For those who have read my first column, it should come as little surprise that I am a self-proclaimed introvert. Amidst the chaos of a bustling college campus, I greatly value my alone time and am usually averse to crowded social situations. I spend a lot of time in introspection and am easily occupied with just my thoughts.
Consequently, I’ve developed an acute sense of self-awareness. I spend a lot of time reflecting on simple exchanges I have with people and try to be cognizant of non-verbal cues. This awareness means I am usually good at reading people’s moods and can adjust my own behavior to achieve better social harmony. But this awareness has its own pitfalls.
Many of my social interactions are fraught with insecurities and self-conscious neuroticisms. Something as simple as waiting in a lecture hall can be an arduous process as my brain is constantly scanning the room to gauge how others might be assessing me. I can never seem to get out of my head and live in the moment.
If I take a step back, I realize that no one is as occupied with me as I seem to think they are. Most people are just doing their own thing, completely unaware of the small quirks that I obsessively worry about. Despite this understanding, I’m unable to let go of the possibility that maybe someone out there has picked up on my insecurities and that maybe my flaws are more glaring than I initially thought.
This is the backdrop to my introversion. If I’m being honest with myself, it’s largely driven by fear. My tendency to keep to myself and preference for alone time are traits that I take complete ownership of, but ones that I also recognize are partially rooted in my own self-consciousness. This raises the question: is introversion founded out of fear really introversion at all?
I find myself tending to use my inversion as a crutch. When I accept introversion as part of my personality, I become okay with my own social laziness as a manifestation of who I am. I can avoid reaching out to new people and stepping out of my comfort zone because that’s just not the kind of person I am. It’s not a shortcoming, it’s a unique dimension of my personality.
There are countless social opportunities that I’ve completely missed out on under the guise of exercising my “introversion.” In most cases, I know what to say and how to say it, but lack the courage to break the mold that I’ve arbitrarily made for myself. Being an “introvert” is a safe label that allows me to stay within my comfort zone without feeling like I’m missing out.
A study conducted by Duffy et al. (2018) measured the positive affect and cognitive capacity in individuals after socializing. The study found that although “less extraverted individuals [are expected] to feel worse after socializing”, “all but those extremely low in extraversion (17% of sample) actually [experienced] an increase in positive affect after socializing” and “did not show reduced cognitive capacity.” Ownership of introversion can create baseless expectations for social interaction, causing introverts to forgo social opportunities just because of their preconceived notions that they won’t enjoy them.
Introverts are not alone in our fear-driven behaviors, though. As an introvert, I find that my comfort with being alone allows me to reconcile the less desirable parts of my personality. I am truly okay with who I am and have learned to find pride in my strengths and acceptance in my weaknesses. Extraverts, on the other hand, often find alone time to be uncomfortable as they are forced to confront inner feelings that they may have been able to avoid by interacting with others.
If we’re all honest with ourselves, introversion and extraversion are little more than defense mechanisms that help us put words to our anxieties. Those who allow themselves to be controlled by the perceptions of others label themselves as “introverts” so they can avoid truly confronting these perceptions and how to overcome them. For people who struggle to come to terms with their innermost thoughts and feelings, “extraversion” serves as a great distraction from the discomfort of nuanced self-awareness.
So, is introversion a hoax? I’d say yes. From my experience, introversion can be characterized by an avoidance of social interaction that leads to a preference for alone time, rather than the other way around. In the same way, extraversion is also a hoax – one big illusion to avoid the tough questions that come with introspection.
I’d encourage readers, especially fellow introverts, to live beyond these labels and question whether your intro/extraversion is really a core aspect of your personality, or just an attempt to excuse yourself from stepping outside of your all-too-comfortable box.
Noah Do ‘24 is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected]. Noah’s Arc runs every other Monday this semester.