Friday, June 11, 2010

On being an introvert: The quest to be understood


Hello, my name is Leila, and I am an introvert!

About a year ago, I had "eureka" moment after more than one occasion of trying to explain myself to extroverted friends.

Before I continue this riveting line of thought, I must state this fact: God gifts us with our temperaments. There are no "good" temperaments and "bad" temperaments. They are all gifts. Extroversion is a gift, and introversion is a gift. If you have read The Temperament God Gave You, you already know this. This post is not an attempt to judge anyone or any temperament, but merely an attempt by me to be understood. Which brings me to the bare bones of my theory:


Introverts don't find it hard to understand extroverts.
Extroverts do find it hard to understand introverts.


Chew on that for a moment while I clarify terms....

The easiest way I came to understand the inherent, natural tendency to either extroversion or introversion is this quick test: Let's say you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, or maybe you just need to relax. If you are an extrovert, you will usually (but not always) want to decompress and unwind by going out and socializing with large groups of people (bars, dance clubs, parties). If you are an introvert, you usually (but not always) want to decompress and unwind by going home and staying in, being quiet and away from crowds.

So now I am going to repeat my theory, since my (strangely childlike) brain works best by repetition:

Introverts don't find it hard to understand extroverts.
Extroverts do find it hard to understand introverts.

Real life example from my own life. When I was in college, my roommate (one of my closest friends) used to beg me to go out on the weekends. Over the years, there was a lot of this from C:

"Pleeease, Leila, can we go hang out at the Mods?"

"Just come out for a little while? I will bring you back early, I promise! You can decide when we come home."

"How about you choose the place? I'll go wherever you want, let's just get out of here and have some fun!"

Poor thing, this is what she usually heard in response:

"Oh... no, I don't think so. I really don't feel like it. I want to stay in and paint my toenails."

"I've got so many People magazines to catch up on. But you should go out and have fun!"

"I feel awful, C, but I want to relax on my bed and watch the news and then SNL. Forgive?"

And I really did feel guilty about not going with her, because I was letting her down! But I was not the slightest bit sorry for avoiding the "action" -- In fact, I didn't feel like I was missing out at all.

Which brings me back to my theory.

I fully understand that extroverts want to have fun and party and enjoy crowds and meet new people, etc. I truly do "get" that some people are "people people"! In fact, it seems normal and natural and healthy to me that many of my friends and family are like that. The extroverted temperament is not a mystery to me.

But I tend to think that the introverted temperament is a mystery to extroverts. I believe that sometimes the extrovert is concerned that there is something wrong with the introvert. That maybe the introvert has a psychological problem, an emotional issue, or a social phobia. Perhaps the introvert is assumed to be shy.... which is interesting, because I always thought I must be shy, but I have since realized to my surprise that I am not shy. I have no trouble approaching people, talking to strangers (I do a lot of public speaking), sharing my thoughts, and even being the life of the party when the mood hits! Introversion and shyness are not synonymous.

Ironically, many people who have met me in the past few years are shocked when I tell them I am by nature an introvert. After all, I'm quite friendly, "bubbly" (no blog pun intended) and animated in social situations. I genuinely enjoy being social when I do go out (particularly in my little Catholic bubble of friends).

I've talked to a couple of extroverted friends about all of this, and how we move through life differently. They've admitted that prior to our discussions they didn't fully understand why introverts "vant to be ahlone" so much. They had thought, even subconsciously, that "unsocial" folks must have some insecurities or other "issues" which make us want to hide at home and not be out socializing as often as others are.

For a long time, even I wondered if extrovert = healthy and introvert = unhealthy. Yet, assuming that mental and emotional health is intact, this is not the case. We are all just living out the temperaments that God intended for us.

My point?

To document in some small bloggy way that we introverts are not socially crippled or emotionally troubled simply because we are introverts. And to assure all extroverts out there that your introvert friends are not snubbing or avoiding you when they stay in their cocoons. Trust me, it's nothing personal. It's just the way God made us. :)

So, for the sake of clarity (check my sidebar to see what I am all about), I had to write this post. For the furtherance of smoother friendships, better marriages, understanding among all peoples, world peace and such....

If you think I'm wrong, or if you have a better theory, I want to hear it. I am always willing to stand corrected.

