The Care and Keeping of Your Introverted Friend

Confession: I’m an introvert.

Myers and Briggs have tested me multiple times, and each time, they’ve agreed: INFJ. I’m pretty blatant about the NFJ part; I make decisions based on zero tangible evidence, and I stick by those decisions rigidly.

The introvert label, though, has been a stumbling block for nearly everyone I’ve come across. “You?! An introvert?” is usually followed by a lot of laughter and vehement disagreement.

Apparently my habit of socializing in a relatively enthusiastic and carelessly awkward manner casts a deceptive veneer over my personality. And if introversion were indicative of being a social recluse with people-phobic tendencies, I wouldn’t necessarily fit the bill.

But introversion, per the Myers-Briggs definition, is simply a measure of how a person gathers energy, not a measure of social skills. I enjoy people. I love interacting in groups, and can even be the life of a party, should it be in need of some revival. And after about three hours of such behavior, I want to punch the party in the throat.

Because what I lack in social stamina I make up for in self-control, I can usually master my violent urges and retire to a corner, where I’ll stare quietly at walls, interact in monosyllables when approached, and take a nap if possible. It’s not that I’m intending to be rude or have suddenly misplaced my social skills. It’s just that I’ve given all the energy I have to the party and until I’m left alone for some good ol’ peace and quiet, I can’t regenerate.

I’m pretty sure that it was at that juncture, the severalth hour of a social gathering, that the giant misunderstanding between introverts and extroverts was first birthed, and it’s here that it’s been perpetuated world-wide.

See, at about the time introverts are ready to peace out, extroverts are finally ready to par-TAY, as they’ve spent the past few hours gathering up all the energy leaking out of the introverts. The introverts give their best while the extroverts are just warming up, and the extroverts hit their peak of sociability just as the introverts are at the peak of their willingness to break any law and 3 or 4 personal ethical standards in exchange for some alone time. So as the introverts shrivel into caricatures of their former selves and retire to corners, restrooms, and the top of the fridge to gather enough energy to leave, the extroverts begin buzzing about like psychotic wind-up toys, feeding off of and into a collective unseen pool of frenetic people-generated energy.

You can see why this might create some problems.

Thus the misunderstandings:

  • Introverts think extroverts are people who live on the verge of manic mental collapse.
  • Extroverts think introverts are rude.
  • Introverts think extroverts are imbeciles because of their tendency to talk until they find the point of what they’re saying. . .and then talk some more.
  • Extroverts think introverts are imbeciles because of their tendency to not talk until they have a point. . .and then to still refrain from talking.

Except in extreme cases or the last three hours of any social gathering, these stereotypes tend to be based on trace amounts of truth, and since extroverts have enough people loudly and vocally defending them, I figured it was time to take up the defense of my own personality type and offer a little education to those of you with extroverted tendencies who want to understand and care for your introverted friends well.

So without further ado, I offer you:

L-Wie’s Guide to the Care and Keeping of Introverts

1. Allow them to have space.

One afternoon a few months ago, Callie (ex-roommate and Extrovert Extraordinaire) texted me a question from her room, ending with “. . .yes, I’m texting you from my room, but I know you need your introvert time!”

Pretty much all of my friends have learned to go out of their way to protect my introversion needs. Part of this is because my friends are thoughtful that way, and part of it is because when I’ve burned out on people I become a Frankensteinian version of myself in hopes of making them leave me alone already. But whether out of compassion or cowardice, my friends are careful to ensure that I’m getting time alone.

It’s one of my favorite things about them, actually. I love that they do an introversion check-in before inviting me places so I won’t feel pressured. I love that they understand when I lock myself in my room after a long day of clients. I love that they can appreciate that I need space, even if they don’t, and that they’re willing to lay aside their people-centric needs to allow me to replenish. Extroverts, I know this will be hard to understand, but one of your introverted friend’s pet love languages might consist of leaving them alone. I know it’s mind-boggling, but just trust me here, ok?

2. Assume they have something to say, and give them space to say it.

Extroverts tend process verbally, and discover their point after they’ve made it (assuming they do, in fact, have a point). Introverts tend to process silently, and only make a point after they’re completely certain of the message they are trying to convey. As a result, extroverts tend to bulldoze over introverted processing, assuming that the introverts have nothing to contribute and driving the poor introvert insane.

I’ve  actually caught myself doing this to other introverts at times. When I finally learned to give them the floor and wait until they clearly indicate that they are done speaking or have nothing to contribute, I discovered that far from being opinionless, these friends of mine had well-articulated, thought-provoking perspectives and broadened my mental horizons in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

So feel free to employ this introvert-care technique out of purely selfish motives, extroverts–ask an introvert to speak and watch your life be enriched.

3. Don’t take their introversion personally.

This is related to point one; as you allow your introverted friends to have space, know that they aren’t needing space from you personally, but from humanity as a whole.

