Kate Bartolotta’s “What Is It Really Like to Be an Introvert?” has shown up a few times on my Twitter feed, and a lot of what she says is relevant to me. I like this in particular:

When you care about someone, you choose to communicate with him or her in ways that show you love and respect them. If your cup is filled by lots of interaction with others, go for it! Be in tune with your own needs, and enjoy the way that time with others energizes you. If someone you love is an introvert, and needs time to him or herself, tune into and respect that as well. We don’t do activities alone because we are sad or negative or depressed. We do it because that’s what fills our cup back up.

However, the way she puts it implies a false alternative — at least it’s false as it applies to me: “The best explanation I was ever given (and maybe one of the biggest “aha!” moments of my adult life) was that while extroverts are energized by connecting and spending time with others, introverts need inward-focused alone time to recharge.”

Most of us need time alone and time with others, and we gain a kind of energy from each. The difference is in the extent and kind of our needs. Going insane from isolation is a common trope in fiction, but I think I’d go crazy faster if I never had a moment to myself. However, when she says time with others entails “giving out energy rather than receiving energy,” that’s not quite right. If that’s all there is to it, the people she spends time with are just taking advantage of her altruism.

Rather, there are benefits to time spent with others, but there are also costs. After a while, the satisfaction I gain levels off, but the fatigue continues to grow. I need time with my thoughts, my books, my inner and outer music. I need to digest what I’ve assimilated from my interactions with people.

The need for silence, the benefits of text-based communication relative to face-to-face, and the distinctive boundaries of each person are all good points. I just think the single “cup of energy” model could be better put a different way. Interaction with people is like food. If some of us consume only a little and leave the rest on the plate, it doesn’t mean we don’t like it, or that it costs us energy to eat it. It just means we fill up faster.

One Response to “Introversion”

  1. Jen Midkiff Says:

    Well-said, Gary, and I completely agree with your much better description of what social time for an introvert is like. We love our friends and want to spend time with them…we just fill up faster.

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