Now, back to my cocoon.... or is it my bubble...? Oh, it's my bed.... yawn!

39 comments:

  1. Isn't that one of the perks of blogging for us introverts? We get to be at home and alone- and still socializing! :) HA! We've beat the system!

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  2. I think you're right. As an extrovert married to an introvert, I beat the system by throwing parties at home. That way I get the people and he gets to stay home. win-win

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  3. I agree with Lauren! Get to stay home, no crowds, no noise, yet still connecting - thank God for blogging!

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  4. I agree with the Mom--I enjoy socializing, but I'd rather have more private, intimate settings with smaller groups of people who are closer to me, rather than a large party with people I don't know. I always have the most fun at home parties.:-)

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  5. As a full-blown extrovert (you probably knew that by how much info I reveal about myself!) I can honestly say that I don't "get" you introverts. But I've never thought of you all as unhealthy or anti-social. Thanks for explaining things!

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  6. Lauren, exactly! Thank God for blogging! I love being social AND alone!

    The Mom, I am an introvert married to an introvert, which has its own unique blessings and struggles.

    Kaitlin, here is the irony... I am an introvert, but I am also an open book. I will tell anyone anything about myself. Just ask me a question and you'll see, ha ha ha!

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  7. Great post and explanation! I'm also an introvert married to an introvert. I agree that blogging is awesome for introverts since you can have the best of both worlds social and alone.

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  8. I too am an introvert. I get flack from my very extrovert friend all the time for not wanting to go "out" ! haha. I agree with everyone else.. this blogging gives us the best of both worlds! love it. :)

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  9. Ah this is the interesting thing about temperaments. I'm extroverted in personality I love to meet people, be the center of attention is just fine but I DON"T share my life story or anything personal with anyone. I also rather decompress at home, I'm married to an extrovert that wants to decompress OUT, he can't stand being in the house for 24 hrs straight, honestly I think the only time he's done it is when he's sick. Usually on a Sunday as I'm loving the couch he'll say, "let's go to Walmart" to which I respond "we don't need anything" but he wants to go just to GET OUT. I personally am so happy on the sofa relaxing and have NO desire to move. But we are both extroverts, I guess this is my phlegmatic introvert coming out. :)

    you are right though, they dont' understand WHY I would want to stay home all day, to him the walls are closing in. It's a funny, interesting thing temperament.

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  10. This is interesting. And I wonder if my temperament changed with age, because I totally used to need to go out all the time and now I much prefer the comfort of home. But I'm a Leo (yes I'm totally into the zodiac, but not religiously!!) so it seems weird to label myself "introvert." With your explanation, though, that does seem to be what I am.
    A very social introvert :)

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  11. Great discussion here. I think I'd classify myself as a "moderate" introvert. I'm married to an extrovert, so I've come out of shell a lot since dating him and then marriage. He'd rather go out and I'd rather stay home, so we do a lot of compromising. :) I am pretty quiet with people I just meet, but after I get to know someone, I am very forthcoming.

    I also befriend other introverts easily, but I have a hard time connecting with people who are very introverted. I befriend many extroverts too, but if someone is overly extroverted I have a hard time connecting with them too. Haha! I think that's why I'm a moderate. :)

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  12. People think I'm an extrovert when they read my blog, but I'm so the opposite. Big crowds wear me out, literally suck the life out of me.

    When I'm comfortable, like today at my friends house, I was shocked by what happened. I was sitting in a circle with 3 other couples, Gran Granma, Grandma, and sister of the brother...But I started talking to everyone.

    Then I asked my husband if he was okay because he works the crowd not me. :)

    I also think that fixing my thyroid has helped with me to be able to step out a little more because I have more energy to give and I don't have to store it all for myself, because that would have killed me pre-armour. :)

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  13. Oh but I rarely leave my house. I just don't need to get out and leave to interact with people and never do I have the desire. The only time I really even go to lunch with a friend if someone calls and says I will be in your area in 1 hour want to meet for lunch? :) I.have.no.desire.to.leave.my.house. :) Sorry I can't get all my thoughts out in one comment. ;)

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  14. Love this post! Lol. I am a "social introvert," too :). I think sometimes being a "bubbly" introvert confuses people even more (why is she so friendly one minute and such a hermit the next?).

