The care and feeding of deep introverts (udpated)

This is a slightly revised version of what I consider to be one of my best posts, written back in autumn 2013. I've tweaked it somewhat, as I've grown a little older and (hopefully) wiser- and definitely grouchier- in the intervening years.


It's always an interesting experience being a deep introvert in a highly extroverted society. Even if you work in a relatively cloistered environment (like I do), you'll still experience the life-draining, soul-sucking presence of other people no matter what. At the end of every workday, it's quite normal for a deep introvert to simply "shut down" and become almost completely non-responsive or borderline aggressive and rude in response to what others usually think are simple and polite queries.

It is the natural lot of the deep introvert to be misunderstood, ignored, belittled, or regarded as "strange" or defective in some way. This is neither wrong nor surprising- and this post is not meant to function as some sort of "pity the poor introvert" diatribe, so as far as I'm concerned, the way that extroverts and the rest of society view deep introverts is simply what it is.

The point of this post is instead to formulate some simple and clear ideas to help deep introverts deal with our natures, and to help those around them to deal with us. In other words, instead of being descriptive, the intent of this post is to be prescriptive.

A word of caution to the reader before you proceed: if you ARE a deep introvert already- and especially if you are an INTJ, like me- then almost nothing I'm about to write is going to be news to you.

If, however, you're an extrovert who stumbled across this blog by accident (because you had nothing better to do and no one to talk to in order to distract you from the emptiness of your own head) , then what is to come might be of some use to you.

Actually, honesty demands that I admit that the reason I wrote all of this out is basically so that extroverts and other clueless characters will stop bothering me with trivial nonsense, and leave people like me the hell ALONE to get one with the more important things in life. Like, say, figuring out how to take over the world and run it properly.

How to Spot a Deep Introvert

This can be something of a challenge, actually. Most deep introverts have developed serious stealth skills through a lifetime of learning to fade into the background in order to avoid censure for being... well, different.

You would also be surprised to find that a great many deep introverts- self included- can easily be confused for extroverts if you meet them in a public setting where they are giving a presentation or a speech of some kind. Many of us have learned to adapt, to project a charismatic and powerful persona with a loud voice and flashes of wry humour; only once you get to know us will you realise just how carefully constructed that fa├žade is, and how immensely taxing it is upon us to maintain it.

There are, however, certain tell-tale signs.

Most deep introverts are male; there are a few female deep introverts out there but they are very rare. So basically you're looking for the guy sitting deep in the corner wearing headphones and concentrating very hard on reading a book on something esoteric, like quantum physics, the fundamentals of investing, applied mathematics, or world history.

Common feeding grounds include: large bookstores, the backs of dimly lit coffee shops, small bookstores, computer hardware stores, used bookstores, hunting and ammo stores, out-of-print and rare-edition bookstores, internet cafes, basement bookstores, musical venues showcasing obscure yet fanatically-followed underground acts, college bookstores, and quiet old-school English pubs drinking pints of real ale (i.e. with soil floating on the top).

I mentioned bookstores, right?

The most common place to find us, by far, is in our own homes. This means that if you don't know where we live- and we often go to considerable lengths to ensure that you don't- then you are S.O.L.

How to Work Alongside a Deep Introvert

Give him a difficult assignment that requires large amounts of time alone to think and formulate ideas. And then go away and let him figure it out.

Really, just GTFO, we'll figure out how to fix it.

You may find it very difficult to read a deep introvert. This is deliberate and intentional; we do feel emotions- often very very strongly- but we don't like displaying them in public. It is... unmanly to emote.

You may also find it very difficult to get an introvert to open up about his personal life. Again, this is completely intentional. We tend to compartmentalise our lives. Work, family, friends, and play all form distinct and discrete compartments in our lives, and with the exception of extremely close friends and family, it is extremely rare for us to let them get jumbled up. We do this for our peace of mind as well as for yours, since our minds and personalities can only handle a small amount of socialisation at a time.

How to Work For a Deep Introvert

Deep introverts make surprisingly good managers and bosses- mostly because we don't micromanage. We don't have the time or patience for it. We rarely play favourites either, and because we hate superficiality and pretense, we don't play politics, so you always know exactly where you stand with us.

