Introverts Have Been Taking a Beating in Our Culture for a Long Time.
Why is that? Or is that just this introvert’s perception? I don’t think so.
As I approach a transitional time in my life, I’ve been doing some assessing of my past, like giving myself my own a report card. What is my standard of measure? I am evaluating how true to myself I have been. Currently, I’m at about a C-, D+
The Number One Deathbed Regret
I Wish I’d Been More True to Myself
Recently I read an article by a hospice nurse. She had kept a journal about things people said on their deathbed. Guess what their number one regret was? They wish they had been more true to themselves, and not lived to please others (I just told my 19 year old that. She told me that would never be her regret. I believe her).
Let me clarify the way I am not using the phrase, “being true to myself.” I think the world is pretty full of people who appear to be living their lives with little or no regard for anybody else. “I’ve got to be true to myself” usually has the ring, in my ears, of a self-centered person who utters that phrase right after he/she has just shamelessly exhibited themselves (or someone else) on stage, or ran their mouth off when nobody had any interest in their views, or worse yet, lived like there was no such thing as right and wrong in the world and now they’re getting crap from others for what they did, so they defiantly respond, “I have to be true to myself.” Well, plenty of serial killers have been true to themselves, as well. I realize that most people fall somewhere in between, but I hope you get my point.
To clarify how I am using the phrase, “being true to oneself” I am not talking about the moral codes, or lack thereof, that govern our choices. Rather, I am thinking in terms of personality types, where no type is right or wrong; just different.
For the INTJ (Introverts of other types, included), constantly ignoring or trying to suppress or change the personality type we are wired with, in an effort to get along in this world, can have devastating effects, definitely ones that can lead to deathbed regrets.
With that clarified, let’s look at the introvert who has not been true to themselves, and has lived most of their life trying to fit in, because they’ve been dominated by the following scenarios:
- parents, friends, and spouses that did not understand introverts
- a culture that admired extroverts
- businesses that modeled themselves, and expected employees, to fit the Dale Carnegie stereotype*
- other extroverts who imposed their way of thinking, and doing things, onto introverts
- introverts’ own misunderstandings about what makes them tick
- educational institutions that catered to extroverts
A Sample Introvert
The INTJ Child
Without telling you how old I am, let’s just say that I was in Kindergarten, in the 60’s. Sometime around 2nd or 3rd grade, psycho-analyzing everybody was starting to get popular. That meant weird things happened like trailers full of traveling psychologists, started visiting schools, and were pulling students out of classrooms to test them.
A trailer came to my school. I got pulled out of class. I did what I was told and made up a story, on the fly, about the cartoon bears the woman held up for me on her cardboard flashcards. I also looked at Rorschack ink blots and decided they all looked like butterflies. I’m sure there was more, but I don’t remember. For my participation, I was given a Slinky and sent on my way. I had no clue what had happened or why. Some time later, they pulled me out of class again, and put me through the same series of questions. (Incidentally, I’d like to change my butterfly answer now. It’s a curvaceous woman with wings, reaching up to find her missing head).
If you’re an INTJ, you know what happened next. I analyzed it.
- why did they pick me
- why did they pick me, twice
- was I somehow mentally challenged
- was the second time an opportunity to change my answers from the first round
- if I got tested twice, how come I only got one Slinky
“How come I’m doing this again and some kids aren’t coming here at all?”
“Well, you see this list,” the woman said as she pointed to one.
“We just close our eyes and run our finger up and down it. Whatever name it stops on, is who comes in for the test. We picked your name twice!”
I cry bullshit, but anyway….
If there was such a thing as resources for parents, that would have helped them understand their introvert child, my parents weren’t aware of it. I think they were both introverts, compromised in their own way, trying to suppress their own natural tendencies so that they could think and act more extroverted themselves. Dad became a salesman. I think he hated it.
Looking back on that trailer-testing experience, it makes me sad that it went no further. My parents were never contacted with any results. I was never told about any results. What was the point, and where did my testing information go? Fifty-some years later, and in retrospect, I really think that whole experience could have served me well, had it been taken to the next level.
For a fascinating article about INTJ children, through various stages of growth, check out this article (click on the picture).
“Choosing” Extroverts as Friends by Default
I would say that the majority of my friends are extroverts. Sometimes we have something in common that makes us think we can be friends. I admire the things they can do, that don’t come natural to me or they like something about me, although for the most part I’m never sure what that is. There are a lot of them around, they are loud and they initiate, and a friendship seems to start, when the introvert just lets it default to it. Don’t get me wrong. I love my extrovert friends but I probably wouldn’t have gone out and made a conscience effort to befriend them. Not because I don’t like them but because I was busy doing other…things.
My extrovert friends are great, but they also annoy the heck out of me. For instance, some of them are terrible at listening. I mean really, really terrible. We get together and they are either talking non-stop about themselves for as long as they can get away with, or someone else in the crowd is trying to get a word in edgewise, so it becomes a verbal combat zone. Their volume goes up, multiple conversations are going on, someone gets annoyed, and I just want to go home and read, write, paint, anything else but be in that noise, so I either try to behave like them or I withdraw. When I do the later, the strangest thing happens.
“What’s wrong with her? Why was she so withdrawn today? Is she mad about something?”
And my personal favorite, “What a snob.”
I would be rich if I got paid every time someone misunderstand my behavior, because I didn’t act like an extrovert. To that end, I have spent hours, days, weeks, adding up to years of my life, trying to measure every single word and behavior, in order to be understood by the extroverts around me. Know what? I’m sick of it, but whose to blame? All those things I listed above, and me for not being true to myself.
Limiting the Time I Spend with Extroverts
If They Can’t Make an Effort to Understand Introverts
The irony in this is that an introvert may be reluctant to share their innermost thoughts and feelings with others, but if they trust you and believe that you are genuinely interested (which is proven with your great listening skills) they will share themselves more. Do the opposite and they will feel overwhelmed and will likely run away, giving the appearance that they are snobs. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Out of guilt, and out of not wanting to hurt someone else’s feelings, I have put up with not being heard, not being understood, being accused of things I wasn’t thinking or feeling. It really sucks and I can honestly say that I’ve spent more time explaining myself than extroverts have spent listening or trying to understand me, so I’ve decided that, rather than generally blaming all extroverts, I will only spend time with more mature ones, the ones who have actually made an effort to understand others that are different than themselves.
How Could I Have Been More True to Myself
One of my biggest, death-bed regrets will probably be that I did not limit my time with the extroverts in my life, who made no effort to understand people that were different than themselves. Since I’m not dying yet, I’m hoping there’s still time.
By not limiting my time spent with others, I ignored the things I was wired to do. I put the concerns, needs, and opinions of others before me. Maybe I told myself it was selfish to do otherwise, but I think balance is the key.
Looking back, I know I did not have balance in my life, regarding my talents and my relationships with other people. Most of those people never asked me what I was interested in, what I was working on, or what I thought about something. Now that I’m older, it is becoming more clear that there simply isn’t time for that kind of imbalance. The right people will accept that, and allow others to be true to themselves, no matter their personality type.
- Part One: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
- Part Two: Six Ways to Make People Like You
- Part Three: How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking
- Part Four: Be a Leader – How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment