Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Turns out I'm an introvert after all

I have always identified myself as an extrovert. After all, I love to talk. I love to share information. And I really enjoy hanging out with friends. Most of the time, I'm longing to get out more, not longing for more time alone.

But somehow, every time I took a personality test, I came out as introverted. (An INFP, to be precise.) The description really does sound just like me. My husband definitely recognized me when I read him the description of an INFP. An ENFP is quite different, and not nearly as much like me.

So I'm realizing a few things. The first is that at very few times in my life have I had enough social time in my life. I was homeschooled, and only rarely participated in any of the homeschooling groups that many other kids did. (In junior high, we had a group once a week and it was awesome! But it was once day a week ... and much as I loved it, I was exhausted afterwards.) Currently I don't usually leave the house except on weekends. When I do, to go to the park or the store or the library, I don't generally talk to people. So of course when there's an opportunity to get together with a friend or go to a party, I jump all over it. "Introverted" doesn't mean "never wants to talk to another human being, ever."

The second is that I've associated with people much more introverted than I am. My brother is extremely introverted. John is introverted. My mother is introverted (I think). So I have always characterized myself as "the social butterfly," because I do like talking and hanging out with people sometimes.

The third is that I suffer from social anxiety. Which makes it hard to judge. Am I an introvert who is just extroverted enough to want to meet people but not enough to do it, or an extrovert who suffers from too much social anxiety to meet people? All I know is that I hate talking to strangers. I can do it -- I like to make small talk with the checkout lady at the store, or the bus driver, but after the first few sentences, I want to stop talking and go back to what I was doing. I don't like it when strangers talk to me at the park, at the library, or over the fence of my yard. I feel awkward, don't know what to say, and wish they would leave me to what I was doing. If I wanted to be social, my thinking goes, I would go to a social event. But when I'm just trying to read a book, watch my toddler, or garden ... I don't want to meet someone new. Meeting someone new is high-pressure.

And don't even get me started on phone calls. Ohhhhh I hate calling people I don't know. Calling businesses is the worst. No, even worse than that is leaving messages. I often call three or four times before I get up the guts to leave a message. And that's after putting off making the call for days or weeks. Recently I finally made the call to get my online bank account fixed ... after putting it off for a YEAR. The inconvenience of always asking John what our balance was was less bad than the scariness of calling someone.

Boarding school, which I thought would help with this situation by giving me instant friends, didn't at all because the rules for social interaction were so different from those in the "real world." I haven't gotten to that part of my story yet, but for the two years after leaving, I had an extremely hard time even speaking to someone I didn't know extremely well. I would freeze up completely and not be able to speak. It wasn't until college that I began to socialize like a normal person. Then, I felt like quite the party animal. Three or four other girls and I would hang out in the dorm and eat olives and talk. That was me, livin' it up! By senior year, I sometimes went out with half a dozen people to IHOP ... at ten p.m.! Sometimes I didn't get home until midnight!

The fact is, I have a certain comfort level. That comfort level is to hang out with a small number of people -- ideally, just one -- and talk a lot. I don't like big parties. I like small parties, but after each one I have to obsess over everything I said and didn't say, who I talked to, and whether this or that friend really likes me or is just putting up with me. John and I have come to the conclusion together that we are happiest when there is one thing going on each weekend. An event on Saturday and a different one on Sunday makes us tired and unready to start the next week.

When it comes to sharing information, I sometimes seem to overshare. I am comfortable sharing a lot of information about myself and my feelings. (Hence this blog.) But it's always after the fact. If I am actually in the throes of a strong emotion, if I'm truly upset and haven't found a solution, I don't usually blog about it. I don't usually even tell my husband about it. After I've mulled over it a few days and come to some preliminary conclusions, that's when the blog post goes up or my mom gets a phone call or John gets kept up till midnight hearing about it. Minor upsets -- sure! Stuff that really bothers me deep down? Forget about it. This kind of explains why all my teenage journals are full of stuff I never even remotely considered telling my mom. I'm sure talking to her would have helped ... but the thought never occurred to me. You don't talk about stuff like that. You talk about the stuff that's kind of bothering you, but not the stuff that's really bothering you. And if there's the slightest risk to saying something -- if, for instance, it's something that might make someone mad, start a fight, or cause people to judge me -- it's just not worth it to me. I keep my mouth shut.

