Confessions of a lifelong introvert

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Today I feel better than usual. Today I realized something about myself, saw what I am more clearly than I have ever before seen myself; I am an introvert.

I’m fairly skilled at hiding the fact that I’m an introvert, and all but my closest friends, and my wife, would likely be surprised by this revelation. In fact, I’m so adept at hiding my own introversion, that the discovery even shocks me.

By introvert, I do not necessarily mean that I cannot be around people, only that being forced to engage with people whom I do not completely trust is a painful, exhausting ordeal. This sort of engagement condemns me to interact when I would prefer to disengage.

I discovered this fact about myself while examining the cause for my discomfort in the Army. I do well at everything the Army asks me to do, but I never feel comfortable. Hardly ever a day of peace. Then it came to me, as if on the Damascus Road. The Army celebrates extroversion almost as much as a Gay Pride parade. Not only are the top NCOs extreme extroverts, but introverts are actually quite severely punished.  I’ve seen NCOs relieved of duty for not yelling at soldiers. NCOs are expected to scream and rant and rave. They are supposed to have strong personalities. That’s ‘leadership.”  Believe me, it takes an extreme extrovert to eyeball a complete stranger from across the street and yell at him for not wearing his patrol cap correctly.

From the very first day in the Army, I have felt a deep sense of discomfort, bordering on manic unhappiness. It began in Basic training when I was forced to lodge with dozens of other people, in very close quarters. Again, in everything I excelled. I was voted the best soldier in my platoon in Basic, Soldier of the Year at my previous unit. In AIT, a school that teaches soldiers their specific jobs right after Basic, I spent my weekends almost completely alone. I felt euphoria finally being able to experience solitude. Almost all the other soldiers would hang out together, but not me. I literally just wanted to go somewhere and read a book. I would go to restaurants, and read while eating my meal. If I saw someone I knew, I would turn and avoid them, afraid they would ask me to do something with them, which would take away from my time alone.

I hate Army “formations” in which soldiers are told to gather daily. Hate them with a passion.

One of the most euphoric feelings I recall in my entire life is my first day in Germany, after graduating Army AIT. The Army provided me with a hotel room in Frankfurt, Germany. Finally, I was a lone.

Looking back, I realize that almost all of my problems as a child in school were the result of being an introvert. The other kids seemed so open and desired to be with the group. I didn’t enjoy feeling like an outsider, but I didn’t particularly enjoy extroverts either. I did not feel comfortable in school until college, when I was finally given the power to run my own life. I could choose when and where to interact with people. The Army took away much of my power to be alone.

When I was a young man, one of my good friends said to me, “You’re the biggest loner I know.”

I’m sure he was being truthful; I’m the biggest loner I know, too. Characteristic of an introvert, boredom is never a problem for me. I am almost never bored. German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, an arch-introvert, said that introverts are rarely bored because they gain pleasure from an intellectual world, whereas extroverts gain pleasure more from the external, and more temporal, world. I am constantly amazed by some of the people I work with. They will complain about their work, and the moment they get a chance to relax, they say they are bored.

Arthur Schopenhauer: Kindred spirit

“That I could clamber to the frozen moon. And draw the ladder after me.”~Arthur Schopenhauer

I am never bored. And I am almost never lonely. The things that make me feel lonely are being away from the people whom I love dearly. But I do not need to be around people with whom I have only passing relationships. I work with many people who cannot do anything unless they are doing it with someone else.

Schopenhauer pointed out another characteristic that he had and shares with me, and is apparently an almost universal aspect of the introvert: Hatred of noise. He said that all his life noise bothered him significantly, and on one occasion, his weakness got him into trouble when he physically assaulted a woman in his apartment building whom he claimed was a chronic noise-maker. He was forced to pay her money from a lawsuit for the rest of her life. So while the introvert has significant advantages in certain areas, such as an ability to think deeply, lack of boredom, maintaining long-term friendships, and very creative, they are easily distracted by the outside world, do not maintain a “network” of people that can help them, and may come off as cranky. So easily distracted am I by other people, that I must do all of my writing and thinking in complete solitude, or I must have a drink of beer, which seems to dull the effects of external stimulation and allows me to remain in my own mind and continue writing amid possible distractions. . At work, I must sometimes shut myself in a room, telling my Captain that I need him to use his rank to keep people from bothering me, while I read intelligence reports and make sense of things.

At times I will return home from work feeling utterly exhausted, as if I had just run a marathon. I often ask myself what I have done that could have made me so tired that I do not do on my days off from work. The answer is that I interact with large amounts of people. I do not want to come across as someone that is a crank all day, though I find myself being more so than when I was younger. Only that my exhaustion is from trying to act like the extrovert I am not. Oddly, I feel dumber when I am with people I know only at a surface level. My instinct is to speak like them, to think like them, so as not to offend. Yet in my inner-most being, I almost never think like them and feel ashamed to tell most people the things I think about: Philosophies, metaphysics, religion, demographics, grand-strategies. All near useless trivia, really.  This facade is draining and debilitating.

