I read once, somewhere, that introverts have a “rich inner life.” The source has long since left my brain, but that little aggregation of words stuck to my brain: rich inner life.
I am, to put it baldly, introverted. And while the very composition of my being rests on the foundation of that word—introversion—the term has some connotations and assumptions attached to its twelve little letters that I’m not so fond of.
I'm not antisocial. I like people—I love people—and I appreciate a good conversation. I don’t enjoy spending all of my time alone, and I occasionally find a nice cheerful uproar to be as refreshing and invigorating, in its own way, as an evening spent in pajamas reading Papists, Protestants and Puritans under the sheets (a rather charming inconsistency of introversion, I think).
And, although this does little to flatter myself, I spend a lot of time alone. But the curious thing, which I think fellow introverts will be able to relate to, is that I rarely feel lonely. Which brings me back to the “rich inner life” thing.
I can’t speak for all introverts as an organic whole, but I can explore my own thoughts and feelings (the sweet power of introspection) and hopefully communicate those thoughts and feelings with hazy clarity (side note: I’m thinking about Dante’s Inferno; in one of the later cantos, he tells the reader of his struggle to find the right words to describe his experiences, which is, I think, how I feel when trying to write clearly about the messy complexities of the human psyche).
As an introvert, I feel like there is a certain ingrained emotional warmth that I have towards myself, as if I were my own friend. I tend to my own thoughts like they were directed at me, rather than within me (here we go with that hazy clarity...). I’m not implying that I hold conversations aloud with myself, but that I treat each thought as I would the spoken comment of a friend. Say, for instance, that I am thinking about how tired I am—it’s been a long day and my eyelids feel impossibly heavy—I respond to this thought not with reflexive or unconscious action, but I mull it over carefully. What would I tell a tired friend? So I treat myself in the same way, telling myself to shower and turn down the bed, to shut off the phone and turn off the lights. I think rather than simply functioning and reacting in respect to my thoughts, I am internally and intentionally interacting with my own mind.
Recently I have been reading Transformation of the Classical Heritage: Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church: Emperor Julian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Vision of Rome by Susanna Elm. The book explores Emperor Julian, a pagan, and Gregory of Nazianzus, a theologian. Elm highlights the men’s “common intellectual and social grounding” rather than their obvious differences.
As a bishop, Gregory of Nazianzus was torn. He was a highly sensitive man, characterized by “his desire for retreat and abhorrence of public office” but needed to be active in the community to make money to support his family (Elm, 6). An introvert? Maybe. Though Elm doesn’t make that particular connection, she does highlight a very familiar struggle between spending time alone versus with others:
"What philosophical life, in what composition of active engagement and retreat devoted to contemplation of the normative texts, could best ascertain the good rule of the realm and thus the salvation of all its inhabitants?" (Elm, 25)
For an introvert, the “composition of active engagement and retreat” forms a ratio in favor of the latter. But what I love most about Elm’s discussion of philosophical life is how she emphasizes productivity (“contemplation of the normative texts”) during the “retreat.”
That’s the other misconception of introverts. If I spend the entire day at home, I’m not watching Netflix and eating cereal from the box by the handful (although, we all have our days, am I right?). What feels productive and empowering and recharging to my soul is the quiet study of religious history (+ whatever schoolwork is on the agenda), sharing deep conversations with family and close friends, and never being farther than a few inches from my golden retriever. A full day at school, however, leaves me over-stimulated and sometimes, if it has been an exceptionally long day (cough cough, Tuesdays), reeling from sensory overload—the classmates and quizzes, the fluorescent lights, congested parking lots, and booming professorial voices.
I’m not sure that there is any sort of resolution to this post, seeing as there is no way to “solve” introversion since it is not a problem to begin with. But I do think it is rather therapeutic for me to think and write about topics like this. It’s also a challenge to be translucent about topics as complex and personal as introversion and sensitivity—sorting through these complexities and finding a way to “write hard and clear” (thanks, Hemingway) is a valuable learning experience.