Introversion and self-monitoring

Recently, there have been a number of articles and blogposts about the topic of introversion,  like here, probably due to the new book by Susan Cain about the topic (here you can find her charming TED talk about this).

As a person who invariably feels a surge of relief after leaving a party and standing again on a calm street, all these articles make me happy.

One thing, however, that I gathered from these articles really puzzled me:

There are many introverts who try very hard to mimic extroverts in an effort to blend in.

I was quite shocked to learn this. This is why I seem to meet so few people that seem truly introvert, like myself. This is why it the behaviour of many seemingly outgoing people seems so forced and unnatural to me.

One woman wrote that she actually has carefully studied extroverts in her teens, noticed that they often touch people casually, and are careful to say short sentences to nearly everyone in the room at a party, and then drift on.

She then describes that she has made an effort to learn these to her highly unnatural behaviours, and now applies them all the time, to blend in.

To me, this is rather depressing. It is like a homosexual saying he pretends to be straight to fit in. Sadly, exactly these people are often the ones which are most hostile to truly introvert behaviour in other people. (Extroverts are anyway too extroverted to notice us.) These wanna-be extrowerts will tell us to ‘just fake to be outgoing for an evening’, ‘just laugh about jokes you do not find funny’.

In fact, I recently found out that out why the hell they would say something so stupid. The difference between me and them is about ‘self-monitoring‘. High self-monitors are people who try very hard to fit in. If introverts are high self-monitors, they will try to seem extrovert, since what they think society wants from them.

Low self-monitors, like myself, cannot understand this. I believe that honesty is more important than fitting in. And while I am often far away from this ideal, not opening my mouth when I should, at least I do not pretend that I follow the opinion of the majority if I don’t.  I don’t smile about stupid jokes, and thus often come across as stiff or arrogant, but I can live with that.

I wish the high self-monitors would realize that that there are many other introverts in the world. If they would all stop pretending to be extroverts, who knows, we might even be in the majority.

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3 Responses to Introversion and self-monitoring

  1. poseamonkey says:

    Hey, I am a high self-monitorer, but it is a complicated situation. It is not something I do by choice. In fact I did not realise I did it until I read Susan Cain’s book. Now I know why I am so exhausted all the time. The monitoring is not really self-monitoring as such, what is happening is that my brain is subconsciously monitoring all of the social interactions around me to understand each person and how they interact. So when people are new to me I get exhausted very very quickly because I don’t know them or their behaviour at all, so there is tons of data to collect. I mean, I was not aware I was collecting all of this data, it is just something my brain does. When I get to know someone well, there is no more data to collect, my brain has worked out how to interact with them, which is why I guess I prefer to make few close friends. For some reason that I cannot control, my brain does not feel comfortable interacting with someone until it has sussed out exactly how that person works. My brain wants me to adapt to that person for optimal energy flow or something, I don’t know. I did try to be an extravert when I was younger, like you said, I think because I could see that many people interacted in an extravert way, but mostly because everyone around me devalued introverts and made me feel like a freak. I don’t bother acting that way now, but I cannot switch off the monitoring, much as I would love to. My brain does it behind the scenes.

    • zinemin says:

      This is a really nice description… I understand you so well! There must be many people like us but in real life it is almost impossible to get people to admit to functioning like this.

      For me there is absolutely nothing I find more tiring than talking to new people. I rather do a four hour maths exam under pressure than talking to new people for four hours. I feel the same way as you: It appears that my entire brain gets switched on in those situations trying to understand the new people on every level possible, which is often really pointless. It even happens if I talk to a bank clerk for an hour which I will never meet again. I am not sure why my brain does that. It is like I absolutely want to make this person feel good about himself and avoid to insult him at all costs, but doing that is extremely draining. Perhaps that is more social anxiety than introversion. I feel like going to sleep after getting a new bank account…. 🙂

  2. nichey says:

    I am also a highly self-monitoring pseudo extrovert introvert! I made a conscious decision to become extrovert aged 11, when I realised my mum wouldn’t be able to be at my side in social situations. I am now the life and soul of parties and take charge of conversation and drawing shy people in. But I find life exhausting and have to spend long periods of time on my own to recharge; times that I feel I do not make the most of because I have spent a lot of my energy and creativity elsewhere. What you say about trying to find out about every new person on every level really applies to me. I once spent 3 hours on the phone to a call centre worker in Scotland when all I wanted to do was check my electricity bill and I could have used the time to much better effect. The line between anxiety and introversion is a bit blurry.

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