I think one of the most difficult aspects of being an introvert is dealing with those people in our lives who want us to become extroverts. I have experienced this phenomenon many times with individuals who I didn’t feel the need to impress or explain myself to, but the more challenging encounters have been those involving people whose opinion mattered to me. I write about these encounters in the past tense, since I now feel secure enough in my introvert-hood to withstand most attempts at conversion (however annoying they may still be). But as a child and adolescent, the opinions of the adults in charge of my upkeep and education held immense influence over my self-image.
Luckily I was blessed with parents who are introverts themselves, so I didn’t experience much parental pressure to behave in an extroverted way. However, I can remember extroverted teachers and professors who did not understand what I was going through, and who tried to make me fit into a mold that felt extremely uncomfortable. The sad part is that I think they really did believe they were doing me a service by trying to draw me out of my “abnormal” inwardness. They felt I needed to behave differently in order to be successful in the external world, when what I cared about most was the inner world of my feelings and impressions.
I was reminded of these painful memories when I read a post on the June Harbor Web site. The author begins by lamenting the treatment of female introverts by society (another topic on which I have strong feelings to be discussed at a later date), and continues on to voice an insight I felt to be very poignant:
Being an introvert does not make me unhappy. What makes me unhappy is the number of extroverts who insist that I am not happy as an introvert, and that I need to “get out” and party, etc., in order to qualify as a satisfied individual.
I think this is spot on, because others’ misunderstanding of our deepest nature can truly make us miserable at times. And adding to that, it can be very difficult for introverts to explain themselves to people who have never learned the “vocabulary” of introversion; the concepts just don’t make sense. As an example of this, further on in the post the author links to an article, Introversion: The Often Forgotten Factor Impacting the Gifted, that aims to inform educators and parents about the particular needs of gifted introverted children (again another interesting topic to follow up on at a later point). While I think the article is a good attempt at raising awareness, I disagree with the overall approach to the subject matter.
While I don’t mean to be dismissive, the two authors themselves state that they are, respectively, an extrovert and a “coping introvert.” This identification seems to set the tone for the article. I was especially struck by the statement that introversion is “…similar to perfectionism in that a little is beneficial and too much is harmful.” Huh? To me perfectionism is a bad habit that causes problems for those suffering from it; I don’t feel that way about introversion at all. It’s not something I can turn on and off and experience in degrees; in other words, it’s not simply a behavior, it has to do with one’s whole orientation to the world. To be fair, the authors do make a lot of good points about how to create more comfortable home and school environments for introverted children (which I applaud). However, overall the article seems to imply that introverts are fragile beings who must be protected from extroverted society, instead of advocating for fair treatment of both introverts and extroverts as equals.
I think this is what rankles the most when people try to convert the introverted; the unspoken bias that introverts need to be “fixed,” that they are somehow fundamentally flawed and need to be saved from themselves in order to succeed in life. I don’t buy into that belief system—I’ve got my own religion and it doesn’t involve repenting of any introvert sins.