Thursday, January 22, 2009

Introversion: Withdrawal Symptoms.

My wife blogged today about me (among other mixed blessings). She claimed that this article would be tattooed on my chest: "Introverts of the World, Unite!" Jonathan Rauch's essay for the March 2003 issue of "The Atlantic Monthly" remains among its top-five most e-mailed articles. While too lengthy, I demurred to the missus, for such "Memento"-like dermatological commemoration on my pale torso, I have ingested, intellectually and emotionally, Rauch's contents years ago.

Rauch argues that introversion's an orientation, doomed to misunderstanding by yapping, yipping, touchy-feely, domineering extroverts who lord themselves over me and my oppressed, or at least belittled, minority. Remember, I came of adolescence in the '70s, when guitar-spurred group hugs invaded even the sacrifice of many a Mass. I dreaded such earnest communism from that post-Vatican II "agape feast." Unless the ritual "kiss of peace" happened to embrace a nearby congregant of the opposite sex, if under about 40 and above 12 or so, excluding relatives.

Needing time alone, sidling away from small talk, dreading dinner parties, preferring "down time," or meeting new people's not a disability. Maybe the new DSM will include it for insurance purposes, but I reject classification (at least for this trait) as a deviant. The shrinks've lobbied shyness into an official "Social Anxiety Disorder," logically abbreviated as SAD. Introversion's not, the author insists and I agree, a lifestyle-- or what my spouse pithily and frequently has translated to as: "me being an a--hole".

I concur with Rauch's contention that an hour being "on" for an introvert means two hours "off" any social contact. As a teacher, one who actually has always enjoyed (for a quarter-century next autumn) being in front of a captive crowd regaling them with trivia, my reveries, and the occasional lecture topic as assigned on the syllabus, this may confound those who know me as their professor. Yet, I have by profession daily enough of other people. I get my mingling done. I ride the train, take the bus, and/or endure traffic. I go home and think and mull and read and blog.

This cocooning combines with my reluctance for therapy. Freud lamented the Irish being alone among those unable to benefit from his couch and the "talking cure." This stubbornness leaves me content but doubtless my family and few friends bewildered. However, Rauch sums up a weariness we stoics feel when pummelled about by everyone else in public each day we sally forth to do our duty and make our living.

We aren't misanthropes; we aren't cranks. Rather, we tire easily from dealing with others in situations that leave us liable to unpredictable encounters. Rauch reminds us, in a piece that I am unsure would be filed under humor or psychology, that our need for withdrawal "isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay— in small doses."

Photo: Contrary to the marquee, I would not classify "timidity" as a near-synonym for "introversion." Timid folks would not, I aver, choose teaching as a career, or feel no more than the natural butterflies before standing at a podium. Furthermore, I doubted such a church existed. Who'd attend?

Returning to the site, I learned this display was concocted by the clever blogger at "Graham's Paddock" at His explanation directed me to: Church Sign Generator. That URL comes with this cryptic warning as its first sentence: If you've received an offensive sign from 'Beth Sholom Synagogue' or 'Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church' or some other church or synagogue, please read this." (=hyperlink embedded under last phrase)


Tony Bailie said...

I feel slightly less alone (even though I like being alone)after reading your blog and the Rauch article. What I mean to say is that I feel less alone about being a loner and knowing that their are other loner's out there who understand why I like being alone and leave me alone to get on with being alone themselves,

Layne said...

I very much agree with Rauch that introverts are not necessarily cranky misanthropes. But maybe there are a teensy handful...

vilges suola said...

By the end of every teaching day I feel as though I have been dragged from my cocoon and tampered with. I spend 99% of my non-working life alone and couldn't stand it any other way.

Fionnchú said...

I wonder if we who are loners find partners who aren't. Or, can two loners find happiness together? Is it more difficult to be on one's own as an introvert, or is it easier than living with a spouse or mate?

Thanks not only to my own wife, but Tony & VS (I recognize you from the comments pages we frequent on "Bo's" blogs!). Nice to know that there's more of us than we're led to believe, as if we're but a few wallflowers at a crowded dance of happy revelers.