Why extroverts can't leave us alone

Oh, the pain...

Every introvert, without exception, has his or her own particular bugbears about other people. The most common one goes something like this:
I'm perfectly happy being by myself, in peace and quiet- why can't you see and understand that?
The reason is actually pretty simple. Extroverts require something from us that we are incapable of providing. Unfortunately, it is rare that you will find an extrovert who has the intelligence, the sensitivity, or the perceptiveness to see this. And this is because, as Bob Wallace likes to say:
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.
Extrovert insensitivity to introverted needs is common and unavoidable. And this would be fine, except for the fact that extroverts tend to take an introvert's inability to provide them with the attention and conversation that they need rather personally.

Case Studies

A couple of examples from various introverts will serve the purpose of illustrating the problem.
Example 1: An introvert (I) walks into his apartment and is greeted by his extroverted roommate (E). The following conversation is adapted and edited slightly from an actual reader email.
E: "Where were you?" (Grinning & bubbly) 
I: (With a smile, in a mild tone) "Nosy, ain't ya? Ha! Out with some friends." 
E: (Immediately taking umbrage) "Oh, well, sorry! I was just asking is all. I didn't mean to upset you! I won't again, geez!"
I: (Indifferent) "...OK." 
(E huffs away, likely texting a friend about that asshole roommate)
Virtually every introvert, ever, has a similar story to tell of a similar interaction. That is just the way extroverts tend to be wired. It is immensely frustrating to us to have to deal with such silliness, but it is also unavoidable.
Example 2: A highly introverted couple invites over a highly extroverted couple for dinner at their house. These two couples have known each other for, quite literally, decades; the two husbands used to work together in the same company. The evening starts out pleasantly enough, but very quickly the extroverted wife starts to speak rapidly and at very high volume, and jabbers non-stop from the start of the evening to the end. Worse yet, she and her extroverted husband kibbitz back and forth constantly, arguing over trivial details in irrelevant stories, again at high volume and top speed.
The introverted couple are quickly overwhelmed by the extreme sensory load that they are experiencing, and rapidly retreat from the sources of discomfort by engaging "smile-and-nod mode", or by using any possible excuse to check up on the food.
Net result: the extroverts have a good time, completely oblivious to the pain that they are inflicting upon the introverts, and leave after a delicious meal prepared by the introverted wife, upon extracting a promise that the introverted couple will dine with them to reciprocate the favour sometime soon. The introverts, faced with a very uncomfortable choice between being rude in turning down the invitation, and being overwhelmed once again by a barrage of conversation, are browbeaten into accepting, though they do so with good grace.
Again, this case is a common situation for every introvert. It is also an extremely uncomfortable one for some of us. Introverts, particularly INTJ types like me, attach tremendous importance to simple virtues like honesty and integrity. To us, if we accept a dinner invitation, we are honour-bound to actually show up and participate, no matter how painful or distasteful such a thing might be.
Example 3: An introvert walks into a bar with a group of students from his XYZ school. Everyone is there to have a good time, to have a few beers and to loosen up a little bit. Yet, the moment he walks in the door, he is greeted by the physical shock of a wave of chaotic sound in the form of shouted conversations and music played at eardrum-shattering volume. Quickly resolving to put on the "social face" that is so necessary for introverted survival in such an environment, he orders a beer for himself and his friend, shoots the breeze for about 45 minutes, then makes his excuses and leaves as quickly as he can. During this time he notices that there are several attractive, well-dressed women who are not exactly unhappy that he is there- but because of the extreme sensory overload that he is experiencing, he can do nothing about it, and so he says his goodbyes and gets the hell out of there as quickly as he can.
As an aside- the funny thing about a situation like this is that there are some introverts who actually enjoy going to places with very loud music. In my case, for instance, I rather like going to heavy metal concerts. You would think that someone like me- the stereotypical deep introvert, who prefers books and video games and writing to any amount of human contact- would find such an experience overwhelming. In fact, a metal concert is actually a very personal experience. You are there to see a band that you love, and your experience in listening to the music is yours alone- no matter how many people are pressed up against you, no matter how many times you get kicked in the face by those f***ing crowd-surfers (I HATE those douchebags!), and no matter how close to or far from the stage you are.

If I go to an IRON MAIDEN concert, for instance, I'm there with like 15,000 other people- but the experience is a deeply personal one for me. I'm watching the greatest band of ALL TIME performing live before my very eyes. That experience is something that no extrovert, no crowd of thousands, can possibly take from me.

The extroverted handicap

Yet, no matter how irritating such interactions are for us, it is important to remember precisely why it is that extroverts cannot ever leave us alone- not least because, once again, introverts can (and should) understand extroverts far better than extroverts will ever understand introverts.

Extroverts require constant mental stimulation through the presence of other people. When left alone, they wither and wilt. They gain energy from being around others, by definition. They thrive on sensory loads that would drive a deep introvert to madness within minutes.

Introverts, by contrast, are extremely sensitive to high-stimulation environments, such as bars, nightclubs, and loud or noisy public spaces such as restaurants and public parks. Every introvert has a horror story to tell about a dinner outing at an otherwise very pleasant restaurant that is very rudely interrupted by some extroverted dick-breath who can't stop talking in a voice like a foghorn on a clear night- it's like having to breathe in someone's second-hand smoke for the entirety of your meal, and has the same effect upon our overall mood and disposition.

