February 2015 By Shivi Verma In a world where charisma, personal charm, and excellent social skills are considered the master keys to success, the silent introvert offers a contrasting paradigm,says Shivi Verma For the longest time, I was condemned in my family for being different. I was considered odd and sluggish since I did not exhibit the traits of normal toddlers who cried, threw things, or showed high physical energy and action. Though I never crawled like other babies, and took to walking very quickly during infancy, I was a far cry from being an outgoing, child with active interest in the external world. On growing up, instead of playing with cousins, or engaging with elders, I was fonder of reading books, drawing, roaming in the countryside, caressing my pet dog, or simply sitting with my thoughts. I was uncomfortable mingling with strangers, and being in social gatherings was worse than sitting for the final exams. But I could spend hours in the company of people I liked, and with whom I could have a meaningful conversation. I was always compared unfavorably with my socially savvy cousin sister who was a great conversationalist, and who displayed active interest in people and household activities like cooking, helping and serving. As a result I was in awe of my confident, friendly and outgoing peers and tried hard to be like them, shifting focus from ideas to people and events, and striving to be witty and funny. However, any such attempt would throw me off-kilter. The resultant awkwardness made me even more gawky and deepened my self-rejection. Socially an oddball, and internally a reject, fraught with failures and diseases, I cut a sorry figure. That I was a distinct personality type with a certain predisposition and slant came to my knowledge when I started working with Life Positive. Interaction with a highly aware editor made me realize that I was an introvert who derived energy and inspiration from solitude. I was an inward-oriented person who felt drained by too much external stimulation. I worked best when independent, and possessed certain gifts like the capacity to observe, reflect, calmly assess, and to be energy sensitive. People like me are selective about company and give more focus to abstract ideas than incidents and people. A trait found very commonly in writers, artists, philosophers, programmers and inventors. As I began to understand myself better, I discovered that introversion was my strength. I did not need too much company to keep me happy, and oftentimes was happy being alone. I also discovered that it was easier for me to perceive the thoughts, feelings and emotional problems of others than it was for most. In fact, I owe my keen sense of awareness and interest in spirituality to my introversion. Had I not been a reflective, inward-focused person, the vast and mesmerizing world of cosmic intelligence would not have opened up so early for me. As an introvert, meditation came easily to me; whereas many aspirants have to struggle to still their minds. My deepening self-understanding and recognition of my strengths, gave me the self-esteem and confidence to come to terms with myself. I found myself finally reposing in an ocean of calm self-confidence. Today, I am comfortable being around others and enjoy their company. Yet my preference would always be to have meaningful conversations with a close group of friends, or to be with myself. Though I have arrived in my journey to my real self, it is still not easy for introverts in this largely extroverted world. The introvert’s challenges By virtue of their easy outgoing nature, extroverts win the recognition, approval, admiration and regard of society. Their confidence and communication skills give them an edge over the silent, and reflective introvert. Since extroverts outnumber introverts, people at large are clueless about this personality type, and often baffled by it. It is seen as a shortcoming to be overcome. Parents of introverted children worry about their future and teachers complain about the child who does not participate in class activities. Says Afreen Usman, a homemaker from Lucknow, “My son does not open up to the teacher, does not relate with the father, and does not makes friends easily. I don’t know what to do with him.” Increasingly, in today’s over-stimulated world, extroversion is lauded and preferred. So much so that parents actively strive to make their dreamy introverts into go-getting extroverts. The results can be damaging. In an article published a few years back in Life Positive, author Yoginder Sikand shares the anguish of his early years: “Whenever I was invited to a classmate’s birthday party, I would tear the invitation card into bits, so that my mother would not force me to attend it. If she ever came to know of a party to which I had been invited, despite my trying to hide it from her, she would insist that I attend. ‘You have to! You have to! Do not be such a loner. You must make friends!’ I can imagine her angrily forcing her will on me. “I hated such parties. I hated the silly songs that they sang. I hated all the silly boyish games that they played – cricket, football, and relay races. It was not for nothing that I was considered a miserable ‘sissy’ by my classmates. That only made me fear and hate them even more.” It took Yoginder many years and exposure to Vipassana meditation to realize his strengths. It is time parents understood that introversion is a valid personality type, and brings with it some powerful strengths and advantages. Only if they accept it for themselves can they help their children come to terms with its challenges. Says Sharmila Bhosale, editor, Life Positive Junior, “Being an extremely shy person I used to resolve that every day, I would talk to one person, and I would push myself to make that call. Even today, I talk myself out of speaking to anyone, by reasoning that I can get the information from Internet or books. When I go to restaurants or crowded parties, the noise and discomfort makes my head spin, and I want to rush home.” For the same reason, she avoids shopping at malls and prefers to buy via online websites. Such is the pressure to be sociable that many introverts camouflage themselves as extroverts. They suppress their true self and adopt the image of a hearty extrovert, so successfully that nobody, including themselves, can recognise that they are basically introverts. Dale Carnegie, famous author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, was a shy boy brought up in a farming family in America. As he grew up he saw that people who could speak well, and charm others were more popular and successful. He decided to adopt this trait and coached himself to become one of the most articulate speakers, and charismatic personalities of America, and set off a trend favouring personality over character. All is well For introverts still battling with a sense of inadequacy, take heart. Society is waking up to your existence. There is a great deal of study devoted to people like you. It began with a landmark study by the great Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, called Personality Type, in 1921, where he identified extroversion and introversion for the first time. Extroverts, he explained, were focussed on the external situation, while introverts were focussed on what he called archetypes, the unifying concepts or insights that can help them to make sense of the outer situation. Says Mumbai-based writer and introvert, Sheela Mendes, “I could make no sense of life and therefore had no capacity to live it until a spiritual awakening clarified everything for me. Once I understood that life was interconnected and the purpose of life was to grow, I became passionate about living.” In his landmark book, Personality Type, Carl Jung identified extroversion and introversion for the first time. Introverts need less stimulation, extroverts pursue high stimulation activities. Unlike extroverts who gain energy from social interaction, introverts have to expend energy in social situations. After attending a party or spending time in a large group of people, introverts often feel a need to ‘recharge’ by spending a period of time alone. Their work styles are also different. Extroverts work faster, while introverts are slower and more deliberate. Explains Kendra Cherry, US psychology expert, “People who are introverted tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings and moods rather than seeking external stimulation.” Extroverts tend to be assertive, dominant and enjoy company. They prefer talking to listening, and are rarely at a loss for words. They are comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude. The extrovert’s strength is breadth, manifesting in a wide range of friends, activities or interests. Introverts have a more narrow range, but they go deep into these. Their friendships are deep and enduring, and they takee their interests and activities deeper. Introverts may have strong social skills, and enjoy parties and business meets, but after a time wish that they were at home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their energies to close friends, colleagues and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel that they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk. Nor are introverts necessarily shy. Shyness is a fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not over stimulating. Shyness is inherently painful, whereas introversion is not. Although there is a permutation combination of shy-introverts and non-shy introverts, as well as calm extroverts and anxious extroverts…introverts may no
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