“Only those who care about you can hear when you are quiet.” ~Unknown
I find it difficult to be understood. I seem to frequently create complexity out of something that is perhaps very simple and straightforward to others.
For example, going to a movie. For many people, it would be “choose a movie, choose a time, choose a cinema” and there you go.
For me, I check movie reviews, all possible timings, in all possible cinemas. For each timing and location, I will consider if the timing allows other things to be done before and after the movie, and whether the location has sufficient food and shopping options. All else being equal, the location with the cheapest parking fees wins.
Yes, I take a long time to decide on a movie outing, and more on issues with much bigger consequences in life.
In the recent years, I have had to make some rather big decisions about my life, on career and family. Judging from the process I go through to make a decision on a movie, you can imagine the epic journey I went through for each big decision.
My brain had a field time linking every single option to different possible outcomes. Even issues that were once unlinked would somehow be connected to one another the more my brain was allowed to think. And after that, my brain took the liberty of developing Plan A, Plan B, and even Plan C for each scenario.
Naturally, with such a repertoire of scenarios, my brain went round and round as it tried to take care of even the worst-case scenario.
There is a saying that if you cannot do much about something, there is no point worrying about it. But I always feel that I can do something. I can mitigate the impact of bad outcomes if I take careful calculated actions—that is why I think, I plan, then I do. Only when the worst-case scenario could be taken care of would I be ready.
To reach that stage, it took months (if not years). If I tried to explain to a select few friends that I trusted, I found myself bringing up the intricacies of each carefully-devised thought, fear, hope, and plan.
Most of the time, I would elicit a response like “You think too much” or “Don’t be so pessimistic” or “Be more positive.”
Perhaps the one that I dreaded to hear most was “be happy.” I was trying to be happy—I was taking charge of the difficult issues in my life, but in the process of sharing my elaborate thought process, it seemed to people that I was the one creating unhappiness for myself.
In the end, I shut up.
Perhaps it was my fault that I could not articulate my thoughts better. Perhaps I was too long-winded; people generally do not have the patience to listen to the epic journey in my brain. Perhaps they disagreed with some parts of my assumptions, or could not understand the situation sufficiently to appreciate my fears and concerns.
Whatever the possible reasons, I did not want to be discredited for my thoughts and feelings. The epic journey had been too arduous to be brushed aside with “don’t think so much.”
In a way, I wish I could stop that intricate elaborate deep-thinking process. I envy those who can just be happy-go-lucky, not think much, just do and deal with whatever consequences may come. However, science has shown that the brain is wired differently for introverts and extroverts.
German psychologist Hans Eysenck found that introverts have naturally high cortical arousal and may process more information per second. They get overwhelmed and tired quickly in environments with a lot of stimulation, such as a loud restaurant.
Positron emission tomography (PET) scans showed that introverts had more blood flowing in their frontal lobes and anterior thalamus, regions of the brain that recall events, make plans. and solve problems.
It looks like I cannot help it, since I am born with this brain.
With such a brain, all life experiences play a big part to stimulate and shape thoughts. Childhood, adolescent, social interactions, work, family—everything.
As an introvert thinks, s/he connects all the dots, linking past and present experiences much more than extroverts would.
Let’s say we have an introvert, born to a loving and nurturing family, who has close-knit friends and relatives and a cooperative work environment. And we also have one who is not. Which one is more likely to develop positive linkages and hopeful thoughts when forming their outlook in life?
I guess I have come to accept that even good friends may not be able to understand me. Or they might label me as “the one who thinks too much” and has a high dose of pessimism. They may even start to stay away from me, as conventional wisdom advises that one should surround himself with positive and optimistic people.
But I want to question: Do we just dismiss people because they appear “unhappy people” or “pessimistic people” at a point in time? Are they lesser beings just because they find it difficult to handle life as optimistically as others? Everyone has a story. At any point in life, maybe your story is happier than someone else’s.
Let me illustrate using examples from some of my favorite animated movies.
Mr Carl Fredricksen in the movie Up would be dismissed as a grumpy old man who offered no smile or generosity to even a little wilderness explorer. But he was not always unhappy. He happily fell in love and married, but lost the love of his life and his motivation when his wife passed away.
Elsa the ice queen in the movie Frozen would be dismissed as cold-hearted and aloof, but what would you expect of a young girl who grew up locked up in a room because she nearly killed her baby sister and was deemed dangerous by her parents?
Marlin the over-anxious father in the movie Finding Nemo was happily married and about to be the father of 400 children. Then a barracuda showed up, killed his wife, and ate all but one of the babies. The one baby that survived was born disabled. After carefully raising Nemo and letting Nemo attend school, the kid was immediately kidnapped by a human. Can you blame Marlin for his anxiety?
Take heart though, those who truly care will know how to reach out.
Mr Fredricksen, Elsa, and Marlin could have remained as they were had it not been for Russell (little wilderness explorer), Anna (Elsa’s sister), and Dory (the blue fish memorably voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) respectively.
They cared enough to stick by their miserable companion/sister, to encourage and give support. They offered a different perspective to gently draw their friend out of their fears and doubts.
I had always believed that only another introvert can understand and care for another introvert. But I am wrong. Russell, Anna, and Dory were extroverts and optimists.
Although they might not have fully comprehended their introverted friends, they cared enough to never stop reaching out. I realize these are cartoon characters, but I've known Russells, Annas, and Dorys in my life and I appreciate and cherish them. There are not many, but a few truly kind and caring friends are good enough for introverts.
If you have had similar experiences as me, we should stop beating ourselves up for “thinking too much.” Whether we are blessed or cursed by our deep-thinking brain, we have to live with it and harness its strength.
We are naturally empathetic and will be the ones that best offer comfort and support when others are down. What we say or do, we have thought through carefully. We are trusted for our steadiness and thoroughness, and ability to understand complexities.
Yes, we can become more self-aware and accept that we have the natural tendency to go very deep. With that awareness, we can develop control over our brains to push ourselves to the surface once we have gone a little too deep.
We can make miracles if we adapt these abilities to a world where extroverts are in the majority.
In fact, they say the best teams comprise of an introvert and an extrovert (e.g. Apple’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg) due to complementary strengths and weaknesses. And let’s not forget Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln and Warren Buffett who are famous for their powerful introverted brains.
On my part, I have learned to control how much I share, to control my tendency to articulate the epic journey of my decision-making process, lest I attract a “you think too much” remark.
I have learned to be comfortable with the brain processes I have, and not feel the need to always justify my thoughts and decisions. Less is more, for people who cannot, will not try to understand us. And if anyone cares enough, they can hear even if we are quiet.
Brain image via Shutterstock