Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bubbly Introvert

You're probably familiar with the terms extrovert and introvert, and with the idea that people generally fall into one of the two categories. It seems to make sense at first; after all, people are outgoing or not, shy or not. Isn't being kind of shy like being kind of pregnant? My own experiences have always told me there was something wrong with this neatly black and white categorization. Probably yours have too.

If you were to poll all of the people who know me some would tell you that I'm an introvert and many would tell you that I'm an extrovert. My own mother, who is definitely shy and introverted was surprised to hear me describe myself as an introvert. Growing up watching my mother, who is always socially competent and correct, kind and friendly towards others, it would never have occurred to me that she was shy. It was something I learned about her as I became an adult and we talked about that sort of thing. One of the defining factors of introversion is that although you may like people and enjoy socializing, it is emotionally and perhaps physically draining, whereas an extrovert is energized by social contact. This is my own experience as well as my mother's yet we both fooled each other by our social behaviour.

I do like people and combining that with having been raised with good social skills, means that I've always considered myself and introvert who has learned to fake it. This definition never sat well with me though, because it implied that extroversion was the correct behaviour and to be introverted was to be somehow less, to be flawed or not performing as expected. My upbringing, with its focus on good manners and social competence, lead me to conclude that since it was expected of me to be able to look people in the eye, make warm and friendly small talk, make people feel welcome and included, be enthusiastic and sincere with both thanks and praise, write letters and make phone calls in order to demonstrate to people that I am thinking of them, the effort and energy that was required of me to do this meant that I was flawed. My natural instincts are to stay home and occupy myself with my preferred activities, which are all solitary. I think about my friends and family all the time, but am uncomfortable with the telephone so I rarely call. If someone calls me, I am truly pleased and am likely to enthusiastically accept a social invitation. I am rarely a social initiator. I believe, and hope, that my friends all understand this about me and do not hold it against me.

Recently, while browsing the magazine rack at my local grocery store, I spotted a Psychology Today Magazine with an intriguing cover story. I asked, What Signals Are You Sending? How to See Yourself as Others See You *The Shy Extrovert and More *Misunderstood Personality Types. Was I a shy extrovert? Was I misunderstood? I had to find out. This was similar to my theory of being one type and faking the other when I had to. Reading the article made me realize instantly that I'm, not a shy extrovert, I'm a bubbly introvert. I love that. I completely identify with that. A bubbly introvert. Yes, I'm often perky, bubbly, chatty, happy to be with people. I mortify my teenaged son by talking to strangers. I'm not shy most of the time, although a large group of people such as a staff meeting or party is another situation entirely. I know people who are shy extroverts. They are quiet and unassuming but love to participate in activities with groups of people, whereas I am more of a one-on-one person. Three girlfriends on an outing is the most I can be comfortable with. Perhaps these shy people feel they can disappear a little in a group. I feel overwhelmed trying to manage all of that polite and inclusive, warm fuzzy stuff with too many people. I still struggle with feelings of guilt for preferring solitary activities. I may be introverted but I don't want to alienate people. Well, some I do. I am choosy about who my friends are.

So, my dearest friends, I do hope you understand and love me for who and what I am as I do you. There seems to be evidence of this; you haven't abandoned me yet. I would be there for you in a heartbeat. I care deeply. People I meet on the street, I care about you too. I am happy to chat, exchange smiles, savour that brief moment of human connection I am truly charged by that. I treasure my alone time: it charges me up so that I am thrilled to see you all again next time.

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