A while ago I plastered my Facebook page with "Proud to Be an Introvert" type posts. It was just after I discovered, with the help of some wonderful mentors, what it really meant to be introverted. And as I began to understand what it really meant to be introverted it felt like I had just been released from prison. Finally I realized all the things about myself I had been trying to overcome for years were totally normal and ok.
I was always confused that so many people I knew loved having a packed weekend of plans, being out at parties as much as possible, and meeting new people by the truckload. Since that always seemed to be the socially acceptable thing to do, I would try to push myself to socialize more. It always left me feeling drained and irritable. I could never understand it. After a few hours at a party where everyone seemed to be feeding off the energy, my brain would feel blank and tired. I would feel awkward and dissociated. I would crave being home just watching TV, listening to music, or reading to relax.
I was also confused because I'm not a shy person. In fact, and many of you know this, get me talking about something I love and you can't shut me up. I like meeting people. I like finding out about them and who they are. But to feel manageable it has to be a small interaction. Meeting people at parties or large gatherings feels very challenging to me. I can do it and, and usually I like to do it, but it does take a lot of energy. Introverts need to give energy to sustain interaction while extroverts receive energy from interaction. What appears to be an introvert's shyness is actually a conservation of energy and an instinctive need to be alone to recharge that energy. Sometimes this is interpreted as being aloof, or snobby, but it's actually just a needed aspect of self-care.
Introversion and extroversion are primarily about energy exchange. Introverts need to go inside to replenish their energy while extroverts need to go outside to replenish their energy. As much as intense socializing is draining to me, my extroverted friends thrive on it. As much as I love a long walk by myself, it could feel draining and lifeless to my extroverted friends.
And introverts also live in a very rich inner world. My mind is always in motion, often composing or replaying music, or pondering a question, or imagining something I want to do. It's a very active inner landscape and there's not often the need for a lot of external stimulation. The inner world of the introvert is a beautiful and very powerful space that is intensely satisfying.
My passion about this subject stems from my own experiences through my life. The discovery that there was nothing wrong with introversion was incredibly liberating. If you are an introvert I have some advice below. If you know an introvert, are married to one, dating one, have a friend who's one, or have introverted children read the advice too it will help you to understand them in a much more powerful way. We all need each other, extroverts and introverts alike. We offer each other balance, perspective, and the potential for a great deal of fun!
Advice for my fellow introverts:
1. Love your extroverted friends! I admit I got a little judgey about extroverts for a while. "Calm the eff down," I would think. "Can't you just sit here and watch Star Trek and ogle Patrick Stewart with me? Do we absolutely have to keep talking?" But then I realized that extroverts need the opposite of what I need. What feels replenishing for me feels draining to my extroverted friends and vice versa. Plus, my extroverted friends help me get out of my box once in a while and I really enjoy that. Introverts need that little push sometimes to get out of our own heads and routines. We just need to be mindful of our energy output.
2. Find a balance of social time that works for you. I realized that if I have big plans on a Friday night, I need Saturday night to just chill. If I don't, I turn into a mix between Godzilla and that big fire devil dude with the whip from The Lord of The Rings. Replenishing internal time is absolutely essential. Build it into your schedule and life.
3. Don't let the external world guilt you into doing things you don't want to do. It's ok to say no to parties, it's ok to watch a whole season of Downton Abbey in one night (that may have happened once or twice in my house), it's ok to sit home with a book and a glass of wine (that may happen a lot in my house as well). In short, it's ok to define for yourself what feels best for you. Don't let people who don't understand you tell you you're "hiding" or "need to get out of your shell." What helps me is to remember that this is my life, and I choose to live it in a way that feels healing, balanced, and fulfilling for me. That means always setting appropriate boundaries and being true to my own needs.
4. Learn to relax your body with deep breathing, yoga, and meditation. In settings that feel overwhelming, keep your attention on your breath. Breathe deeply into the belly and breath out through your mouth. This will help you to keep your nervous system more calm and help you keep perspective.
5. Spend some time in nature as often as possible and go for walks. Being in the woods, or by the ocean, or in the mountains is powerfully therapeutic for the introverted brain when it is overstimulated.
6. Listen to music, paint, draw, or write. Creative outlets are also very helpful for draining intense internal overstimulation.
7. Take care of yourself by getting enough rest, nap when you can, eat well, and give yourself time to just do nothing.
8. Realize it's ok to intensely, viscerally, dislike icebreaker games. To me, icebreakers are like the seventh ring of hell. I want to crawl under the floorboards with my iPad and watch Netflix with my earphones in. It's also ok to dislike forced networking events, crowded stadiums, crowds of any type, loud bars, playing team sports, and traveling on a tour bus for days on end with lots and lots and lots of people. If you get what I just said, you're a sure fire introvert.