am around. Around good friends and generally intelligent people, I am more E. Around people I'm less familiar with, or people I assume I will not be interested in, I am much more I. If I've done a lot of socializing in the last few days, I am more likely to be I.


I had difficulty getting past the "my tribe is better than your tribe" stuff.

"If we introverts ran the world, it would no doubt be a calmer, saner, more peaceful sort of place."

"I suppose this common misconception has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts."

Really. I suppose this might be true on average, but this makes it hard to take the article seriously.


"I had difficulty getting past the 'my tribe is better than your tribe' stuff."

Agreed. What really bugs me about this sort of piece (and about a huge number of comments in this thread), is that they tend to fetishize introversion, and make it a crutch. Introversion is clearly a real trait (and I'm one of those people who needs quiet time to "recharge"), but it's too easy to turn introversion into an excuse to avoid challenging situations and personal growth. I don't believe that's a habit to be celebrated.

I used to be much more "introverted" than I am today. Looking back, I can see that a lot of my formerly quiet behavior was a consequence of plain old shyness and fear, and I wish I had gotten over it a lot earlier than I did. For me, those years are lost.


The article itself seems to specifically differentiate between shyness and introversion and is more speaking to behaviors while with other people rather than trying to make excuses for avoiding others. In other words, it's not that an introvert avoids social interaction, just that an introvert's behavior during social interaction is different than an extravert's.

At least, that's the way I interpreted it.


>Odd. I've been an introvert for my whole life, and this is the first time I've ever come across such a brilliant description of what's going through my mind when I'm propelled into a crowd of people and asked to endure the hot air and noise they call socializing. I'm not shy either, yet I've always lacked the compunction to talk for the sake of filling a silence. Thanks for the link. It's been mailed to all the people who've called me an anti-social bastard down the years :)

The italicized portion of this comment from elsewhere in the thread shows how some introverts feel when young. I've been told many times, in the past, that I am antisocial and have grown to resent the idea. In our society (america) antisocial is almost a pejorative. So, I remember deciding that introversion was a fine trait to have and was more desirable than the chattering extroversion of my peers. People are just reacting against the expectation of extroversion, the response is too strong at first, but then they reach a balance. That's how this sort of reaction happens.

I agree with your comment generally though. I just believe the sooner people accept that introversion is an acceptable personality trait they can lean this 'personal growth' for what it will get them instead of some misguided belief they should be acting differently. Still, I can see "oh, I'm just introverted" being a crutch for shyness and fear, I'm still getting over those. But, I'm not exactly sure how.


I agree and disagree with your comment. On one hand the tribalism in the article is a distraction from the argument he is making. On the other hand, it's pretty funny if you're an introvert. The following quote in particular, I think, was meant to be funny: "I suppose this common misconception has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts," and not mean or serious. Looked at this way the "tribalism" in the piece is pretty harmless.


Yeah, especially since it's arrogance in response to the hypothetical question "Are introverts arrogant?"


Oddly, most introverts I know have a problem with much of the "my tribe is better than your tribe" stuff in our society.

Is this article meant to be satire? It's strange that this guy is so passionate about being introverted. It almost seems like he's proud of it.


Why wouldn't he be proud of it?

"Oddly, most introverts I know have a problem with much of the "my tribe is better than your tribe" stuff in our society."

Perhaps you're misinterpreting the fact that they don't feel the need to constantly please everyone, and are therefore freer with their opinions.


That's not introversion.

Introversion is the tendency to be concerned and interested with your own mental life. It's quite possible to be introverted, and still have a strong desire to please people.


Agreed. Comment still stands.


> I had difficulty getting past the "my tribe is better than your tribe" stuff.

It seems to me that this is a reaction (perhaps an overreaction) to the idea that introversion is a problem. Certainly, many people do see it as such.


The question is, since introverts are so much smarter than extroverts, and dislike the way extroverts run things, why don't introverts run things?


I think by definition, introverts tend to not want to run things. Introverts tend to prefer contemplation over interaction, and interference or intervention are subsets of interaction, right? Even if that weren't true, the things one has to do to get to a position of being able to run things tend to be distasteful, in large amounts, to introverts.


Right, but smart people should be able to run things passively. I.e. through influence vs direct intervention.