The reason extroverts do this to us- beside the fact that they're mostly congenitally incapable of recognising the damage that they are inflicting- is because introverts do not give them what extroverts need to thrive.

Extroverts absolutely require companionship and stimulation. Introverts absolutely require solitude and silence. Our wants and desires are fundamentally incompatible.

Because introverts are comfortable with being alone, we have rather limited patience for those who demand our company- we regard such demands as an affront and an imposition, simply because we don't see the point.

Those demands, though, are second nature to an extrovert. And thus, because we do not give them what they need, they do not give us what we need.

The introvert advantage

Should introverts therefore go out of our way to satisfy the demands of our extroverted counterparts?

No.

Our need for solitude is non-negotiable. Solitude is not a source of fear or discomfort for us- it is a source of strength, faith, and succour. Solitude is what heals us, gives us our unique gifts, and redeems us when we fall short of our own standards.

That is the great gift- and the great curse- of an introvert. We require nothing more than time alone to bring forth our greatest gifts. Those who respect this facet of our personalities tend to become close and valued friends and confidantes; the very best of these tend to become spouses, or at least long-term partners- my own parents are a great example of two deep introverts who have forged a very happy and very stable life together.

At best, in situations where interaction is required, we should politely converse for a few seconds, then disengage gently but firmly and get on with our lives. This is not always going to be possible- Example 2, for instance, where people are actually invited over for an evening of entertainment, would be one such situation- but for the most part, extroverts need to be made to understand that our boundaries are to be respected and should never be intruded upon.

Every introvert needs time alone- especially when he or she returns home. For us, our homes are more than merely places to eat and sleep. They are our sanctuaries, our places of refuge and cherished silence. Introverts tend to make our homes as comfortable and cosy as we possibly can- because we spend so much of our time there.

An introvert who is unable to find refuge in his own home will very quickly find himself unable to adapt to the world around him, because the source of his strength is cut off from him.

So, no, we should not give extroverts what they need at our own expense- not least because extroverts simply cannot help but feed off our energy, and we have limited amounts to give.

Instead, we should always seek to streamline our interactions with extroverts to the greatest extent possible. We need them, and they need us. But the interactions should be on our terms, never theirs.

Comments

  1. My thoughts at least once a week: "For God's sake, will you please shut up!"

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    Replies
    1. Rather more than once a week for me, mate. There's a chap who sits next to me at work who will make the most random and inane conversation routinely, simply for the sake of hearing someone else's voice. When he's working from another location, life is very good indeed- I can just sit there all day long and work, or web-surf, as required. When he's around, though, it can be quite painful.

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    2. And I think this modern version with augmented passive-aggressive, "nice people" tendencies are the worst to have to deal with. I don't mind it if an extrovert tells me that I'm a loner and I need to 'get out more,' and that sort of thing. Come to expect it, really. But it amazes me how quickly those passive-aggressive, 'bubbly' people turn into butthurt whiners when called out on their own behavior.

      "ME?!? Too loud? Well, my gosh, I'm SO sorry. I'll try and NOT upset you again. I was JUST SAYIN' is all, not trying to be mean! Sheesh! You're too sensitive!"

      (The irony of the 'you're too sensitive' comment from extroverts always cracks me up. Pot, meet kettle)

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  2. Extroverts often seem to be obsessed with details that either a) I don't care about, b) they could easily find out themselves (so why are you asking me) or c) none of their business.

    I usually run into an extension of Example 1:

    E: Where were you?
    I: Went to see the new action movie with Dave
    E: What did you think of it?
    I: Not bad
    E: What did Dave think of it?
    I: Seemed to like it
    E: Did you ask him?
    I: No, why would I ask him?
    E: Well, that's something you should do.
    I: If you're that concerned about it, give him a call.
    E: Well, that would be weird, he's your friend, not really my friend
    E: Did you have popcorn at the movie?
    I: Uh, yeah...why does that matter?
    E: Oh I just want to know
    Etc.


    You mention concerts as a place where an introvert would seem to be uncomfortable. However, at a concert, no matter how many people are there you are actually quite alone. Everyone is focused on the band, nobody is paying any attention to you and it's way too loud to actually talk. That's why I love concerts and why loud bars don't really phase me either. They are places to go where you can easily be alone in a crowd.

    The whole introvert/extrovert dynamic seems to mirror how males and females approach friendships. Males who are friends will typically talk to each other when they need to and if there is a large distance between them communication often dwindles to important life events only. It is just assumed that no news = good news. However, when they meet up the conversation starts right up as though they had just seen each other yesterday. It takes 10 minutes, if that to bring each other up to date and off they go.

    Women need to know every detail of every small occurrence that is going on at all times. No news = OMG something disastrous has happened, why does she hate me, what am I missing?

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  3. I recently stopped worrying about others, mainly through conversation to help make them comfortable. I end up feeling stupid and I'm sure coming across as trying too hard. Now I don't, no matter who I'm with, and I feel like myself again :) Some don't talk to me as much but in the end, it doesn't matter. Why make myself crazy uncomfortable to please anyone when it's rarely done to me?

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