Credit: Dorota Dziki

Learning to love my introverted self

By Niamh Flanagan

Features Editor Niamh Flanagan discusses the trials and tribulations faced as self professed introvert trying to socialise at university.

Introvert is a label I was assigned roughly around age 5. It has become an intrinsic part of who I am and how I perceive myself, and it’s something I disclose apologetically about myself to new friends and acquaintances regularly. “Sorry if I seemed like a stuck-up cow when you first met me, I promise I’m just shy” is a thoroughly well-rehearsed line of mine that I can be relied upon to anxiously deploy roughly two months into any new friendship. And I say anxiously because truth be told, my self-proclaimed introversion is something of which I am both painfully conscious of and equally infuriated by. As a child, it meant self-inflicted isolation on holidays where rather than making friends with cousins or the children of family friends, I would hide out in some secluded corner with a book. It meant a constant incredulity throughout school years on the behalf of teachers and fellow students that I, studious, timid, and retiring, could possibly be related to my larger than life, charismatic, and socially adept twin brother. According to my Mum, it started as early as infancy, and I have reliably been informed that whilst my brother was the “easy baby”, happy to handed off to doting family members, I on the other hand would scream and cry with indignation if anyone other than my parents attempted to hold me.

Despite some definite teething problems in the early years of secondary school (think lunch times spent alone reading in classrooms; yes, I was that kid) I did eventually make friends. I had an amazing friendship group, admittedly a relatively small, tight knit one, but we were perfectly content with that just the way it was. In this context, my shyness, introversion, whatever you want to call it, dwindled in significance. I had found my people in spite of my aversion to social interaction, and they liked me just fine, thank you very much. What I hadn’t accounted for was just how abruptly I would become reacquainted with the minefield of social interaction when beginning university, and just how pitifully deficient my arsenal of tools for navigating such a minefield would prove to be.

 It would not be an exaggeration to describe my experience of freshers’ week as something of a personal hell. When I was the first and only student from my flat to arrive on the Friday night, (barring a Czechoslovakian couple who spoke very little English and chose not to venture outside of their rooms), I was confronted with the prospect of having to march up to a flat of complete strangers, walk in and introduce myself, and request that could I please tag along with them for the first night out. It goes without saying that this was a prospect which horrified me. However, almost equal to my horror was a deep paranoia that if I did not throw myself into the action of freshers’ week, I would spend my entire university experience completely estranged and outcast from all society. So, after consulting the Murano 2019 Facebook group chat I took myself along to Grampian block, who had announced they were holding pre-drinks, all welcome. Looking back, I think I spent freshers’ week in some kind of intense survival mode, making a concerted effort to “fake it” till I made it so to speak, forcing myself along to every social event, throwing myself into every encounter whilst every atom of my being screamed at me to retreat to the safety of my bedroom and a night of solitary Netflix.

“I think I spent freshers’ week in some kind of intense survival mode, making a concerted effort to “fake it” till I made it…”

Okay, so maybe I’m being a tad dramatic in my recollection of events. But that I emerged from first year with a well-established friend group and an accompanying deluge of memories of nights out, pre-drinks and parties was no mean feat given how often I genuinely felt at war with my inner self- I desperately wanted to meet people and make friends, but I so often found the process intensely embarrassing and just plain scary. I think the term imposter syndrome describes it best – watching people so naturally fall into close and affectionate friendships whilst I felt paralysed, robotic, and always somewhat lacking in social situations, had me often wondering if I really belonged in this world where everyone seemed to want to hang out 24/7 and go out 5 nights a week. It’s a feeling I’ve not quite really shaken. I made some lovely friends in first year and breathed a sigh of relief as they asked me to move in with them for second year. But my troubles didn’t stop there – our friendship circle didn’t remain safe and static as mine had in secondary school, it was instead constantly evolving and fluctuating as we interacted and merged with other friendship groups and ventured to further flung parties and gatherings. It felt like the goalposts just kept moving, and hard as I tried, I just couldn’t keep up. My flatmates effortlessly created and cultivated new friendships, and as our friendship group expanded, I increasingly felt like the odd flatmate out, who no one outside of my flat really knew or interacted with. My capacity for faking it had well and truly run out, and I once more retreated to a period of self-inflicted isolation toward the end of second year.

I do wonder sometimes if I am as socially deficient as I consider myself to be, or if it is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having spent the best part of 20 years of my life having the label of introvert reinforced first by those around me and then later by myself, I enter all social encounters with this understanding of myself hanging over my head. Could it be that the anxiety this itself creates causes me to perform poorly in social situations, as opposed to just an inherent inability to socialise? Quite possibly. After all, the actual definition of introversion is not as simple as just being more shy than the average person. It has little to do with that, and more to do with finding excess social interaction draining and feeling reinvigorated by time alone. Obviously, the cross section of introverts and “shy” people is therefore quite a large one. But is being an introvert in and of itself a bad thing? No. Of my relatively limited circle of “close” friends, pretty much all have at many points in our friendships commented on how trustworthy, empathetic, and comforting they find me to be. I am observant, I value quality over quantity when it comes to the people in my life, and I invest in those relationships wholeheartedly. These qualities are of course not the exclusive remit of introverted individuals, but I do feel my introversion may enhance and facilitate such tendencies. I am intensely independent, and more than comfortable in my own company – and both these traits have served me well in my young adult years. I fear I will always face an internal battle when it comes to my introverted self, but it is something I am still trying to learn to embrace.


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I feel like you described my exact uni experience so far. Thank god for Murano parties.