As the water starts to fall I can feel the tension, the pain, the anxiety and the overstimulation sluice off of me as rivulets of water run down my body. The warmth of the water seeps into my skin, slackening muscles and instilling a languor that a long day of physical labor, tight confined spaces for driving, high tensions and frustration wouldn’t release. I close my eyes, breathe deep into my belly the steam hanging on the air.
I narrow my focus down to each individual drop on my back. I shut out the entire world, even the sound. I learned how to do this years ago, when a friend taught me deep meditation to soothe the agitation I accrued from social situations. I could smell sweat, so I shut out that sense, too. I tasted… dust? Spit that out. Gross. Ew. I shut down my taste.
With only touch the world seems to shrink. It becomes manageable. It becomes something that I can be and exist in.
This is the life of an introvert. Not all introverts. Just this one.
The best possible example that I’ve ever heard of the dichotomy of introversion and extroversion is that of a sieve. Take two sieves and hold them side-by-side. We’ll label them introvert and extrovert.
Introvert has a lot of holes and they’re very large. It’s suitable for things like washing vegetables and fruits, draining large dumplings or ravioli after boiling them, maybe even the occasional sex toy after boiling (pure silicone only, of course!)… generally, Introvert lets almost everything through.
Extrovert, of course, has fewer holes. They’re also much smaller. These are the type of sieves and colanders that are great for macaroni and other small pastas, berries, that sorta thing. They catch more and stop it from getting through. Of course, there’s more utility here.
You can actually use Extrovert for everything you use Introvert for. Sometimes it might TAKE longer to actually drain all the water out, but it’s possible. While Extrovert takes longer when given Introvert’s job, Introvert lets too much stuff through when used in Extrovert’s place, dropping some of what we’re trying to catch.
You see, dear readers, it’s not that introverts can “take” less social interaction than extroverts, it’s that we get more stimulation from those same interactions.
Where an extrovert sees a fun conversation with a group of five other people, I see sixteen individual conversations, the “meta” conversation that we’re all having and then an individual conversation between each person. To illustrate:
If the six people talking are denoted as letters: a b c d e f (that’s the meta-conversation), then each person is ALSO talking as a dyad… so:
ab, ac, ad, ae, af
bc, bd, be, bf
cd, ce, cf
To go back to that sieve metaphor, the extrovert filters out all (or most) of the fifteen dyadic conversations to focus on the meta-conversation. That is, all of those dyads are caught in the sieve and only the meta-conversation can get through. On the flip side, the introvert can’t block out any of those conversations; it doesn’t catch anything in the sieve, they just all slip through the cracks.
It’s the same conversation, the same interaction… but A’s experience as an extrovert can be very different from F’s experience as an introvert.
The dynamics of change are interesting; as I feel the water cool, knowing that I’ve spent too long under the percussive tap, I slowly let my senses return to earth. First hearing, then taste, smell and finally sight. Well, maybe not right away. Water in the eyes, water in the goddamned EYES. Shift. Out from under the water I open my eyes again.
I don’t just see a wall. I see a cream colored plastic, decorations embossed and discolorations from years of water. I see grey caulk leading to a light blue-painted wall. I see eight hard plastic bottles (mostly shampoos) in a range of ten different colors (including the text, of course) and a small clear basin with three tubes and a razor and a bar of soap…
I see everything. Every detail. I catalogue it all. It’s not that I want to. I can’t keep it out.
The combination of the tendency to filter less than average and training myself to observe and notice minute details to improve upon my own wisdom means I see too much too often.
It’s a strange problem to have.
In this series I’m going to try and document different situations where my introversion becomes tangible, where I can feel the weight of how a situation affects me differently from others. I’m going to update this series on the first of every month, and there will be 12 “episodes” total (and maybe an epilogue to sum up the experience of documenting them). I’m doing this for a few reasons.
First, I’d like to provide a place for others to feel “home.” A place where fellow introverts can congregate to say “YES this is how it IS” or “huh, that’s not what it’s like for me.” A place to share tips, tricks, insights into how we can cope in what is, essentially, an extrovert’s world.
Second, I’d like to provide a place for others to learn. A place where extroverts, where those who straddle the two, and where those who simply think this is all too introspective to have a chance to educate themselves. If we never provide a place for them to do so, how can we expect it of them?
Third, in the interest of my continued self-growth and to avoid introspective stagnation, I think it behooves me to have a dedicated topic of exploration outside of those areas of distinct oppression. To be sure, I will be mentioning areas where introversion is undervalued and stunts the opportunities of introverts, but it is far less than an axis of oppression. I wanted to focus on a skill, something that I am specifically looking at developing more utility with. I have a lot of coping skills and have developed the capacity (and, indeed, the tendency) to engage as an extrovert in work and school situations. Why? Why am I unable to operate as who I am in these spaces?
As I explore these questions I expect to come to a greater synergy as I bridge extroversion and introversion in both my work as a diversity professional and as an academic. They’re skill-sets, predispositions, not ultimate determinations. By recognizing and dissecting those instances that define my introversion, perhaps I can better bridge the gap, providing for myself the necessary skills to utilize it in those situations where I see it as a weakness effectively. Likewise, by understanding what makes that same introversion a comfortable stand-by, perhaps I can learn how to utilize extroversion in other aspects of my life to improve overall quality.
The more I learn, the more I’ll know.