“Self-reliant, each loner swims alone through a social world – a world of teams, troops, and groups – that scorns and misunderstands those who stand apart.” – Anneli Rufus
From the time we walk into our first class, we’re thrust into an environment that about 25 percent of us detest. We’re thrust into the world of groups, teams, socializing, and small talk. For one of every four living souls, this is the environment we’re forced to contend with for the remainder of our days.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in sociology to observe the inherent social bias against loners, i.e. the introverts, or better known as the “withdrawn,” “timid,” and “coy.” In essence, we’re bashed for having different neurochemistry. We’re cast as “people haters,” “weirdos,” and “freaks.”
For the remainder of this introduction, I’m going to drop the formal writer-audience shtick and speak to you from the heart.
I’m a writer and an introvert. I have two Master’s degrees, yet was a C-student. I love people and cherish reading. I am an “intellectual” and an advocate for the mentally ill and handicapped. I’ve played competitive sports and had video game marathons. I’ve partied and rejected friends’ social prodding for an Elon Musk biography (really.)
Most importantly, I have first-hand experience in the topic at hand – one that I’ve been fortunate enough to write. This article has an important purpose, and that is to dispel many of the clichés that have been thrown at other self-professed loners and me throughout life.
At heart, I am a journalist. I love research, science, facts, and all that stuff. So, please bear with me as I reference the research that accompanies this article.
I’ve done enough study and writing about solitude and introversion to know that the two are nearly indivisible.
What does research say about me and others who love our alone time? Let’s talk about that and have some fun. (I’ll occasionally provide my own insight/experience, as well.)
Do You Like Being Alone? Researchers Reveal What It Says About You
1. They do like people
Sure, there are reclusive weirdos like Ted Kaczynski (the “Unabomber”) and other misanthropes who despise society. But these people are a (rare!) exception to the rule.
Introverts (and other “loners”) do like people if given enough time to understand them, and vice-versa. Our more outgoing colleagues are more gifted at making small talk, which is a necessary pre-requisite for making friends with many people. Small talk isn’t something introverts do particularly well, which is partially the reason we despise it.
We like people, we like having a small circle of friends; but we’re just as comfortable – if not more so – being alone in a quiet café somewhere.
2. They’re open-minded
It’s quite easy to cast someone who’s quiet or reserved as being judgmental. Most times, however, this is not the case. People secure in spending time alone doesn’t make them more or less closed-minded than anyone else.
(Personally, I can attest to the accuracy of this research. Most of my friends tend to be introverted, and we both think and discuss a variety of topics. I can’t think of one time we didn’t approach a person or topic of discussion with open-minded curiosity.)
3. Most of them aren’t neurotic
In personality inventories such as the “Big Five” personality assessment, the word neurotic is associated with “(moodiness) and such feelings as anxiety, worry, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, guilt, depressed mood, and loneliness.”
Sophia Dembling, in an article published in Psychology Today, compares the introvert perspective and the neurotic perspective using social situations. Here are a couple of examples:
(a) Standing in a line waiting to get into a party.
Neurotic: “I’m pretty sure 87 percent of the people here are going to hate me.”
Introvert: “Can I go home now?”
(b) An attractive stranger across the room appears to be looking your way.
Neurotic: “Is my zipper open?”
Introvert: “Let’s see what happens if I make eye contact.”
(Pretty much correct.)
4. They’re great listeners
That’s right, some people who cherish their alone time also have some pretty good listening chops.
Nancy Ancowitz, author of Self Promotion for Introverts: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, writes, “One lesson we can learn from introverts is that practicing and improving your listening skills helps you in so many aspects of your life. It helps you target your audience, whether you’re speaking publicly, participating in a meeting, negotiating a sale, or relating to a friend.”
Unsurprisingly, this ability comes from differences in brain chemistry: “As an introvert, your listening to talking ratio is higher,” says Ancowitz. “You tend to be processing things quietly in your head as opposed to out loud, which adds noise to the conversation.”
(Ancowitz’s findings are quite accurate. The only thing I’d add is “except in situations that involve small talk.” In this scenario, loners are exasperated and won’t actively pay attention, much less listen.)
5. They’re easily over-stimulated
Here’s that neurochemistry thing at work again. People who enjoy solitude have a default brain pathway that’s very different from those who crave the social scene.
Dopamine is a brain chemical that provides motivation to, among other things, seek external rewards, climb the social ladder, attract a mate, or get promoted at work.
The dopamine-reward network is “more active in the brains of extroverts than in the brains of introverts,” says Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute. An influx of dopamine is a rush for some people and a hindrance for others.
For the homebodies, we prefer the neurochemical acetylcholine. Acetylcholine, like dopamine, is linked to reward. The difference is that the former chemical activates when certain people “turn inward.”
As one self-described introvert explains: “For my extroverted friends, the noise and the crowd at the concert were simply all part of the fun. Yet, for me, as the night wore on, the hubbub became annoying and tiring, – even punishing as I became overstimulated.”
(I’ve had a lot of fun at concerts [The Beastie Boys were awesome], but can empathize with the need to escape the noise, which may be the larger issue.)