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The Unshy Introvert, or Blogging is Interaction Once Removed

Ann and I have been having an interesting conversation (hi, Ann!) about introversion vs. extroversion and shyness vs. boldness.  I am definitely an introvert, but I’m not shy.  Back when I taught at university, I had no problem getting up in front of 400 students and lecturing.  I also have no problem doing a panel at BlogHer.  I may prefer to have Josh speak for me sometimes (ordering food comes to mind…) but if we look at the definition of shyness, I don’t really fit it.  I’m not very inhibited, and I only feel social discomfort when it seems like I’m not connecting with others.  If I’m at a social event and I have friends there, I don’t feel that anxious.

Whereas I’m definitely introverted, and I see it as how deeply I let people in who haven’t already passed the gate to my inner circle (close friends, family, partner, twins).  I’m not extroverted, drawing people close immediately.  I turn inward more than I turn outward.  I think we tend to think of all bloggers as extroverted because they’re putting their innermost thoughts out there, but there are two things about blogging that defy introversion or extroversion:

  1. Blogging is interaction once removed.  We send out thoughts out there, but via an indirect system.  There’s a big difference between speaking to anyone (any maybe no one) and speaking directly to a person.  I think of blogging in the same way I think of Halloween costumes and how they sometimes change the way we interact with others, making us bolder because they remove us from our norm and place something between ourselves and the person we’re facing.  Same with masquerade masks.  I’m not Melissa anymore directly interacting with the person in front of me.  I’m Melissa with a layer between myself and others, and that to me dissolves shyness and boldness, introversion and extroversion.  We’re interacting with people, but we’re also holding them at a distance just based on the medium.
  2. It’s not blogging itself we need to look at to see introversion or extroversion, but how you respond to other people reaching out to you.  To writing about you, for instance.  Extroverts may enjoy having people write about them more than introverts because writing about someone enters their personal space.  Some people enjoy having people enter their space, and others fear it.  For me, the act of sending my words out there vs. having someone write about me invoke two very different sensations.  I like the first one.  I don’t really like the second.

So I can be an introvert and send my thoughts out there because I’m sort of like a turtle crawling back into her shell after my thoughts are released.  I like the conversation because it helps me to define my own thoughts, and I’m also always interested in what other people think; especially if they disagree.  I like to see the world from new angles, places I couldn’t have gotten to on my own.  But I like just hanging out in my shell and listening until I’m ready to come out again.

I am consistently turtle-like all over my life: slow and steady wins the race definitely rings true (though my version may be more like, “it’s good to be slow and steady, but I don’t really care about the race”) and I don’t get drawn into changing myself to fit new trends.  This should probably be fairly obvious by my clothing choices which have remained consistent and comfortable since 1992 (am I the only person who still wears overalls and stripey shirts?), but it also takes me a long time to see the point of taking on new technology or trying out a new site, and even then, I’ll only utilize them if it doesn’t mean a great deal of change.  And I’m turtle-like in my interactions; peek out of shell, go back into shell.

But turtles aren’t shy.  They don’t pull into their shell due to social anxiety.  They pull into their shell because they like to cocoon until they determine whether something is safe.  I don’t spend a lot of time around turtles, but I’d be willing to bet that they don’t pull themselves into their shells when they’re just chilling with their turtle significant other.  Once I’ve determine that the person feels emotionally safe, I keep my head out of my shell.

But when people write about me, it’s as if they are reaching into my hard shell with their fingers and dragging my head out for others to see.  It’s one thing for me to stick out my neck; it’s another to suddenly feel virtual fingers gripping me.  Though I know there are people who never need to pull their neck into a shell; perhaps they’re more like a different animal, one who is a little more cuddly and cute.  Sometimes I wish I were more cuddly and cute.  But I comfort myself with accepting that I am a turtle by reminding myself that at least I’m not a crab.  Or a bivalve.  Or a millipede.  People do keep turtles as pets, even if they aren’t the most exciting creatures to love.

