I'm a classic introvert. I'd rather have a small circle of close friends than a crowd of them. I recharge by being alone. I'd rather listen than talk. Small talk isn't my favourite activity.
These things comprise my safe zone and the place where I automatically go, if given the choice. However, lately I've been wondering if the term "introvert" can become a cop-out. Since withdrawing from university temporarily, I've found myself staring down a long tunnel of relatively empty time. There's a temptation for me to retreat and write and read novels with a large chunk of that time. I'm an introvert, right? I'm captain of my own ship, right? There are no rules about how I must spend this time. It's my prerogative and I can go to coffee shops by myself if I want to, because its comfortable for me.
What I'm learning, though, is that, for an introvert, there is a certain boundary between recharging and becoming a little bit reclusive. If I spend long stretches of time alone, I can start thinking too much. My world narrows easily and I focus on myself more than I should. The quiet space is healthy and good for a while, but if I spend too long there, it can become toxic. In that place, "introvert" can just become an excuse for being shy or staying protected in my own cozy world.
Instead of allowing myself the luxury of spending four months indulging my introverted tendencies, I've proactively pushed myself into situations where I'll be forced into new places with new people with new challenges and room for small talk. I'm doing this because I know that, as much as I drag my feet beforehand, I like the person I become afterwards. When I step out of the introvert safe zone, I nudge myself into someone braver and more confident and, yes, a little drained, but purposeful. I'd rather avoid small talk, but maybe it is time to learn how to be more comfortable in those situations. Maybe I'd rather be alone with a book, but why not test the waters of my own, real-life story?
The word "introvert" has the potential to become an excuse for some of us, if we aren't careful. It can become a method of avoidance or a prop for fear. Maybe the next time you really, desperately want to be alone, what you actually need to do is go out or invite someone over or call someone up and talk.
Since my future is kind of unstable at the moment, with a lot of foggy spots and shadowy patches, I sometimes begin to slide into a mindset that brushes up against worry. I think about all the possibilities. I think about everything that isn't happening. I think about everything that is happening that I wish wasn't happening. I think about all the things that seem out of place or misaligned. That is the danger zone. When my time spent alone drifts here, I've learned that this is my cue to stop being alone.
My new rule is that when I go to that spot in my mind of thinking the same thoughts over and over, or clipping new links into my chain of worry, I have to talk to another human being. It doesn't have to be about what is bothering me. In fact, it is sometimes better if we don't always talk about that, depending on the situation. I think that as introverts, we sometimes mistakenly think that a relationship is less meaningful until it goes deep, but you can't be deep all the time. You probably shouldn't be deep all the time. The deep parts come after the shallow areas because that is how it is supposed to be. Sometimes a float in the shallow end can be just as good for us as a deep dive.
The challenge I'm giving myself is to not allow this space to become too comfortable. There are healthy points and stretches to withdraw, but there are also times, especially if introversion crosses over into shyness, when withdrawing can be a form of evasion, or it might give us too much time to think. In these spaces, it is good to let people in. I know that what I feel like doing isn't always a gauge of what I should be doing, or what is best for me. Sometimes it feels easier to be alone and the prospect of being with people might seem draining in your head, when really it could be the healthiest, most filling thing you can do for yourself.
"Introvert" should not be an excuse. Don't confuse being introverted with being shy and let it stop you from reaching out to people. I honestly think that introversion can be a bit of an illusion. I would label myself as a total introvert, but the more I learn about myself, the more I find that people are what I need. People fill me and encourage me and challenge me. Sometimes I want to just stay home, but when I go, I find myself happier and more grounded. I've come to understand that I love being with people just as much as I love being alone; it is just not a natural default for me. . . yet. If I avoided conversations and relationships because I'm introverted, I'd miss out.
So my warning and my challenge to us introverts is to use this label as a way to understand ourselves socially, but not as an excuse to pull away. Use your time alone when you need it, but don't be afraid to stretch beyond the label, either. It isn't a bad thing to attempt to grow in this area.
Extroverts have plenty to teach us, too.