It takes even more cleverness to run things the introvert way, than to just abstain from any kind of involvement.


Given the prior assumption that introverts are generally more intelligent than extroverts, we can actually make the argument that this has already happened. For example, rather than lobbying for lower prices from Microsoft or filing antitrust lawsuits, geeks invented GNU/Linux and created Google. Rather than attempting to play the extrovert's game of socializing and interacting face-to-face, introverts invented the internet, which is the single most pervasive form of communication today and happens to be a medium where anonymity is the norm and extroverts are unable to gain an advantage with their superior skills at non-verbal communication. I think technology has probably changed the world and the way people behave way more than any politician has.

Of course, that is assuming that geeks are mostly introverts, which is by no means a given. As a previous poster has said, the introvert/extrovert divide is probably a false dichotomy. I think it's more likely to be a spectrum than a binary categorization.


Odd. I've been an introvert for my whole life, and this is the first time I've ever come across such a brilliant description of what's going through my mind when I'm propelled into a crowd of people and asked to endure the hot air and noise they call socializing. I'm not shy either, yet I've always lacked the compunction to talk for the sake of filling a silence. Thanks for the link. It's been mailed to all the people who've called me an anti-social bastard down the years :)


"90% of all human communication is 'I'm still here. Are you still there?'" - Timothy Leary

For many people, words are incidental, and the actual communication occurs based on facial expressions and body language. For those of us who like language specifically for communicating complex and interesting ideas, this phenomenon is exasperating.


So you're saying we prefer less ping/ack packets and more data packets. Put that way, it appears that the primary problem when introverts communicate with extroverts is that we use incompatible protocols. I wonder if we could write a codec for this.


I don't like the whole introvert vs extrovert divide. I am extremely introverted in some situations and extremely extroverted in others. I think I tend more towards the introverted side, sure, but I do plenty of things which smack more of the attention-seeking extrovert. Also, while I'm often shy to approach new people to start up a conversation (particularly if it revolves around the dreaded and dreadful "small talk"), when approached by others I never retreat into my shell - in fact, I come out and have a great conversation with pretty much anybody.

Perhaps, as the article argues, having introverted tendencies is not a choice, but giving in to them at the wrong time probably is. We all, extro- or introverts, have the potential to do both.


You may not like the divide, but in my moderately introverted experience, it is absolutely real. I can be very social and gregarious, but my energy and ability to recharge comes from solitude. Until I figured this out, and my wife and I came to an understanding about it, our difference i vs. e was a source of friction.

I also think it is telling that you speak of introverted tendencies in language that clearly dissaproves of "giving in" these "introverted tendencies". In some ways that linguistic construction echoes a moral judgment being passed on someone for their involuntary orientation. Maybe you can choose to do both (engage in both introverted and extroverted behaviours) but there are clearly people further along the continuum than you towards the introverted side for whom that proposition is much tougher, and in some cases impossible.


Exactly. When I visit my friends, or go to parties or bars, I can be social, but I can't do it seven days in a row. If I don't get a few nights to myself per week, I get crazy and hate my life (and other people's, too.)


In any given Psychological classification you can attribute yourself to different sides of the classification. This is because everyone is different.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individual_Differences for more explanation.

In the same case, you have to take this for both it's merits and demerits.


It's there. I was at a gathering of about 15 people with my girlfriend and all the chattering was causing me stress, though I didn't realize it. I thought I looked in control well enough to not be noticed, but people kept asking me if I was OK, repeatedly. Later my girlfriend told me I looked panicked. She'll still laugh at me for that.


Couldn't have said it better myself. I didn't particularly identify with either side of the divide (or rather, I identify with parts of both sides). I'm usually not the life of the party, and I'm far from great at small talk, but on the other hand I tend to go absolutely nuts if I'm alone for too long.

I don't doubt that the divide is real, but as with most behavioural traits I suspect that reality is more of a spectrum, with the majority of people falling somewhere towards the middle.


Like it or not, there are things that can be measured, and when you do, you get different answers. Introversion/Extroversion can be measured, and people get different scores.

Some people get different scores at different times or in different contexts, but that doesn't mean the measurements are meaningless or valueless.

Understanding these issues can be of tremendous value, and can help to ensure that unusual personality types are not needlessly "treated" or harrassed. Instead, others can be encouraged to realise that different people have different needs.