So, all that tends to add up to being an introvert. An introvert who loves to hang out with her friends and talks a mile a minute. In short, an introverted who isn't very introverted, but is a little. I could flatter myself and say, "I'm balanced. I'm adaptable." I mean, it's good to be good at social situations and still like being alone.

On the other hand, I've always seen myself as an extrovert and been very proud of my extroversion. I impress all my more introverted friends with how outgoing I am, how many friends I have, how much I have to say. It's part of my identity that I'm attached to. So thinking of myself as at least partly an introvert is kind of humbling. It's like I'm giving up the image of myself as a peppy, friendly, fun person. Only, of course, I'm still a fun person. I just need to accept that the part of me that is scared of ordering a Subway sandwich and needs to decompress after a party is a real aspect of my character too. I am both of those things, and I can't deny either one of them by taking on a certain label.

I think I'll still describe myself as "more or less between the two" when people ask if I'm an extrovert or an introvert. But I really need to work on accepting and dealing with the introverted side, because it's not going to go away.

10 comments:

Sarah Faith said...

Ha ha, I told you you were melancholic and you didn't believe me!! I have a sense about these things!! :) lol

Sheila said...

Oh, I don't know if I'm all the way melancholic. I do know I have tendencies in that direction, but I'm so supremely happy all the time it doesn't seem like I could be melancholic. Aren't you guys usually pessimistic?

Tawny said...

Dude, I'm an introvert too, but I start to go a little nuts with NO social interaction. Andy is totally an extrovert though! He makes friends in stores all the time, which I think is nuts! I'm good with small groups, but not so much with big ones. I don't think anyone is all or nothing when it comes to introversion and extroversion.

We have the one social outing per weekend rule too :)

Sheila said...

Really, you're an introvert too? Lucky we managed to meet each other, then! I feel so awkward at those playground days, but they must be doing their job if I am obtaining actual friends there. :D

Tawny said...

Oh yeah I hate them. Well hate might be a bit strong, but I have a hard time jumping into something when I don't know anyone. The thing is I like having friends, and having moved 7 times (!) in the last 7 years I know I have to make myself go to things like that :)

Sarah Faith said...

I'm choleric. And melancholics can tend to be pessimistic, but it may manifest in the sense of being able to see everything that could go wrong in a situation before it happens. I know lots of happy melancholics. It's more about how you process, I think. Everyone's different, temperament or no- it's just a handy categorization tool. :) You seem to think and process and react like a melancholic. Thorough and analytical.

Sheila said...

You may be right. The four temperaments are a little fuzzy to me. I seem to have at least some of each one!

Meredith said...

Wow, apparently you're the same Myers-Briggs as I am! That's news... I know what you mean about the phone calls.

For me, being an introvert also makes teaching exhausting. I know that I should walk around the lunch room and interact with students and parents more, but I much prefer to work in the quiet little office. Sometimes I even have panic attacks when I have to start class.

Sheila said...

Meredith, if you're an INFP too, that means that virtually every single one of my closest friends (as far as I can tell) is either my own temperament, or John's. (John is INTJ.) I guess I gravitate towards certain personalities!

Milad Thaha said...

Hi there, Sheila,

I was just roaming around looking for stuff to read, and I googled the exact title of your post (what a coincidence), and that led me here.

I just had to say this, every point of yours is valid for me too. Every single thing. We're almost exactly alike, its jarring. But honestly, I feel kinda good about it now.

Thanks for sharing! Feels quite good :)

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