Isolation and Introversion

I’ve been trying to think of a positive subject about introversion since most of the posts so far have been rants about this, that and the other. The thing is I’m at a point in my life where I have yet to figure out how to use my introvert strengths to my advantage. They feel more like hurdles keeping me from living a full life.

Why isolation in the title? Introverts are supposed to enjoy solitude, spending time on their own etcetera. We do and I do but I also perceive it as very isolating to constantly feel that I’m in the wrong place, forced to function in the wrong environment, forced to handle life in a way that is opposite to what comes natural.

I would prefer to live by myself, or possible with one other person. In London that is close to impossible. No one can afford it. Instead I house share with three other people. I get along with all of them for the most part but it is draining to always have someone else in the house – seven days a week. I actually leave the house to find my restorative niches where I can re-charge my batteries.

The same goes for work. I’m lucky to work in a small company. I share office with only one other person who, like me, prefer that it is quiet. In a lot of the companies I have worked for the structure has been lacking. Get stuck in wherever you’re needed at short notice. Juggle several things at once but also make things up as you go along. I like structure – I need structure. To improvise my way through the day makes me do a bad job – or at least not as good as it could be. Part of my current job is to answer the phone for my department. On busy days I have the impression of not doing anything, because as soon as I find my focus the phone rings again.

Most of my socializing is through various writers groups and arts organisations. I love these groups and what we do. I like the people there but we are always in a group. Even when I go home to visit my family, my sister arranges for us to have dinner with our friends. It makes sense since I can’t see them that often, to try to see as many as possible in one go. But I’m an introvert, I prefer a quiet coffee with one or two friends, not a dinner with 5-6 of them in a busy restaurant.

We often hear that we need to step out of our comfort zone. I hate that phrase, because even if I understand the underlying meaning and agree with it, most days, I don’t feel that I’m ever in a comfort zone. How would an extrovert feel if they never got to be themselves on any given day of the week – or all of them?

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Talking Machines

I’m sure you don’t need to be an introvert to dislike machines that try to talk to you, but considering introverts tend to prefer writing to talking, reading to small talk etcetera, this might be one of the annoyances of the introvert’s world.

Example one, choosing the right selection in the phone options. I remember when, if you called a phone number you would get a busy signal, a person on the other line or no reply at all. Ok, I have got used to getting an automatic voice insisting that I choose between a number of options. Fine, give me the option, of which one ought to be to actually talk to someone, and let’s get started. I have come across a few times that you have to say the reason for you call. Sorry, there is no chance in hell that I will talk in to thin air at worst or to a computer at best. I refuse. I will wait them out or start researching their website for a email or chat option. At the very least, there should be the option to dial your option.

Another example are the self-checkouts at the grocery store. Why are they always screaming at me? Ok, I get it, for those with impaired hearing there needs to be sounds but it really triggers a stress response to have an automatic voice that talk in an absurd volume for the whole neighborhood to hear that I should scan my first item. Especially, screaming that I should take my items after I bought them. It’s self-service we’re talking about. I’ll take however long I want to grab my shopping and leave.

Why does everything make noise? From your phone to your computer, self-scanning to microwave, some clever product designer have added some idiotic sound. I turn it off whenever I can.

Stop Overtalking

I must confess that I probably have two disadvantages, or advantages, however you’d like to view it, when it comes to tolerating overtalking. First, I come from a country known for it’s economic use of language and straight-forward way of communication. No hidden meanings if you can avoid it, please. Second, I’m an introvert, who prefer to stay quiet unless I have something to say and then convey that as straight to the point as possible.

It can be helpful to communicate this way but it can also cause problems. My current boss is a talker. He prefers to sit down five minutes to discuss something or make a phone call rather than to respond to an email. Both email and speech, he uses a paragraph to say something I could condense in to a sentence. When asking a yes or no question, it’s not unusual to get a five-ten minutes response that never gives the yes or no answer.

It is his style of communication and I shall not pass judgement. However, from my point of view this can be extremely frustrating. Having a five minute sit-down when all that was needed was a quick reply to an email, feels like a waste of my time. Reading an essay-style email as well as listening to long replies, takes a lot of effort to try to decipher for the information I actually asked for. Among the traits for introverts are listed that we don’t like small talk. I would say that also includes irrelevant talk.