    I read two things that may or may not be 100 percent true, but helped me understand some of the vibes I got that my introversion was less than ideal: 1. Only 25% of Americans test as introverts and 2. American culture values extroversion over introversion. (Introverts and extroverts alike see extroverted traits as signs of health, personality, success, etc).

    Really like the series of books "The Temperament God Gave You" and "Your Spouse."

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  15. I'm an introvert married to a extrovert, so it took a lot of getting used to when we first were married. Thankfully (in terms of intro/extroverts) he works a 48 hour shift job, so those nights I get to stay in and do my thing...so on some of his days off I'm rested and introverted up and ready for whatever he wants to do. Love your take on it...and I agree. My husband did not understand and sometimes still doesn't my desire to sit at home and do...nothing (gasp)!!

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  16. I've had trouble understanding you, Leila, but I learned that acceptance often comes easier and can, in some ways, be even better than understanding. To be sure, I learned that in large part by your example of being a merciful, trusting, accepting person.

    This is all quite intriguing to me since I am "socially crippled" and "emotionally troubled". As someone with bipolar disorder, I guess you'd call me an intro-extrovert, depending on how freaky my brain is at any given moment. haha And with panic disorder, too, causing me to panic in crowds, even my extrovert times are interesting. But fortunately for me, my body is also crippled, so my butt is kept at home and out of trouble. :-)

    Relationships can't be only about understanding each other because only God can truly fully understand who we are and where we are coming from. There are bound to be misunderstandings, so while understanding is an important goal to achieve, healthy relationships also have to be about accepting each other and loving each other whenever there comes the inability to understand, and no flawed human being I know has taught me that more than you have.

    We're different and we have very different struggles, but we love each other anyway, even when we want to pull our hair out because of a case of the H.I.C.C.U.P.S. (Hey, I'm Confused. Could 'u' Please Stop)

    God has given us the cure for HICCUPS -- acceptance, love, mercy, trust -- for those times when understanding becomes quite impossible. :-)

    You good kid.

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  17. I am the same way. I’m an introvert, but most people wouldn’t assume that about me. I think Sew commented once about me being shy and I laughed because no one who knows me would call me shy. Private, yes. Shy, no.

    When I first meet people, I do hang back to feel people out for several reasons. One, I am opinionated and horribly sarcastic and make jokes so I want to make sure I won’t offend people. (I still do.). Second, I live in the South which is great and wonderful, but you have to get through the “politeness” everyone is so trained in to get a feel for people’s personality.

    Both the husband and I are the same. He’s probably more inclined to go places if he is in the mood, but most of the time would rather stay home.

    Introverts are better listners :)

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  18. I love all these comments! Thank you!!! My friend Marcy has a great comment, but she couldn't get it to work, so I am posting it for her:

    Interesting Leila! In Marriage Encounter we have a personality assessment test and the theory is; by understanding the personality of your spouse your marriage will be healthier. This blog has given me a chance to compare the introvertness and extrovertness (made up words for my benefit) of the personality styles we encounter.

    There are four personalities styles and everyone is a composite of these four yet one of the styles will be your strongest.

    Catalyst = extrovert
    Helper = somewhere in between
    Organizer = somewhere in between
    Thinker = introvert

    I am a helper so I can be content among people or content alone, but I must have both.

    Very interesting blog. Thank you.
    Marcy

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  19. I am not sure what I am anymore.
    There was a time when I loved parties, bars, whatever.
    Now, I'd rather stay home 99% of the time.
    I still read a review of a bar or something and tell my husband, "Oh, this looks fun" but we never go.
    It's just too much trouble. I'd rather sit on the deck and drink a beer and chat with the neighbors. I'm not sure if I've *become* an introvert (is that possible?) or if I'm just too tired/don't want to spend the money/too comfy in my own space.

    Plus, I don't like leaving my kids. There. I said it.

    Occasionally we'll go to the Symphony or something else but all I can think the entire time is "I can't wait until the kids are old enough to go with us." And that probably doesn't count. Plenty of introverts go to the Symphony, I'm sure. It's not like going to a bar.

    I never thought of introverts as crippled - in fact, I envied them. A lot.

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  20. I love this post and could have written it (well not as eloquently as you... hehe)

    I have had conversations about this with many and have termed myself an extroverted introvert...

