It seems like ever since Jonathan Rauch penned his seminal Atlantic piece entitled “Caring For Your Introvert” (profiled at the Badger Hut here) the introversion awareness movement has done nothing but gain steam. At least in the educated white-collar knowledge-economy circles in which I run, it’s become more and more acceptable to allude to one’s introversion as a working style or a personal constraint.
In the interest of full (if already-discussed) disclosure, I am significantly introverted myself. I think my last MBTI rated me at 15/20 I, or over 80% preference to introversion over extroversion. I exhibit the classic sign that if I’m conversing with people and we’re not talking about something substantive, I quickly lose juice to the point my skin will begin to crawl.
It’s important to recall that introversion does mean one is “quiet” or “shy.” I for one am wholly neither. Introversion simply means that socializing, especially the mind-numbing “small talk,” is an energy-consuming endeavor. (Lovers would do well to recognize and calibrate against their partners.)
As Rauch emphasizes, extroversion or the faking thereof is prized as a value in North American society. It’s not that life is easier per se for extroverted people – it’s that certain factors about society are organized make the extroverted style a beneficial one, and in some cases the introverted style a decidedly costly style. The archetype of the racounteur or lady-with-flair as “bubbly” or the “life of the party,” combined with the suspicion and derision of the folks who don’t need to buzz in people’s ears, puts the extrovert in a logistically advantageous in business and in the game.
Let me be clear that I’m not complaining, or whining that it’s unfair, or demanding a recompense – I’m simply acknowledging the truth. I’ve made some uncomfortable-at-the-time changes in my life that have helped me succeed in spite of it, but I’ve also made sure to assert my own needs when necessary and drawn the benefits thereof. It’s like any other personal trait…you use it when it helps, you mitigate it when it makes for trouble.
So with the world getting more aware of the Introversey, it was only a matter of time before the extrovert backlash began. One volley came across my desk a couple of weeks ago in the form of one Brigitte Lyons, whose breathless piece is headlined “5 Myths About Extroverts That Need To Die.” (Evidently she’d gone to the Cosmo/Cracked school of list-based writing.)
Author’s note: I have abridged the quotes, but have not Dowdified them so as to change their meaning.
Myth 1. Extroverts don’t have feelings.
This is a strawman. Nobody on the I side has argued that extroverts don’t have feelings. We have argued that Es tend to lack sensitivity for the energy-draining experience they give to Is.
I get it. I talk too much. I’m loud. You feel overlooked and marginalized. You’re afraid you’re being left out.
Now she’s being daft about her subject matter. Just as introversion =/= quiet, extroversion =/= loud.
WE ALL FEEL LEFT OUT.
WTF is this, a replay of the Breakfast Club? What’s really going on here is that she’s communicating “I feel left out” – it looks like she’s empathizing, but in reality she’s appealing to other people’s bad experiences to get a short-circuit dose of empathy from them.
I’m not gonna lie – I’m not entirely unsympathetic to her point, because attention-seeking behavior is a not-uncommon response to school-era bullying or marginalizing experiences. But the rhetorical manipulation is as naked as it is ineffective.
You don’t have the market cornered on feeling unwanted or under-appreciated..
I’m not your enemy, and it hurts my feelings when you label me as one. Stop it.
I almost stopped reading at this point, because I realized it was no longer about personality traits when interacting with people. It was about the author’s own solipsistic narcissism, flailing against the feeling of being attacked by blog writers and Facebook commenters who have never met her and weren’t writing about her.
Myth 2. Extroverts are naturally outgoing.
I consistently embarrass myself in public, because I just can’t seem to STFU.
Do you even know what happens to the loud kids? THEY GET LAUGHED AT. ALL THE TIME.
First, the sentences you write actually confirm the “myth” you propose. And second, you don’t have an extroversion problem, honey. You have a self-control problem and a busted social-propriety sensor.
Myth 3. Extroverts aren’t introspective.
A common argument is that introverts think and extroverts act.
As my counter-argument, I present this entire blog.
I walked to school. My best friend played with rockets. Non-sequitur.
Myth 4. Extroverts don’t want to hear what you have to say.
Nothing could be further from the truth! I’m intensely interested in other people. That’s kind of the definition of extroversion. I get high off being around you.
So you’ve admitted that you like to try to goad people into acting in ways you know is intensely uncomfortable for them so you can feel better about yourself.
When I get excited, I tend to talk my ass off. I can’t seem to help it, although I am getting better. Later, I am totally traumatized, because:
Why can’t you react to getting excited like normal people do, by taking a shot or sleeping with the wrong guy?
But here’s the thing about us extroverts. We aren’t comfortable with silence. For me, silence = social rejection.
Rejection rhymes with projection – you’re having difficulty understanding the situation from another person’s point of view, or at least enough to consider modulating your behavior in the faint interest of the other person.
Myth 5. Extroverts are self-absorbed bastards, who are stomping all over you.
Extroverts, by their very nature, really, really, really want to get to know you. We don’t win by marginalizing you.
I wholly disagree with this assertion as she’s framed it. My experience with super-extroverted people has been entirely not that they actually want to get to know me. My experience has been more like flirting with a vampire – you can sense quickly that they are seeking to take your energy. The conversation quickly becomes an elaborate dance where the other party desperately tries to bait me into giving them something (a joke, a smile, a personal detail) that stimulates them. Of course, like the first free hit, it just leads to them wanting more and more. It’s been the revolving door of invasive but irrelevant personal questions peppered with their own content-free anecdotes and frat-like infusions of enthusiasm trying to pump up my own emotional state to match theirs. And contrary to her point, I never detect that the vampire is at all paying attention to me beyond the stimulation I’m reluctantly providing, because they almost never seek to re-calibrate the exchange closer to my energy level and away from my obvious discomfort.
However, I’m being unfair to the trait of extroversion itself – and so is she. In fact, the entire article is a head-fake operation. Not one of the five items on this list have to do with extroversion. They have to do with being insecure, and shoring up that insecurity by acting out socially, then blaming it on an incidental personality trait that she thinks will make it easier for the “quiet people” to better empathize with her plight (and thus to further feed her unmet need for acceptance).
One need not be defined by their social energy style. However, everyone needs to understand that they don’t need to act the moment they feel the urge – her urge to subject her associates to verbal cholera or my urge to take a long trip to the bathroom when I feel my energy dipping.
I could have riffed entirely on the photo accompanying the post. I get a headache just looking at her facial expression, because I’ve known a dozen others like it. Her mouth-agape pose is not one of friendliness, rather it’s the intentionally outrageous posture of someone who is going to make it a tactical life goal to get me to give a crap about them. It’s social exhibitionism, goading and harassing the crowd for a reaction. The reaction gives Lyons attention, it validates her. Her form of insecurity demands that she seek social stimulation as a coping strategy, a strategy that ironically overrides the kind of personal discretion that could in the long run provide her with the secure, healthy social approval that would finally sate her needs.
The contrast in the two articles’ frames is striking. Rauch’s piece was measured, unapologetic and expository, with a tone of “I don’t operate exactly how you do, I’d appreciate if you could keep that in mind.” Lyons’ response is conversely histrionic – “I have personal problems that I’ve rationalized as an immutable trait. Will you please tell me it’s OK?”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to sit quietly for a little while.