I’m so happy to have discovered the Introvert’s Corner section on the Psychology Today website; it makes me feel a lot less like an oddball than I usually do. I once filled in a questionnaire on introversion and I was practically off the scale on some of the parameters. My introvert traits often perplex and puzzle the extravert people in my life, who mostly don’t understand that I’m just wired differently. For every three extraverts in the world, there’s just one introvert, so we’re seriously outnumbered and usually more than a little bit misunderstood.
In case you’re an extravert yourself, let me just clear up a few misconceptions. We’re not people haters – we often love people but only in small doses and in ones, twos or threes rather than large numbers. We prefer peace and quiet, because loudness simply overwhelms our more delicate nervous systems and we can’t think straight. And we love to talk, but only about things that really interest us and when we feel we’ve got something to say – you can’t shut us up when that happens. We’re not shy people (well we can be, but it doesn’t go with the territory) and we’re often very friendly and sociable (just not 24/7).
The big, big difference between us and extraverts is that even when we have the kind of people contact we enjoy, our energy is drained by it, but extraverts actually gain energy from being around others. For that reason we need to spend much more time alone to recharge our batteries.
Parties are not our idea of fun
Because of all this, our idea of fun is a lot different from an extravert’s notion of the same thing. We loathe parties. We understand that extravert people have a lot of fun that way, but we just don’t. We’d rather have root canal work than have to go a party (especially as you don’t have to make small talk when your mouth’s full of dental instruments). Parties are noisy, you can’t have any sort of in-depth conversation at them (which is the kind we like), and even worse, you have to try and look as if you’re having a good time even when you’re very definitely not. On top of that, we find parties and most social things involving large groups of people, well…… quite boring, really. We tend to have a low tolerance for small talk, and we’d much rather be doing something other than standing around, struggling to have banal conversations over wincingly loud music. And when we say doing something, that could just be thinking – we usually have a lot going on in our heads.
So what does this have to do with photography?
I’ve found that being a photographer helps a lot when it comes to finding a way of surviving these things. A camera – particularly the serious DSLR kind – makes me look as if I have a purpose and gives me something to do. It means I can talk as little or as much as I want to, wander around or sit on the edges if I like, and when it’s all over I can present the host with some nice images of their ‘do’, which usually goes down very well. And not least, it gives me something absorbing and interesting to do that doesn’t make me look rude. Result!
Once I got over the initial stages of learning how to take photos – when I used to feel that people were looking at me and my DSLR and imagining I actually knew what I was doing, when I was all too aware that I didn’t – the camera became a great tool both to hide behind and to make connections with. I attract attention because of it, but it gives me a role to play and I find that reassuring. It gives people something to ask you about, and a reason to speak to you. (I may not be big on small talk but a little bit of it does make the world a nicer place.)
It’s probably not the same for all introverts. Most introverts hate being the centre of attention or indeed attracting attention to themselves in any way whatsoever. For myself, I don’t mind as long as I have a role to play. I’m happy and comfortable being a photographer, or a tutor, or a hander-round of canapés, but without being able to wear the role like a protective cloak I quickly feel exposed and lost in large gatherings. That kind of social interaction is deeply unsatisfying to me and it takes huge amounts of energy for me to try to fit in, but if I don’t make the effort I look and feel like a spare part. Having a role to play takes that kind of pressure off.
For me, at least, photography hasn’t just given me the creative outlet I always yearned for, it’s also stopped me feeling like quite such a party pooper (although I’d still much rather not go!)