The Thing About Introverts

I’ve figured out something about introverts. Introverts are not people who lack social skills. Some do, of course. But many others do not. I have known people with great social skills who tell me they’re introverts. For example, they’re thinking about what time the party is over so they can get home, etc. You’d never know this to watch the confidence with which they interact.

That’s when it occurred to me: Maybe introversion isn’t about confidence. An introvert is someone who doesn’t like small talk. Small talk includes gossip. It’s a values issue, more than a personality or social skills issue.

Of course, in society today we pathologize and “labelize” everything. “It must be social anxiety disorder”. This is so superficial, inaccurate and doesn’t go nearly deep enough. Psychiatric labels describe the obvious, but never give you a clue as to the underlying cause of it all. “I’m depressed”. So what? What thoughts, ideas and behavioral patterns — what fundamental premises about life, existence and yourself — give RISE to that depression? Those are the questions that matter.

The real issue isn’t whether you want to talk; it’s WHAT you want to talk about. If most people around you are only interested in petty things or small talk (from your perspective, at least), then you’re left with a social withdrawal-by-default.

This explains why people who have no real shyness will sometimes withdraw as much as those who are shy. “People would never guess I’m shy, but I’m just as shy as the wallflower.” I have been told this many times in therapy sessions.

It also explains why people who appear withdrawn or shy/quiet in many situations are not like that at all when challenged by topics of authentic interest to them.

Shyness can also come from a sense of being a fraud, I realize. But the feeling of being a fraud often stems from the fact that you’re simply not interested in what most people are talking about, i.e., the petty, small and gossipy things. It feels fraudulent to be around people (or at least discussion of topics) of no interest to you.

Alcohol loosens up introverts. I hear that a lot, too. But does it make them less shy? Or does it simply help them forget they have little interest in the topics they’re discussing, or perhaps helps them tolerate those topics better? I have concluded it’s more the latter.

Personally, I don’t think most people have to be as shallow or petty as their conversations often suggest. But most of us are not achieving our potential — not even close. It comes out in our choice of conversation topics.

Those who yearn for more feel “on the outs”, not because they’re inferior but because they wish more people would raise the bar. Your conversations reflect who you are. Too many are afraid to aim higher, and too many worry about offending others simply by having rational discussions about perhaps very formidable differences or issues. It’s truly a shame. How much more advanced our civilization would be if people started using their minds even just 5 or 10 percent more.


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