I have just today, come to grips with what I am and what has caused me so much pain throughout my life. I am fine with it. I know now that I don’t have to appear gregarious if the mood doesn’t strike me. That being quiet is ok. I know that some may doubt my claim to introversion, being that I say some things on this blog and in other writings that may shock some. But I read that introverts are more likely to be intimate online, and I think it fair to say that many historic writers were notorious introverts, recluses, and hermits. All of these things bring to mind wisdom, and even in the age of the extrovert, they are something to hold dear.

There are people in this world that I look forward to speaking to often and I am lonely without.  Nothing can replace the smiles of my children.  But other than that, I rather look forward to being the old hermit on the top of the mountain, surviving on his own, beholden to none, just thinking, thinking….

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11 thoughts on “Confessions of a lifelong introvert

    Lou said:
    January 15, 2013 at 3:05 am

    My father often said of himself that he was an introvert, but I never saw it. He was always outspoken when necessary. He was a leader – people were drawn to his sense of fairness and ability to make decisions. Yet, when you explain introvert as you have, I can see that in my dad, too. Still, I hate labels. They can be a handicap.

    magus71 responded:
    January 15, 2013 at 3:15 am

    Yes, I understand what you say about labels.

    Royce said:
    January 15, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    I don’t know how to respond to this. By your definition I find (shockingly) that I am an introvert even though I have thought of myself and have been described by others, as an extrovert. I am never bored and welcome time alone. In fact when I was a senior marketing executive I found that I had to schedule “alone” time because I couldn’t stand being “on parade” for extended periods. But all of the things you enjoy are the things I enjoy so I am left confused as to whether I am an extrovert or introvert — Hmmmm

    Royce

    magus71 responded:
    January 15, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Royce and Lou,

    I think there is some confusion as to what being an introvert is. As the woman in the video states, there are varying degrees of extroversion and introversion. Nobody is completely one or the other. The classic view of the introvert is that he is someone whom never wants to talk and never likes to interact with people. This is not the case. The best description that I have heard, is that the extrovert recharges his batteries by going out and interacting with people. The introvert recharges his batteries by being a lone for a time. When the introvert is sufficiently recharged, he can be as open and talkative as most. But his energies will dwindle and he will need solitude to regain his will to be around people. Royce, from reading your blog, I’d say you definitely have an introverted side, given your contemplative writings and understandings of things. But as you suggest, you have found ways to manage your introversion, using it to your advantage and knowing when you need to back off from people.

    introvert said:
    January 17, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    Wow, that is a good article, thanks for sharing. Yes, I’m an introvert of course, and I don’t apologize for it, if extroverts don’t like the way I am they can find someone else to make them happy. Thanks!

    T. J. Babson said:
    January 20, 2013 at 5:10 am

    The worst part of boot camp was the utter lack of solitude. Even the toilet stalls lacked doors. This was obviously intentional, but what was the reason?

    WTP said:
    January 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Meant to comment on this excellent post a week or so ago, but haven’t had the time to do it justice. As an introvert who was constantly pressured by my parents to be more outgoing, I find the subject quite interesting. I fit most everything you describe here except that once I get comfortable with a situation, I become much more of an extravert. I find that most of my closest friends were people I met through others. I’ve gotten to know very few people directly.

    To TJ’s comment, I thought the idea of the open toilet stalls was all part of breaking the recruit down to be built back up again, but also as part of a more general effort to instill a certain agressive attitude, which is “lovingly” cultivated under the strong boot heel of the drill instructor. What I found interesting years ago when doing student mentoring in a local high school was that they had nearly the same setup in their boys room. The only deference to dignity being a 3 foot high wall between each toilet. OTOH, my own high school back in the day had an perpetually missing/broken door on its toilet in the main bathroom.

    Jalen said:
    August 19, 2013 at 1:59 am

    I am in the air force and I can relate to everything you have said. I’d like to ask you a few questions. Can I email you?

    magus71 responded:
    August 21, 2013 at 8:50 am

    Jalen,

    You’re welcome to email me. kettlesoftball@yahoo.com.

    Sutanya said:
    August 21, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    I know I’m a year late. I’m currently in the Air Force, and I’ve been losing my mind trying to figure out what is wrong with me. I stumbled on this article in desperation. In college I swore I was an extrovert, but looking back everytime I was at a social event I was intoxicated. I don’t really drink as much anymore and the interactions are painful and exhausting as you stated. I am contemplating getting out of the service, because I cannot truly be myself in this environment and it is really taking a toll on me. I’m not very good at making friends, not quite the social butterfly and to make it worst people think I’m standoffish. I’m just not really good at small talk, so I avoid social gatherings and I don’t want to be dependent on alcohol. I thrive in academic settings like ALS, and anything that is dependent on my body of work. As far as my career, awards i’m doing well, but I suffer in every other aspect. At the end of each duty day I’m exhausted. I have two small children and I feel like i’m not able to give them the attention they need. I have two question; Are you still in the military, and if so how have you been coping?

    Michelle said:
    January 12, 2016 at 3:58 am

    I know I’m way late but I love this article, I’ve been in the Army for over 15 years and I have always felt the same way as you. I especially like the part about going to yell at some soldier about the way they are wearing their hat. I was never one that was comfortable with such things. And all the comments about how “quiet you are”. It’s frustrating, especially because you’re expected to be outspoken and loud in the military. Btw, Great blog too.

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