The care and feeding of your introvert

02Mar14

“Impossible!”
“No way!”
“You’re full of it!”

That’s how acquaintances usually respond when I tell them I’m an introvert.

After all, I have no qualms about talking to random strangers. I do alright with public speaking. And I’m blessed to have many wonderful, cherished friends.

But the truth is that although I may greatly enjoy all these things, they still take tremendous energy and effort. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since a dear friend shared Dr. Carmella’s curious infographic:

Introvert part 1

At first glance I resented it, because it makes introverts sound a little freakish (I don’t live in a hamster ball, nor must I be treated like a terrified wild animal). But I did like the explanation that “[introverts] naturally find most interaction exhausting.”

I can’t tell you how terrible I’ve felt over the years — or how many friendships I’ve given up — because people just don’t get this.

I’ve been introverted my whole life. Here I am, at my own birthday party, picking up trash in the background while my guests enjoy the clown show:

Not a party girl BLOG

The casual observer might see this photo and think, “What a profoundly maladjusted child!” or maybe, “She must not like her friends,” or “She hates clowns.” The truth, however, is closer to “She’s a bit overstimulated and needs a minute to recharge.”

Over the years, people have labeled me and mocked me because of my inherent introversion — and some have even tried to “reform” me.

Even within my own family, I haven’t always felt understood. A few years ago we threw my mom a surprise birthday party, which involved lots of happy emotion and Mexican music and making small talk with cheerful-if-slightly-lit strangers.

It was a wonderful party — but I felt a bit spent the next day, so I slipped away from the hubbub of my sisters’ conversation for a few quiet minutes in the garage. “Why did she go away?” I heard my then-7-year-old nephew ask. “Ah, just ignore her,” said one of my sisters. “She’s weird.”

And the thing is that, from a purely sociological standpoint, I am weird: Most people love going to concerts, dining in loud restaurants, spending an evening at a party, or talking for hours on end with their friends.

I also enjoy these activities … but I sometimes find them overwhelming or even draining. In other words, I can function in these environments, but they’re not what I prefer.

Introvert vs extrovert

“So,” you may be wondering, “how the hell am I supposed to interact with one of you introvert types?”

Well, I can’t claim to be a spokesperson for introverts (because that would be an oxymoron, and also unfair). But here’s what works for me:

Give me some space. Please understand that I like you — I really, really like you — but I don’t need to be in touch every day.

Give me some space, part 2. Please understand that I enjoy talking with you … but that it takes energy, so I prefer to keep visits short.

Don’t take my occasional silence personally. Please understand that I’m not ignoring you; I’m probably just recovering from a long week at work.

Don’t force me to interact. Please don’t try to “draw me out of my shell” by coercing me into a social event or activity. (And for the love of all that is holy, please don’t throw a party in my honor!)

Introvert part 2

Oh, and one more thing: I asked my husband what advice he would give someone who is just getting to know an introvert, and I think he summed it up beautifully.

No sudden moves.”

I guess maybe there is a shade of that terrified wild animal in me, after all. *Grin.*



40 Responses to “The care and feeding of your introvert”

  1. Totally get this, H. I feel the same way. Very protective of my energy and the need to recharge by myself – Chris

    • 2 hmunro

      … and yet you’re such a giving person that you’ve also raised a wonderful son — and saved a lot of sweet dogs. Honored to know you, fellow introvert. 🙂

  2. Exactly. People thought me an extrovert, especially in my career. I said, “no,” I am an introvert: I get my energy from ideas while extroverts get their energy from people who exhaust me. What people saw as extroversion in me was, I said, “learned social skills.” My hobbies: hiking, photography, reading, writing, dogs–often preferable alone!

    That said, “I need people” is a maxim of life for all of us. We introverts just need fewer of them in smaller doses.

    Great piece.

    • 4 hmunro

      Add me to the list of people who pegged you as an extrovert, Tom — especially at work, where you always seemed so much larger than life to me! I feel privileged that I’ve gotten to know your more reflective side through friendship (and photography and writing). I guess it goes to show that there is much more depth and complexity to people than often meets the eye.

      Anyway, thanks very much for your kind words — and especially for reblogging this piece. I am honored.

  3. Reblogged this on Tom's Thoughts: A voice for the human spirit in the age of the smart machines and commented:
    An excellent and accurate piece by my friend H Munro.

  4. Beautiful. Reminds me of a poster I saw somewhere on teh Interwebz that said: Introverts of the world unite! Separately. In your own homes.

    I’m introverted, too, but I was raised in a family of introverts. So it wasn’t until school that I first experienced any challenges of being introverted.

