Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Fire Within Us

Scientists now know that, while introverts have no special advantage in intelligence, they do seem to process more information than others in any given situation. To digest it, they do best in quiet environments, interacting one on one. Further, their brains are less dependent on external stimuli and rewards to feel good.

As a result, introverts are not driven to seek big hits of positive emotional arousal—they'd rather find meaning than bliss—making them relatively immune to the search for happiness that permeates contemporary American culture. In fact, the cultural emphasis on happiness may actually threaten their mental health. As American life becomes increasingly competitive and aggressive, to say nothing of blindingly fast, the pressures to produce on demand, be a team player, and make snap decisions cut introverts off from their inner power source, leaving them stressed and depleted. Introverts today face one overarching challenge—not to feel like misfits in their own culture.

On the surface, introversion looks a lot like shyness. Both limit social interaction, but for differing reasons. The shy want desperately to connect but find socializing difficult, says Bernardo J. Carducci, professor of psychology and director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast. Introverts seek time alone because they want time alone. An introvert and a shy person might be standing against the wall at a party, but the introvert prefers to be there, while the shy individual feels she has no choice.

But extensive internal dialogue, especially in response to negative experiences, can set off a downward spiral of affect. And indeed, anxiety and depression are more common among introverts than extraverts. In general, says Robert McPeek, director of research at the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, introverts are more self-critical than others—but also more realistic in their self-assessments. Call it depressive realism.

In the united states, people rank happiness as their most important goal. That view has a special impact on introverts. Happiness is not always their top priority; they don't need external rewards to keep their brains in high gear. In fact, the pursuit of happiness may represent another personality-culture clash for them.

There's really too many good parts to excerpt them all, but those are some of my favorites. I wish that phrase "A Pathway to Success?" didn't appear up there, though. I don't want "success" as conventionally defined. That's a large part of what being introverted means to me. I don't want what you want. I don't feel like you feel. I just want to be left alone to do my own thing with the few people whose company truly adds something to my life besides distraction and chatter.

The more we think about all that has been and will be, the paler grows that which is. If we live with the dead and die with them in their death, what are our 'neighbors' to us then? We grow more solitary, and we do so because the whole flood of humanity is surging around us. The fire within us, which is for all that is human, grows brighter and brighter – and that is why we gaze upon that which immediately surrounds us as though it had grown more shadowy and we had grown more indifferent to it. But the coldness of our glance gives offense!

- Nietzsche

I don't feel limited by introversion and haven't since I was a teenager; I take a perverse pride in being a taciturn square peg in round social holes. But one interesting thing I've noticed is that you still have to beware of the way in which social convention can embolden people to try to bully those who are understood to be deficient by society's standards in some way.

My brother, as I've said before, is one of the most negative complainers I know. Always looking for something to gripe about, always looking for a chance to take a sneering cheap shot at someone else, especially when they aren't around to defend themselves. And yet, he is as convinced that I'm the one with an attitude problem as he is that the sun rises in the east. I stand in a room, rarely saying a word to anyone, just doing my task and moving along so I can go home and spend time doing the things I love. He comes in with his mouth already running and starts right in with his pissant remarks. I try to appeal to reason and ask him: which type of person would you rather be around in general? It's to no avail. He's absorbed it from the cultural atmosphere, the idea that people who don't go out of their way to fill the air with their voice are deserving of contempt, mockery and abuse. No one ever had to tell him explicitly, it's just an unspoken understanding that anyone who deviates from some mythical golden mean of personality type (or body type, or sexual habits, or entertainment preferences, etc.) is fair game. It may be senseless and unfair and irrational, but stupid people in large groups are still a powerful force to be reckoned with, and they will often try to destroy you, sometimes just for their sheer thoughtless amusement.