An Open Letter to Extroverts: What the Introverts in Your Life Want You to Know

I’m not an extrovert, but I play one in real life.

Most people would probably be shocked to discover than I am a true introvert – that  social situations and crowds exhaust me and I seek balance by being alone. After all, I have chosen to be a teacher. I am outspoken in meetings and not shy to speak in front of a group. I have intentionally cultivated a large group of friends and I enjoy spending time with them and having them in my space. I have developed countless online relationships and enjoy time with my online family. I can be loud. I rarely slow down. And I rocked a shirt that said, “Sweet Talker in Action” as a kid because I never shut up.

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But behind all of that is a woman who feels most at home in her office, a “safe” space of solitude. A woman who would be more comfortable in solitary confinement than in a cell with multiple roommates (not that I ever intend to try out either!). I need my alone time in order to be the public me. In a way, I put on an act every day. It’s still me, but it’s the “on” me. It’s the real me with a booster rocket of extroversion. And if I play the role too long, the tank runs dry.

 

I was looking for a concise article that would explain characteristics of introverts for my very extroverted husband after feeling overwhelmed by the demands of the beginning of the school year.

I drew a blank.

So I decided to write it instead.

Not all of these characteristics will apply to every introvert. After all, that is simply one label and we are all represented by more than a single word. But I think many introverts will recognize themselves here and I hope that extroverts will find some compassion and understanding for their more reserved brethren.

 

Dear Extroverts,

I envy you sometimes. The way you seem at ease in a crowd. How you seem to know how to initiate and carry on a conversation with no apparent effort. When I’m at the periphery of a crowd, I see you in its center, pulling energy from those around you, like some kind of emotional fusion reactor. And I’m jealous as I feel my own energy waning as the event progresses.

But then, when I’m tucked away in a quiet nook or nose-deep in my latest book, I’m at ease with myself and pleased with my nature. You see, it’s not always easy living as an introvert in an extrovert’s world. We must learn to adapt. To play-act. Or run the risk of being overlooked.

There are more of us out here then you may imagine (usually thought to be somewhere between 25-33% of the population). Some, at the extreme, are obvious – they rarely talk, have a few select friends and work at jobs where the interactions are minimal. But the rest of us? We can be found anywhere – in classrooms and boardrooms, in media and marketing and even in your own home. You see, we’re good at blending in. But sometimes we pay a price.

The following characteristics can help you identify and support the introverts in your life:

1) Shyness and Introversion Are Not the Same

I used to be shy. Painfully so. But that’s a learned response and can be changed. Introversion is a character trait found in shy and more outgoing people. You can learn to work with it but it is a fundamental piece of who you are. Many introverts have no problem approaching new people. And then they will retreat to recharge.

2) Introverts Are Not Always Quiet

The stereotypical introvert is quiet. Bookish. Reserved. Yes, that person is probably an introvert but they are not the only ones. Although I prefer to express my ideas in writing, I frequently find I am the leader and spokesperson for groups. I talk fast and often. I gravitate towards heavy metal and intensity in my activities. Only those close to me know about my need for quiet and solitude. Introversion isn’t worn on my sleeve; it’s carried inside.

3) Feeling Drained is No Joke

We live in an extrovert’s world. And many introverts (myself included) put on the role of extrovert as part of our work wardrobe each day. And it can be exhausting. When we don’t have the time to recharge, we feel fragile. Fragmented. Raw. My whole nervous system feels fried and jerky and I feel utterly depleted. We can be irritable and snappy. It can manifest as anxiety, depression or “burn out” but, in reality, it’s just too much time being “on” without an opportunity to replenish.

4) We All Have Our Favorite Ways to Recharge

I recharge through my workouts, reading and yoga. When the need is especially pressing, I try to escape to the woods. Others may gravitate towards music, quiet time alone or knitting. Those activities are not mere hobbies; they are critical for our mental health and well-being. When time or illness encroaches on our preferred activity, we can be prone to panic as we struggle to find balance again. We usually have a safe place, a sanctuary, where we can retreat.

5) We Can Appear Aloof

I can be in a crowded gym without headphones on and still feel alone; I have an impressive ability to shut out all of the noise and activity around me and focus on my own workout. I often don’t notice when someone approaches or speaks to me. At work, I frequently forget to preface a question with small talk platitudes. It’s not that I don’t care about the person; I’m just focused on the task. In meetings, I often sit alone intentionally. Sometimes even on the floor. Introverts may appear to be anti-social at times. We’re not. We do care. It just takes energy that we may not have in the moment.