It’s been a pattern of my life that no matter where I’m living, I spend 75 percent or more of my time at home in my room, reading, writing, thinking, and generally rejuvenating. I’ve had 27 roommates (another story for another time), and loved them all, but after a long day interacting with people, I crave alone time. Thankfully, most of my roommates have understood that, and are able to give me space without assuming that my hermit-inspired tendencies are in any way reflective of my feelings toward them.

I know introverts can sometimes hurt extroverted feelings; since you extroverts enjoy people so much, you may take an introvert’s withdrawal as a sign of personal rejection. This is not the case; instead of assuming the introvert hates you, take the introvert’s withdrawal as a sign that they’re just trying to gain energy so that they can be really present and engaged with you when you do next cross paths. (Remember, introverts tend to be somewhat selective regarding how they spend their social energy, so if they’re choosing to spend time with you at all, you can rest secure in the fact that they like you.)

4. Be persistent in pursuing them.

Introverts sometimes have a tendency to assume that they don’t need people. This is not true. Though it may take them weeks with minimal or zero human interaction before they have even a vague sense that maybe something is missing in their lives, even the hermitiest introvert needs some people time. So, even though it may be tedious, keep inviting them to do things with you. They may say ‘no’ a lot–some of those ‘no’s will be legitimate in the “I will probably do some serious damage to property or person if I’m around humans right now” sense, but some of them may be more out of habit than anything else. If it’s been awhile since they’ve been out with you, don’t be scared to gently challenge them on it or offer to do something more socially manageable with them, such as a one-on-one coffee date or something in a super small group. Introverts do like people; it’s just that sometimes we forget that and need you to remind us.

I had a fifth point at one time in my life, but I can’t recall it. This is a little irksome, as the feng shui of this post feels way off, but I’ve been such an inconsistent blogger for the past several months that I just want to get this out there. I promise I’ll add the fifth point if I’m able to remember it, but in the meantime just shut your eyes, pull an Anne Shirley, and imagine that there is a fifth point. And that it’s awesome.

(Also, I promised Callie when I was talking to her about this blog that I would do a follow-up regarding how introverts can love their extroverted friends well, so get excited, extroverts. Your day is coming.)

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17 thoughts on “The Care and Keeping of Your Introverted Friend

  1. Well AMEN. I’ve only recently started reading about the introvert/extrovert distinction, and it’s made life make SO much more sense in hindsight.

    1. Doesn’t it?! I remember the relief I felt when I realized I could be an introvert and still like people. For awhile I fought the label because I thought it was merely a synonym for “jerk.”

  2. I only read it about 8 or 9 times while it was on my computer, then about 4 or 5 times after you posted it. Introverts are GENIUSES… errr… maybe that’s just you. 🙂

  3. If you’ve never heard this lecture before, I’d recommend a listen or two. She’s funny, and I can certainly imagine you pulling such a bookish stunt if you’d gone to Turkish summer camp.

    1. Watched it. Loved it. And I am totally that kid who overpacks books wherever she goes. To this day. I’m still trying to figure out how to build a bookshelf into the trunk of my car.

  4. Wow, this is probably one of the better descriptions I’ve ever read about Introverts and it is ME to a T. Thank you!! Your party scenario is spot on. After I’ve relinquished all my energy to the Extroverts, I quietly scan an exit. I’m really good about slipping out and heading home about an hour before anyone even notices. I am INTJ. 🙂

    1. Thanks Marianne! I’m so glad you liked it; and I can totally relate to the leaving without people noticing. It actually became a bit of a problem in college when I unwittingly offended some friends by never saying goodbye when I left their parties. I’m trying to do a better job of monitoring my energy so I have enough at the end of an evening to go through the goodbye gauntlet, but it doesn’t always work out. 🙂

  5. One of my all-time favorite explanations of an introvert was that, as a trainer in the corporate world, she could stand and teach and socialize for hours because that’s what she was paid to do. When she would be safe at home, finally, however, she would feel as though she’d “been attacked and licked all over by a hyperactive puppy”. I’m an MBTI nerd and have been for years. Wonderful article!!!

    1. Ruth, you are very welcome! The phrase “holing up now,” literally made me sigh with contentment. The very idea takes me to my happy place, apparently. 🙂

  6. I love this. I have Aspergers, which makes it much harder for me to step outside of my introverted self at times. People don’t understand this need to get away from people and just be alone. It’s hard to explain, but you’ve put it quite nicely.

    1. I’m so glad I could help put it into words a little for you! It’s definitely hard to explain sometimes without offending people, and I don’t always do it well.

      1. I have that problem, but it usually only happens when I open my mouth. My husband encourages my blog because he knows I’m much more articulate in writing lol

  7. My introverted self does not like to post publically, but I wanted to affirm your words. And Callie is right, you are a genious! Thank you for using your gift and joy with the written word to say what so many of us are not able to say.

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