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  • Writer's pictureDominique du Pré

Are you an Introvert?

What does this even mean? I am a bit of a sucker for the personality quizzes you find in magazines. You know the ones that tell you if you are too risk averse, too controlling, too impatient, too boring, too sensitive...the list is endless. The trouble is you can tick the boxes and get a 'diagnosis', but what do you do with that information?

The terms introvert and extrovert are used quite freely but not really very well understood. Not all introverts are hermits, shying away from any social contact, trembling at the thought of being asked a question. Likewise not all extroverts bound into a room and burst into song waving around their jazz hands.

Also, being introverted isn't the same as being shy. Shy people feel self-conscious around other people. They worry about what other people are thinking about them. Their response comes from a place of fear so the reaction is often a fear related physical response - increased heart rate, shallow breathing, blushing. Shyness often stems from low self esteem, self-consciousness and fear of rejection. Whereas introverts enjoy being alone, shy people often would like to be sociable but it also fills them with fear. Not all introverts are shy.

Research suggests that there is a biological basis for leaning towards introversion or extroversion - it is partly in our genes. Part of our brain controls how much information we take in. We all have different thresholds for what is a 'comfortable' level of information. Introverts (about 15% of us) basically feel overstimulated at a much lower level than extroverts do. Too much input becomes uncomfortable, overwhelming and stressful. It is like experiencing a circuit overload. For extroverts (again around 15%) the opposite is true. The input needs to be greater for it to even be noticed.

How do you know if you are an introvert? Here are some common signs.

Being around a lot of people is exhausting. Unlike extroverts who get a buzz from being around people, introverts feel their energy is sapped by social gatherings. This doesn't mean they don't enjoy spending time with people; spending time with friends can be really enjoyable for introverts. It's those big social occasions involving 'mingling' and making small talk with new people that drain the introvert. It can almost feel like a physical assault. This can be followed by the 'introvert hangover', feeling totally drained after too much 'people time'.

Which brings me to the next sign. Introverts find small talk really uncomfortable. They may come across as quiet or shy but engage them in meaningful conversation and they come alive. Chit chat is just too exhausting. The effort of talking about the weather, what Prince Harry is up to and what style of shoe is making a comeback is the introvert's equivalent of a brutal psychological bootcamp. It doesn't mean an introvert can't work the cocktail party room; many are very skilled at doing so. It simply means they will feel exhausted as a result.

Introverts are comfortable with, and positively enjoy their own company. It gives the introvert the space to recharge their batteries and find new reserves of energy. This doesn't mean they want to be alone all of the time, just that they need the alone time to recharge their brain and build up the inner strength again. In fact introverts often have a small number of really close friends who they really enjoy spending time with. Introverts focus best when they are on their own so they often work best alone.

Now here is a curious paradox. Introverts are often the last ones to offer an opinion in a group situation but often the introvert is the person whose opinion is sought. Because introverts don't constantly chip in like extroverts do (extroverts do like to stand out in a crowd), their opinion is often more highly valued.

Introverts don't tend to initiate social contact. Your typical introvert will reply to invitations, text messages, emails but is unlikely to be the person who starts the 'conversation'. They often find making phone calls really difficult, even seemingly innocuous ones. Nightmare jobs for introverts include sales (especially over the phone), politician (all the 'schmoozing') or event planning (all those phone calls and emails). Too much social contact is exhausting and leads to stress and anxiety therefore introverts don't eagerly invite it in.

In short, introverts aren't rude, socially awkward and they don't hate people. They just get overloaded by too much social interaction and need time alone to stay on an even keel.

What can we do with this information?

I am definitely an introvert but only realised this in the last few years. I can now recognise that overloaded feeling and I know it makes me short tempered and tired. I can prepare myself mentally for situations where I know small talk is essential and allow myself 'breathers' at social occasions to clear my head. I make sure I have alone time planned into my day wherever possible.

Believe it or not, Albert Einstein was an introvert. He said "The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind." Other famous introverts include Barack Obama, Steven Spielberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Meryl Streep and J K Rowling. So, if you think you are an introvert, you are actually in very good company.

If you want like to talk to someone in confidence, feel free to contact me.

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