Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why I'm (Still) Writing About Introversion

Last week I ran across this article several times on facebook, and you should totally read it. It's about some of the problems that extroverts face, and it has a lot of points that introverts may not have previously considered. For example, I hadn't realized that while I can't stand it when people assume that I'm sad all the time, many extroverts can't stand the pressure to act happy all the time. And the fact that many people perceive extroverts as shallow is really unfair. An extrovert can contemplate deep subjects. And I can look like I'm deep in thought while remembering that I'm out of shampoo. So yes, do read that article and others like it. If you don't know much about the extroverted personality, go ahead and do some research on it and its unique set of challenges. While you're at it, look up ambiversion too, because those guys aren't super represented right now. (Ambiverts fall somewhere in the middle of the introvert/extrovert spectrum.)

But I do have to admit that there was something about the piece that bothered me. Not the list itself. No, that list needs to be read, shared, and discussed. That list is important. But the opening paragraph made me feel uneasy.

Here it is:

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a growing number of articles exclaiming, “How To Take Care of An Introvert” or “10 Things Everyone Should Understand About Introverts” and while I have no real problem with introverts and introversion, my issue is with the fact that people of the internet seem to have romanticized introversion in a way that turns any possible social impediments a person might have into desirable quirky traits. Not only this, but extroverts are suddenly the bad guys for not understanding introverts or mistreating introverts, etc, etc. As a self-proclaimed extrovert, I’m pretty sick and tired of people assuming that introverts are the only people who have got it hard. Really, seriously? Are we really going to play this game? Now you look here, mister. Extroverts may not seem as delicate or may not seem as complex and diverse, but extroverts have a whole different category of BS they have to deal with too. It’s not easy out there for anyone.

And on facebook, I've seen a certain level of annoyance over the posts about introverts. Now perhaps I feel a little uneasy simply because I'm one of the ones writing those posts. But I honestly think it goes deeper than that. 

Specifically, the part that claims that we have "romanticized" introversion and the part that equates my personality with "possible social impediments" really bother me. Introversion isn't about social impediments, and this paragraph reveals that our culture still doesn't quite understand what introversion is. (Introverts are people who have the most energy when they are by themselves or in small groups. Extroverts are people who have the most energy when they are with larger groups.) 

So yes, we do talk about introversion a lot. I talk about introversion a lot. But because of all of the annoyance and irritation over these posts that I have seen others express, I thought that I might take a moment to explain myself. 

Please understand that I'm not saying that extroverts shouldn't write these posts, that they shouldn't express examples of their own difficulties. On the contrary. I ask that you please keep writing them, because honestly, as an introvert, I may not always understand some misconceptions that you continue to face. I am, however, going to address the sentiment of annoyance and (occasionally) outright hostility that I've seen against all the posts about introversion, and I do want to explain why we are still, after all of this time, writing about it. 


So why do introverts suddenly have such a big voice on the internet? Why are we still talking about it? 
I'm not sure how exactly this whole thing got started, but I think we can at least partly thank/blame Susan Cain for this. She wrote a really fantastic book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. And while a few other authors have written about the subject (I have a stack of those books on my shelf right now), Susan Cain's book gained a significant amount of popularity. And as a result, introverts have taken on a new level of interest in their own personalities and have exhibited a desire to talk about it more publicly than they have in the past. 

Now, while I do have to acknowledge that extroverts can be pretty fantastic ("No, you don't get it. Some of my best friends are extroverts, okay?"), and I absolutely understand that each personality type has its own list of difficulties, I'm not going to stop writing about introversion.  

Because while extroverts do have struggles, the fact is that extroversion is seen as normal. It's seen a sign of mental health while its opposite is seen as a sign of neuroticism (See the OCEAN personality test). I'm not exaggerating, either. Introversion was literally almost included in the DSM as a sign of a mental disorder. A mental disorder. This was in 2010, by the way. We define introversion by its lack of extroverted traits and not the other way around.  We assume that extroverts make better leaders than introverts. Extroversion is the default. Any deviation from the default is odd. Introversion is often seen as a defect. Introverts are told, sometimes even directly, that they must change their personalities. 

