Posted by: unlikelygrad | June 1, 2009

reflections on introversion

In a response to my Memorial Day Post, Danimal said:

For someone who was shy to another. Get over it. Just do not give a shit what anyone thinks of you. Once you can do that, shyness gone.

This is, of course, a presumptuous statement. It implies that there’s only one reason for shyness: worrying what other people think about you. Of course, human beings aren’t so simple to understand; for every action/characteristic you can observe in people, there are about 1,000,000 possible reasons for the action/characteristic. In my case, fear of what people think is the last thing on my mind. In fact, I usually alienate people by speaking up and saying what’s on my mind instead of phrasing things diplomatically or shutting up altogether!

Perhaps it is wrong to say that I am shy. Instead, I should say that I am an introvert. In other words, being around people–especially if I have to talk to them–makes me feel exhausted, whereas being by myself energizes me.

This explains why I read on the bus instead of striking up a conversation with the person next to me: if I followed the latter course of action, I wouldn’t have any energy left by the time I got to school. Likewise, retreating inside myself by reading (or doing puzzles like Killer Sudoku on the bus on the way home helps reinvigorate me so that I’m not tired and cranky when I step in the door. (SL lives near me and occasionally gives me a ride home. This is very kind of him and a huge time saver for me, but when I get back I am very irritable and usually end up snapping at my husband.)

I guess you could say that my shyness is an energy conservation mechanism. I only have so much energy available for interacting with people, and I don’t want to use it unless I have to.

I can be very outgoing if I choose to be. I’m a volunteer instructor for a city department, and the whole time I’m there–even if I’m in a support role rather than at the front of the class–I am outgoing and friendly: greeting people, making small talk, schmoozing like there’s no tomorrow. I go to Health Fairs and the like to recruit people for our classes; on days where the other instructors and I keep track, I’m usually one of the people who gets the most potential students to sign up. I do this by being bold at approaching people and making small talk until I find common ground with them. I speak at homeschooling conferences nationwide, giving workshops to hundreds of people, having conversations with them afterward to help them adapt my science-teaching techniques to their individual children. I don’t experience any hesitancy doing these things at all.


When the events are over and I come home (or, in the case of conferences, go back to my hotel room) I am totally, utterly, thoroughly drained. I am completely devoid of what it takes to interact with human beings in a normal fashion. And I snap at my kids and my husband. I don’t like treating them like that, you know. My goal is to be a good wife and mother. I try to say more positive things than negative. I try not to raise my voice. But when I socialize too much, I find it almost impossible to be good to them.

So if I pass you in the hall and all I do is smile, don’t be offended. I’m not trying to give you the cold shoulder; I’m just saving my energy for the people I love.

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