Introverts are different. There are certain social situations which make us suffer. I could spend the next 1000 words or so griping and complaining about these situations, which every introvert knows all too well. More productively, I could offer some ways to decrease the pain and dial it down to a tolerable level.

1. Small talk.

This is just acutely painful. It is an expected part of social interaction when meeting someone new, in a business or social setting, and can be viewed as an opener to more in-depth, real conversation. One of the reasons for small talk hurting so badly is the next item.

2. Trite overused sayings and clichés

  • In response to spilling a beverage while in the process of drinking: What’s a matter? Got a hole in your lip?
  • In response to coughing or sneezing: Ya gonna make it?
  • In response to something bad happening: Well, that’s better than a sharp stick in the eye.

I bet those were really clever sayings about one hundred years ago. A message to extraverts: Come up with something original.

3. Douchebags barking into cell phones while we introverts are trying to read, write or think.

This is my least favorite, so I am going to rant for a bit. A while actually. I am a cell phone hold out. I do not use one. I do not own one. I refuse to. I have no desire to own one. I do not even know how to use one, and I don’t want to learn. Am I rigid in my thinking? Totally, and I have no desire to change it. The first time I ever saw one was 1991, in a supermarket in upstate New York. A man walked around talking into a cell phone about 10 inches long, with about an eight inch chrome antennae extending out the top. Everybody in the market turned and stared at him as he passed, and a lot of people commented something to the effect of: “who does he think he is?” How things have changed.

Of course, it is just a tool- a machine. It is not good or bad in and of itself, but rather it is the way it is utilized. Manners and social norms have lagged behind the technology on this one. I think they can be obnoxious, rude, and inappropriate tools of the self-absorbed, self-important, and pretentious. They can make people helpless, dependent, and intrusive.

I watched a man in his 50‘s sitting with a very beautiful young lady about 30 years his junior, either his daughter or a call girl- paying no attention whatsoever to her. and making one phone call after another. Why would you do this? If she was a call girl, she was totally hot, and instead of admiring her and informing her of her loveliness, you were busy making phone calls, and we’re wasting your money. No wonder you hire call girls. Try paying attention to women instead of ignoring them, and maybe you wouldn’t have to pay for their company. If she was your daughter, why would you ignore her, instead of just being glad to be in her presence, glowing with proud satisfaction at having raised such a lovely woman, and taking an interest in her life? I watched a woman talking on a cell phone while walking her dog, and with her 10 year old daughter. She wasn’t paying attention to where the dog was going, or where her daughter was. She clotheslined her daughter, who fell face first and bloodied her nose on the cement. She finished her call before she tended to her daughter. Oh, I have to go, Betty just fell. I think she broke her nose. What? Oh, O.K., well, I’ll talk to you later.

Some people talk on those things because they think it makes them look important, or connected; look at me, look at the deals I arrange, the power I have, look at how connected I am, how many friends I have, and how important I am. Here is some news for you: Truly important people are difficult to get a hold of. They have layers of privacy screens around them. As introverts know, there is more power in anonymity than in publicity. Also, if you loudly bark into a cell phone, talking about meetings, investments, reports, and giving orders to your subordinates- you don’t project an aura of power, you project the aura of a douchebag.

People get so worried about the NSA or the FBI dumping their cell phone records, but these same people walk down the street loudly talking about their private matters in public. It would be more cost effective to follow them and eavesdrop from a block away instead of intercepting their call with a $300,000,000 satellite. By the way, you are probably really not important enough for the NSA or FBI to give a shit about, unless you really are doing something that is a threat to our National Security, in which case, you should be worried.

Some other tips:

Don’t make one call after another. If you have so many important calls to make- go home and do it in your living room. Not the gym, not a bike path, a grocery store, a cafe, or other public place. Strangers next to you do not care about your personal petty bullshit. The person you are speaking to barely cares about what color you are painting your bedroom walls, how great the black bean soup was at the new bistro you visited, or that you got crabs from the call girl ( don’t go so cheap next time). The stranger next to you, unless they are an aural voyeur, cares even less.

When you are sitting with someone you care about, or are trying to make a good impression- such as your first date, the call girl you are paying $1,000 an hour for, your potential new boss, or the police officer who has just pulled you over to ask you about the $1,000 an hour call girl in the seat next to you- turn it off and don’t talk on it.

4. Creepy strangers who want to introduce themselves to you.

As I was sitting here on a swing on a beautiful waterfront entering these words into my laptop, Creepy Stranger walked by and then turned to ask me: “are you a native Vermonter ?” Are you serious? I stared at him for a moment and simply said “I have work to do sir”. He got the message and moved on. Be direct and set clear limits and boundaries.

 5. Being noticed.

Introverts love their privacy. They don’t like being noticed. You feel exposed. Violated. I was once introduced to someone as this is Dave, he is kind of secretive. He said that like it was a bad thing.

 6. Staff retreats/picnics.

I no longer have to tolerate these as I am in private practice. I have been through some horrendous ones. It would be hard for me to pick the very worst they were all so bad, because inevitably at a staff retreat, you will have Team Building exercises. Team building exercises go right along with staff retreats the way diarrhea goes with a stomach virus. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to, and gut up and take the pain.

 7. Weddings/Parties/Awards banquets.

These are acutely painful. Go with a fellow introvert, or find other introverts at these events to connect with, and it can go from unbearable discomfort to actually having a good time.

You will notice that first dates and job interviews are not on the list. This is one of the differences between shyness and introversion, Introverts shine in one- on- one situation. It is anything involving large shallow groups that make us ill. We like going in the deep water, not walking through mud puddles.


Written by David A. Porter, MA, LADC
Private Practice, Otter Creek Associates
Adjunct Faculty in Psychology and Criminology, Community College of Vermont & Burlington College
Freelance Behavioral Science writer