"I am an introvert. And there's not a damn thing wrong with me." So says Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World on the second page of her book that boasts chapter titles like "I Like People, Just Not All People All the Time," "Hell Is a Cocktail Party," and "Science Says We're Not Necessarily Shy."
I had the privilege of interviewing her recently for an entire hour where I asked her all things related to friendship and introversion. In my work around female friendship, you can appreciate that how we're wired will play a huge role in how we go about fostering friendships. (She's just one of a dozen amazing authors I interviewed for "The Friendships You've Always Wanted.") It was a delightful and thought-provoking conversation where she shared her own illustrations about friendships in her life, while also giving voice to the growing number of introverts who interact with her via her blog on Psychology Today, called The Introverts Corner.
Introverts Coming Out Everywhere!
Fortunately, there has been such a growing awareness and education process around this subject. We've so needed it! Our culture has all too often idealized extroverts in our world, often leaving introverts feeling like there is something wrong with them. (My favorite chapter title of Dembling's is "Introverts Are Not Failed Extroverts".)
In defining introversion, it was often seen as the opposite of extroversion--which was always described with these culture-valued words like outgoing, sociable, and fun--leaving introversion with words that sounded like they were missing something. We've too often confused introversion with a lack of friendliness or people-skills, which simply isn't so.
While I've long understood extroverts to be those who are energized by being around people, needing more external stimulation; and introverts as those who get re-energized primarily by decreasing the stimulation, often by needing to withdraw from people, it does seem to be a definition still in progress. But there is a fast-growing list of characteristics and descriptors going around that seem to be resonating with a lot of people.
Whether it's Susan Cain in her TED talk that went viral, conferences like the World Domination Summit starting to put Hang-Out Hammock Lounge's in places where introverts can go re-charge away from the crowds, Facebook links with familiar titles like "23 Signs You're a Secret Introvert," or books like Dembling's that validate the introvert life-- the world is waking up to the fact that we are all wired very differently. Hallelujah! Popular bloggers, speakers, and well-known experts are being way more open and vulnerable about their own introversion. All of this is helping way more people to self-identify with this name and own the parts of them that haven't always been well received.
And I do mean a lot. Following my Facebook news feed has been a bit like a coming-out party with all kinds of people posting articles and blogs about introverts and then saying things like "I finally feel understood!"
In fact, I've had that feeling too. While listening to Dembling talk during our interview about introverts preferring a small group to a large crowd, not enjoying small talk, and choosing email over the phone; I found myself thinking, "check, check, and check." But trying to tell someone in my life that I might be an introvert is a little like trying to sell an igloo in the desert-- my friends and family just roll their eyes and laugh.
And to be fair, I'm definitely not a true introvert, as much as I'm probably more of what some people are now calling an "ambivert" with characteristics of each, sitting somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between extroversion and introversion. Though I definitely don't feel "middle-of-road" as much as I feel like a person who has some extreme extrovert tendencies and some extreme introvert tendencies. Or, as I listened to Dembling talk about the extrovert/introvert scale, I was intrigued when she also mentioned the separate shy/non-shy scale which is entirely different. Her descriptions left me wondering if maybe I was a somewhat shy extrovert since I hate walking into a room full of people, can feel anxious about attending conferences, and don't ever talk to people in lines or on airplanes. (Whereas my husband is probably a non-shy/introvert--someone who can carry a conversation with anyone, on any topic, with amazing people-skills, but will then need to come home to re-charge.) Or maybe, as they keep studying, they'll find the category where I belong. :)
Introverts and Friend-Making
But regardless of what labels we identify with, or which descriptions best capture who we are; what is clear is that we all need to know ourselves well and be responsible for our own energy management. We can breathe deeply knowing that there is nothing "wrong" with us, that we're wired how we're wired, that we all have some tendencies that make certain tasks easier than others, and that we each have gifts that are valuable to others.
During my interview with her, we talked about which aspects of friend-making might come easier to extroverts and which ones might come easier to introverts, how we can make friends based on our own preferences, and what's important for us to know about each other as make friends with people who are wired differently from us.
For what is abundantly clear from all research is that no matter how you're wired or what behaviors might be most natural to you-- the truth is that we all need meaningful relationships. So we're in it together... each of us stepping in to friend-making with our own temperaments, our own style, and our own energy.
How about you-- was it easy for you to identify yourself as an extrovert or introvert? Have you always known or has it been a process of learning? I'd love to hear your own journey!
To listen to the interview, join us this September as we embark on a whole month focused on friendship growing: "The Friendships You've Always Wanted."