And don’t even get me started on the third layer which is wanting attention or the lack of desire for attention since I also separate out my desire for attention on me vs. attention on my words/thoughts.

So I’m a non-shy introverted.  What are you?

Photo Credit: LabyrinthX via Flickr.


1 a { 06.06.12 at 9:01 am }

I’m a non-shy introvert who is incapable of small talk. I can (and have) give presentations to large and small groups of people or testify confidently in court. But stand next to me in a hallway, and you’d better bring up a topic for discussion or we’ll be standing there in silence.

I don’t think bloggers are extroverts, though. I think most of the extroverts are out spending time with people in real life, rather than spending lots of time on the computer pouring out their thoughts. (Not to say there aren’t extroverts…I just don’t think they’re the majority)

2 Esperanza { 06.06.12 at 9:55 am }

I have wondered for a long time about whether I’m an extrovert or an introvert. You’d think it would be obvious but I was really not sure. The thing is, I do like people and enjoy being in social settings, but I don’t love all kinds of social settings and find some rather daunting. Plus, I love, crave really, my alone time. But I read recently that an extrovert is energized by being with others and an introvert is energized by being alone, and the truth is, I do feel that buzz when I leave a small dinner party with friends, whereas I can see that it exhausts my partner and he is so ready to go home and reconnect with himself and recharge there. So the short answer is, I’m an extrovert, and I’m not shy at all.

I wonder if my being in extrovert is why I turn to blogging so much more for community than just to express myself. While I find a great deal of comfort and value in just writing to write, and to sort out my thoughts, I really thrive on the conversation. And it feels less productive to me to blog just for myself – I want to talk to people and I want them to talk back!

Right now I’m in a tough spot and I am really writing for me again. But I miss the conversations and I find myself coming to my blog for different, and less satisfying reasons. But that is where I am right now and I know that eventually this too shall pass. I look forward to that, very much. I want to get back to blogging for the conversation. I hope the summer doldrums don’t last for five months. That will be tough!

3 Pale { 06.06.12 at 10:48 am }

I love the costume analogy for blogs … very elegant and so true. I also think blogs, like other disguises, are a great leveler. My FIL says often that if you can’t think, you can’t write. And I believe that’s true. When the first thing that hits someone is the quality of your thoughts and your personality (or at least, some facets of those things) instead of more superficial things like physical characteristics, social status … people have no choice but to meet you at a truer level, right out of the gate. In some ways, you are what you write, what you think. Which, as someone who struggles with feelings of being an outsider in many of my current social circles, I find very satisfying.

It’s a contradiction … blogging is interaction once removed, but that layer of distance allows for more authentic connection than is generally possible in everyday life.

“Some people enjoy having people enter their space, and others fear it.” Somewhat OT, but this reminds me of a hot topic here … we are struggling mightily with this IRL where we live in a neighborhood that is a bad fit for us. Where we are expected to have an open door policy to one and all, even though we don’t have a lot of meaningful things in common with the people here. Our introversion, our guarding of our personal space, has led to mistrust and worse. Bullying. Pretty tough to swallow since I have never been one to be led by external pressures. I can socialize on many levels, but I feel the need to draw a line at my front door, my sanctuary. People here don’t seem to know how to respect that.

The best point I have heard about introversion vs. extroversion is that introverts get their energy from within themselves (thus the need to recharge with solitude), whereas extroverts draw their energy from the world around. While I take a lot of great inspiration from the world around me and while I dearly love interating with thoughtful people, I have to withdraw to process it and spin it all into something I can use.

When I was a child, at some point early on, I begged my parents to stop throwing birthday parties for me. I used to burst into tears when a huge crowd would boom the song at me — it was too intense. I like attention … but once removed, as you note. One of the nice effects of art and of writing … is that you can send your CREATIONS into the world, while you remain at a distance. Hopefully they return to you with more positive energy (if not, the act of creation alone is rewarding enough … and what comes back is always interesting — more fuel — even if it’s not always positive).

