Friday, March 10, 2006

Thoughts on introversion

Do you feel the need to spend a certain amount of time alone each day? Do you find it hard to understand how some people can move from one social engagement to another without taking any time off in between to “recharge”? If so, you might want to read this excellent article about introverts, written by Jonathan Rauch in 2003. (Thanks to Amit for pointing me towards it.)

And if you don’t relate to the above - well, that’s all the more reason for you to read the piece, which is largely about the hegemony exercised by extroverts over introverts.

Extroverts dominate social life, so they tend to set expectations. In our extrovertist society, being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of happiness, confidence, leadership. Extroverts are seen as bighearted, vibrant, warm, empathetic. “People person” is a compliment. Introverts are described with words like “guarded”, “loner”, “reserved”, “taciturn”, “self-contained”, “private”— narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality. Female introverts, I suspect, must suffer especially ... a man can still sometimes get away with being what they used to call a strong and silent type; introverted women, lacking that alternative, are even more likely than men to be perceived as timid, withdrawn, haughty.

There’s much in the piece that I can strongly identify with. I often feel stressed out when there are a number of social obligations to be met in the course of a single day, even if most of them are inherently pleasant: say, going for a movie at 12, then meeting a friend for coffee at 3, sitting with guests at home in the evening, and then going out for a party at 9. You get the idea: even if there’s adequate time between the engagements so that they can all be done without things getting too rushed, I’ll still be completely drained when the day is finally over -- and I probably won’t want to do anything the next day that requires too much effort.

I’m not completely sure about the distinction Rauch makes between being introverted and being shy (possibly because I’m both myself), but his point that being introverted isn’t the same as being misanthropic is a vital one. Shyness being mistaken for arrogance is something that commonly afflicts our species.

Read the
full piece and also this interview with Rauch. (Warning: some of it is tongue-in-cheek so try not to get too put off by assertions about introverts being “more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive” than extroverts. Though, uh, I’d like to think most of that is true as well!)

P.S. Enjoyed this line: “Many actors are introverts, and many introverts, when socialising, feel like actors.”


  1. That article was a complete WOW-WOW-WOW material for me too!

    I wanted to desperately express the strong connection somewhere. So (from an introvert to another introvert) sorry for using up ur space for my dump :p.

  2. I do you feel the need to spend a certain amount of time alone each day. I also find it hard to understand how some people can move from one social engagement to another without taking any time off in between to "recharge". But I am also very good at small talk, I love having people around me, I can think on my feet and never reflect. Oh, and if you ask anyone who knows me whether there could be a chance of my being an introvert, they would split their sides laughing.

    What I definitely am is confused.

    P.S. And the greatest coincidence happened. I was reading the Atlantic story and wondering what you would say about it, and I came to your blog and saw this post.

  3. Zero: group-hug time again! :)

    Shrabonti: there probably isn't a very clear line separating the two types. I know of other people who fulfil some of the criteria but don't generally appear to be introverted. I have a feeling Fauch himself is a very extreme introvert, which is why you might not be able to relate to everything he says.

  4. Can so relate to that line about actor's being introverts, and about feeling like an actor (well, I am one) while socializing

  5. Loved the article.

    Introverts aren't shy. I understand that distinction. Shy would be a person who would not want to speak, express himself. Introverts do not have deprivation in aspects like morale, confidence either. They aren't poorer because they want to chill with themselves a lot.

    Introverts, however, particularly dislike the unnecessary talk, repitition extroverts do, the norms which are considered cool and without which one is labelled in a derogatory manner.

    I definitely identify with this. I can speak in a gathering of 500 people but I feel 'acting' in a gathering of 10. I do like deep conversations too.

  6. Thank you for the link to this article. I couldn't my finger on why I liked to hang out with friends and then, needed an entire weekend to read books, watch TV and just be with myself. I used to call it having "my space" but this article just explains that it's ok and it's normal!! Loved the line you picked from the article but my favorite is:

    Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses."

