I’m an introverted person coming from an introverted family of computer programmers, bike mechanics and accountants. On top of that, introversion is quite accepted in the country I come from, which is probably one of the most introverted countries in Europe.
As a consequence, I never saw my introversion as a problem. I only ever had introverted friends and my strategy with dealing with extroverts was simply to avoid them. Of course, I did not do this consciously and I never thought about the introvert/extrovert divide in any detail. There were just noisy and self-confident people I did not like and that did not like me either and I stayed away from them.
In the last two year, this has changed. My colleagues are mostly Northern Americans and some Dutch, which are decidedly more extroverted cultures like the one I am coming from, and most of them are either extroverted or act like them. The introverted people at our institute are so freaked out by the extroverted culture that they have mostly totally gone into hiding.
Consequently, I have been spending a lot of time with extroverts for the first time in my life, which has been surprisingly difficult.
Of course, maybe there are extroverts which are different, but my extroverted colleagues just seems to want to get as much airtime as possible, telling their stories, presenting themselves in a good light, and no real conversation ever seems to occur. People do not ask each other follow-up question. There is never a real, honest reaction to what someone else says. When I spend time with extroverts, I am first entertained to some degree, but then things start to feel increasingly unreal to me. I feel like no actual contact between human beings is occurring, I feel like everyone is totally on their own and that scares me. I start to crave human connection. I try to ask questions, to give an honest reaction to something someone says, but I continually feel like I am sand in a machine which has a purpose that I just don’t get. After an evening with extroverts, I honestly feel like life has no meaning. Probably because for me the meaning of life is people understanding and empathizing with each other, which most extroverts are not very interested in.
The truth is that given my upbringing I cannot avoid seeing the extroverts as the ones being not normal and deficient to some degree. How sad that they cannot listen to each other, that they do not tolerate being alone well, that they always want to have more people around them to distract them from some kind of inner emptiness. I wonder if they are unable to be really close to another human being and I feel sorry for them.
Of course, the extroverts coming from extroverted cultures, on the other hand, are convinced that they are like people are supposed to be, and my way of being introverted and not trying to at least appear to be extroverted, seems to irritate them greatly. I am probably not very good at hiding when I am annoyed or bored with the conversation, and when I say my opinion it is often the opposite of what every one else is thinking. Consequently I get comments about “being negative” or even “being aggressive”, and it is clear from many small signs that my colleagues do not really like me. This was, I think, what triggered my social anxiety and what made me so unhappy during my time here.
At the moment, I mostly stay away from my extroverted colleagues. I eat lunch alone, I avoid coffee breaks, I have stopped going out with them. To an extrovert, that sounds probably like a massive disaster, but it is a huge relief to me and I feel more at peace with myself. It is as if I have tried to have a conversation with another species for two years, and it never worked out in the least. I am just glad to be able to accept this now. It is neither their fault, nor mine. It is just a huge cultural difference that I cannot get over. Now that I know, it seems very interesting to me that the Dutch and Northern American cultures are so different than my own. Their preference for extroversion that is so strong that even most scientist are extroverts or try to behave like they are. I always believed that scientists must be introverts by default, but apparently I was completely wrong.