This is most likely not a one sided issue. My boss probably finds me unresponsive and look for cues and underlying meaning that isn’t there. I might sound very rigid and final in my replies. At times, perhaps, I even come across as rude and unwilling to find a solution. This might also be where extroverts and introverts differ. When we start a discussion I have already thought through my position and know my course for action. Alternatively, I will need to take the information I receive and mull it over. Extroverts do much more thinking on their feet. They have neither thought about it before the discussion, nor intend to think about it any further after the discussion is done.

Unfortunately, I think the frustration is mostly on my side.

Highly Sensitive Introvert

A subject closely related to Introverts are highly sensitive persons. Although not all introverts are highly sensitive and there are extroverts that are highly sensitive too, the majority of highly sensitive persons are also introverts (Quiet, Susan Cain).

The psychologist Elaine N. Aron, PhD, and author of the book The Highly Sensitive Person, has defined highly sensitive persons as someone who “has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment” (http://hsperson.com/books/the-highly-sensitive-person/). But how does that feel?

I perceive it as if my filters are too thin. When other people seem to be able to filter out and not hear, see or be affected by outer stimuli, I don’t seem to be able to. On a fairly conscious level I am aware of any sound, smell, touch and visual cue within my range of perception. I can choose to ignore responding to it but I can’t choose to not be aware of it. To me the idea of a rave party seems ridiculous when a simple restaurant visit can be quite overwhelming with chatter, music, different smells of food, numerous people moving within my field of vision. This includes sounds, smells and visual stimuli that is pleasant. If I’m also tired it all blurs together into chaos.

At the moment I’m trying out audiobooks for the first time. I know that the underground isn’t the most ideal place to listen as I hear the train, other people, station announcements as well as this woman (the reader) talking in my ears. Listening at home doesn’t necessarily help, as I’m still aware of the other housemates moving about in the house, the toilet flushing, the washing machine going, the neighbours’ dogs barking, even the quiet sound the central heating makes when heating up the radiator.

Next time you’re in a crowded public place, stop and try to identify every single sound you can detect. If you think it’s tiring to listen to the chaos of sounds for 5-10 minutes, try doing it for a lifetime. It is no wonder that introverts/high sensitive persons want and need a lot of quiet, low-stimuli time.

‘You just disappear’

After a bit of hiatus I’m back writing about being introvert. Last week I read at a open mic night. I’m part of an arts organisation that organises events, theatre performances and work shops. Most of the friends I have in London I have met through this organisation. It’s great in many ways, as I can show up at their events and there is always some of my friends there. When I had just moved to London that was invaluable.

Like most introverts however I don’t function very well in a group. Many of my friends would never guess that I’m introvert so it’s likely that they have no idea of the problems I face in group settings. When in a group I find it hard to focus on whoever I’m talking to. Other sounds, movements etcetera, is constantly drawing my attention away from the person I’m talking to, especially if the sounds are the voices of friends, and movements are people I know but I have yet to say hello to. Introverts prefer in-depth talks. For me that doesn’t have to be as serious as it sounds but in a group I’m either unfocused or I’m forced to talk briefly to many different people. It makes me feel as if I’m not paying anyone enough attention. It makes me feel as if I didn’t really talk to anyone.

Another aspect is that groups can be draining. As many introverts will know, especially in a setting with people you like, you’ve suddenly exhausted you resources and you need to make your escape. I’m forever struggling to get enough sleep. This is what happens. I feel tired, I look at my watch, I realize that I should probably have left for home half an hour ago. Here comes the next dilemma. I can either turn to whoever is closest to me, say that I need to leave and say goodbye to that person, maybe wave goodbye to whoever I happen to get eye contact with on my way out. Or I can try to say goodbye to as many of my friends as possible which will probably take me another 30 minutes of mingling around the room before I can leave. I normally choose the first option which has prompted the comment from one of my friends: ‘you just up and leave.’ I feel really rude and anti-social on my way home after an event like that. Not the greatest ending to a nice evening.

