I grew up in what I jokingly refer to as the “perfect storm” of introversion. As an introvert, I was an only child and a latch-key kid (meaning I was alone both when I left for school in the morning and when I got home). I can spend seemingly unreasonable amounts of time by myself and not only be perfectly content, but be happier for it.
I’m not a psychologist or an expert in Myers-Briggs, but I do find personality types interesting. Having noticed some internet banter about introversion and extraversion lately, I think it might be good to remind both myself and the rest of my people (introverts) of some helpful tips.
1. Don’t use your introversion as an excuse for antisocial behavior. I know you’re offended by the term antisocial, let alone the suggestion that you might be (I prefer the term “socially selective”). But here’s the clincher: that’s how the extraverted world sees us sometimes. Even if were not intending to be or if we think that we’re truly not; the reality is that we can come off that way. I realize that some of us have genuinely struggled in this area, but it is really up to us to prove that being an introvert is not an antisocial dysfunction.
2. Structure your alone time very, very intentionally. This way you can be available for social settings and other relationships when you need to be. Constant emotional burnout causing us to spend our days either hiding or miserable is not a way to live your life. The problem only adds to the negative misconceptions about “our kind”. Find a rhythm that works for your life and personality type and schedule it in advance. A daily rhythm is best, but even once or twice a week can be helpful. This way, we’re being fair to ourselves and our relationships by proactively filling our emotional tanks rather than merely being reactive to the circumstances around us.
3. Develop socially by watching, interacting with and imitating extraverts. I realize that the thought of imitating them makes you feel like a piece of yourself is dying inside. We’ve all sat in a social setting, wondering why a rational human would do or say some of the things they do and say. But the reality is that they are better at this than we are. Because of their unfathomable drive to interact with all things breathing; they picked up basic social skills at early ages. We on the other hand…. we read a lot and share deep thoughts (which is also valuable!). Again it sounds crazy, but try doing what they do. Take it in baby steps and don’t be afraid to fail; I promise you’ll be alright You don’t have to copy the things that truly horrify you and over time you will learn some valuable social skills. This can also best be done in the context of a trusted relationship with an extravert. Let them know you’re working on some things and let them coach you through it!
4. Learn to identify and respond to your introverted warning system. Basically I’m talking about whatever emotional reaction is triggered in you when you feel the depletion caused by long periods of social interaction. You might become easily angered. Maybe you get rude. Maybe you go find a corner and hide like a scared animal. I use to get really, really, really emotionally drained causing me to become cranky and rude without knowing or intending it. Whatever it is, the first step to managing it is identifying it.
5. Build up your extraverted stamina. I’m not talking about your ability to put up with them, but your ability to be like them when you need to. If we always run or hide from social environments we are on track to never increase our social/emotional stamina, guaranteeing that we’ll continue to keep things awkward. Believe it or not, we actually can thrive in social settings and even come to enjoy longer engagements. Just show up, stick around and keep breathing. Similar to daily exercise, this practice will grow you over time!
6. Accept that relational histories can be difficult to change. As we’re all aware, we’re often viewed in community as the quiet ones and over time, we build a relational history of how we interact with certain individuals or groups. Yet a growing, healthy introvert will inevitably recognize their need for broader relationships and relational growth; causing them eventually seek out different social behaviors. This can however create a crisis at times for both the introverted individual and the broader community. The extraverts who usually want us to talk and relate more (they’re addicts for this kind of stuff) can sometimes be unprepared when we suddenly become socially proactive. They might be genuinely surprised or even unresponsive when you start relating to them in a less introverted fashion. What we need to do is be patient; neither giving up our efforts or condemning their response.
Remember, both extraverts and introverts have things to be learned from one another. Extraverts have lessons that they need to learn from us as well; so making ourselves available socially is just as important for them. Much like every facet of community life, we ultimately need to accept each others’ strengths and weaknesses to live in genuine relationships.