I am guilty of blogging away my anger and tears after struggling to connect with other people. I prefer staying at home or going to a quiet coffee shop over attending a loud party or nightclub. I like reading, knitting and Netflix and I absolutely hate small talk.
Yet I didn't discover I was an introvert through a quiz or by reviewing a list I found on my Facebook News Feed. When I was a teenager, I wasn't aware of introversion as a real thing; most of the time it was commonly referred to as being "anti-social." I had to discover this part of my personality - and what it really means - on my own.
One of the biggest frustrations among introverts is the advice doled out by so-called experts to "help" introverts become more social, a hot media trend of recent years. I want to scream at them: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
Dr. Andrea Letamendi is a clinical psychologist, scientist and speaker. I spoke to her about the definition of introverts and the (many times inaccurate) portrayals that surround them on the Internet.
People do not fit into a binary system.
The first step we must take in understanding introverts - and extroverts, for that matter - is that no one really fits either type 100% of the time.
"Think of it as continuum, in that some people are low on the introversion scale, and others are high, and of course, some of us are around the middle," says Dr. Letamendi.
Most are actually ambiverts, people drawn to both inner and outer experiences. Ultimately, any label you slap on a person without knowing her is most likely incorrect.
Introversion isn't a disorder.
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One of the most persistent problems facing introverts is the idea that they need to be "fixed." Fear is a motivating factor behind this particular misconception, and it's perpetuated by the 24-hour news cycle in particular.
More often than not, the term "introvert" is hastily applied to the sometimes uneasy, quiet teens who end up on the evening news for committing heinous crimes against their classmates or themselves. But these people are not typical introverts, and their introversion was not the cause of the events that made them infamous.
Most of the news coverage surrounding Aurora, Colo., shooter James Holmes harps on the fact that he was "quiet" and "shy." The same words have been used over and over again to describe people who commit mass murder.
How does highlighting a person's introversion get to the real story of what's going on in his or her head? It can't.
"Introversion is not a condition, not a disorder, and certainly not acknowledged in the psychiatric classification of disorders as a mental health problem," explains Dr. Letamendi, adding that when people see something they can't understand at face value, it's easy to suspect the worst of it.
In reality, introverts are happy, social people with a circle of friends whom they trust. We may not always be social butterflies, but that doesn't mean we want to stay locked away from the world. In the same vein, extroverts can also struggle with social anxiety and depression. Mental illness doesn't choose a particular personality. Mental health is just part of being a human.
Using introversion as an excuse.
It is possible to be happy and outgoing while still being an introverted special snowflake. However, some people try to rationalise that they are introverted because they have social anxiety, or they're anti-social, but this isn't introversion at all.
"It's a misconception that people who are introverted dislike other people or find social interaction aversive or distressing. It's also a misconception that introverts have deficits in social skills," says Dr. Letamendi.
So when a self-proclaimed introvert says, "I hate people," it's important to recognise this isn't introversion. Introverts love people; we just dislike small talk. Introverts are more inclined to talk about deeper subject matters, so we're probably more interested in a story from your childhood or a philosophy theory than the weather or what you ate for breakfast. Most introverts have great social skills - we just need the right setting.
Unfortunately, introverts often struggle maintaining their relationships with their extroverted friends. There are countless stories on the Internet of people dumping their buddies because the latter didn't want to go party. The resulting isolation often leads to depression and increased anxiety, even for introverts who did not suffer before.
If an introvert is experiencing symptoms of depression - low energy, fatigue, irritability and lack of interest in things a person would normally be interested in - it's not because of introversion, but it can be easy to get trapped in a cycle of isolation and not know which came first.
Introversion doesn't make you a genius.
If you look at Tumblr, introverts like to associate themselves with scholarly pursuits and nerd culture. Introversion, as Dr. Letamendi says, is a "stable personality trait." Therefore, it cannot logically affect a person's aptitude, as much as myself and my fellow introverts would all love this myth to be true. In fact, there are many extroverts who are just as smart and nerdy as introverts, and not all introverts are geniuses by default, though many introverts generally enjoy activities like reading and writing.
So how can we set aside our differences and just play nicely? If we change the way we think and behave - introverts and extroverts alike - there may be hope for us yet. Here are some tips ...
1. Introverts, keep your "me" time, but cut back on the Internet.
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If you need to be alone, do it. Make your downtime pleasurable and use it to do your favorite activities. It's important for an introvert to recharge, so dump any negativity you might have.
Seeking out support or social interaction is fine, to a point. However, Dr. Letamendi warns, "Spending time on the Internet is associated with perceived stronger social support and increased confidence, but those benefits come with some costs when it comes to actual face-to-face encounters. One Temple University study, for instance, found that introverts who frequently used the Internet reported less community involvement, increased loneliness, increased negative affect, increased time pressure, and decreased self-esteem over the course of the study relative to introverts who rarely used it."
So, all that time spent talking about being an introvert on Reddit or Tumblr might be hurting you more than you think.
2. Extroverts, try changing up your social schedule with your introvert friends, once in a while.
Your introvert friends love a good party now and then, but they also just want to sit and have a cup of coffee with you. Why not change things up and plan some more introverted activities when your friend isn't feeling up to a big group? Sometimes, she just wants to hang out, one-on-one.
3. Realise relationships are a two-way street.
Some introverts need understanding and patience, but no one likes to be rejected all the time. A common problem among introverts is that they like to be invited to the party, even if they don't go. Often, this situation ends with the introvert being dumped by their friends and feeling betrayed. But this situation isn't necessarily fair to their extroverted friends, either. At some point, the introvert should exert some effort and go to the party. It's important to compromise.
4. Give yourself something to do.
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If you are at a party where you don't know many people, or you just don't want to be your friend's shadow all night, find a job. Feel like you can make it as a mixologist? Create some cocktails for the guests. Bartenders aren't just great at making drinks; they also listen to people's stories. Or, if you're more of an audiophile, play DJ for the night. Nothing brings people together like musical requests.
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Find a quiet spot during the party to keep you from overloading. It will make the gathering much more enjoyable and you'll feel less drained after all the social stimuli. Afterward, take an hour for some quiet time at home to wind down. And don't feel bad about it.
6. Make a plan.
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Introverts like to plan things. If you are more of an extrovert, perhaps dropping in unannounced or proposing spontaneous bar hopping isn't the most enjoyable activity for your introverted pal. Let him know what is happening so he can make a game plan: where he's going, when he can decompress, and when he should call it a night, is all very important.
Whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, your personality isn't something you can change to fit the fashion of the season. Introversion isn't a trend, so stop treating it like it's trendy. There's a lot more to it.
Have something to add? Tell us in the comments.
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