    • 7 hmunro

      I *love* the message of the poster, Jim! How marvelous! And I hope you didn’t face any truly big challenges when we went off to school. You strike me as a tremendously adaptable and emotionally intelligent fellow, so hopefully it wasn’t too tough to go from the protective cocoon of an introverted family into the Big Bright Loud Extroverted World. Well, cheers to you!

  5. I recognize a lot of what you’re telling us in your story. Strangely enough, I only learned I’m an introvert quite recently, when I realised that ‘introvert’ doesn’t necessarily mean that you avoid all contact with the outside world. I’m quite social and I like to go out, but afterwards, I need a lot of time for myself to recover. Life got much easier once I learned how to plan that time for myself in addition to social activities! 🙂

    • 9 hmunro

      Thank you for your kind comment, Angéline! Like you, I genuinely enjoy contact with the outside world — but I’ve also discovered that I need a bit of time to recover afterward. My struggle is that sometimes my friends don’t understand that and feel rejected when I retreat for a day or three. Have you had the same reaction from your loved ones? And if so, how have you approached it?

      • I think most of my friends are used to me acting a little weird sometimes. I paint a lot, so they know I need to be able to disappear for a short period of time to focus or think. I also simply explained that sometimes I really need to be alone for a while and, more importantly, this doesn’t mean that I won’t be there if they really need me. I must say, they have been very patient with me and I’m thankful for that!

        • 11 hmunro

          I like your explanation to your friends that you’ll be there *if they really need you,* Angéline! It hadn’t occurred to me to make that distinction, but I think it may help friends feel less rejected or abandoned. Thank you for the helpful tips … I admire your approach.

  6. OMG–this is so true and well stated. From one introvert to another!
    Thanks.

    • 13 hmunro

      I KNEW IT!! 😀 Welcome to the Introvert Club, Patti! Ha ha.

  7. i totally understand this and am introverted myself. i only truly figured this out during this past year, after reading, ‘quiet.’ it explains so much – great post ) beth

    • 15 hmunro

      You’re the third person to recommend “Quiet,” Beth — sounds like an important addition to my library, for those days when I’m feeling overwhelmed/outnumbered. Thanks for the suggestion, and especially for stopping by!

  8. Like you, I’m often pegged as an extrovert. I like to interact with people but eventually, my introverted self craves the down time. Thanks for sharing.

    • 17 hmunro

      And thank YOU for taking the time to read and comment, Holli! It’s so wonderful and so reassuring to see that there are many of “us” out there. Cheers to you!

  9. I’m really glad you posted this. Western culture is based on extroverts, so introverts naturally seem ‘other’. It’s interesting that so many of us grew up assuming we were extroverts and realised only belatedly that this wasn’t the case. I was forty before I had the light-bulb moment! What a relief, to understand why I was always exhausted after parties, meetings and gatherings. Understanding this and explaining it has helped my relationship with my husband, too. He is a quiet extrovert: I am a confident and chatty (in short doses!) introvert, so it has taken a long time for us to recognise the fundamental difference in how we get and spend our energy.

    OK, I’m off to a room by myself now to draw before I go to bed. 🙂

    • 19 hmunro

      You’ve said it beautifully, DB: “What a relief” it’s been to finally understand why I respond to social contact by becoming cranky, withdrawn, or generally exhausted. I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to hear that other people whom I admire and respect also tend toward introversion! Thank you *so* much for providing the fodder for this post, and especially for your thoughtful comment. It will be good therapy to come back and re-read this thread next time I’m feeling a bit out of sorts about being an “other.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go back into my hamster ball. 😀

  10. Introverts are people who spend time alone so they don’t feel lonely. How do I know that? Please don’t ask.

    • 21 hmunro

      Beautifully said, Xpat — and no need to ask; I understand only too well.
      So good to hear from you! I’ve missed your voice on WordPress. How are things Down Under?

      • At the moment, we’re gearing up for another trip to KC in May, for graduation (hopefully). In the meantime, I have been working on a novel. I wrote the first draft 3 years ago and put it down, hoping that it would age like wine. Unfortunately, it seems to have aged more like milk! Still, it keeps me busy.

        BTW: I saw the film, Nebraska, recently. Now I know why KC is called “The Paris of the Plains”. 🙂

        • 23 hmunro

          Ugh! I’m sorry to hear about your disappointment with your novel, Keith. But on the plus side, even aged milk can be wonderful if you market it as yoghurt or cheese! 🙂

          And if you should happen to come through MSP again, please let me know. I was so sorry I couldn’t come out to the airport to meet you the last time you passed through town, but my husband and I were in the middle of all the Big House Drama. Now that we’re a bit more settled there are fewer unexpected demands on my time.

