photo by mary robinson
What's the first thing that pops in your head when you hear the word "introvert"? Quiet? Unfriendly? Selfish? Stuck up? Withdrawn? maybe even Boring? And what words pop into your head when you hear "extrovert"? Loud? Outgoing? Healthy? Friendly? Competent? Interesting? It's incredible how different introverts and extroverts are regarded and treated in North America where extroversion is looked at as the only healthy way of being. I knew that I was an introvert from a very young age: I was at my happiest when I was reading, writing, drawing, painting, making crafts, building imaginary worlds, and making little movies and plays. I was never much of a talker either, I talked a lot with people I was comfortable with, but was fairly quiet with everyone else. When I got to the eighth grade I began to view my introversion as a flaw, I didn't understand why being at school with all those people completely drained me, why everyone around me seemed to be so at ease while I was so uncomfortable. I began to deny my introversion, I thought that it was a choice and not a part of my already developed structure, more than anything I wanted to be like everyone around me: an extrovert. I did everything I possibly could to try and transform myself into an extrovert, it was my top agenda. That's when my social anxiety began, and year after year it got worse and worse.
Recently I came across three very fascinating facts about introversion that completely changed the way I now regard it:
One. Introverts naturally have busier and more active brains than extroverts and require less stimulations. Extra stimulations overwhelms their already active brains causing them to feel anxious and unable to concentrate.
Two. The blood flows through different paths in introverted and extroverted brains. Introverts have more blood flow, but the blood takes a longer, slower path. The blood flows to parts of the brain focused on internal things like planning, remembering and solving problems. The blood in extrovert's brains flows to parts of the brain that process external experiences, this is why they focus more on what's happening externally.
Three. "Introverted and extroverted brains have different chemical balances. The activities of our brains are catalyzed by neurotransmitters, which are chemical substances that transmit nerve impulses. Extroverts require greater amounts of dopamine, a central neurotransmitter in the sympathetic nervous system. It is produced when people are active and in motion. As psychologist and author Marti Olsen Laney writes, "extroverts feel good when they have places to go and people to see," probably because they are flush with dopamine. Dopamine takes a short path through the brain and, in stressful situations, produces an "act and react" response. It can be credited for extroverts' ability to think and speak quickly and to thrive under pressure. It also helps them access their short-term memory more rapidly, so their data-processing circuit is shorter and faster. Introverts, on the other hand, require less dopamine, and when our brains have too much, we can feel anxious or overwhelmed. Our brains rely more on another neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic nervous system, which conserves and restores energy, producing a "rest and repose" posture. It produces a pleasurable sensation in introverts when we are thinking and reflecting. Acetylcholine, however, cuts a longer path through the brain, which explains why introverts may have difficulty accessing words or memories quickly and why we may be slow to react in stressful situation. Introverts often prefer writing to speaking, because writing uses a different neurological pathway in the brain than speaking does. Additionally, the slower acetylcholine tributary may produces a posture of calmness in introverts and cause us to move more slowly than extroverts, which may explain why we are often less expressive with our bodies." (source: multiply)
How did leaning these facts help my social anxiety and changed the way I began to see myself?:
Learning that what I had previously considered a "flaw" (anxiety in high stimuli environments, liking solitude, preference of writing over speaking, not being able to form well thought out responses on the spot) was actually a part of my biology was a huge relief. I spent almost seven years believing that there was something wrong with me, but turns out, nothing is wrong with me, I'm an introvert. With this knowledge I also got to the bottom of my social anxiety. Society's preference of extroverts made me believe that it was the only way to live, I wrongly believed that all happy, healthy and fulfilled human beings were loud, outgoing, chatty, active and loved being around people, all the time! Wanting to become a "happy, healthy and fulfilled" human being, I forced myself to live like an extrovert: I didn't let myself sit at home on weekends, I was constantly out, I forced myself to talk to people, I forced myself to join groups and clubs, I scolded myself when I just wanted to spend time alone. By doing all that I continuously depleted myself of energy, I constantly placed myself in environments where I was drained of my creativity, where I couldn't thrive even if I wanted to, the only thing that thrived in these environments was my anxiety. After reading those facts I began to understand myself a lot better, I now knew why I was the way I was. I also realized that introversion isn't a bad thing, that there were so many positives to being an introvert: we are active thinkers, we naturally have a better and richer understanding of life, we're creative, it might take us longer to process information but when we do it's deeper, without introverts we wouldn't have progressed as much as we have as a race ;)
So now when I'm out or at school or work, I embrace my introversion and I no longer push myself to be something that I'm not. It was really the cherry on top of my battle with social anxiety. I greatly reduced it with nutrition and thought pattern changes, but it was still there in a softer form, and I would always beat myself up after each conversation where it appeared. With this new found self-acceptance I feel at peace, my confidence is repairing itself and I no longer fear communication. Sure I still experience slight physical anxiety symptoms, but they no longer bother me, at all, and most importantly, they no longer drain me!
"Being a 'conscious introvert' will transform your life"
photo by mary robinson