Introverts see and experience the world very differently from others, particularly, our polar opposites, extraverts. Thus we interact with the world differently.

1. Introverts are not preoccupied with the latest trends.

I only wear classic clothing. Dark Jeans, solid color T shirts, polo shirts, Henley’s, chinos, leather jackets, and solid color button down shirts. I have worn the same type of clothing for my entire adult life. I admit I had to try a goatee, when they were in, and briefly went through a time with spiked hair, when I used to have hair. Now I am glad shaved heads are in however.

2. Introverts do more observing and listening than talking.

I watch people, sometimes, to their distress, a little too intently. It is a myth that introverts don’t like being around people. Introverts are fascinated by people. We just don’t want too many of them around us at the same time. And we try not to talk to them unless they have something really interesting to say. We prefer watching, studying, and analyzing others.

3. Introverts find social interaction exhausting, and solitude restoring.

birdbranch

I had a horrible year a few years back. I was filled with dread about the spring and early summer months ahead, as I had to endure:

  1. A wedding
  2. A staff retreat
  3. An awards banquet.

My stomach is knotting up as I write these words re-live the trauma.

1) A friend was getting married for the first time in his late thirties. I had to go. There was no way around it, or I would look like a total clod. He was a colleague at a local community college, and he and his soon to be wife was always good to me, and I was socially obligated to reciprocate. It wasn’t bad at all. There was no dancing the funky chicken. (Did I mention the groom was an introvert?) I found two fellow introverts there as guests; my former professors- cum- colleagues from when I was a student at the college I was now teaching at. We sat together, and talked about the difference in perspective between student and faculty, and had a good time.

2). The clinic I worked at had its first annual retreat. This was not a good time. We had to mediate. We had to bring a pot luck dish. Our photos were taken a week early and printed out. We had to pick someone else’s photos and say one secret about them they had written on the back. I guess this built what the military calls unit integrity without getting shot at or having shit blown up around you. I think I would have found rounds whizzing over my head and explosions more palatable. We did a team building walk. Fuck me. Could it get any worse? That was a stupid question. Yes it could actually. We had to do a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) analysis, it couldn’t just all be fun. The best part was a broccoli, cauliflower, black and green olive with chunks- of-cheddar salad drizzled with extra virgin olive oil someone had brought.

3). Then to ice the cake, I had just passed a licensure exam, and I had to go and “get the recognition of my peers”. We had a luncheon, and the speaker announced who had just gotten licensed, we would stand, and everyone else would paint a smile on and applaud, even the people there who despised you. On my, get me an IV drip of Compazine [a medication for the suppression of severe nausea and vomiting]. I tried hard to get out of this one. My supervisor, who was a very good man, asked me kindly “don’t you want the recognition of your peers” No. Why would I want that? I am an introvert. I hate being recognized. I asked him if I had to go as a condition of continued employment at the clinic. He deflected, and said he really wanted me to attend. There was no getting out of this. I gritted my teeth, took a deep breath, and grimly walked in with my jaw set, and my back stiff, prepared to take the pain. It was agony. Waterboard me with splinters stuck under my toenails while playing rap music.

4. Introverts notice things others don’t, and both worry about some of them, and enjoy some of them.

This can be serious, and have very broad implications. Too much of American society is over-occupied with celebrities, professional sports, gossip, what their neighbors are doing, and the latest fashion trends. Yet not enough Americans have an interest in or knowledge of history, literature, science, culture, or politics, or even worse, they mindlessly embrace trends, without exercising any critical thought. This is very frightening. Introverts are slower to embrace new ideas. We think them over, chew on them a little, and consider them critically. We focus in on the important issues, and sometimes, worry about the implications and potential consequences.

On a much less grim note, introverts also notice what others miss, and find happiness, awe, and wonder in ordinary things. Flushing out a leapie (my word for a frog) walking along a creek bank as I am fishing makes my day almost as much as discovering a bush of wild black raspberries. The feeling of a panfish tugging on the line from a creek no wider than a sidewalk is even better; most of all when he has taken a fly you tied yourself.

5. Introverts dread someone asking are you OK?

When I am not I will say so. Until then, don’t ask. At a clinic I worked at, we had a discussion about response to a patient suicide, an inevitable part of providing mental health care. Part of the discussion included, if a patient commits suicide, the other staff were supposed to call on you in your office to comfort you. Are you kidding me? That makes my skin crawl; I spoke up and amended this to if I lose a patient, the last thing I want is anyone’s company. Keep away from me, don’t look at me, and don’t talk to me. I will need to process this on my own, and if needed, I will come and find someone to talk to- someone– emphasis on one. Introverts do not display their emotions publicly. We will let go in the presence of someone we trust, otherwise, we tend to be tightly reigned in, at least about grief.               

The bottom line is that all of the above and more are based in differing perspectives. An afternoon of fishing in a creek, taking photos of frogs and picking wild berries would be torturous for an extravert. An afternoon cruising on a yacht with 20 friends and partying would be horrendous for an introvert. Imagine a party where the only way out was to swim to short or take a lifeboat.

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