Actually, most scales of introversion and extroversion (some people spell it extraversion) are quite poorly validated, and that especially goes for the Myers-Briggs questionnaires.

http://skepdic.com/myersb.html

http://www.indiana.edu/~jobtalk/HRMWebsite/hrm/articles/deve...

I accept the idea that some people on particular occasions enjoy the company of other people more than others, but it's considerably less clear that this is even a stable trait, rather than a state, on the individual level, and many of the inferences drawn from classifying a person as "introverted" or "extroverted" are highly debatable.


"The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves."

Listening to someone talk out of their ass is absolute torture. Honestly, it is something that I have a very difficult time sitting through.


Absolutely. I like listening to people talk when I'm interested in what they're saying and want to communicate with them, but when someone (like a co-worker) babbles on about their kids' baseball games or something, it is hell. I don't care! Stop talking!

This article spoke to about 90% of me. I've been introverted all my life (though less so in the past few years) but have always done pretty good with speaking in front of a group or acting in a school play or whatever. It's when there's a large group with many different conversations going on where I end up not talking to anyone and begin to feel like an outsider. One-on-one though, I can have a conversation with just about anyone. It usually takes the form of - They talk, I ask questions, they keep talking.


I think when they are telling you a story, even a boring and a stupid one it's okay, but the problem with Es is that very often you have to listen to their "mental" process, how ideas are emerging in their brains... now that's really boring :) "I don't care! Stop talking!" Just give me the answer or final thought


Wow. For the introverts reading this, you're going to be nodding your head through the entire thing. Particularly if you live with an extrovert.


It's a good article, isn't it? I loved this quote because it fits me like glue:

"many actors, I've read, are introverts, and many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors"

I wish the article went into more detail regarding how introverted brains process information differently than extroverted ones. Anyone have any information about this?


i don't think there's much magic to it. i think it's simply that reflexivity for some people grants them more energy than interacting with the environment does, for whatever reason. it may be a chemical thing

Jungian psychology (such as MBTI) deals with introversion/extroversion on a psychological level. one thing to keep in mind is that introversion/extroversion are independent of one's affinity for people. if there is a psychometric factor for people, it would be the so-called Feeling functions. in other words, you can commonly have introverts who are people people and extroverts who are terrible with people


No information, but here's some personal anecdotal data: I'm definitely an introvert, but I'm also a bit of a performer. Specifically, I enjoy giving presentations and lectures, and I always try to make them entertaining. I think the issue for me is interactivity -- I'm comfortable with noninteractive performance, but I find sustained interaction to be draining.


> I'm comfortable with noninteractive performance

Thank you. As someone who can and likes to get on stage and do public speaking/tell personal stories to an audience, I think you've succinctly described why I like to do that and not mingle. Social hacking, mind hacking, and mingling techniques aside (which help), even in my most social, I gravitate towards deep one-on-one over being the entertainer in a loud, group conversation. And, yes my deep one-on-one smacks of being so lost in listening that the other person falls in love with talking to you (non-interactive again)

Makes me wonder if there are more mental hacks to be applied - e.g. if you think of the group conversation as more non-interactive than interactive will that help?

As an aside on group conversations (another HN discussion) - I find that I can handle group conversations better if I don't try to participate (e.g. non-interactive yet again). I could listen to conversations all day (I find the interplay fascinating). I can lose myself in other people's stories (to the point of my friends saying - are you having a good time? you're not saying anything - and I usually am.)


I'm curious, for the "deep one-on-one": is this more often with people you know well, or casual acquaintances who pique your interest on a particular subject?


For as long as I can remember, I have had a keen interest in understanding more about what I don't understand. Observing is my number one passion. Since I don't understand quite a lot, I can be easily entertained and captivated. I understand that a lot of people on News.YC want to talk about intellectual topics - I fancy myself a snob because I feel like I can listen/talk about anything (as long as the other person is interested in what they are talking about)

By "deep one-on-one", I mean conversations where I am basically allowing someone to play the role of 'expert'. Not necessarily deep philosophical topics. But something the individual is keenly interested and/or passionate about. It doesn't have to be a person I know well - I've had these fulfilling mini-conversations with people on a train (and it tends to be strangers/acquaintances because I keep a moat around myself).

