(Originally published in The Huffington Post)
There’s a pervasive belief out there that introverts don’t like people (or don’t like being around them anyway), and it’s just plain old not true. Why so prevalent then?
I think it’s based on the narrow definition that so many of us have heard: if you get your energy from being around others, you’re an extrovert; if you need time alone to recharge your batteries, you’re an introvert. That’s just too limiting for me.
I am without a doubt an introvert; I absolutely adore time by myself—to create, to dream, to follow an obsession—I always come back energized and inspired. But give me a couple of like-minded love bugs who want to talk about real things and dig into some juicy subjects and watch my energy skyrocket.
So where does the idea that introverts get drained by being around other people come from? Two words: Small talk.
Why? Because few things are as draining to an introvert as having to engage in a conversation about nothing. See there’s something we desperately want all the effortlessly expansive extroverts of the world to know: small talk gives most of us mild to moderate social anxiety. Side effects like rising heart rate, sweaty palms, tight throat and stomach churning social anxiety which of course causes us to try and avoid it as much as humanly possible.
One of the reasons for this is that we have a ridiculously rich inner life—we are constantly creating and dreaming and connecting things in our heads—small talk interrupts and steals energy away from the much more interesting conversation we are already having with ourselves. (Important side note: this only applies to small talk, engage us in meaningful conversation and not only will our anxiety melt away but you’ll also get to see the real us.)
And the bigger reason small talk gives us social anxiety is that we are acutely aware of our inability to do it well. We know we suck at it. We know our cheeks are turning red, we know our voices are sounding shaky, we know you have no idea why we look so nervous and uncomfortable and guess what? That just triggers more anxiety! It’s a vicious cycle.
My own lack of enthusiastic social engagement has caused me to be labelled all sorts of things: shy, stuck up, aloof, standoffish, distant, snobbish, rude even.
But I promise, I’m none of those things, I’m just enacting a form of self-preservation. Over the years, I have developed an arsenal of small talk avoidance techniques so that I can keep my energy high and my conversations about something other than the weather.
So I thought I’d share with you the confessions of a people loving, small talk hating introvert:
:: When I fly by myself I immediately do one of the following: a.) put my earphones in b.) close my eyes and pretend I am asleep c.) open a book and try to assume the posture of complete literary absorption or d.) open my laptop and try to appear very important and busy.
:: I’ve perfected the look-up-smile-wave-and-immediately-look-back-down move, so I can try and be friendly without having actually to engage with other humans.
:: I way overuse email, to the point that I end up writing short novellas, just to avoid picking up the phone.
:: I have a shorthand I use with my utterly extroverted daughter (who would happily chat up every human we encounter), to signal that mommy’s mindless chatter meter is full for the day. I say, “Do not engage”, and she knows to smile and keep moving.
:: I have extrovert angels, people in my life who have the amazing ability to talk to anyone and who I happily sidle up to in awkward social situations—these loquacious life rafts always make my guest list.
:: I bring my phone everywhere, so I’ll have something to focus on if I get stuck in line or while waiting to pick up my daughter.
:: I check out my window before I leave the house so I can avoid running into the neighbours (even though they really are lovely people).
:: I pretend not to see people I know when I’m out in public. I once dove in and hid in the back seat of my car to avoid someone coming down the street. #notmyproudestmoment
Now before you go thinking that I’m a completely anti-social hermit who should probably just never leave the house, there are a few other things you should know about us small talk averse introverts:
When you engage us in an actual conversation about real things, you get our full, undivided attention. You also get access to our rich inner world and all the goodness and wisdom we keep hidden there.
While we struggle with our social awkwardness, we also celebrate it, because we know it’s our weird bits that make us who we are. So feel free to be your whole, quirky, amazing self with us—let your freak flag fly! We’ll love you for it.
We are like The. Best. Listeners. Ever. And we think vulnerability is fucking sexy.
I’m sharing these confessions, so all you introverts out there know you’re not alone, and so all you beautifully expressive extroverts will understand we’re not rude or shy or distant — we just really want to stop talking about nothing.
Spread the word and save an introvert from the small talk epidemic, share this article— introverts everywhere will thank you.
PS - Are you an introvert that could use a little help protecting your energy, read this.