I obviously still go to these events, I hang out with my friends in group settings, I try to make the most of it. But to be honest I would prefer to meet for a coffee in some quiet cafe or go for a walk in the park. At events and social gatherings I would prefer to settle in a corner where friends can find me. But how, to quietly slip away home without feeling like a horrible friend?

Observe – Learn -Play

This concept of observing, then learning and then you play, is loosely related to being dropped at the deep end to see if you sink or swim. It’s something I have been battling lately in my belly dance class. I sensed that I felt unhappy about something that normally makes me happy – dancing – I started trying to figure out why.

My dance teacher has the well-intended and sometimes ambitious goal of making us independent dancers. She wishes us to not only be able to improve our technique and learn a few steps in a sequence but to be able to dance freely and maybe even make up our own choreography. Lately that has meant that we’ve been asked to improvise to whichever song she’d decided to play. I’m rubbish at improvising – always have been. But why bring this up in a blog about being introvert?

Well, I can’t even count the many times I’ve been put on the spot: music has been turned on and I’m asked to improvise, I have been sat infront of an video editing board and told to play, or at work, I’m supposed to rely on youtube videos to learn the skills I don’t have. But for an introvert this senario is one of the most frustrating situations that exists.

Introverts, and I am again refering to the book Quiet (reviewed in an earlier post), tend to focus on meaning, we work slowly and deliberately and we tend to practice our skills methodically in solitude. We prepare, digest new information and aim for accuracy. We observe, we think before we act. Improvising to a piece of music goes against my nature no matter how much I’m willing to give it a go. There is no sense of playfulness in this as it requires an enormous effort and concentration trying to get my brain to follow in the quick pace that’s required. You don’t think when you improvise, I hear you extroverts say. True, which is why it’s so difficult for an introvert because your mind will still try.

When do I play? I play once I have had a chance to observe and internalize, and afterwards I can spend time practising, practising and practising again – then I can play with it, knowing that it’s in my backbone.

If you’re a teacher and you have this one student who sometimes seems to just stand there, don’t write them off as not trying. There are several reasons the student doesn’t seem to participate – one is that they are introverts and need a chance to observe and internalize before they jump in.

Buzz and Flow

Do you like the challenge of being dropped into the deep end and coming out successful? Do you admire adventurers who conquer steep mountains and sail around the world all alone? Do you like the buzz of winning the highest price? Maybe even simple things like winning £10 on a scratch ticket? Then you are probably an extrovert.

Introverts are more likely to go for the flow than for the buzz. Personally, I hate the sink-or-swim situations. It used to give me very bad self-esteem after struggling through assignments not knowing what the heck I was doing. As an adult I have realized that the low self-esteem after these situations are very unfair on myself. Most of the time, I do come out of it, having completed what was asked of me, if not to my own satisfaction then at least the everyone else’s. With that said, any sink-or-swim situation I’ve had to get through has left me with the feeling of: “Great, that’s done. Now let’s NEVER do that again.” I’m sure extroverts react differently.

What I like the best is, for example when I write, I get so into what I’m doing that, suddenly, time and space does not exist. The words just keep coming and sometimes it’s even difficult to keep pace with the words trumbling out of my head. I’m not aware of what is happening around me, I don’t notice sounds, the day can shift from day to evening and I don’t notice. I could miss my lunch and forget I’m thirsty. I’ll just keep writing until the flow is gone. Then I look up and it’s hours since I last ate something, the sun has gone down and I’m bursting to go to the loo.

I’m sure introverts and extroverts experience both buzz and flow moments in their lives but how we react to them is different. I always seek the flow moments, whether I’m writing, at work or just going for a walk. That elevated state of functioning has been part of some of the greatest moments of my life. The buzz moments however I quite easily forget. The kind of pushing yourself beyong your preceived limits that produces the buzz feeling, I’m sure, means a lot more to an extrovert than it does to me but perhaps they don’t value the flow of the moment the way I do.

Your thoughts on this would be much appreciated. Are you a flow or a buzz person? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Does it correspond?