While I am very introverted, I have learned that even an introvert cannot survive without a balance of both.

4 Pale { 06.06.12 at 11:00 am }

PS Ever since your post about using copy rights in blogging, I can’t read a blog post without worrying about the author if it looks like they used a stock image. 😉

5 Ann Z { 06.06.12 at 11:15 am }


Hmm, I’m an introvert, no question about that. But I don’t mind speaking publicly at all, in fact, I quite enjoy it. I teach and present pretty regularly for work and it’s one of my favorite parts of my job. But I’m terribly shy in social interactions. It is just so hard for me to know how to interact with people in a social setting. I’m ok in settings where I’m hanging out with one or two friends and we get together for the purpose of talking, but at a party, I have a lot of trouble finding a way to join or open a conversation. I need someone who is extroverted to start or invite me in to conversation, without that, I’ll just sit in the corner and observe everyone. I think that’s part of what attracted me to my husband – he’s very extroverted, he can do a lot of the inviting me in.

That ends up translating to blogging pretty well, I think. My blog is my space, it’s kind of like public speaking. I’ve been invited to speak, so it’s not scary and I get to choose the topics and how they’re framed (though I do get all tripped up in wondering whether what I’m writing will be interesting, and end up leaving way too many posts as drafts). But I do have trouble posting comments, it’s the whole joining a conversation thing again that’s hard for me – they move quickly, and I don’t always feel like I can keep up, it takes me too long to formulate an answer. I’m trying to be better, and it being removed helps, but it’s way too easy for me to fall back to just sitting in the corner and observing.

As for attention, it’s complicated. As I’ve said before, I don’t mind being written about, I crave it even. I think I have a narcissistic streak about me. But I hate (HATE!) being in a social situation when people talk about me. I’d rather change the subject and talk about something or someone else. But I do not mind having someone write about me. I think it has to do with being removed. I don’t have to observe the person who is reading about me the way I observe people when I’m in a conversation that’s about me.

TL:DR – for me it has to do with whether I’m invited to speak or join a conversation. And my blog is a space where I’m invited (because it’s my space).

6 Becky { 06.06.12 at 11:18 am }

I tend to think of introversion vs. extroversion in terms of where you draw your energy from. I think of extroverts as people who get energy from spending time with others. Whereas for introverts, it takes away their energy to spend time with others. I don’t think that means that introverts don’t like to spend time with others, or in social situations, just that it’s not what rejuvinates them. Now, I agree with you that with those in our inner circles, it’s a little different. Does that make sense?

7 magpie { 06.06.12 at 12:08 pm }

definitely an introvert. and while i used to be really shy, i’m less so as i get older.

8 loribeth { 06.06.12 at 12:19 pm }

You & I sound a lot alike, Mel. I wouldn’t say I am shy, per se (I am much better than I used to be as a child) — but I am certainly much more of an introvert than an extrovert. I like being part of the discussion & part of the party, but I don’t like being the centre of attention with all eyes upon me (although I don’t mind doing the occasional speech). I love getting praise, but tell me one on one or send me an e-mail — being put in the spotlight at a department meeting last year for my 25th anniversary at work, & having people say nice things about me (& then having to get up at the front of the room & respond) was gratifying but also agonizing. I thought my heart was going to pound right through my chest.

Have you read “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain? I haven’t — yet — but it is high on my to-read pile — I’ve read articles about it & excerpts from it & seen her TED talk. Here’s her website:


Also — when I was in journalism school (30 years ago, pre-Internet…!), we did a bit of both print & broadcast (radio & TV) for the first two terms, and in the final term, we specialized. It was funny/interesting to see how all the funny, extroverted “look at me” people went for the broadcast option, while the quieter, more introspective people chose print. Guess which one I did. ; )

9 Sarah B { 06.06.12 at 12:44 pm }

Yes, I just read “Quiet,” she discusses this exact topic in depth, that the Internet has really levelled the playing field for different types of personalities. I’d recommend it if you’re interested in the topic. I think a lot of us are introverts (including me), but later in life we get really good at faking extroversion.

