Introversion as a gift to society
I am an introvert. This always surprises people. I have been called outgoing, charming and the life of the party. These things might be true, and while people have noticed that I like to get my social interaction in short bursts - coffee for an hour, short visits to holiday parties and quick conversations - they still have a hard time understanding why I consider myself an introvert. Simply put, I get my strength from within, and while external validation can be nice, its not nearly as important as constantly reconciling how I feel about myself. I have always strived for what Ralph Waldo Emerson strives for in his essay "Self-Reliance." I have to give credit to a good friend for pointing out my modus operandi, one that is only consistent in the since that I require a balance of others and myself.
"It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion," she read to me from "Self-Reliance," as she sat in a wooden rocking chair one night several years ago in her Brooklyn apartment. "It is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."
I was reminded of those words recently when talking to some clients struggling with their partners and closest friends over needing to be social and also needing to have time to themselves. It seemed like a contradiction to their close friends and partners, and it may very well be, but for those of us who get our strength internally, but still get pleasure out of engaging others, it is our time alone that gives us strength, that refuels our emotional resilience and allows us sort out how we feel about the world, others and, most importantly, ourselves.
Some introverts are, in fact, asocial. The schizoid personality type is an obvious example of this. There are non-clinical versions of being asocial. This is not uncommon, but my experience suggests that they are, indeed the outliers. It's hard-wired in some, but it develops in others. Often people cannot understand why they need to retreat, and the insuring flack they receive causes them to retreat even further in order to avoid having to explain why, in a particular moment, they need to be on their own.
One of my favorite clients, during guided imagery, described to me her perfect place. She was on a small boat in the ocean, near an island. Everything was beautiful and quiet. There were people around her, not in her boat. They were there and she said she would not feel good if they weren't by her side. But none of the people were talking. It didn't take Jung or Freud to figure out that she got something from the comfort of having those around her, but also longed for solitude.
I am enjoying that sweetness of solitude tonight, and I know it will give me the perspective and strength to be a better person for myself and for others tomorrow. Its here where I get my strength, recharged, get more energy and come up with ideas, gifts that I can take out into the social world and hand out to those around me.