On my bad days, all I want is to get as far away as I can from the draining and stressful activities of everyday life. I fantasize about relaxing on a deserted tropical island, by a nice shady palm tree, and with the beautiful sounds of the ocean and nature flooding my ears. A simple spot with no people, no obligations, and no talking – just tranquility and peacefulness. It’s a beautiful fantasy, that I’m sure many other people dream of as well. However, for myself, I believe there exists a deeper desire to it. I feel that this isolated island symbolizes a sanctuary where I can be entirely alone with my thoughts. The ocean, palm trees, and nature are not really necessary, because it’s the separation from people, communication, and interactions I truly desire.
For some reason, this need to be alone is difficult to put into words. Whenever I attempt to explain to people this habit of mine, it usually ends up turning into a misinterpreted conversation filled with questions like: “So.. you don’t want to hang?” or “Are you ok? Is there something wrong?” However, it isn’t like this. After a long day filled with talking to people and attending to responsibilities, I desperately crave some time to catch-up with my own thoughts and emotions. A time where I can slow things down, revitalize my mind, and recharge my battery. If I don’t get this time for myself and I end up in a position where I must have further interactions, I find myself with a lack of motivation and attentiveness. In this mindset, I feel as if I am forcing the words out of my mouth; I stumble with my sentences, mumble, and speak in almost a whisper. All the time I hear: “Speak up!”, “Why are you always so quiet?”, “What?”, “Are you listening?” However, all of it feels out of my control. I feel drained, frustrated, flustered, and I end up saying things that I don’t really mean. So instead of scrambling with my words, confusing both myself and the people I’m talking to, I simply stay quiet and keep my responses short. It’s not that I’m overly shy or that I don’t like you, it’s because my brain is a distracted and disorganized mess.
With all this said, I do not think there is anything wrong with me. I do not possess some unique social disorder. I believe it is actually quite common, and is a personality trait that describes around 30% of the general population. The term is commonly referred to as introversion. Although most people feel they have a general idea of the traits of an introvert, they typically do not know what the term exactly means. Generally, people tend to connect introversion to feelings of shyness and nervousness. However, this should not be the case. I believe Carol Bainbridge debunks these connotations and clarifies what introversion is quite well:
“Contrary to what most people think, an introvert is not simply a person who is shy. In fact, being shy has little to do with being an introvert. Shyness has an element of apprehension, nervousness and anxiety, and while an introvert may also be shy, introversion itself is not shyness. Basically, an introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people…”
“…When introverts want to be alone, it is not, by itself, a sign of depression. It means that they either need to regain their energy from being around people or that they simply want the time to be with their own thoughts. Being with people, even people they like and are comfortable with, can prevent them from their desire to be quietly introspective.”
With this in mind, a new set of questions appear. If being ‘introverted’ is so common, something that 30% of the general population can relate to, why do I constantly feel abnormal? Why do people constantly ask if I’m ok? Why am I constantly forced and expected to try to break these communication slumps that I feel?
I believe the issues lie in what society consider as ‘norms’, and the lack of awareness and knowledge for things outside of these norms. Due to the fact that most people are not introverted, it has been pushed aside as irregular, something outside of the spectrum of common knowledge. Daily life does not truly take into account the habits and needs of introverts. Although everyone is obligated on a daily basis to ensure they are actively connected and communicating with others, there is no daily obligation to set aside time to be alone with your thoughts and to re-energize your mind. Society simply has a natural tendency to create norms and social rules by conforming with the majority, which causes people to become unaware and neglectful to the weaker and outnumbered groups of individuals on the outside. Just as the world is made for the right-handed, the world is as well made for the more common extroverted. Which sucks for me because I am both introverted and left-handed.
It is very difficult for an extroverted individual to understand how draining social interaction can be and how much introverts desire to be alone at times. That knowledge between extroverts and introverts is truly unobtainable, as it is a set of feelings that can never be experienced the same way between the two. Due to this lack of knowledge, a lot of people act ignorant towards the whole idea of introversion. This is how negative connotations of shyness, depression, and nervousness appear. People attempt to search for a logical reason behind someone’s quietness, lack of motivation, and desire to be alone, without first stopping to realize the differences of that individual’s personality. That quiet and reserved friend or family member of yours may not be shy or depressed, but just exhausted and drained from excessive social interaction. If you want them to feel relaxed and to return back to normal, please do not poke at them, ask question after question regarding personal issues, or force them to talk. I realize it is difficult not to pry open their issues when you love them and want to know everything is okay, but this approach will only lead to frustration and confusion. If you want them to feel better, all you need to do is be patient, give them space, and allow yourself to accept their habits.
To the introverted individuals reading this article, remember to always find that time for yourself. Don’t let social obligations, people, or anything else, out weigh this personal time. Accept and embrace your needs, and realize how important that time is to your drained and frustrated mind. Although you may not be able to find the isolated tropical paradise, there are always other options. You can meditate, plug-in some music, take a relaxing shower, go for a run, or whatever else. Just as long as it allows you to escape reality and to immerse yourself in your thoughts and emotions, then it will always be worth the time and effort.