10 Ellen K. { 06.06.12 at 2:09 pm }

I’m with Becky; I think introversion vs. extroversion (or rather, intraversion vs. extraversion) is about what drains or recharges you. When a party is almost ever, do you want to go home or are you ready to move on to the next bar or go to IHOP? The book “MotherStyles” is of course 100% geared toward a parenting perspective, but reading it now and learning about my personality type (INFP), I can see why I felt distant during infertility and at some points during blogging. A lot of IF bloggers are very goal oriented, but I am not. I find it easy to make new friends and I am always ready to speak up during a class or book club, but I’ve always hated standing up and giving a presentation. I’m just out of my element. No “second career” of teaching for me!

11 Ellen K. { 06.06.12 at 2:33 pm }

Er, that should be “almost over.”

12 KeAnne { 06.06.12 at 4:05 pm }

I’m an introvert. I am shy in new social settings, but in a class, book club, meeting or any place where I feel comfortable, I have no problems speaking up. I also did a lot of theater in school and college, so performing is not a problem; however, that’s likely due to your costume analogy. I was never “KeAnne” on stage.

I didn’t enjoy my wedding or baby showers because I hated having that much attention, and I felt a little of the same way about my actual wedding ceremony.

Somewhat related to this issue…at work I’ve been interviewing for an open position in my group, and one of the questions I ask is what misperception people have about them. I always give the example that people think I’m cold and aloof at first (which my coworkers quickly agreed with), and I think that perception of me is directly related to my introversion.

13 Allison { 06.06.12 at 4:14 pm }

I’m a shy extrovert. It is a very difficult combination, if I do say so myself. I want…no, NEED to be around people, but I often find myself clamming up at the most inappropriate times. It can be extraordinarily frustrating.

14 Daryl { 06.06.12 at 9:25 pm }

I’m a shy introvert. It’s amazing I ever leave the house! I’ve gotten very good at disguising my shyness, though, and I spend my day talking to not one, but up to six families a day. Speaking in front of a large group scares the crap out of me, but I still manage to do it. I hate parties or other large social gatherings, but I can meet one-on-one with a good friend, and the two of us talk non-stop for three hour stretches. I’m definitely energized by having some time to myself, with my own thoughts. Which is why I think I was drawn to blogging. It gives me time to think about and consider what I want to say and how I want to respond to others, which doesn’t happen in real life.

15 Heather { 06.06.12 at 9:39 pm }

Wow! I could say this about me too! I’m normally introverted (my job doesn’t allow for it all the time though), but I am so not shy. We make jokes at work about how I always have an opinion, LOL.

16 Justine { 06.06.12 at 10:00 pm }

I think that lecturing or doing a panel at BlogHer or other things is like performing, too. There’s an additional layer created not by anonymity in the “I can’t see you” sense, but in the sense that a huge audience can never really know you, so you can be whomever you want. I know that was certainly true for me when I used to teach and give presentations at work, too.

Now I feel guilty about referencing your posts. Does that count as writing about you? 😉

17 Alexicographer { 06.06.12 at 10:15 pm }

Count me among those who understand the introversion/extroversion thing to relate to my energy, and I’m definitely an introvert. But I’m not tremendously shy; college, grad school and teaching pretty much whacked that out of me.

All that said, I think there is a huge difference between the written and the spoken word. Speaking with people (including on the phone) is an energy drain for me. Consuming the written word, and creating within that medium, I (usually) find energizing.

18 jjiraffe { 06.07.12 at 12:13 am }

Interesting topic! I am as introvert who is shy, who tried to pass for an extrovert for many, many years. Now I fully embrace being shy, to the point where my shyness is a bit of a badge of honor. And I think the animal I most resemble IS probably a crab 😉 Not too lovable, often cranky.

