One thing I didn’t list in my previous post about not belonging in this world, is being an introvert. There are differences of opinion, I’ve found, on what percentage of the population are introverts or extraverts, whether the two types are just the extremes, and how you define introversion anyway, but by any definition, I am thoroughly and completely introvert. Although, as I’ve said before, not all autistics are introverted, I unquestionably am. I feel this is yet another thing that sets me apart from the mainstream of society.
Introverts have long had a bad press, whether they are labelled as such or not. Regardless of their actual numbers, extraverts do dominate the social arena. They do this by being louder, more ‘out there’, more ‘sociable’, and hence more visible, but also by extraversion being seen as the ideal personality type, in both the public mind and the professional literature, particularly in Western countries. It’s only fairly recently that this has been challenged. Nonetheless, it’s still the case that introverts are not well understood, or really accepted as they are.
Being an introvert has meant a lifetime of misunderstandings and pressure from extraverts -
- “Come out and have fun!” - as though the first invariably leads to the second.
- “Don’t look so sad/why the long face/cheer up! It may never happen!” – when I am merely lost in thought.
- “Why so quiet? Cat got your tongue?” – if I wasn’t chattering like a bird at every opportunity.
- “why are you hiding away in here? Come out and join the party!” - when I’d retreat into some other room for a bit of peace and quiet at a social event. My need for solitude is usually seen as abnormal, and not healthy.
- “You should try and make more friends!” – (I’ve often been tempted to ask, “out of what? Cardboard? Papier mache?”) The assumption seems to be that having more people in my life meant I’d automatically be happier. Riiiight…
The other reaction I persistently got was to be totally ignored. Over the years, I came to believe I must be either very boring or some awful person, because so many people seemed to overlook me or turn away, or even outright cold-shoulder me. At a friend’s house one day, for instance, another woman there, who was talking to my friend, refused even to acknowledge my existence. She pointedly ignored me when I spoke, talking only to my friend, and not even looking in my direction. It was so noticeable that even my friend, a kind, generous soul, became visibly uncomfortable, glancing from her to me, looking puzzled and anxious. I walked away in the end. It just wasn’t worth the hassle. But it did leave me wondering what was ‘wrong’ with me, that someone I’d barely met should treat me like that.
My response to all this, besides feeling like I was somehow warped or boring or just plain inferior, was to try to make myself over into what I thought I ‘should’ be – like others. I would force myself to go to social events, stay longer than I really felt good with, talk more than I really wanted to, or simply pretend to be something I knew intrinsically I wasn’t. It did not make me happier, or transform me into a party-lover, it just made me more tired, and more convinced I was Not Good Enough as I was.
Mixed in with this struggle was a lot of resentment – I also, on some deeper level, didn’t really feel that those oh-so-social people were so much better than me, just noisier. In fact, some of them I privately thought of as ‘exhibitionists’, ie deliberately displaying their emotional states to get attention. It wasn’t till I learnt about the differences between introverts and extraverts that I realised that it was as natural for them to display their emotions as it was for me to keep mine inside. Mostly though, my earlier years were simply rather lonely.
And yes, I know now that there are many other introverts in the world, and I do feel a connection with them, but the thing with being an introvert is that you value large chunks of solitude – away even from other introverts. Having said that, I would trade one heartfelt, intense and meaningful conversation with another introvert for any number of parties, any day. And the people I can have such conversations with are pearls beyond price, in my view.
The bottom line however is that I’m a loner, a social outsider by nature, and a semi-recluse by choice. This is what I’ve found is the best way for me to live, and that the world can’t seem to accept that, and me as I am, is just one more thing that makes me feel even less part of this world.