For example, yesterday at our office galley I got into a 5-minute conversation about soccer (with someone who plays for fun on weekends). I learned that one of the best ways to become a better soccer dribbler (foot skills) is to practice kicking a ball in the surf on the beach (because you have the water resistance to deal with). He also said that the reason why Americans aren't good at soccer (football) among other reasons is - Americans have perfect playing fields, while Brazilians, they grow up kicking stuff in the dirt, sand so the groomed soccer field is easy compared to the rough + tumble environment they learned on. I love learning about the 'hacks' (to become better faster).


Similarly I find I am comfortable with structured interaction. I'm ok if I"m meeting someone in a business setting, but I'm awkward if I'm meeting friends of friends. I don't now how to interact, and small talk with people who I am not close to is painful.


Like others have said, I nodded my head through the entire article--pretty much describes me 100%.

A few years ago in a psychology class the teacher gave us some drawing tools and asked us all to draw what we'd be doing on an ideal day. I drew my girlfriend and I lounging on a beach with a pile of books. The person next to me drew themselves at a party and other drew themselves parasailing behind a boat filled with people.

Afterwards we took the Big 5 personality test and compared out introversion/extroversion results to our pictures and without fail, our introversion was predicted by the lack of people in our drawings.


Introvert/Extrovert is not a capability as it is a preference. It took some time and pain in my high-school to realize I simply do not enjoy parties and clubs. I was very surprised by it too, since most of my middle school was full of stories about how awesome parties will be.

This is a piece of information which should be made available to young people as early as possible. It's another in the thousands of things schools do not even try to teach, but they should.


It is dangerous to label not least because the "my tribe is better than yours" becomes a spontaneous reaction. People should be left to themselves to figure out themselves.


I believe a quote by Soren Kierkegaard is apt in this discussion: "I have just now come from a party where I was its life and soul; witticisms streamed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me, but I went away — yes, the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth's orbit ——————————— and wanted to shoot myself."

Funniest thing he ever wrote.


This quote is not about introversion, but about despair (depression?), isolation, and a poor definition of self.

http://www.google.ca/search?q="have+just+now+come+from+a+par...

The dash should also come before the word "but".

But then, a quote's whatever you interpret it to be, no?


I did screw up the quote, and I know it is about despair (different than depression, I think) but it popped into my head. I should have been more rigorous about getting the quote right. Sorry 'bout that.


I recommend reading "The Introvert Advantage" for a more detailed look at introversion and advice on dealing with extroverts and situations which favor extroverts.


Old but very good article. For once I'm glad to see something I've seen before.


I'm one of the evil extroverts, and I love it. I'll be happy to answer any of your questions.


How does it feel to be a member of the lesser race? ;) (no hard feelings, jus' kidding)


What did you think of the article? We see the introverts saying it describes them 100%. The article itself says an extrovert would never understand what the author speaks of. What did you think of it?


Well, I think I can relate to the part about having other people make me feel tired. But that might be just because I was introverted years ago.

In any case, I think I can get along fine with introverts as long as they're polite. But when my introverted brother interrupts me in mid-sentence and says "Sorry, I'm not really interested in talking about this", that's a bit much. I humor people when they want to talk about things I'm not interested in--is it really that hard?


Is this really not satire? "Are introverts arrogant? Hardly. I suppose this common misconception has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts."


I think that part was a joke. But the article as a whole is definitely not satire; it's an excellent description of how I and many other people feel in social situations, and a rebuttal of some common misconceptions about us that have been annoying me for years.


How is that a joke. It fits neatly how I would have described it. Introverts are more reflective, the author states that they are a majority amongst the gifted and perhaps their reflection perhaps leads to sensitivity.


If you get a chance, read the interview with the author. It's a good companion piece to the article, and maybe even to Why Nerds Are Unpopular:

"They've turned this word 'geek' into a term that's almost romantic in some ways, and through the Silicon economy, they've been massively innovative and economically important. A lot of them are running circles around the extroverts who are selling shoes. So I think part of what's happened lately is that the digital economy is giving introverts a new place in the sun."


[deleted]


Um. I think the three different proportions (25%, just under half, "minority but majority in creative population") were simply to demonstrate that there was no clear agreement on the number of introverts (at least via Google).


Like a breath of fresh air.




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