6) We Have the Deep Conversations

Conversation for us takes energy. And we don’t waste it. We may not be the masters of cocktail chatter, but we will quickly identify issues and dig into a deeper conversation. Our time spent observing others often gives us insight. I remember when I was dating, many of the guys expressed surprise that we ended up having such involved conversations on the first date. I wasn’t surprised.

7) We Don’t Like the Telephone

Phone conversations often require more energy for me than face-to-face conversations. I can’t rely on body language and I have to actively work to connect when I’m physically alone. I have to reach deeper to summon the extrovert guise and be more cognizant throughout. It’s tiring. Whenever possible, I prefer to communicate in writing, where I have the solitude and space to think without using up energy on the social interaction.

8) We Can Struggle With Names and Faces

You know those paintings where the defined faces in the foreground turn into a blur as the subjects move further back in the composition? Well, that’s pretty much how I see the world. There are the defined faces of everyone I know and the others blur. Not because I don’t care, but because I become overwhelmed. I struggle with remembering faces and names of people as they move from the undefined “stranger” into acquaintance.

9) Some People Require More Energy Than Others

I have a few people that I can be around with very little energy required. Although it’s not my preference, I can see them even when I’m depleted. Others need a little more and I try to see them when I have at least a little something left. And then some people need a full tank. Please don’t take it personally when I decline an invitation or retreat to the periphery. I’m just plugging in.

10) We Can Be Sensitive to Intrusions

I don’t mind when my work is interrupted, but I can be quite irritated when my solitude is broken. When I retreat, I find I become hypersensitive to noises and lights that come from outside my space. It’s as though the shield is down and I am more vulnerable and sensitive to the outside world. While at other times, I can easily enjoy the same sounds and activities. In other words, introverts want to go to the party rather than have the party come to us.

11) We Are Prone to Isolation

The solitude that introverts seek can become unbalanced during times of stress or trauma as we can easily put ourselves in quarantine. I was very aware of this trait during my divorce when I chose to live with a friend instead of living alone. Even though the constant noise of a busy family was stressful sometimes, being alone would have led to complete isolation. Even though we are drained by social contact, we still need it.

12) We Are Thinkers

For every sentence an introvert speaks, they have thought a full page (or more!). We are comfortable in our own minds and spend quite a bit of time thinking, analyzing and problem solving before we ever share our conclusions. This trait can also lead to depression when the introvert ruminates without any outside correction or perspective.

13) We Can Thrive in Intimate Relationships

Introverts need time alone. They need safe spaces. And when those needs are met, they can make great partners and can connect on a deep and intimate level. One of the most critical undertakings in a relationship between an extrovert and an introvert is the negotiation for solitary time and the understanding that it is not a reflection on the extrovert or the partnership.

14) We Plan Our Downtime

I love my social time with my friends. But not every day. I carefully plan quiet interludes between more communal events – a resupply run between outings. I can be thrown by even small changes in plans when they intrude upon the expected downtime. Even something as minute as a friend in the car when I planned to do the drive solo can agitate me.

15) We Provide Balance in a Noisy World

Because of our nature, we can be overlooked. Minimized. Perceived as lacking in social skills or confidence. But really we provide a welcome counterpoint to the always-on chatter of the extrovert majority. So give the introverts in your life a hug and let them know they’re appreciated as they are. But you may want to ask permission first:)

Thanks!

Lisa the Introvert

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If you want more information on introversion, I highly recommend the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

 

 

 

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30 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Extroverts: What the Introverts in Your Life Want You to Know

  1. For goodness’ sake, you have absolutely NAILED it! Worst nightmare: being in a mall at Christmas time. One additional thought — people who have experienced trauma can isolate or “become invisible” for self-protective reasons. A real truth — introverts can be loud and adventuresome and bawdy and boisterous when their energy level is high. I wonder if you have any thoughts on the Myer’s-Briggs types? I am an INFJ, 1% of the population.

    1. Good point about the trauma.

      Ahhh, good ol Myers Briggs:) My mom used to assess my HS dates with it (including the now infamous ex). My memory is that I’m ISTJ. Something interesting – after the divorce, my results on Myers Briggs-based assessments (True Colors, etc.) changed whereas before they were stable.

      Mall at Christmas? Worst. Thing. Ever.

    2. I’m INFJ also – and this entire article rang true. I’m married to an extrovert and his inability to understand this is difficult. I sent him a copy of the article. 🙂

    3. I’m late to the party, but hey– I’m an INFP. The a absolute oddball. I’m currently married to an ENFJ. I think my brain has blown up. Yes– extroverts are so important for me to learn from… But, PLEASE do not make phone calls and hand them off to me! my favorite line is the last in your post… You made my day!! Thank you.

