What I Know Now About Introversion I Wish I’d Known Earlier

I have this post to thank for bringing me out of the woodwork to blog for the first time in about a month: “Life as an Introverted Child Star.”  What caught my attention was a Quiet Revolution meme that popped up in my Facebook feed this morning with the following words that totally hit home:

Modern American culture assumes extroversion is the default setting for human interaction. It looks at us as an undifferentiated mass of life forms, longing for the next new moment in the spotlight, the next boisterous barbeque, or the next holiday party crammed to the rafters. Some of us are indeed like that. But many of us, probably from within days of conception, are hardwired to warm up slowly, need fewer people, and be easily overwhelmed.

My days at work in the city are so non-stop and stressed that all I want to do with my time not at work is to veg.  Sleep in (which I haven’t had a chance to do in weeks and usually try to do at least every Sunday morning), sit there in the morning with my coffee, listen to the cardinals and robins sing in the back yard, browse my Facebook timeline, and do nothing all day except for the occasional errand.  This is the kind of day I’ve had for the past 3 days.  But while I need this once in a while to keep my sanity in check, balance my insane workweek with the occasional peace and quiet offered by my small but cozy home in the burbs, and basically reboot, I long for company.

Having people over has been a challenge and what I’ve blogged about previously.  Coordinating get-togethers takes time to sync up schedules with another family/ies and cleaning the house (if we host here, which has always been such an effort because I don’t have the time to maintain the house during the work week with the schedule my husband and I have).  Plus my daughter, from the time she was about 2, has always had such an issue warming up to her friends that half the play date would go by before she was finally comfortable enough to interact with her friends.  When she was an infant, she developed colic, and now I think back to those days, wondering if she was colicky due to being over-stimulated.  Introverts are highly sensitive individuals who have the tendency to feel overstimulated and are easily drained, which is why they prefer quiet and solitude.  She also had a biting issue, which as I had mentioned previously was a learned reaction (she was bitten by another child) and now that I think back, she was probably overstimulated from all the kids around her and biting was a way for her to communicate to her daycare providers that she needed attention.  She also suffers from low blood sugar, which manifests itself in the form of a sudden dip in mood, which usually calls for tears and the following demeanor:

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For the past 10 years of my daughter’s life I wondered why she was the way she was.  It wasn’t just shyness.   She hit her milestones just fine.  She smiled, rolled over, sat up, spoke her first words, stood up and walked while holding onto something just fine. It’s just when it came to walking that she waited until she was 15 months old to do by herself.  She was overly cautious, wanting to be absolutely certain she could do it before she attempted to walk on her own.  I suppose her tendency to be cautious, combined with her shyness, made her slow to warm up when it came to any kind of a gathering–whether it be among relatives during holidays, school or a play date.  By the time she warmed up in any social situation, it was almost time to go home.  Other children her age lacked the patience and understanding to wait for her to warm up, so they’d move on. She used to express her dislike for large groups by crying and clinging to me.  Nowadays, she still acts as if she wants to shrink away and disappear during gatherings.  Being an only child no doubt contributes to her desire to either be by herself or at home rather than in a busy, crowded place.  She has found it challenging to make friends in school and would prefer to be by herself rather than participate in group activities she doesn’t care for. She would rather spend time finishing an assignment she didn’t finish during class (she’s a slow worker but over time I’ve come to realize that may be a ploy to excuse herself from recess) than go to recess where she tends to be alone.  It’s too bad they are just now putting in place a Buddy Bench for kids next year to start to take advantage of, as my daughter is moving on to a different school next fall.

Her grandparents and other relatives used to wonder why she was this shy….perhaps it was our fault for not arranging more play dates?  We should encourage her to be less shy?  Ugh, if only they could live in our shoes for just a day, they would know this was not of our doing! If only I had stumbled across this meme earlier, so I can show them so they’d criticize us less!

I try to recall what I used to be like when I was little.  Was I shy?  Yes. Did it take me a long time to warm up? I don’t really recall and my parents don’t think so.  Am I introverted?  I’m still trying to figure that out but from everything I’ve read recently, I don’t believe so.  There are shy extroverts and shy introverts.  Basically, there are various degrees and kinds of extroverts and introverts, which is why I’ve been pondering what I am and what my daughter is for some time now.  The main key to introversion versus extroversion is how one derives their energy.  Extroverted people derive their energy from public places and being around people.  Introverted people derive their energy from quiet activities, like reading (which I’ve always disliked, believe it or not) and places, like libraries (I’ve always felt too quiet for me and books were not my thing).  My idea of a good day is being out and about, preferably with friends.  If I’m not with people, I feel lonely and de-energized. When I’m in a gathering, I’m happy.  Though, as I get older, the crowds are younger and younger, so I’m getting more picky when it comes to the type of gathering I attend.  During my college reunion last week, I was always one of the last ones out of the over 100 classmates to stay up talking and drinking.  I’ve never been sure whether participation in team sports versus one-on-one sports is a factor in determining introversion vs extroversion.  I always liked one-one-one sports, the favorite of which is badminton.  I’ve always been passionate about sailing (but had no trouble staying on board a chartered boat  with strangers 24/7 and sailing with a flotilla of 5-6 boats and mingling with these people daily for 8-10 days at a time).

