Monday, October 11, 2010

introversion, shyness, and antisocialness

Every introvert is quick to clarify the difference between introversion and shyness. That topic has gotten plenty of attention. Shy people have difficulty gathering the courage to interact socially in the way that they want to, regardless of whether they want to interact with big groups for long periods (extroversion) or with a couple friends over lunch (introversion). Introverts may or may not have any such hindrances, but find social interaction exhausting. For that reason they tend to prefer small groups to large, close friends to acquaintances, and shorter, low-key activities to partying all night. They need lots of time alone to recharge.

So it's clear that introversion isn't the same as shyness. But less mentioned is that introversion is also not the same as antisocialness. My dictionary defines antisocial as "contrary to the laws and customs of society; devoid of or antagonistic to sociable instincts or practices" and "not sociable; not wanting the company of others". The combination of those things sums it up pretty well I think, and is clearly not the same thing as introversion.

I'm very introverted. Sporadically shy too, but definitively introverted. But, I love people. I love my friends and I love hanging out with them. Just not all the time; after a few hours out with people I need to get home to solitude for the night and next day. A full weekend of social activities leaves me exhausted to the point of depression. I love talking to people, but it takes so much energy to crawl out of my head enough to carry on a conversation I frequently avoid having to try. But that's temporary! I can't eat more than a couple bites of chocolate either but I definitely love the stuff. And I certainly am not antagonistic towards sociable instincts or practices (although sometimes perhaps inadvertently devoid of them...)

I don't quite understand the confusion between shyness and introversion, but it's clear that introverts will sometimes seem antisocial to an outside observer. My point is therefore to avoid jumping to conclusions about people. Someone who accepts 1 in 5 invitations to hang out may be antisocial but more likely just doesn't have the energy for more than one (and is thrilled about that one). And someone who avoids talking to you may not like you, but more likely is too caught up in their thoughts to force a conversation at the moment (and would love to talk to you another time).

One of the best life guiding principles I know of is Hanlon's razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Likewise, never attribute to antisocialness that which is adequately explained by introversion.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

some part of the problem of confusing the shy or introverted with the antisocial, I suspect, results from a lack of care in the choice of words and; of course, it's much easier (or at lease quicker) to exercise great care with the written work, than the spoken. for example one might say to a goth or emo adolescent (is that redundant?) is antisocial. To wit: "contrary to the laws and customs of society; devoid of or antagonistic to sociable instincts or practices". However, "not sociable; not wanting the company of others" certainly does not seem to be characteristic of the goth/emo adolescent.

Vera said...

mm that's true. maybe "contrary to the laws and customs of one's peer society" would be more accurate. goth/emo adolescents cluster together and embrace their own social norms =)

santia said...

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Dinar

Riley said...

Sorry to jump back three quarters of a year, but I was looking through (okay stalking :P) your old blog posts labeled "living." I find a lot of them very interesting, but this is the first one about which I have semi-coherent thoughts to contribute haha

By all dictionary definitions, I'm definitely an extrovert. Long talks, big social events, and constant interaction with people *energizes* me. Being alone with my thoughts gets depressing and lonely fairly quickly.

However, I don't fit the cultural definition of an extrovert - I'm very shy around and easily intimidated by new people, groups, and situations.

For people like me, I think it's really easy to confuse the shyness and anxiety I feel in new situations with introversion. But, unlike an introvert, once I build more trust in my relationships and confidence in my understanding of the situations, I really thrive interacting with others. Yesterday, for example, I was not alone with my thoughts for more than 10 minutes at a time from the moment I woke up until I closed my eyes and fell asleep - and I loved it. So, it's easy to look back at my shyness when I moved out here last year and confuse that with "introversion" that I'm very happy to have overcome. You can probably see how that could easily extend to wanting to help others "overcome" their introversion as well.

I think you make a very good point about not jumping to conclusions about introverts. The explanation of your perspective really helps reinforce my understanding of the fundamental difference in the level of energy others may require for social interaction. Hopefully my perspective helps to clarify (at least a little) a possible source of the confusion between shyness and introversion?

Riley said...

Oh, also! Ahhhmg I had never before heard Hanlon's razor, but I really really like it. Thanks :)

Vera said...

hi Riley! wow that's really interesting. it's so hard for me to imagine being extroverted (i would lose my mind if I didnt have ten minutes to myself all day =) but you describe it really clearly. it's so crazy how people experience the same things so completely differently...