As an introvert, this is a top ten list of what someone has done to make my "avoid at all cost" list.
Introverts make up – at the most – 25% of the world’s population. This means that introverts have to live and function in a world that was made by and for extroverts. Much of the time, they are dealing with extroverts who go about things in completely different ways than they do, and these extroverts are probably used to dealing with other extroverts like them. Because of this, extroverts often don’t understand why introverts are the way they are, and, unfortunately, make ignorant conclusions about the introvert’s character and about what’s going on inside their heads. If you’re an extrovert, read through this list and count up how many of these things you’ve done in dealing with introverts, and then try to understand our point of view when these things happen. Otherwise, you’re probably going to lose a lot of great friendships and work opportunities with introverts and have no idea why.
- Force them into public settings or large groups because they “need to get out more.” Allow introverts to join to group on their own. Invite them in – introverts often don’t like to be the initiator in public settings – but don’t pressure them when they refuse. This is the main difference between introverts and extroverts: Extroverts build up energy from being around other people, while introverts drain energy interacting with others. This doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy being around people, they just can’t handle it for as long and need time alone to recharge.
- Demand an answer to the question, “Why are you so quiet all the time??” In my experience, introverts are also very non-confrontational. Asking this question puts them on the defensive because, whether you know it or not, it feels like you’re attacking something that’s an integral part of them. There’s no good answer to this question. When the introvert answers “I don’t know,” it’s not because they don’t want to tell you, it’s because they truly don’t know. It would be like asking you why you walk a certain way or why your handwriting looks the way it does. There’s no simple answer.
- Talk about them behind their back. No one likes to be talked about in negative ways, but I think it’s worse for introverts because it’s harder for them to defend themselves. If you heard someone talking about you behind your back, you would probably go straight up to them and confront them about it. Introverts would probably decide to ignore it, but it would fester in the back of their mind for much longer than the extrovert.
- Assume that they don’t have any friends because they are anti-social and hate people. When an introvert has very few friends, it’s not because they hate everyone they interact with. It’s just harder for them to make friendships, and they don’t need as many friends as extroverts. An introvert would rather have three or four really close friends than twenty shallow friendships. With fewer, closer friends, there’s less of a chance of offending someone, because you’ll know exactly how they’re going to react. Introverts also know that the close friends they have will understand them and won’t put them in situations that will put them on the defensive.
- Constantly ignore them because, “They don’t talk to me, so why should I talk to them?” Introverts are not initiators. They don’t talk to someone just for the sake of talking, and they hate small talk. Conversations that consist of “Hi, how are you today? Anything new in your life? How’s class/work/family/etc…?” annoy them to no end, so they won’t start them. If you have something to say, though, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with an introvert. Introverts don’t mind listening, as long as you allow them to input their own ideas. Which leads into…
- When having a conversation with them, ignore what they have to say or talk over them. This is one of the things introverts hate the most. Introverts are quiet because they are working things out in their head, so when words come out of their mouths, it’s going to be a fully formed idea, and you’d better listen. Getting ideas shot down isn’t a fun experience, but it’s even worse when you’ve been working on it for any length of time. It’s takes courage for an introvert to step out and offer their ideas, and if it’s completely ignored or ridiculed, the introvert is going to retreat further inside themself and will likely not say anything more.
- Assume that because they’re not talking, they’re bored or think whatever is going on isn’t worth their time. Building off the last point, just because they aren’t saying anything doesn’t mean that they’re not paying attention. Introverts don’t think out loud. They take in information from their surroundings much faster than extroverts, which means that they have more time to work it out inside their head. Also, the introvert won’t make a contribution until they’re sure the idea is well thought-out and worthy of being heard. If it isn’t, the introvert won’t bother saying it. This is why introverts hate “participation points” in school, because if they don’t see a need to ask a question or if they don’t think their answer is good enough, they’re not going to say anything.
- Tease them because of their strange, different ways of doing things. Since introverts are the minority, the way they do things is going to be different from the “normal” way of doing things. They’re going to like weird things, listen to weird music, read weird books, and wear weird clothes. (For the introvert, this isn’t an insult. Weird= different from the majority. Weirdness isn’t a bad thing.) Making fun of these things is just as bad as #2. It’s a part of them, and they already know that they’re different. Pointing it out in a negative way, even in what you think is light fun, will more than likely make the introvert insecure and defensive.
- Force them to do something that you think is fun, even when they’ve made it clear that it’s not fun for them. Something I’ve learned recently is that introverts are more sensitive to the neuro-transmitter Dopamine, which basically means that with too much stimulation, the introvert shuts down. They can’t be in large social setting for long periods of time, and they are definitely not adrenaline junkies. For example, I’ve gone to various amusement parks with friends on different occasions. I can usually handle three or four of the medium to lower level roller coasters, and only one or two of the upper to medium levels, at the most. I won’t even consider the largest or fastest etc. at the park. The people I’m with always feel bad for leaving me behind to watch when I’ve had my fill and try to convince to do just one more, but I’d much rather stay on the ground watching their bags and allowing myself to recharge after the bombardement of adrenaline than push myself when I know I won’t enjoy it.
- Assume that if they just made the effort, they could change and become an extrovert. Introversion is not a disease. It has to do with the way the brain is constructed and can’t be “fixed.” Here’s a great explanation I found here: http://justlittlesteps.blogspot.com/2006/05/i-want-to-be-alone-or-introversion-for.html
“Extroverts have a low sensitivity to the brains ’happy drug’ dopamine. They require vast quantities of it to enable themselves to function and it is released through experience, activity and sociability. It acts as a reward circuit – do something the brain enjoys and receive a reward of happy juice. Introverts on the other hand have a much shorter dopamine pathway and are highly sensitive to it. Rather than seek out dopamine hits, introverts have to limit the amount of the chemical released to maintain a balance. Introverts often talk of ‘feeling overwhelmed’ by experience , extroverts are frequently bored. Whilst the introverts dopamine pathway is shorter than the extroverts, the pathway of another key neurotransmitter is longer. Acetylcholine is the oil that makes the memory machine function. It is the chemical that switches on the deep REM sleep and initiates dreams. It helps the brain recover from exertion and the utilisation of our energy stores. The introvert brain is wired to seek out more energy conserving acetylcholine and less experience seeking dopamine if it is to be kept in a state of happy equilibrium. Introverts need quiet time alone if they are to keep functioning.”
No amount of exposure to public situations will “fix” the introvert. It will become easier for them to act more extroverted when need be and will take less energy to do so, but they will still need time to recharge. An introvert will always be an introvert.
I really hope this has helped you to get into the mind of an introvert. Not all introverts are the same, but these are some good, general guidelines for dealing with the introverts in your life. And, if you’re unsure, ask. And then listen. Don’t assume they’re in denial or just don’t know what they’re missing; take what they’re saying about themself as absolute truth. The person who understands the introvert the most, is the introvert.