    I love being around people but need to have quiet time to regroup... there are some who are surprised that I am an introvert!!
    So fun to find kindred spirits in this...

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  21. I think it is hilarious that nearly EVERY single blogger who has commented here is an introvert!!!

    I love this post and agree with every word. I too am an introvert and my husband is an extrovert. He has to BEG me to go out and do anything usually.

    And I too know how to have fun, laugh it up, and talk it up like no one's business.

    I once heard it said in a way that I think sums it up perfectly: If being around lots of people drains you, you are an introvert. If it re-energizes you, you are an extrovert.

    By that definition, I'm DEFINITELY an introvert!

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  22. I love ALL these answers!! And LifeHopes, that definition is PERFECT!!

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  23. Another way to say that is that an extravert is energized by being around people, while an introvert is energized by being alone.

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  24. Leila, you're not an introvert on the phone!

    And I'm totally with Cathy ;)

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  25. OH, and I LOVE that you reference the MODS on here!!! love it...

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  26. Yes! I've said that for years: that introverts understand extroverts but not vice versa. I completely understand my extrovert friends and am tolerant of their desire to constantly socialize.

    I think maybe it's because we introverts are the minority, we have to understand those we are surrounded by. I've also got a theory that maybe introverts also tend to be more introspective and reflective. (Not that extroverts can't be introspective; but that introverts always are while extroverts sometimes are.)

    I remember once I was at a dinner party and a bunch of extroverts were telling a story about going up to their apartment building's rooftop deck and finding a woman sitting there reading a book and trying to convince her to join their party. She eventually got up and went back inside to escape. They just didn't get it, why she was so stubborn about that book. I thought: poor introvert who was just looking for a quiet retreat!

    And yes, I think blogging was invented for introverts.

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  27. Thank you!

    I am a weird sort of introvert whose absolute favorite place to escape into my own little world is a public, noisy, anonymous, crowded place. I am so happy walking down a street in a large city, or curled up with my laptop in the corner of a busy coffee shop, or having lunch by myself in a crowded restaurant with a good book to read. It's just another way of being alone.

    And it is so much harder to get *that,* as a mother of small children, than it is to just stay home!

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  28. wow. We are so on the same page!
    This really hit home when I was at grad school for the last 3 summers and met a woman who became my BFF after an astonishing 2 days. But she is extrovert #30 on the Meyers-Briggs. (If there were a #31 she would be that!) And it took a little getting used to for her to realize that my wanting to be alone in the library did NOT mean I was mad at her :)
    But we worked it out, and she awesomely overcame that temptation, and learned to love me for me!

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  29. I'm like you...if you can't already tell by me reading all your blog posts in chronological order, we have a lot in common, and I'm sure we'd get along well if we ever met. Who cares about the age difference? Heh heh...

    I'm an introvert and nobody else in my house is. But when you get me started on religion or something else I'm passionate about I can go on for hours. If I'm devoting my time to something I can't be quiet about it.

    I have always been an introvert and love being one :)

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  30. Thank you for this ephiphany Leila & co! Whenever I was asked to define myself, be it on a Meyerstest or in some groupdiscussion at univeristy, I crossed the 'extravert' boxes, because yes, I can be ('overly') social, and talk a whole lot (mostly to entertain others when silence is awkward), but only when I'm 1) uncomfortable around people (talking non-stop relaxes me - it keeps people at a certain distance) 2) On a subject that interests or passionates me, just like Acatholicsheep said. I might even go into hypertalk about my newfound catholic faith (and all things 'otherworldly' that come with it: NFP! Happy submission to the Magisterium! Homeschooling plans!, ...) with it. But even after an interesting conversation with a likeminded friend, I'm exhausted. Teaching history in high school is less draining, because it's like ... acting in a ('easy') play. I don't have to engage feelings and introspective thoughts during those 'talks' in front of a class. And I like to teach youngsters about what I learned and how I came to see the world. I wouldn't mind staying at home for weeks in a row and just be quiet though! Thank you so much for the insights and the (accurate) type descriptions. Now I'm off to tell my family! (they all think I'm an extrovert) Greetings from Belgium

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  31. Cleo, we sound like the same person!! I love it! So funny, because my oldest son is sure that I am an extrovert and he could not be more wrong! He just does not get it at all. ha ha!

