I get that this may not be the friendliest title, but I do feel it’s necessary to say. I have spent many years observing the more extroverted and wishing that could be me. I decided that my life would be better if I could just figure out how to stop being quiet.
I have not achieved this.
In my office, I sit with many introverted people who also long for this change to occur, and believe that if they do this or if they do that, the quietness that is part of them will easily move away. It might sound like I am making us out as a little crazy, maybe a bit unbalanced. But we have been told it’s easy to be extroverted…Just go start a conversation, just get out there more.
Here’s one example of how I experienced this:
After having my second child, I went to see a therapist to discuss my lack of meaningful friendships. I was feeling lonely, isolated, and in need of connection. My social needs were met at work so when I went on maternity leave, I didn’t really have any friends that I could call or hang out with.
I knew I needed a friend…and this has always been an issue for me. I am usually fine being on my own with a few connections but these connections never seemed to be sustainable and then I always ended up in this place of starting over again. This was the place I was in after having my second child.
So off I went to see a therapist to help me with this.
With embarrassment and shame, I explained to her what I was struggling with. It has always been hard to admit my struggles with friendships. After I shared this, the therapist asked me what I like to do, so I told her I like to go running.
She then suggested that I join a running group.
I get that it is a logical thing to suggest- look to connect with the people that like to do the things you like to do.
The problem with her advice is that I had already tried this. I joined a running group and the same thing happened that has always happened to me. I felt awkward and overwhelmed. When I feel like this, I struggle to be social.
So I quit the running group and continued to run on my own.
What does this story illustrate?
I left that session feeling like a failure. I did the thing I was supposed to do – show up – but it didn’t work. And I have been told many, many times that it is supposed to work. When we are told this repeatedly, the conclusion must be is that there is something wrong with us.
So what was missing?
What was missing was this: the therapist didn’t understand introversion. And because of that, she couldn’t offer insight into why I struggled with meeting people in a group setting.
At this time in my life, I think I knew I was introverted but didn’t really know what that meant. I didn’t know that it likely will always be tricky for me in larger groups. I didn’t know it was okay to do activities on my own that I enjoyed. I didn’t know that our society is mistaken to put so much emphasis on extroversion.
This is why I think it is important to be clear on the fact that introverts will not become extroverts
To put it really simply, we are wired differently. In the book, The Introvert Advantage: how to thrive in an extroverted world, Marti Olsen Laney Psy.D. offers great information on how we are different, even our brain works differently.
Chapter three of her book does a great job of explaining why we can’t easily join in group conversations, and it has to do with the speed in which our brain processes information and then the speed in which it takes to retrieve information. And as you can imagine, this speed is not fast!
In the book, the Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron Ph.D. speaks to why as a human race we need different varieties of people. She states that we need the more extroverted who are willing to take risks and we need the more introverted/highly sensitive who are more cautious and think before acting.
And my last point on this; as introverts, we socialize in different ways.
And that is okay. You are the way you are because the world needs the gifts you have to offer. I know that sounds cliche but it really is true.
So if it feels okay, let yourself know you have worth just the way you are, the world needs the thinkers, the reflectors, the ones who watch out for the herd. We need you just the way you are.
Tracy, a fellow introvert and therapist, helps introverted people manage anxiety, find success in the workplace, and build better relationships.