“Introvert” tends to bring up an image of a shy person in a corner, or an insecure person at home alone. But over the years I have learned that introversion isn’t about shyness or insecurity, it’s about where and how you derive your energy.
Extroverts tend to get their energy from outside stimulation, and introverts tend to find it from within.
I have an introverted nature, but I still love loud music in the car, dancing with my friends, social events, and presenting to huge groups of people. Extroversion is a big part of my world. It’s not foreign to me, nor do I always consider it difficult, it’s just not where I want to be all the time.
The reason I can participate in extroverted activities is because I have learned to balance it with my introverted needs.
I crave quiet and peace. My best ideas pop up when I’m in silence. I am easily stimulated by environments, and easily stimulated by other people’s feelings and energy. I’m sensitive. I don’t enjoy partner work when I’m doing yoga. Closing my eyes and breathing is fun. Down time with nothing to do is one of my favorite activities.
Instead of considering myself flawed (can you believe that introversion was almost considered a diagnosable disorder just a few years ago?), I have come to appreciate what makes me tick, what feels good, and what I need to be a content and productive person.
Myth #1: Introverts don’t like people
I don’t just like people, I love people. I love people so much that I want to give people my all; I want to be fully present and listen. I choose to be with people when I feel able to offer them something, when I feel grounded and ready. At the same time I make a point to minimize time with difficult or toxic people.
I can handle the occasional negative interaction or challenge, but I feel the effects later.For many years I tried to hold up people in constant chaos, but it made me sick, emotionally and physically, so I recognized my choices and made some shifts.
Sometimes I don’t like answering the door for the pizza guy and sometimes I choose to not answer the phone, even if it’s someone I know well. These are things my husband struggles to understand, but here’s the deal:
In that moment I can’t be sincere and connected; it’s not about insecurity, it’s about having the energy to authentically engage another human being.This may sound weird to some, but when you naturally “hold space” for people (meaning be present, listen intently, and really connect) it takes energy.
Sometimes I have the energy to give, and sometimes I don’t.
When I don’t I know I need to be alone, or at least quietly side by side with my nearest and dearest.This is my reenergizing, my time away, my time to myself.
Myth #2: Introverts don’t go out and have fun
I love fun. No, I really love fun. But I absolutely pick and choose where I have fun and for how long.
I love spending time with friends and loved ones, or meeting people who make me laugh or inspire me. But I’m not really interested in small talk; it’s always been somewhat painful.
I can do it, and I used to pride myself on it, but it can be so guarded and surface-y. If we are going to talk, let’s be real, let’s go deep. Let’s talk about what’s really happening, what we are really feeling. Everything else feels insincere; it drains my energy rather than adds to it.
I can do parties for awhile, socialize with new people and have new experiences, but I don’t need to go all night. I can feel when it’s time to call it a night; sometimes it’s early, sometimes it’s late, but it’s never based on the clock.
In college I would use alcohol to keep the party going, but as I’ve grown older I’ve learned to heed that inner feeling, the part of me that knows it’s time to call it a day and reboot.
In my 20’s this felt like a bummer, but now all I feel is gratitude.
Myth #3: Introverts wish they were extroverts
My husband is more of an extrovert. He shakes hands and talks on the phone for a living, he loves new situations, he likes full calendars and staying out late.
But he also struggles to be alone, quiet time is uncomfortable for him.
I appreciate and honor his experience, and I even depend on his skills (he will always answer the door for the pizza guy), but I don’t want to be like him.
I love my quiet, I love my time away. I love to sit and stare out the window, I love to write, I love full days by myself.
My husband gets more energy from the outside world and I get mine from within. Through honest conversation we’ve learned to understand each other and respect each other’s needs, but we touch base about it constantly, it’s always a work in progress.
One of my greatest challenges has been balancing motherhood with my need for solitude. It’s my desire to be fully present for my kids, but I’m not good for them when I’m depleted.
The early years were difficult; I needed help carving out 15 minutes here, an hour there, so I could reenergize and be attentive to my babies who constantly needed me.
But now that my kids are a little older they understand me, I’ve been very clear with them about who I am and what I need.
They don’t knock on the door during my meditation, and they don’t wonder what I’m doing when I take a walk by myself. And this respect is reciprocated; I do my best to hear their needs and recognize their ways of refueling.
We all have our own place on the extroverted/introverted continuum, there are definitely some introverted tendencies that I cannot relate to, and some extroverted tendencies that come naturally.
It’s not so much about the label as it is a reminder to accept your nature. Look beyond the words and stereotypes and appreciate and honor your way of being.
Leave the party, let the phone go to voicemail, or maybe do the complete opposite. Just be conscious of what drives you. Make sure it’s your own needs rather than the expectations of others.
Cathy Cassani Adams, LCSW, CPC, is the author of The Self-Aware Parent, the host of Zen Parenting Radio, a columnist for Chicago Parent Magazine, and a blogger for Chicago Now. She’s a self-awareness teacher and yoga instructor in her community, and she teaches in the Sociology Department at Dominican University.