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From the Perspective of an Introvert
As if we could separate ourselves from our spirits as a desperate man could break himself free of his limbs, we ravage our souls with the misguided belief that we are defected. Yet, the scourge of our fallacious thinking originates in that of others.
Introversion focuses one’s consciousness inward, priming one with the capacity for immense analytical and individualistic thought, yet onlookers may misconceive introverts as antisocial or absent-minded in their reticence. Despite that onlookers may believe that there is something amiss about an introvert’s behavior, the implication of urging an introvert to act as an extrovert is that such an inherent part of his or her personality is incorrect. Rather than nurtured and accommodated as are extroverts, introverts are bombarded with the message that their personality needs to be fixed. Part of what it means to be an introvert is to be misunderstood and undervalued, yet through this essay I endeavor to illuminate the true meaning and value of introversion.
In order to mend our appreciation for introverts, I must first point out the pervasive misconceptions of our culture, as apparent through seemingly credible sources of information. Merriam-Webster compares introverts to shrinking violets, wallflowers, and cold fish. Dictionary simply defines an introvert as a shy person. Oxford Dictionaries describes introverts as predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings. What’s the common theme here? They just don’t get what it means. In actuality, according to Analytical Psychology: International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, psychologist Carl Jung, who first coined the term introversion, considered introverts as “[turning] toward the inner world, the world of thought and imagination.The introvert is interested in what can be made out of the things he encounters. He is interested in the products of his own activity, in the shapes he gives the world according to his own inner dictates” (Sills 274). Despite the true credibility of this source, this view is hardly internalized by the general public.
As an introverted child, I had never understood the notion that one should voice every thought in order to be heard, or the notion that solitude is shameful. Often overwhelmed by the continuous stimulation meant to provide for extroverts, introverts such as myself are deficient of quiet time at school to recharge, which ultimately takes a toll on our emotional health. At the time, neither I nor my teachers had understood that introversion drove my behavior, contrasting with their expectation for social gratification and gregariousness as the norm. While I was in fourth grade, for instance, my teacher had revealed that she thought of me as antisocial and disengaged in a forthright discussion with my parents. To be frank myself, I was overwhelmed by the constant activity and noise of school, so I sought solitude and peace. Why wouldn’t I seek refuge in the self in the presence of such chaos?
Actually, introversion is more than a matter of personal choice—it appears to originate from the interaction between physiological differences and environmental influences on the brain itself. According to John T. Cacioppo, Ph.D., the degree of extraversion is approximately fifty-percent heritable and fifty-percent environmentally influenced, suggesting a moderate influence of both genetics and environment on the variability of personality in a population (Cacioppo 462). But what does this actually mean—isn’t it all in your head? Yes, introversion manifests itself both in what we think of as the mind and in the physical sense. For instance, introverts react differently to certain neurotransmitters responsible for powering behavior. Despite that the amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter released to motivate one to seek rewards such as money or social status, is the same in both introverts and extroverts, the less active dopamine-reward network of introverts causes them to feel overwhelmed rather than stimulated. Introverts rather prefer the neurotransmitter acetylcholine as their driver of pleasant emotions—in contrast to the dopamine preference of extroverts—rewarding inward thinking, the hallmark of introversion. If we zoom out and examine the interactions of such neurotransmitters with the nervous systems, the connection to behavior is evident. The parasympathetic nervous system, which is linked to acetylcholine and withdrawal from the outer world, is favored by introverts; whereas the sympathetic nervous system, which is linked to dopamine and increased focus on surrounding, is favored by extroverts (Granneman). Branching off to the central nervous system, introverts also differ in the structure of their brains, the origin of complex thought and personality. For instance, introverts have thicker gray matter in their prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of both abstract and logical thought, as well as decision-making, possibly accounting for an introvert’s tendency to step back and consider a situation before coming to a decision (Bushak). To put such differences into perspective, as Jonathan Rauch experienced them, “For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.”
With that in mind, what happens when introverts are overstimulated and pressured into abandoning their natural tendency to renew themselves in solitude? What happens when an introvert is starved of the nourishment provided by contemplation? It’s not an uncommon experience—it’s an unfortunate battle that all introverts have to deal with, simply judging by the structuring of our educational system. To put the incessantly overwhelming nature of school into perspective, consider the close proximity and noise of students in a classroom that introverts have to put up with for eight hours every school day, for over thirteen years, from kindergarten to high school graduation. Consider that introverted students travel from subject to subject without a real break, as in a time for quietness, rather than a time to chatter among friends. Consider that introverts often don’t even know that they need time alone, or why they feel so drained in the midst of chaos, for social convention is unaccepting of the need of some people to be alone. Solitude marks the persona non grata of western culture, rather than the perfectly acceptable introvert—it’s a misunderstanding that runs deep in all of us, especially within introverts. Without acceptance and appreciation of what it means to be who they are, introverts are left confused and won’t live up to their full potential. Nevertheless, many a introvert has prevailed over such challenges. If not, would Darwin have discovered natural selection as he pondered the source of similarities in organisms over long walks? Would J.K. Rowling have imagined the world of Harry Potter and inspired millions? Would Einstein have revolutionized our view of physics without first accepting his introversion? The question is, rather, what potential has been squandered in the absence of acceptance?
Focusing one’s consciousness inward is the core of introversion, an elemental and inseparable part of who introverts are. Despite that our hearts are corrupted with the misguided belief that we are in any way inferior to others, introverts have colossal potential for critical and creative thought. There is nothing to be fixed, only nurtured. And despite an inhibited demeanor, introverts, without a doubt, are much more beneath their surface. To put it in the words of a proverb, “A wise man once said nothing.”
Bushak, Lecia. "The Differences Between The Brains Of Introverts And Extroverts." Medical Daily. IBT Media Inc., 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.
Cacioppo, John T., and Laura Freberg. Discovering Psychology: The Science of the Mind. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning, 2013. Print.
"The Definition of Introvert." Dictionary. Dictionary, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.
"Definition of Introvert." Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford Dictionaries, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.
Granneman, Jennifer. "Scientific Reasons Why Introverts and Extroverts Are Different." Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.
"Introvert." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.
Sills, David L. Analytical Psychology: International Encyclopedia of The Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan, 1972. Gale Virtual Reference Library [Gale]. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.