The best of us tend to be brutally honest with our opinions about you, within the limits of what is allowed by corporate policy or legality, both to your face and behind your back, so you never need to worry about us saying one thing about you in front of you and another thing to others.

Understand that when we tear apart your idea and present it back to you in tatters, we are in fact giving you the highest possible compliment that we can. Ideas are of absolute importance to us. We spend time examining ideas only if they are worthy of our time and attention. The fact that we have taken the time to look over your idea and then ruthlessly dissect it based on our knowledge, experiences, and skills should be taken as a very positive thing.

Introverts often tend to be very good at delegating work as well. It's not that we're lazy, exactly- actually, we are selectively lazy- but there are certain tasks which we just know we're not cut out for. Most of these tasks involve socialising of some kind or another. We can do it, but the mental and physical drain that results is so severe that we require literally hours, if not days, of recovery time afterwards.

In some extreme instances, the drain is such that we enter a near-catatonic state that requires us to be almost completely isolated from external stimuli for a few hours before we can even think about being around other people.

How to Manage a Deep Introvert

The key is to recognise that his greatest talents shine forth when he's left alone. The idea that "teamwork" and "brainstorming" are always and everywhere Good Things is complete nonsense, as anyone who's ever worked in a corporate environment knows full well. "Brainstorming" is just another way of saying, "let's put a bunch of overpaid and overly talkative idiots in a room together to come up with the most harebrained consensus possible".

When you want off-the-wall thinking, creative problem-solving, and dogged perfectionism, that's when you bring in your deep introvert, sit him down with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones in his own corner office, and tell him to get to work. There is nothing that makes a technically gifted deep introvert happier than being given license to sit down and build, test, debug, and implement scripts for 10 hours without having to say a word to anyone.

How to Date a Deep Introvert

It will not be easy for you. You might be surprised to find out, though, that it's often even worse for him. Actually, this is the one place where female deep introverts genuinely do have it worse than male deep introverts. People generally expect women to be sunny and pleasant to be around, not taciturn and contemplative, but female deep introverts tend to have their noses buried in books quite a lot of the time (these days usually with headphones on), so opening them is quite difficult.

Since I am of course male, I write this section from the point of view of a deeply introverted man. Ladies, when it comes to male deep introverts, understand one thing: if he doesn't want to talk to you, there isn't a damn thing you can do about it. It's that simple. Male deep introverts can be very, very successful when it comes to dating- but it takes enormous effort over a much longer period of time than it does for extroverted A-types.

When it comes to dating and sex, though, there is one good thing going for deep introverts. We spend huge amounts of time in our own heads- and no, you can't join us in there, you wouldn't last a nanosecond. You think Alice's Wonderland was bizarre and crazy, wait until you spend ten minutes wandering around the utter chaos that is an INTJ's headspace, in which a thousand different voices and ideas all compete for attention at any given time.

Anyway, back on topic- because we spend so much time in our own heads, we have very highly developed imaginations. Let's just say that when it comes to intimacy, more imagination is a Good Thing- and we have plenty to spare.

Just understand that ultimately, your very presence drains us. If we insist on spending hours alone playing video games, reading comic books, lifting really heavy weights, cooking, or listening to music and writing Javascript programs, then simply leave us alone to recharge and be assured that when we come back, we'll be quite pleasant to be around.

A word of caution: DO NOT, under any circumstances other than extreme and life-threatening emergencies, disturb a deep introvert during his "me time". If you are stupid enough to do so, do not be surprised when he responds with unmitigated and violent hostility. You have been warned.

How to Raise a Deep Introvert

This one's a topic particularly near and dear to me. I was raised by two complete bookworms, so naturally I'm a bookworm myself. The simplest approach here is to leave your kid alone to let his imagination run free, but make sure that you use a firm, fair hand to ensure that he (or she) grows up right. It turns out that there is a fine line between an introvert and a psychopath.