Lexus thinks that introversion is a pathology that needs a cure. 

And sometimes people of faith assume that God Himself is an extrovert. From this sermon about Christmas.

According to Richard Haverson, just by virtue of my being introvert, I am a failure as a Christian. How do you think this makes me feel?

Speaking of faith and introversion, the aforementioned book by Susan Cain points out that there is an extroverted bias in evangelical Christianity. She quotes a certain evangelical requirement for church leadership:

Like HBS, evangelical churches often make extroversion a prerequisite for leadership, sometimes explicitly. "The priest must extrovert who enthusiastically engages members and newcomers, a team player," reads an ad for a position as an associate rector of a 1,400-member parish. A senior priest at another church confesses online that he has advised parishes recruiting a new rector to ask what his or her Myers-Briggs score is. "If the first letter isn't an E [for extrovert]," he tells them, "think twice...I'm sure our Lord was [an extrovert]." 

Wait, how is that okay? Why do these particular Christians think that it's perfectly fine to discriminate in such a way against introverts? How do you think people would have reacted if they had advertised for the opposite?

This whole "introversion as an illness" trope exists everywhere.  Even Google defines introversion as "a shy, reticent person" when in fact, one can be an outgoing introvert. My psychology textbook in college went so far as to claim that introverts don't like fun. My psychology. Textbook. As in a vetted academic text that was edited several times before publication. That is not okay. Sigmund Freud himself decided that introversion is a prelude to narcissism. He thought that introversion was the result of sexual repression because he's Freud and so of course he did. And this nonsense is everywhere. 

The structure of American offices? Built for extroverts.
Our entire educational system? Built for extroverts.
Television? Idealizes the extrovert personality.
The job market? Favors extroverts.

So take just a minute to step into an introvert's shoes. You have been told (sometimes literally) throughout your entire life that you will be a better person if you just acted more extroverted. You have been seen as a project or a trophy. Your personality, part of the very essence of who you are, has been de-emphasized and sometimes demonized. Psychology textbooks and dictionaries have said that there is something wrong with you. You live in a world that just is not built for you. You've been made to feel that you are not normal. You have been called selfish for turning down social engagements because you needed time to recharge.

And then somebody writes a book that makes you sigh in relief. Somebody else publishes an article that expresses everything you've been going through for years. Suddenly, you realize that you are, in fact, normal. You see that you are not strange and that at least a third of the population is experiencing the same thing that you are. You can talk to other people about this! Not only are you allowed to acknowledge that your personality is not a defect, you are now even allowed to like your personality. You have the chance to actually celebrate the parts of you that people have tried to make you hide for so long. Wouldn't you hold on to that chance for dear life? Wouldn't you relish that newfound freedom? Wouldn't you celebrate?

I'm going to give a somewhat clumsy comparison. When I was in eighth grade I realized that all of the other girls my age were straightening their hair. Straight hair was the norm. Curls and waves had to be dealt with and taken away. In college I decided that I actually liked my curls and that I wasn't going to straighten them anymore. Does that mean that I have some sort of bias against straight hair? Of course not! It just means that I appreciated this aspect of myself. That's all. It's also like when I say that I'm proud to be a woman. Does that mean I have something against men? Nope.

When we write posts about introverts and introversion, when we dedicate pinterest boards to the subject, when we talk about it on tumblr or share it on facebook, we are not trying to attack extroverts, claim superiority, or say that introverts are the only ones with problems. No, we are just trying to celebrate our newfound freedom to be proud of or even okay with our own personalities. It's a freedom that we didn't have for a very, very long time. 

So, to my dear extroverts and ambiverts: I'm listening. I want to know what you are going through. I want to hear about the biases that have been used against you. I want to understand the times when people have given you problems because of your personalities. Please tell me. Blog about it. Tweet about it. Share it on facebook. Talk to me about it face to face. Understand that I appreciate you for exactly who you are. But please, please try to understand why I have to keep writing about introversion as well.

Likewise, the extroverts in my life 
have significantly contribute to my healing...
Extroverts who have learned how to gently 
draw out the opinions of introverts 
and who give us the space to think quietly
are truly God's grace to us. 
-Adam S. McHugh-