    So glad there are devout Catholics in Belgium, yay!

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  32. I am happy to see this discussed. May the understanding spread! :)
    (As an introvert who also deals with hard-earned social anxiety on and off the Internet, I cannot relate to this in its entirety, but it is still nice that it is here.
    And the mistaken-for-an-extrovert thing made me chuckle. I get that sometimes, but only when people mistake my overly personal text walls for bits of conversation rather than an attempt to get the entirety of my input out of my system at once, like ripping off a band-aid. Sort of like I am beginning to do now. Oops! Also, hello. *hides*)

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  33. I would love to read something about how introverts can act with regard to the Gospel. I am a strong introvert, and as such, I very often prefer being alone so I can be creative, appreciate nature, etc. However, so much of the Gospel and so much of what the Church teaches is geared toward "the other." Evangelization, the works of mercy, getting outside of yourself and your comfort zone. So right now I'm really struggling with not seeing my temperament as deficient, as a hurdle to overcome on the path to holiness. For me, most social interaction is preceded by my taking a deep, internal breath to brace myself... even the social interaction that I enjoy and choose. How can I have the deep and unbroken gaze upon the other that Christ wishes when I seem to need so much time to recharge? I would hate to start overlooking sins against charity because I have the "excuse" of introversion. What are your thoughts?

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  34. Peter, I would recommend reading up on the lives of the saints who were introverts (some are mentioned in the book, The Temperament God Gave You).

    It is also true that each temperament requires us to "learn" to go outside that comfort zone. If you are shy in addition to being an introvert, I think that requires more of you. It's a cross to bear, to be sure. I think that online evangelization is amazing (many, many bloggers are introverts~ This genre and forum suits us just fine, ha ha). And, you can evangelize those in your own sphere (work, family, friends), without having to go find more "others" to encounter.

    God bless you!

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  35. Very interesting! I have to agree. I'm an extrovert and an introvert - depending on my mood. But I am shy! At least, when I first get to know people. I think people think I'm stuck up or introverted when I'm not, I'm just shy at first! In some countries shyness is synonymous with modesty and is thought of as a virtue. But everyone always tries to *cure* you of your shyness here. I don't have a problem with my it. It's others who have the problem with it. I'm just "slow to warm". This is also a recognized personality type as I learned in child development class and yep you are pretty much born with it! I may be slow to warm but once you have my heart you have it for life!

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  36. So...this introvert-thing, which everyone else disagrees with my saying I am an introvert....is what happened to me when I refused to talk to my husband on our 3 hour drive to the ocean to be with people I had nothing in common with....I wanted just to be home so bad....we had been busy for the last 6 months with moving to a smaller home (you know, getting ready to sell, then selling, getting rid of 90% of our furniture, etc.).....when I finally confessed why I was in such a "mood"......we both felt better about the silence. But home....I have always just wanted to be quietly at home....

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  37. It might depend on where you are, Leila. As a predominantly extroverted person living in a "media" community that ironically is predominantly introverted, I can tell you that introverts do NOT understand extroverts without considerable good will and coaching! We all have a hard enough time understanding ourselves, let alone anyone else. One of the major lessons for introverts to learn in community is that they cannot presume to know an extrovert simply because she processes aloud. Another is that she's not as virtuous or smart because she tends to say the first thing that pops into her head. A real challenge for extroverts especially in the past was that much of spiritual formation was geared toward introverts or toward turning extros into intros. That said, I happily survive and thrive!

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  38. Leila,

    I had a similar experience in college and beyond. Friends wanting me to go out with them to clubs and not understanding why I didn't want to go. A few even implied that something was wrong with me. Nothing was wrong with me. That just wasn't my scene. I do not like clubs, bars, or big parties with drinking and loud music. That just isn't me. I was always perfectly happy to stay home, read, write, or make up my own kind of fun. When I was younger, I used to make up my own parodies from songs (even before Wierd Al Yankovic). I used to be very quiet and shy in school. I wouldn't say a peep. Now that I'm in my forties I'm a little bit more comfortable in my own skin and a more social, but I'm still an introvert. Both the Hubby and I love a quiet night at home together talking, eating a bowl of popcorn, and watching a movie. To us - that's a fun night. :)

    Maria In Mass :)

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