And ensure that you have a lot of books around. Otherwise your kid is going to drive you insane asking you for yet another book about dinosaurs or dogs or ecology.

Treat your children fairly. NEVER show favour of one child over another, especially if one child is an extrovert and the other is a deep introvert. The introvert will simply withdraw if he sees this happening, and will generally either become cold and moody, or insecure and possibly even mentally unstable. I've seen both happen, and neither outcome is pretty.

Do not allow your introverted child's siblings to gang up on him, this will damage him beyond your capacity for understanding and may even forever destroy his ability to form meaningful relationships in his life.

Note that the one thing you should not do is try to force socialisation. Introverts form friendships at our own pace and any attempt to rush the process usually results in breaking the very rapport you're trying to create. Remember, introverts have been burned many, many times by a society that simply refuses to understand us, which means that we reserve our deepest trust and greatest affections only for those who have proven themselves worthy of those privileges.

Homeschooling is also strongly advised. Not only will you spare your kid the lousy standards of most public Western education, but your kid will likely learn a damn sight faster than he would via conventional schooling, and he'll probably form much stronger bonds with you to boot.


Gift Ideas for Introverts

  • Noise-cancelling headphones; 
  • Books, books, and more books- you CANNOT go wrong with giving a deep introvert a book. Just please for God's sake ensure that it's not "mainstream" literature (you know, of the Fifty Shades mommy-porn variety) ; 
  • Video games- by which I mean, really good games, preferably with a sci-fi/fantasy bent, like the HALO, Crysis, or The Witcher series; 
  • Rare DVD boxed sets- LOTR extended edition boxed sets, certain great old-school cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series, stuff like that; 
  • Musical instruments (for those of us who are musically inclined); 
  • A Linux distribution on a DVD or USB stick- you've not seen a nerdy introvert truly geek out until you've given him a copy of Knoppix or Gentoo or Slackware and then asked him to optimise it; 
  • Food- many of us have learned the hard way to be self-sufficient when it comes to food, and we are genuinely very grateful and appreciative when other people take the time and trouble to make good food for us; 

Dos and Don'ts With Introverts

(Mostly Don'ts) 
  • Don't repeat yourself. It bores and annoys us beyond measure and causes us to space out very quickly.  
  • Don't be vapid or content-free in your speech. We'll immediately assume that you have no idea what you're talking about and proceed to ignore you. 
  • Don't try to act smarter than you are. We have very finely tuned BS detectors and have no patience for it. If you do this, do not be surprised when we make you look like ten degrees of idiot in public. 
  • Don't be incompetent, at least not around us. Incompetence is something that irritates us beyond mortal comprehension. Being deep introverts, we generally won't say anything, we'll simply get on with doing our job and then do yours for good measure so that we can get the hell out the door faster. You'll look great in the short term, but we'll also put in place an exit strategy that means that when- not if, but when- we leave, you'll end up wearing your arse around your ears. Like a hat. 
  • Don't try to talk to us if we have headphones on. Seriously, how difficult is this to figure out? WE"RE BLOCKING OUT THE REST OF THE WORLD FOR A REASON. Talk to us via office IM or email, you're actually more likely to get a coherent and thoughtful response that way. 
  • Don't make small talk. We can't friggin' stand it. Nothing about the weather or your kid's football game is anything like as interesting as the non-stop dialogue going on in our heads. 
  • I suppose I ought to include at least one do, so... how about this- do keep things short, sweet, and to the point. How's that?

Comments

  1. I read this the first time around way back and was struck by its veracity then; this time, I will make sure to book mark this post so I can point others to it so that I don't have to keep explaining myself. Bravo!

    ReplyDelete
  2. The post was good back then and it's just as good now. A big don't (for me, for me anyways) is to take something I'm working on out of my hands.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Eduardo the Magnificent14 April 2016 at 19:41

    My big don't: I don't talk much, so when I do, it's important. Don't ignore, interrupt or belittle the speaker. Extroverts love to talk over each other, but there's nothing more disrespectful to an introvert. If the speaker pauses to collect his thoughts, don't take that as an invitation to cram 40,000 sentences of drivel and change the subject.

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