Incurring the Wrath of Introverts

I’ve noticed a trend lately. Maybe it’s always been there, or maybe technology has just created a new platform for it. Hard to say. Whether it’s new or not, I’ve seen a fair number of instances of introverts on the internet telling the world: this is how it’s going to be. They’re tired of extroverts telling them the rules and chiding them for not following them. The blog, Shrinking Violets Productions, has even created an Introvert’s Bill of Rights.

I might end up offending some people with this post (hence the title). Sorry if I do. If it helps, I’m an introvert myself. The thing is, I have some concerns.

In my last post, I offered a definition of introversion and extroversion, and I noted that a lot of the things that commonly get associated with them, like shyness or the ability to schmooze with people, aren’t actually them. Related? Sure. But not identical. The problem is that the introverts who are fighting for their rights on the internet sometimes confuse them, and I think they harm themselves in the process.

For example, Shrinking Violets’ article 4 states, “Introverts have the right to abstain from any marketing (or life) activities that result in boils, a resting heart rate > 120, and/or loss of any bodily function.” It’s cute. The problem is that it’s based on the assumption that introversion is equivalent to anxiety. “Being in a crowd scares me, but that’s because I’m an introvert.” That’s not necessarily true. In fact, I’m not sure it is at all. Introversion is the tendency to become drained in social situations, not being afraid of them. Now, it may certainly be that becoming drained is anxiety producing, but in that case, the anxiety is secondary. It’s a result of introversion, not introversion itself.

The other issue with this kind of thinking is that is absolves the introvert of the need to face his or her fears. Life just doesn’t always work that way. We’re called to sometimes walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We’re called to take up our cross. We’re called to pass through the flames and threatening waters (Isa. 43:2). For me, an introvert, I was called to give up my safe desk job and spend the majority of my workday essentially doing public speaking (accepting that job left me almost catatonic and/or a jibbering idiot for quite a while). By saying, “Because I’m an introvert, I don’t have to do social things that scare me or make me anxious,” it’s quite possible that you’re rejecting God’s invitation to move into greater freedom and maturity, possibly even before He sends out the call.

There’s also a certain entitlement that can creep into these affirmations. For example, Shrinking Violets’ article 17 says, “Introverts have the right to submit email interviews in lieu of over the phone or in-person.” No… no, they really don’t. The reality is that nobody likes being examined under a microscope and potentially judged, which is exactly what an interview is. Do you think most extroverts enjoy having someone grill them with questions and then potentially say, “Naw. You’re not good enough.” This isn’t an issue of introversion vs. extroversion. It’s an issue of handling anxiety. Saying, “My personality makes me exempt from doing hard things,” is pretty much a cop out. Sometimes doing the hard thing is exactly what we need to get us where God wants us to be. In fact, sometimes it’s the only way. There are, of course, times when our fear is just so strong that we can’t function; it’s okay to remove yourself from the situation in that case, but the idea that you shouldn’t have to do anything that makes you anxious is entitlement.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that introverts and extroverts are all the same, and the ones who claim to be introverts are just being pansies. There are differences, and those differences are worth noting and respecting. Article 15: “Introverts have the right to take walks in the middle of the day to clear their heads and recharge.” Absolutely. That’s probably really good for them. (Might be good for some extroverts, too. Introverts aren’t the only ones who sometimes need stretching in their unfamiliar areas.) Article 23? Why not? Article 2? Sure, though sometimes it’s good to stay a bit, too.

Sometimes the church does lean towards the extroverted (or introverted), and folks like Adam McHugh of Introverted Church have some worthwhile things to say. It is very good to have clarity and understanding of one another’s persons so that we can respond to each other in love and encouragement and even have a clearer understanding of ourselves.

I grow concerned, however, when “introvert” becomes a rubber-stamp, meaning “I don’t have to.” What invitations and calls of God might we be missing because we’ve already shut the door, saying, “That’s just how I am.”? Could we be robbing ourselves or growth or of good things? Are we willing to consider: is this introversion, or is it anxiety, and if it’s anxiety, what can we do to help face or assuage some of it? (Hint: 1 John 4:18) Is our anxiety something that we must forever be ruled by, or is our God stronger than that? The road to the cross was surely paved with anxiety. But new life comes after death.

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2 responses

  1. While I don’t agree with everything you wrote, I do think you make some very valid points. I’m excited to have discovered and be taking part in the introversion/extroversion discussion online. But will we forever be trying to categorize ourselves and others? We only end up with a box to live in. If we respect ourselves and what is true for us, “I”m an introvert” never need be offered up as a justification for our actions or inactions. We move beyond the need to justify our choices.

    January 2, 2012 at 10:01 am

    • Thanks for your thoughts.

      Categorizing others isn’t always a negative thing, and it’s not something we can entirely avoid. It’s hardwired into the way our brains function. At the very least, we unconsciously categorize people into groups of similarities such as “like/not like me” or “like/not like Mom” or other significant figures from our lives. Making categorizations can also help us to anticipate people for good as well as ill. You can better predict how to interact with new people if you get an idea of who they are like so that you don’t end up accidentally offending them and may even potentially connect with them in a deeper way. I mean, boxes aren’t always a terrible thing. I suspect most of us wouldn’t be entirely happy not living in the box we call our house or apartment. We just need to be able to let others and ourselves in and out when it’s appropriate.

      I do agree that having to justify our choices in general is something to move past, but I think many who choose to use “I’m an introvert” as a justification aren’t really aware they’re doing so. We often react to or out of our emotions and only after realize why. Respect for ourselves is only possible if we truly know ourselves in the first place.

      January 2, 2012 at 11:28 am

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