  7. Though I couls relate to a lot in the article, I think some statements were trite, like 'If we introverts ran the world, it would no doubt be a calmer, saner, more peaceful sort of place'

    The other learning from this article is that introverts like us also need to sensitize ourselves to the needs of extroverts!

  8. When JKJ flipped through a book of common diseases in 1898, he discovered he had everything in it (including typhoid and cholera) except Housemaid's Knee and Tennis Elbow.

    I suspect the Atlantic article will spark similar reactions of mass, spurious recognition.

    All sorts of extroverts who spend most of their time saying the equivalent of "Waanh" in various accents will now claim to be introverts in order to appear more interesting.

    The genuine introverts will think sadly " Oh bugger! Now I'm going to have to cope with sympathy as well" and exit the discussion and go feed their pet cats.

    What's-his-face has described one specific personality - his own - and found a convenient label to type cast it.

    Introversion is found across a far wider spectrum of personality types than the author's own specific template.

    In passing, has it occurred to you that no true-blue American can be an introvert without feeling the guilt of repudiating the national motto: "We need to talk".


  9. I was wondering why you were dumbing the article down for us with that "warning" about it being tongue-in-cheek. But then I saw Chandni's comment and said, "Never Mind."

  10. DD: I know. It's no fun if everyone can relate to the article.

    Btw, mrkgnow (and a whisker tug) to the pet cats.

  11. Ohh so the group hugging of introverts has already started!

    The article is such a self-congratulatory piece of crap. just what the hopeless introverts wanted to hear all along. that they are sensitive, intelligent and how other people are unworthy of their compnay because they are shallow and stupid....

    man, it is like preferring wanking to is not something to be proud of. it is just horrible

  12. Why for are you dissing masturbation - it is sex and usually, sex with someone you love.

  13. DD, superbly put.

    Alok, sex and wanking aren't an either-or thing. In fact, wankers get way more sex. There must be studies to prove this.

    It's just that we don't like to talk while doing it.

  14. Now the writer just said introverts are more intellegent. He didn't say we have much better sex too, though that is obvious, isn't it. We don't waste time babbling like the extroverts. :D

  15. Jabberwock,
    Ditto as Rachel said, I too was wondering if that explicit warning was actually required. (is the loss of subtlety, the bane of being widely read? ;))
    But, not many have taken the article in it's right spirit despite the warning being put up.
    Time for some personal reflection, actually :p.

  16. During my childhood, being an introvert had a distinctly negative connotation, but these days the trend seems to have reversed. Students at the B-School where my wife is presently doing her MBA often flaunt the 'Introvert' label they've acquired through the Briggs-Meyer personality test. Some conversations have revolved around studies which supposedly indicate that many CEOs these days are introverts.

    Its interesting to note how we gravitate towards the commonality offered by labels and stereotypes rather than focus on the uniqueness of our individual traits. We need to belong, and not singled out.

  17. "Its interesting to note how we gravitate towards the commonality offered by labels and stereotypes rather than focus on the uniqueness of our individual traits."

    Parmanu: very true. I always carry on myself about placing the individual above the group - but when I read the article and saw so many things I could relate to, it had an effect. However, I didn't mean to suggest that there's anything like an easy division.

    As the crowd shouts in Life of Brian, "Yes! We are ALL different!"

  18. Isn't it just possible that so many people have commented saying that they relate to the article because it's mostly introverts who read blogs and such? Extroverts would prefer to talk, while introverts would prefert to be by themselves. And when that gets boring, they read. Which is why many of your readers must be introverts.

    And I recently wrote a post about the article, just as you did. So I guess I'm one of those "spurious recognition" people too.

  19. great post dude. i too have the same problem. i really do feel very much like an actor doing this so called 'social talk". i genuinely think no one really cares how the other person is. i really have to still learn how to say hi.really gets me frustrated some time when I see this extroverts. feel like being like that sometimes....

  20. Quite a conversation you've had there.
    Guess it's like saying that I'm not an extrovert, but I'm not neurotic either.

    I think you should have a look at Isolatr. For the introverts, by the introverts.