Blessed Solitude

To extroverts, the introvert is a very odd creature, who seems fundamentally wrong in some strange and often intangible sense. Extroverts find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to contemplate the idea of spending time completely by themselves, in isolation from the world, content to do nothing but read a book, watch a movie, or listen to music within the comfort and quiet of one's own home. Extroverts need to be surrounded by people, by noise, by constant mental stimulation. Without it, they become listless, demotivated, and downright cranky.

In my experience, extroverts have enormous trouble trying to understand introverts, especially deep introverts like me; most of them don't even bother to try. This is particularly tiresome and troubling in the workplace; anyone who works within the typical American workplace culture knows that the emphasis is on "teamwork" and "collaboration", whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. Not all extroverted bosses are complete nuisances- I work for an extroverted boss, and I get along very well with him. The best of the bunch are good people to work for, because while they like being around other people, they will leave their most skilled and productive quiet employees to their own devices, to work on their own schedules and their own time, in the full knowledge that the work will get done and will be done to a very exacting standard. Yet even the best extroverted bosses will still see the need to fill up an introverted colleague's time with inconsequential conversations about the weather, the kids' softball games, the various aches and pains that come with old age, and so on and so forth. Without even meaning to, an extrovert will impose at will upon an introvert's most cherished desire: silence.

To a deep introvert, solitude is not something frightening or disorienting. Solitude is more than just a word to one like me- it is a real, physical, fundamental need. It is like water, like breathing- without it, introverts wither in the face of society's relentless insistence that they be a part of it. The need for solitude is a defining characteristic of the deep introvert. We literally cannot function without healthy amounts of time to ourselves.

Every introvert has a different degree of desire for "alone time". My sister, for instance, is vastly more sociable than I am- she likes being around other people, but only up to a point. In reality she is basically a homebody. When she comes over to spend time with me- as she has been doing for the past week or so- she elects to spend the vast majority of her time in my apartment watching movies on Netflix or surfing the web or playing games on my Wii. She will, however, make far more time to visit other people than I ever will, or am even capable of doing.

For my part, my degree of tolerance for other people is considerably lower. I have to set aside large amounts of time to recharge every weekend, time where I am completely by myself, left completely to my own devices and desires. When my sister stays over with me, I generally last about a week or so before I begin to resent her presence, whether consciously or otherwise. It's not fair to her, or to anyone else around me, but it's part of who I am, and there is no getting around it. The reason is very simple: for an introvert, our home is sacred ground. The borders that we create for ourselves are a form of self-defence, a barrier created against an uncaring and deeply hostile world, are as much mental as physical, and any intrusion into them is tantamount to an act of aggression committed against our very souls. It does not matter if the intruder is a stranger or dearest blood; all that matters is that our subconscious desire for solitude has been denied. It is for this reason that, even though I dearly love my little sister and want only the best for her, I very much look forward to the moment that she leaves and I can return to living my life on my schedule. For that, ultimately, is what an introvert desires more than anything else- freedom to live life according to one's own rhythms in peace, quiet, and the comfort that we create for ourselves.

If you are a deep introvert, and you're wondering whether your need to spend time alone is something that should be resisted or denied, trust me on this- you will do yourself enormous damage if you fail to feed that need. Solitude makes us who and what we are. It makes us strong when we feel weak, heals us when we hurt, feeds us when we starve, restores our faith in ourselves when we doubt, and gives us balance when we lose it.

Is there such a thing as too much solitude? Sure. No introvert, no matter how antisocial, can long endure or survive without human contact of some kind. The key here is to balance out the need for human interaction, which is very much part of being human, with the need for solitude, which is very much what makes us introverts. My father, for instance, is quite a lot better at this than I am. He and my mother are both deep introverts, which unsurprisingly is where I get my antisocial tendencies. However, both of them have adapted their desires for solitude into strengths. Back when I was a child, I have distinct memories of them going out to parties fairly frequently every weekend as part of the social "scene" of the expatriate Indian circle in the country we were living in at that time, but they quickly tired of listening to the same people talking about the same boring golf stories every time. So they decided that instead, they would focus on small gatherings of chosen, intimate, dearly beloved friends at our house. They got to be very good at it too- my mother is a phenomenal cook, and my father can be extremely charming when he wants to be, especially now that he is regarded as something of a wise elder among our younger friends. In this manner, they fulfill their need to be around other people in comfortable, non-threatening surroundings (i.e. their own home), with the added assurance that when the entertaining is over, when dinner is done, and when the last guest has left, life will simply resume its quiet and unassuming course as the noisy outer society passes by.

Make no mistake, even this mode of entertaining requires the introvert to put on a "mask" of sorts. When guests are over, my parents will speak and act in a manner that is totally different from the way that they will speak and act with me and my sister, or with our very closest friends- the ones that we have known for thirty years and more. This is unavoidable. For a deep introvert, the kind of trust that permits complete and unrestrained access to the very depths of one's character is beyond price and must be earned over years, even decades, of association and interaction. Such trust is not easily gained, but once given, it is absolute and unbreakable.

If you are a deep introvert, understand that you are not strange or deficient. You are simply very different. You can choose to fight that fundamental aspect of your being- and if you do, I guarantee that you will at some point suffer some kind of severe cognitive breakdown. You'll look at yourself in the mirror and you won't like what you see staring back at you. Or, you can embrace that aspect of your character and work with it, to become better at what you do, to be better than what you are. It's up to you, but I know exactly which path I chose.



Comments

  1. Introverts understand extroverts a lot better than extroverts understand introverts, just the way the smart understand the stupid a lot better than the stupid understand the smart.

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