On Being an Introvert
I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs tests at least 10 times over the past 10 years, always thinking I can somehow outsmart the test and end up with a different result. Nope. Every time, same one.
INFJ. Introversion. Intuition. Feeling. Judging. Apparently it’s the most rare of all personality types, with only 1% of the population testing this particular combination. It’s the one area in my life where I actually feel exotic.
The first times I took the test, I was sure I must have done something wrong. The introverted part of the equation really threw me off because I always considered myself a pretty outgoing person. I was confused. But I can be so chatty! I love throwing parties! I’m not meek or shy! But the more I really learned about what it means to be an introvert, the more I understood that the test was bang on.
Introversion is not about being shy, and extraversion is not about being gregarious. It’s about energy, and where you draw it from. Extroverts gain the most energy from being with others; introverts from within. If you haven’t read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I definitely recommend it, especially if you other introverted types want to feel very understood.
The following is a passage from the book, but if someone ever asked me for a soundbite on how to best describe myself, this would basically be it:
Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.
This is me to the letter. In addition, there are other qualities inhabited by INFJs that really describe me as well– perfectionism, overly sensitive to criticism, prone to burnout. I also carry a lot of guilt with me for not keeping up with old friends as well as I should. Talking on the phone has never been one of my favored activities.
When I was a kid, I attended a lot of slumber parties. I would have a great time at them, doing the typical girl things–braiding hair, making Rice Krispies treats, prank-calling boys–but there would always come a point in the evening when I would retreat in a corner and start reading magazines (as an adult, it’s cookbooks:). In college, I loved hanging out with my roommates and going to parties but I also spent a whole lot of time driving through town alone to clear my thoughts. Sometimes I would park my car and sit on the side of a hill for hours to write or think. Being alone wasn’t something that bothered me or made me feel lonely; it was something that nourished and refreshed me, as long as it was in the right doses.
(Vin caught me taking a break from the party at a friend’s cabin)
My social engine is in very good working condition, but it peters out after four to six hours of activity. I’m not someone who needs or wants constant social plans. I’ve never partied till I dropped. I party till about 11 or 12 (max), so I can make sure and get enough rest so I can wake up early and have my precious alone time. I realize this makes me sound about as fun as a night of staying in and doing taxes. And yes–for the curious– the idea of having someone around ALL THE TIME (ahem, like a baby) is very frightening for someone who cherishes solitary time the way that I do.
I’ve learned to accept that I may never be considered the life of the party, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like going to them! In fact, Friday night I was so desperate to be sociable that I practically begged my coworker and her boyfriend to go out with me after work. We had drinks and dinner and dessert and talked to junkies in Tomkins Square Park. I got the social interaction that I craved and then I was ready to go home and hang out with myself. At 8:45.
Like many introverts, I spend a lot of time in my own head and tend to consider my thoughts one of my better companions. It is no coincidence that my personality type and a lifelong love for writing go hand in hand. My career choice as a therapist makes a whole lot of sense in that context too. One-on-one interactions tend to be my favorite, and if a group is any larger than six, my voice may be the one you hear the least often. I’m not always a quiet or reserved person, but I sure can be. I absolutely hate to yell over other people. I hate to yell, period. If a situation requires yelling in order to be heard, I’d rather sit and listen. Or leave the room.
When I was 25, I made an attempt to teach 3rd grade in the South Bronx. It was a very unfortunate circumstance that the particular school where I taught was incredibly poorly run, with very little support from the administration, veteran teachers, and parents. A disproportionate amount of the students had significant behavioral issues, and I spent more time each day breaking up fights than I did teaching anything. After so many times sending kids to his office, the principal finally suggested I begin shutting my door and yelling at the students to improve classroom management.
You can imagine how well that went.
I couldn’t sleep. I barely ate. I cried every Sunday night. I dropped 15 pounds in less than three months. I was miserable, a nervous wreck. I was working against my natural disposition, my temperament, and my core self. I quit the day before Thanksgiving break. (that’s where the N for Intuition part comes in–when you know something is off, you just know). Still, that job taught me a lot. Working with large groups and being the focus of attention in a room? No thanks. Not for me. Pulling someone aside and talking to them one on one? Much better. My failure as a teacher was my inspiration to become a therapist, and even though there are stressful days in my current occupation, there has never been a day– not one– that stressed me out like teaching did. Play to your strengths! (PS: There might not be another group of people in the world I respect more than teachers.)
(See? Introverts can have fun too! Here I am…puttin’ my back into it.)
Anyway, enough talking about myself.
I’m starting to feel uncomfortable.
Have you taken the Myers-Briggs Test? Are you an introvert or an extrovert, or a little bit of both? I’m very curious…please share!