I’m probably being a little paranoid here. But can you blame me? I’ve written before about being something of an introvert. People are sometimes surprised when I tell them this, because I’m an introvert who’s learned to be — or appear to be — more of an extrovert when I have to be. That’s because when you’re something of a loner, people tend to think you’re troubled or that something’s wrong, as Jonathan Rauch pointed out in his (surprisingly popular) essay “Caring for Your Introvert.”
DO YOU KNOW someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?
If so, do you tell this person he is “too serious,” or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?
We’re fine, really. But instead of leaving us be, I’m reading that there’s now some kind of hormone spray to “cure” shyness. (The site where the article lives seems to be down. I’m not sure if that’s because of the “Digg effect” or not.
Markus Heinrichs at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and colleagues are studying 70 people with generalised social phobia, characterised by overwhelming anxiety and self-consciousness in social situations.
Half an hour before undergoing standard cognitive behavioural therapy, which is designed to alter negative thoughts and behaviour, the patients were given a dose of oxytocin by nasal spray.
Preliminary results suggest oxytocin improved their readiness to interact in role-playing and their confidence in tackling social challenges outside the sessions, says Heinrichs, who will present his results at the World Congress of Neuroscience in Melbourne, Australia, this week.
OK. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but just when I start to think that’s the case, I go back to Rauch’s essay.
Are introverts misunderstood? Wildly. That, it appears, is our lot in life. “It is very difficult for an extrovert to understand an introvert,” write the education experts Jill D. Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig. (They are also the source of the quotation in the previous paragraph.) Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand, because extroverts spend so much of their time working out who they are in voluble, and frequently inescapable, interaction with other people. They are as inscrutable as puppy dogs. But the street does not run both ways. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping.
I know it was developed to help people in therapy for social anxiety, but knowing people as I do, if this stuff ever hits the market I can just see some unsuspecting introvert who just wants to listen to his iPod and read his book, or sit back and people-watch without having to talk to anyone getting “sprayed” by some well meaning extrovert who thinks the shy guy just needs a dose of the “cure” so he can be more “normal” and have a good time (because he certainly can’t be perfectly happy as he is).
I think it’ll play out something like this.
“Are you just going to sit there thumbing through that magazine and looking at people?”
“C’mon, don’t you want to mingle a little? You’ve only talked to one or two people since you got here and that was half an hour ago. Let’s go see what people are doing on the balcony.”
“OK. I get it. I think I’ve got just what you need.”
Or something like that.
I just hope I can hold the magazine up fast enough to deflect the spray.