Recently, I read ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain, it isn’t the sort of book I usually read but it was recommended to me. The book is somewhat a guidebook, it gives a whistle stop tour through many of the specific issues faced by introverts and real-life examples of situations where introverts overcome the problems. I wish someone had given me such a book to read as a teenager, it would have made my life much easier!
Personally the most interesting issue is the concept of ‘self-monitoring’. Self monitoring seems to be the process by which people change their behaviour to suit the social situation and the people they meet in these situations. The book suggests that people are on a spectra for this trait, from low to high. Low self-monitors don’t adapt their behaviour very much, whereas high self-monitors can be different people in different social situations. It is suggested that introverts tend to also be low self-monitors. This seems to fit and helps explain many of the difficulties I have had.
The difficulty for me, as with examples in the book, is authenticity. I think it is important to be honest with myself as with other people. I do adapt my behaviour to suit social situations, to be polite and respectful of the occasion, however sometimes I seem very close to a line where I begin purely acting a character and stop being myself, this I find very uncomfortable and it just seems wrong to do in real life.
When I was a teenager, my escape was in a youth theatre group, in this group we spent a lot of time improvising. I love both acting and particularly improvisation, I have been on the stage many times, we even did a sponsored 24 hour non-stop improvisation (rolling with breaks), which was marvellous. People have often been confused by my ability to act with such energy, busy interacting with a large number of people for long periods of time, but am unable to do it in ‘real life’. Real life social situations make me much more nervous than going out to perform in front of hundreds of people, because they aren’t judging me, if they do judge it is my performance rather than my inner self that they judge. Then I am not acting for myself but for the good of the cast and theatre in general.
Confidence, plays it’s part. In social situations I know well, i have learned how to be myself in those situations, so am more confident being myself as I’ve worked out how to be myself in that situation. For example I know what kinds of music concerts it is acceptable to get and up and dance and when it isn’t, I am happy to make the compromise not to dance when others generally find it distracting, at a first concert of an unfamiliar genre I may have wanted to dance but not known if it was ‘allowed’. I’ve ‘got good’ at this, and am often the first person to start dancing at a gig.
The other correlation identified in the book is between introversion and having a preference for low levels of stimulation. It is adaptable though. I never used to like heavy metal, because perhaps I found the genre over stimulating. Then one day, i got into Heavy Metal, i had learned to focus in on the music in a similar way, learning to cut out the ‘noise’. I found a way into it, to begin by appreciating elements of the music and then work up to enjoying the whole thing. This was much the same methodology of gettign into classical music, one element sparks the interest and over time you learn about the other elements until you appreciate the whole. Really it is perhaps learning how to cut out unfocussed on elements. Perhaps introverts simply need to learn to work up to high stimulation situations, whereas perhaps extraverts learn to work down to low stimulation activities.
It is, I think, the authenticity issue. I enjoy acting, because the whole point is not to be yourself, to experiment being other people, to try and get into other ways of thinking and act accordingly, it’s very interesting to do and a lot of fun. I am happy to portray flawed characters, but I don’t wish to do this in ‘real life’. The thing is that I really don’t want to do bad things, I don’t want to be part of a problem. Of course, I know that I make mistakes and will always make mistakes, it is impossible to be perfect. The real issue is perhaps not being wrong, when you know that you are in the wrong, I don’t want to act that way in real life.
I began overcoming my real life anxiety about eight years ago. I had this irrational idea that there was something wrong with me. For example my ‘ ethically sourced’ diet was something adopted by <1% of the population, the music I like is obscure, generally, it is the case that whatever is popular or the social norm is something I will be uncomfortable with. Being a minority does predispose oneself to question you it is yourself that is wrong and not wider society, however, wider society and popular opinion is often wrong. I simply accepted that I was different, and wasn’t prepared to compromise my own lifestyle and beliefs, unless someone can make it very clear to me I’m wrong, I’m always open and listening for that, it usually never comes. I am now much happier to be myself and not be concerned about it’s affect on other people, I always thought it affected other people more than it actually does. I can now happily say to people such things as “I can’t stay as I’m going to a concert of Renaissance Polyphony, you are more than welcome to come along, but really I am more than happy to go by myself in preference to company.” I no longer feel a social pariah for doing so.