  2. I found myself nodding my head yes throughout this whole article. My mother has never understood me, she has to have people around her all the time but as much as I can entertain a houseful of people and be the life of the party I can spend days on end all by myself, putzing in the garden, painting, taking long walks with my dog. I hate talking on the phone and if I have something important to share I write it.
    I used to be really shy also but have learned to overcome that but still need my alone time. Well, everything you said I agree with totally.
    DogDharma I am a INFJ also. When I found out we are only 1% of the population a lot of things made sense.

  3. Reblogged this on Special 2 Me and commented:
    This post so perfectly sums me up. I want to bronze it and put it on my dining room wall with the rest of my pictures. I am so often misunderstood by those who don’t know me. I really vibe with this post. Thank you, Lessons From the End of a Marriage, for writing this. I could have written this. It sums me up perfectly.

  4. I had to re-blog this.This post so perfectly sums me up. I want to bronze it and put it on my dining room wall with the rest of my pictures. I am so often misunderstood by those who don’t know me. I really vibe with this post. Thank you for writing this. I could have written this. It sums me up perfectly.

  5. Absolutely dead on! As is Quiet. Making the distinction between shyness and introversion was hugely liberating for me. I’m a raging introvert, and my extremely extroverted husband and best friend tried for years to “cure” me. Finally, they gave up and left me for each other. What a surprising relief that turned out to be.

  6. Wow… Interesting observation — myself, Carrie Reimer, and Special Ed are all INFJ. We are 1% of the population, and 3 of us are reading and commenting on stilllearning2b’s blog. I wonder what that means / implies? 🙂

  7. Pardon for overloading with comments… I spend a lot of time on Facebook. Because I have a vision impairment, my social opportunities are a bit more limited than I’d like, even for an introvert, so it’s kind of a necessity. Lately, however, I’ve experienced the “introvert overload,” even on Facebook! Flooded with people sharing news stories, commenting on current events, promoting causes, expecting “Likes,” or liking things I’ve posted, and then the pressure to respond or be thought rude or unsociable.

    There was just so much in this piece that resonated with me. *Hate* the telephone and cringe when it rings. Don’t have a clue how to do “chit chat.”

  8. Hey Lisa , I just wanted to tell someone this , because I feel so down right now …I’m in relationship with an extrovert and it’s so hard …
    I dream my whole life of living alone and that’s not good thing to tell him , but I did ….because I fell into depression of constant touches , hugs , his neediness , his craving for intimacy so often , coming to my place , giving me presents all the time (expensive ones) , telling me to come over so often …and it’s so hard because I’m very good person and I wouldn’t ever do something to hurt him but it’s just I can’t explain him good enough that this is who I am , and not who I have chosen to be ….. He want’s to live with me one day and have kids but my introverted mind just can’t do that , and I cry every day because he don’t understand , and I cry because I feel so exhausted every day with just being around people , not even speak ….I need to be alone , I really need it , I can get all work done , I can do everything in the world I wish to do and I couldn’t do that if I live with him , because that constant feel of presence would drive me crazy and I really don’t want to go to psychiatrist again and take pills and everything ….just because someone can’t accept who and what am I ….
    I was adjusting to everyone my whole life , lived with people and it drove me to the point I fell into great depression that lasted for 13 years and almost did something to myself , tried but failed , 13 years of pills and everything ….and I can’t let that happen again ….but you know …he has his own wish and I would be glad to be part of it and live with him but I just can’t risk my health and life …
    I feel so bad for month now …. and he’s so judging …like it’s my fault for not being able to do that ..

    1. Sounds like a really rough position to be in. It seems like you know your needs for solitude and that it is critical for your well-being. Honor that. Moving in won’t help either one of you if it destroys you.

    1. I can empathize with how that would feel. It’s so difficult not to internalize rejection even when it has nothing to do with you. And, as an extrovert, it would be even harder to have your spouse not want as much together time.

  9. Insightful article about being a hidden introvert. I’ve always wondered if I was one. I’m very vocal but find that I need time to recharge. Like you, extrovert is a costume I’ve learned to wear each day. And it can be exhausting. Thanks for the insights!

  10. This is incredibly insightful and well written. I had always suspected I was mildly autistic (and my parents joked about it), but it is just a case of not having a big social interactions battery. I also never understood why talking on the phone felt like such an ordeal, since I am removed from the person speaking, but now I understand (and friends I’ve shared this with agree). It’s not about being shy; I’ve spoken at conferences in front of hundreds of people without a problem. Thank you for sharing.

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