I briefly talked about Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, in my “Top Ten Books I Read in 2016” post, but I thought this book was worth expanding on, particularly Murakami’s passages about his introversion.
“I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring. I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else. I could always think of things to do by myself.”
That’s a classic definition of what it is to be an introvert. I feel much the same way.
“After I left college I ran a bar, so I learned the importance of being with others and the obvious point that we can’t survive on our own. Gradually, then, though perhaps with my own spin on it, through personal experience I discovered how to be sociable. Looking back on that time now, I can see that during my twenties my worldview changed, and I matured. By sticking my nose into all sorts of places, I acquired the practical skills I needed to live. Without those ten tough years I don’t think I would have written novels, and even if I’d tried, I wouldn’t have been able to. Not that people’s personalities change that dramatically. The desire in me to be alone hasn’t changed. Which is why the hour or so I spend running, maintaining my own silent, private time, is important to help me keep my mental well-being. When I’m running I don’t have to talk to anybody and don’t have to listen to anybody. All I need to do is gaze at the scenery passing by. This is a part of my day I can’t do without.”
Introversion can devolve into social anxiety if you don’t go out and interact with others. As Murakami proves, becoming sociable is a skill. It is learned through experience. For introverts with social anxiety, it may be more difficult to do, but by going out and exposing yourself to social situations, you begin to develop the skills to deal with them. You can overcome social anxiety but still remain an introvert. Introversion, you’re born with; social anxiety is developed. That’s why Murakami continued to always need his time alone to write and run. As do I.
“In certain areas of my life, I actively seek out solitude. Especially for someone in my line of work, solitude is, more or less, an inevitable circumstance. Sometimes, however, this sense of isolation, like acid spilling out of a bottle, can unconsciously eat away at a person’s heart and dissolve it. You could see it, too, as a kind of double-edged sword. It protects me, but at the same time steadily cuts away at me from the inside.”
Murakami perfectly explains how introversion can turn into social anxiety. Solitude is necessary and nourishing for an introvert, but too much of it becomes negative and weakens you. Solitude really is a double-edged sword for introverts. It’s like any medicine: too much makes you sick and not enough makes you sick. Introverts need to find the right dose of solitude to heal us and keep us healthy.