19 Elizabeth { 06.07.12 at 9:41 am }

The Myers-Briggs definitions of introvert and extravert which some commenters referenced above have helped me IMMENSELY in understanding the people around me, and myself as well. I’m an introvert, and like Magpie becoming less shy as I grow older. I have a relative who is like Allison – a shy extravert. She would describe herself as an introvert, because she’ll never just go up to a stranger and start talking (which her husband will do with no problem), or put herself forward in a public setting and hates public speaking – but if you stop by her house for something or call while her husband is away on a work trip then good luck getting away in under 45 minutes because she’s so hungry for the conversation and contact.

Communication styles differ too, and this has helped me understand my husband a how we are different – I need to mull over and process what I’m thinking in my head or in writing first, before I put it out there for someone else to hear or see. So what get is something I’ve worked on. Whereas my husband has to process out loud. He doesn’t know what he thinks until he’s said it. And often he’ll toss things out that are half-formed ideas or plans. And I have to learn not to treat them like ACTUAL ideas and plans, I have to realize they’re in-process.

20 Tiara { 06.07.12 at 12:26 pm }

I’m totally an introvert but only semi-shy…I think my introvertness shows in my blogging since I only blog about 1 aspect of my life, TTC then motherhood. Rarely do I mention any family members (other than my daughter of course) or friends, I never blog about work unless it directly relates to a parenting story/issue/etc, I also never blog about any of the other stresses in my life. I just don’t want to reveal that much of myself publicly.

It’s funny because people who know me say, “You’re NOT shy” but that’s because they KNOW me, of course I’m not shy with them!! But I am very shy with people before a relationship is built.

21 Pale { 06.07.12 at 1:52 pm }

Just popping back to thank Loribeth for recommending Susan Cain’s TED talk about The Power Of Introverts.


It blew my doors off and it was also a brilliant flash of synchronicity, too, because I just spent part of the morning on the phone talking to a middle school guidance counselor about my supremely introverted daughter, who is constantly struggling with the cultural bias (per Susan Cain) against introversion … even as she is beginning the hard work of becoming comfortable in her own skin and figuring out who she is.

Loribeth, thank you, thank you, thank you. It was all stuff I knew, but could never have articulated. And it was at just the right moment.

On shyness vs. introversion, Cain says shyness = Fear Of Social Judgement. “… whereas introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation.

… Extroverts really crave a lot of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive, their most switched on and their most capable when they are in quieter, more low-key environments. … So the key … to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us. But now, here’s where the bias comes in … our most important institutions … our schools and our workplaces … they are designed mostly for extroverts and for extroverts need for lots of stimulation …”

And that’s just the beginning of her insight. Highly recommend the video, if you haven’t seen it already.

22 Lori Lavender Luz { 06.08.12 at 12:27 am }

Another Unshy-Intro here. I can speak to big groups. I can be socially brave (for example going to a big party by myself, knowing only the hostess, whom I know only from blogging and not by sight.)

But I am also SUCH an introvert (for example, when I got to said party and couldn’t find the person who invited me, I lasted about 30 minutes, not really wanting to “work the room” and meet people on my own.)

Once again, you prove the Queen of Analogies. The turtle is right on.

23 loribeth { 06.08.12 at 8:32 am }

You’re welcome, Pale. : ) I am hoping to (finally) get to the book while I’m on vacation.

24 Bea { 06.23.12 at 8:02 am }

I also thought bloggers were pretty much introverts, in the main. Extroverts I think would tend more towards twitter or Facebook: constant interaction with relatively little reflection.

Me? I’m an unshy intovert. Well, sometimes shy. I like the party, but for me it really starts once the crowd of small talkers move on to the clubs. I don’t crave heaps of interaction and when I have it I prefer depth. I don’t see the problem with sitting across the table from my husband and not talking. I retreat into myself when stressed and resent people crowding me (although I still like to know they are thinking of me from afar). Hallmarks of the introvert. And unfortunately people do confuse that with shyness and assume I wouldn’t want the centre stage at any point.

Apparently a lot of a list actors are introverts. Good at putting on the mask, don’t mind the stage, but really struggle with the publicity.


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