          Oh, and about the movie: Did you like Nebraska? I’ve yet to see it, but it looks like it’s well written …

  11. 24 mindocr

    Reblogged this on Mindocr’s Weblog.

  12. Nicely done! May I join the Introvert Club? I’m assuming there are never any meetings. 🙂 I saw something the other day that in affect said “You know your an introvert when you get on an elevator and hope no one else gets on.” Me in a nutshell (or hamster ball).

    • in ‘quiet,’ they used the example of going to a party and quickly getting excited about leaving to be home and in your pajamas. that is me )

      • 27 hmunro

        Haha!! And the disconcerting part for me is that the “flee and put on pajamas” instinct usually comes on very suddenly. Hmmm. Do you think we should just start wearing our pajamas to parties, so at least we’d have that part of the equation covered? 😀

        • me too, it’s like i suddenly hit the wall and ready for the event to be over. yes, wearing pajamas, maybe under our clothes, so we can make an easy transition would be a great idea.

    • 29 hmunro

      Absolutely, you may join the Introvert Club! There are thousands of members and regular meetings, but everyone always cancels at the last minute. 😉

      You never struck me as an “elevator-phobe,” though. I always perceived you being very comfortable making small-talk!

  13. Make that in effect please.

  14. “There are thousands of members and regular meetings, but everyone always cancels at the last minute.” Haaahaaahaa! So great to know I’m not alone in my need for solitude!

    • 34 hmunro

      … and I’m so relieved to know I’m not alone. Period. 😀

  15. Those are the thoughts I had, in order, while reading:
    1. So Extraverted people = vampires
    2. Vampires are a kind of predators… those I had a lot of trouble to get away and protect myself from (cf.) And I thought all my life I was an extraverted person! -So I was wrong, I guess I listened way too much to extraverted people aka vampires around, especially since I’ve heard my blood type is their favorite! (yet I must say I’d love someone to throw a party for me! Can an introverted be a little narcissistic? Here the next thought, as I feel hard to be that narcissistic =>) 3. We introverted are the real giving ones: it’s time we get a little bit selfish -if the world really splits in those two categories, the other kind has no trouble with the idea, so… “Ce n’est que justice”!
    4. Keep your sweet energy juice darling, and if you need any, I’ll give you some -I only give it to my highly selected dearest friends now…
    5. For the rest, and for some time now, I’ll do as I always do with little children or animals: I’ll let you come to me (jaja). And when you do: it will be as it always is with you, a Privilège.
    [and now I have read Esteban’s comment: I was right about the animal! Jajaja]
    And I’m off to my sofa: saturday nights are way too crowded and noisy for me in the city… Un abrazo Preciosa!

    • 36 hmunro

      The fact that you’ve encountered a few vampires doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an introvert. I think a more telling trait is how you get your energy — and by that measure, you definitely strike me as an extrovert! You love spending hours in animated conversation with friends, for example (I enter your comment above as “Exhibit A” :).

      Anyway, like most personality traits, intro/extroversion exists on a continuum. It doesn’t matter so much where we fall on that scale; what matters is that we make an effort to understand each other and to meet halfway.

      • Well, 2 more and last things: then you don’t know me that much, and you’re telling me the same thing people use to tell you: “no way… you love spending, etc” 😉 Un beso Guapa

  16. I love this post! I have always thought I was an extrovert because I love being around people until I don’t. I used to love going to parties (when I was young) and talking to strangers and meeting new people, and even though I really enjoy it, I am always exhausted afterwards and need to see no one for a few days with the exception of the people I gave birth to and the one person I chose to spend the rest of my life with. I went to 10 different schools growing up, so I had to be an extrovert, otherwise I would never have made friends. But I remember often being rather happy on my own and in my own world, styling my room, drawing pictures. Thanks for this insight, just the other day I was asking my husband if I am strange. “Perhaps I am a recluse I said”. I somehow don’t feel so weird anymore. Thanks!

    • That said, I might have changed over the years, I’m still a little confused about where I am on the scale, but I feel better and not weird about loving to be on my own at times.

    • 40 hmunro

      Of course you’re not strange! So many of of us (women, especially) have grown up believing that needing some time to ourselves is wrong or selfish. But a bit of “alone time” every day and some healthy space in relationships is *vital* to an introvert’s happiness. I’m very glad that my silly post helped you feel a bit better about that, anyway. By the way: How lucky we both are to have found partners who understand us! 🙂


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