Perhaps You're Not An Introvert
Updated: Jun 18
Perhaps You're Just boring
There’s often a whiff of humble bragging when someone self identifies as an introvert. They certainly don’t intend you to think “Not very interesting” or “Self-absorbed”. They're not trying to sell themselves as "unskilled at social interaction and poor at conversation". They're not even hinting at "Shy."
They remind me of the "Empaths" in that they don't actually understand what the word means.
But they're not going to let that stop them taking ownership of something they think makes them sound unique, maybe a bit edgy.
Introvert Chic, as it were.
In fact, most don’t really mean introverted at all, did they but know it.
Introverts and extroverts are in the minority, the chances are you’re neither.
Most people making the claim to introversion have decided this based on sometimes getting a bit tired around chatty people and anecdotal evidence that they personally are quieter and less sociable than more commonplace humans. To some, introvert sounds more enigmatic and fascinating than the more humdrum “a bit on the quiet side”.
The implication of course is that they’re more mysterious, intelligent and deeper than us lesser, ordinary mortals.
I see you over there, waving your diagnosis in the air. If this doesn’t apply to you, no need to get upset. You’ll be firing “not all introverts” at me next.
To be clear I refer also to the neurotypical mind, and not to people with acquired brain injury, altered cognitions, or something else setting them apart physiologically.
Not being normal is normal
We’re all different under different circumstances. Very few of us are the strong, silent type at all times. It is a fact that the vast majority of us are ambiverts, a mixture of both sets of traits. And most of us can increase or decrease certain traits with practice or effort.
"There is no such thing as normal, do as you damn well please" - Billy Connolly.
As a counsellor I was often quiet, allowing the other person to express themselves and "holding space" for them. I can be silent when I’m weary, depressed or introspective. I’m quieter when trying to learn a new skill and take in new information. Sometimes I’ll “choose silence and be thought the fool, rather than opening my mouth and removing all doubt”.
So, yeah, if you're a bit on the stupid side, or don't have a clue about the subject matter, it's probably smart to be quiet.
“Silence is the virtue of those who are not wise” Proverbs, Maxims, and Phrases of All Ages, 1887
However, when at a party, dinner or other social event I will chat to whomever I am seated with, with good cheer and good manners. When getting to know my stepdaughters I was well aware of the power imbalance and my life experience, and was gently talkative with them, drawing them out carefully and showing interest in them until they knew they could trust me. When I worked in the disability and mental health field I focused on respectfully building rapport and learning about client skills, preferences and goals.
My silence wouldn’t have been particularly helpful, much of the time and come across as downright ill-mannered, a lot of the time.
Just as with self-labelled Empaths who don't seem to grasp that telling other people you understand how they feel is a) false and b) often quite distressing and minimising, perhaps some of those who think of themselves as introverts don't realise how enigmatic silence doesn't generally come across as mysterious, but might sometimes come across as rude.
I am many versions of myself wrapped in the same skin. As are we all.
Once again: nearly all of us are ambiverts.
You cannot extrapolate introversion based on one or two attributes.
It's also often implied or outright stated that quiet people are introverted, and also that quiet people have more to say when they do speak.
Let’s examine the notion that having less to say makes what you do impart somehow more meaningful.
Introversion is repeatedly associated with a propensity for quiet - at least by those who consider themselves introverts.. Spend time around the less sociable (whether online or off) and eventually you will hear or read the pervasive claim that “It’s the quiet ones you should be listening to”, “Still waters run deep” and “Nobody notices more than the quiet person in the room.”
To which I say, bollocks. The anecdotal belief that great minds come in quiet packages is irritating aspiring to be ineffable nonsense.
Some quiet people are socially awkward. Some are aware of their lack of education on a subject. Some are ill-mannered or disinterested. Some just don’t wish to contribute. Some are cautious, or shy. Some have emotional challenges which make speaking up difficult. Some don’t like you or the company they are in. Some have problems of their own and aren’t paying any attention to you at all. Some may think a lot, or think more slowly - but it doesn't necessarily mean those thoughts are glittering jewels. Some may be silent for other very personal reasons.
Deep thinkers who are philosophically musing, noticing all and saying little, collecting pearls of wisdom they seldom share are the very rare exception.
There’s no particular correlation between being on the quiet side and being wise.
The occasional quiet person may indeed be a genius. But human nature being what it is, genius likes to share itself with the world. It is indeed the rare pearl which nests contentedly beneath the grit. When I hear hoofbeats I think horses, not unicorns.
Equally, some chatty people are nervous, some are enthusiastic about life, some are trying to make others comfortable and be good mannered, and some are indeed a bit dim-witted.
Being more silent and less outgoing is not associated with extra intelligence, insight or talent. Nor is being outgoing and chatty linked with less intelligence, insight or talent.
Many minds filled with clever, inspiring or creative thoughts demand that those concepts be released into the wild. Einstein grew into a fairly effusive adult. Douglas Adams, a brilliant writer sadly lost too early, liked a natter or even a TED talk (one of the few TED talks ever made worth watching imho). Stephen Fry, whose wit and high IQ is well recognised, is often very talkative. Oscar Wilde, the man of a thousand quips, certainly enjoyed an audience. Emily Pankhurst wasn’t exactly retiring. Mary Wollstonecraft wasn’t backwards at coming forwards. And Amelia Earhart was known for her speeches and publicity stunts.
I could go on. Yes, yes I see you pointing to your own favourite scintillating hermit. I am making the point that for every “introverted” brilliant mind you can Google, I can show you a verbose one, and those people who self diagnose as introverts often aren’t introverts anyway.
It’s unlikely that you’re actually an introvert at all. Much more likely you’re an ambivert like the majority of humanity.
The jury is in. Being chatty, outgoing, gregarious, placing high value on social connections, or otherwise, is not a sign of anything else but that.
Traits associated with extroversion are not related to having less important, intelligent or innovative thoughts and similarly being reserved doesn’t mean that if you but deigned to nourish humanity with your thoughts as manna from the Gods, they would necessarily inspire awe or interest in others.
And the traits you think make you an introvert, very probably don’t.
So as one ambivert to another, knock it off with the claims of introverting, or at least take an actual test of some kind before you start throwing the term around. And for those of you who indulge in humble bragging about your predilections, consider, if you will, the harsh reality that your interpretation might be slightly biased.
Perhaps you’re not an introvert at all.
Perhaps you’re just boring.
Alison Tennent, Queensland, Australia, June 2021
Copyright Alison Tennent 2021, all rights reserved. Scottish by birth, upbringing and bloodline, Australian by citizenship. If you’re reading this anywhere but The Garrulous Glaswegian, Vocal+ or Medium, this work may have been plagiarized.