Now, my husband on the other hand does not like crowds one bit. He hates NYC with a passion (and that’s where I work 5 days a week).  He has never liked going to night clubs or parties where you don’t know most of the people and everyone is packed in with no room to move.  He refuses to drive to and spend time at the shore during the in-season, so the only time we’d go (with him) is in September-October.  His idea of a good day is watching television in his dark man cave. You couldn’t pay him any amount of money to “work a room” the way I used to in my younger years when I was trying to network in the city.  He used to play football, which is a team sport.

It was due to a number of things going on simultaneously with our daughter last fall, at the start of her fifth grade year, that we were concerned there was something going on that warranted assessments for migraines, ADHD, social anxiety disorder, and learning disability.  She has always feared being the center of attention, which meant class participation was a No No for her, which means that her grades suffer for not participating like her peers.  I let my teacher and principal know that it’s a shame that students with this fear get dinged instead of finding a way to nurture her out of her shell.  She fears public speaking just like I’ve always feared public speaking.  Earlier this year, she was frustrated about the sheer amount of home work she was assigned each day.  We always wondered why there was so much of it and it seemed like she was the only one struggling with the amount.  She nearly always worked from the time she got home from after-school care at 5:30 until 10:00 at night.  She’d be in tears half the time.  She only had the one migraine, which we now believe was brought on by dehydration.  We participated in a one-day Child Mind Institute program that tested her cognitive functions, and she tested fine….no learning disabilities.  It was suggested we go through our school district to have her tested for attention deficit to rule that out because she does seem to miss getting her arms around her homework assignments half the time (but then again, that was my issue, and I told her she should not leave the classroom until she asks the teacher for clarification if she doesn’t understand anything at all about her homework). After talking to other parents and a couple of counselors and reading up on introversion vs extroversion and introversion vs social anxiety (“The 4 Differences Between Introversion and Social Anxiety” is an excellent article that is marvelously educational) and ADHD vs anxiety, we’ve finally determined that she’s a shy introvert that feels easily overwhelmed/anxious in school due to her perfectionist tendencies and therefore works more slowly on her class work and homework than the average student.  I know that girls who go into puberty are at more risk of becoming depressed due to hormonal changes and the changes that come with changes to their body, so I have been keeping a close eye on her and have not seen any signs of that.  I will continue to keep a close eye on her knowing my past experience with postpartum depression (PPD).

Thank goodness to the resources I’ve recently come across on Facebook:  Child Mind Institute and Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution, I’ve learned more from the past couple of months than I did the past 10 years combined. I am also currently reading Susan Cain’s new book, “Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts,” which I have recommended to the principal of my daughter’s school to make it recommended reading for fifth graders, and I will also discuss this with the principal of our middle school in the fall. All middle schoolers, parents, and teachers should read the book.  It is important for parents and educators alike to know how to help an introverted child thrive and perform better in school and social situations.  The book explains what introversion is and the biology behind introversion (I love books that explain the science behind things).  Another article that I found on-point is a Washington Post On Parenting article by Amy Joyce dated May 25, 2016 titled “Your introverted child has secret strengths, says Susan Cain in her new book ‘Quiet Power.’

One of the best, most educational article I’ve read thus far about introversion, extroversion, shyness, social anxiety, sitters, rovers was written by Susan Cain in the NY Times on 6/25/11.  It’s titled “Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?”  There is a mix of people for a reason, through the evolutionary process of natural selection. If you have never read this, PLEASE take the time to read it. I promise you it will be a very interesting read!

To see how much you know in terms of the differences between introversion and extroversion, test your knowledge with this quiz.

It has been a long path to awareness that I wish people could’ve just come out and told us years ago.  It could’ve made a huge difference when my daughter was 1 to 2 years of age.  The self doubt that came about from lack of experience from how to handle her behavior in day care certainly didn’t help back when I was a mom with PPD. We could’ve approached things differently and things may not be the way they are for her today with her shyness and introversion and anxiety about doing well.

In any event, I choose not to look back and say “what if” and regret what could have been, but rather to look forward and continue to do the best we can to nurture her with the knowledge we now have.

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