If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I’m, quite happily, an introvert. I really value being content with long stretches of aloneness and the ability to internally hash things out – two introvert strengths. Lately, though, I’ve been experiencing one of introversion’s downsides.
Introverts’ brains process things differently than extrovert’s brains and being overwhelmed by circumstances or emotions makes our normally slow processing even more sluggish. So during miserable goodbyes or exciting hellos (both of which I have in abundance at the moment!) – my brain is trying to catch up and my facial and emotional expression remains passive as I try to recover lost processing power.
In these situations, I find myself performing by instinct reinforced by things I’ve read or observed from other people. For example, when I’m listening to someone share something highly emotional or personal, I find a tiny part of my brain reciting from a list of ways to be a good listener. “Aaaaand, nod now!” “Say mmhmmm.” “Smile encouragingly.”
This is because introverts tend to sit expressionless as a friend pours out their deepest, darkest heart secrets. This leads people to conclude their introvert friend is a bad or uncaring listener. But it’s not necessarily that the introvert isn’t listening – it’s that their brain is concentrating so hard on what you’re saying, they’re unconscious to the fact they haven’t nodded in understanding for the past ten minutes.
At certain times, I’ve found this slow-brain a good thing. In college, I worked for campus security for two years. I handled several emergency or semi-emergency situations in which there was a rush of adrenaline and fear… thirty minutes after it was all over. During the actual incident, I was calm, cool, and since my own brain was hopelessly frozen, all I could do was rely on the training I’d received (which turned out to be excellent!).
But while slow-brain can make for good emergency-response skills, it isn’t great for normal-life operations like conveying to a friend how much you’re going to miss them (especially when open crying is the expected response), how ecstatic you are to see them, or that you’re attentive to what they’re saying. Sometimes, an introvert friend’s lack of outer expression throws me when I’m on the receiving end of a quiet welcome or stoic goodbye. Many introverts actively avoid direct confrontations because, in the heat of the moment, our brains literally freeze and the right response comes three hours later when we’ve recovered.
While we do tend to be less expressive than extroverts, it’s not that introverts aren’t experiencing the same fear, sadness or joy. They are – it’s just less natural for us to express it openly. Introverts tend to find other ways of communicating themselves – like writing notes or thinking through their responses before the emotional event.
I’m curious – if you’re an introvert, do you experience this slowed-down phenomenon? What do you do to show others what you might not naturally express outwardly?
Have you ever misjudged someone as stoic or unfeeling only to be surprised later by what was on the inside?