Like so many of us (from 30 to 50% of the population depending on which statistic you credit), I revel the quiet richness of solitude. I feel deeply nourished and replenished by the time I spend with only my self as company. Honoring my voracious hunger for this kind of time, I’ve designed a life that provides me with lots of it, regularly. Arranging this life has required owning, advocating for and celebrating my introversion in a culture that generally idealizes extroversion and – for the most part – pathologizes introversion.
(I think the most meaningful definition of the difference between introversion and extroversion is that people on the introvert side of the continuum are replenished by solitude while those at the extrovert end are nourished more by social interactions. Truth be told, we all have some of each side of this continuum in us even as we define ourselves more to one end than the other.)
Like many folks at the introvert side of the continuum, I’d rather have a root canal without anesthesia than attend a large social gathering or a dinner with more than a half dozen people. I’ve often felt like an alien in this world that values ways of being that make little sense to my spirit. In years past (before I became more selective of with whom I’d spend time when I felt like connecting), people in my life sometimes wondered if I might be depressed because I spent so much time alone. In those earlier days, I’d sometimes actually worry that there might be something wrong with me because I had such a strong preference for time alone and so little interest in the more socially acceptable time spent with others.
While I no longer worry about any of this, I still feel as though I live in a world whose values baffle and disturb me. Lately, I’ve been feeling crazed by the endless repetition of references to research which demonstrates how necessary strong social networks are for healthy aging. “How many self-described introverts were part of these studies,” I want to ask. Clearly, if one is an extrovert, social networks are crucial to wellbeing – otherwise one is apt to feel empty, lonely, bored and/or isolated. Yet, introverts – those of us who have rich inner lives – are rarely likely to feel empty or lonely or bored with our own solo company.
It really is possible to live into celebrating the healthy joys of introversion, solitude and the more contemplative lifestyle. Those of us who live and enjoy life at this end of the continuum can choose to honor, more openly affirm and claim the juicy richness of this different path that we walk. It’s a path that’s existed for centuries and, until more recent years, been a valued thread in the tapestry of all life. The current cultural overvaluing/idealization of extroversion actually undermines the capacity for self-awareness and emotional fluency that allows one’s soul to develop and flourish.
Happily there’s been a recent spate of books to gather if one needs/wants support for this lifestyle. I particularly love this quote from one of these books:
“You’re not shy; rather, you appreciate the joys of quiet. You’re not antisocial; instead, you enjoy recharging through time alone. You’re not unfriendly, but you do find more meaning in one-on-one connections than large gatherings.” – Laurie Helgoe
I particularly love the various titles of these books (which seem to be garnering a large readership – introverts of the world, unite!):
Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introversion in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Sophia Dembling’s Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World.
Laurie Helgoe’s Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength.
Nancy Okerlund’s Introverts at Ease: An Insider’s Guide to a Great Life on Your Own Terms.
Marti Olsen Laney’s The Introvert Advantage: Making the Most of Your Inner Strengths.
Cheryl Card’s Discover the Power of Introversion: What Introverts are Never Told and Extraverts Learn the Hard Way.
Over the years, I’ve learned that I am a gregarious hermit: an introvert who enjoys intimate sharing from time to time. With this, as with everything else about me that is somewhat different-from-the-acceptable-norm, I discover that when I’m true to my own nature – living from my own center/reality – what other people think or say about me clearly becomes their issue rather than mine. I’ve always loved Terry Cole Whittaker’s famous line (and the title of her book) “What you think of me is none of my business!”