On Being Introverted

People are generally surprised to learn that I’m extremely introverted.  I comfortably engage with large groups of people during speaking engagements.  I’m generally friendly and approachable.  I speak into a microphone and share my experiences over a weekly podcast.  I’ve chosen to spend my days working directly with people as a therapist, for crying out loud!  How could I possibly be extremely introverted?!

Because introversion has very little to do with our comfort level engaging with other people.  It has nothing to with friendliness.  It has little to do with communication.  Introversion or extroversion determine how we recharge and from where we draw our energy.  Introverted people need alone time.  Extroverted people need time with other people.  One is not better or more desirable than another, and there’s a whole spectrum in between.

It is possible to be socially competent and introverted.  It is possible to enjoy social interaction and be introverted.  All it means is that after a day of being social, I need time to reset and be alone.  I need quiet.  I need to not engage with someone else.  There’s been many days when I’ve come home from a full day of back to back therapy clients and I will walk in the door, tell Jon I love him, and then ask him to leave me alone.  Thankfully, he understands me and gladly says, “Sounds good!  Talk to you tomorrow.”

But, here’s the reason it’s important to know whether you are introverted or extroverted.  Jon understands me because I understand myself and I’ve taught him about me.  I’ve taught him what I need.  The truth is, we cannot know what someone else needs unless they tell us.  The people around us cannot know what we need unless we teach them.  We assume that everyone wants and needs the same things we do, and that is simply not true.

When KBear was 4 or 5, she would become extremely offended and hurt whenever Cub wouldn’t want to play with her.  At that time, he was attending a one-room schoolhouse, which he enjoyed, but which also wore him out.  He is extremely introverted, like his mama.  So, he’d come in the door, share a few tidbits about his day, be asked to play by KBear, say no, and head into his room to recharge.  Alone. 

KBear is fairly extroverted.  Which has its own challenges given her autistic wiring, but that’s for another post.  KBear would take Conner’s choice to be alone as a personal rejection of her.

 In trying to explain it to her, I asked, “You know those times when you just want to be all alone?  When you just need to have nobody around?”

KBear looked blankly at me and said, “No.”

And that shot that explanation down.

Until someone explains it to us, we assume everyone else is similar in thought, feeling, and need.  Early in our marriage I learned that I was introverted.  I didn’t label it that way, but I felt my skin crawling because I wasn’t getting any alone time.  Because we were still so “in love” I was worried Jon would take it wrong and his feelings would be hurt.  It took me months before I finally said, “You know, Jon?  Would you mind going to a movie by yourself or something this Saturday?  I just feel like I need a few hours at home alone.”  He was somewhat taken aback, but he obliged. 

After a few more months of me asking for this time we both came to understand just how crucial it was for me.  One day, after I responded in a snippy sort of way to a question he’d asked, Jon looked at me and said, “I’m pretty sure you need some time alone.  I’m going to stay out of the house on Sunday.”  By explaining what I needed and that I need quiet and alone time (without ANYONE else in the home), he’s come to understand my perspective.

It is extremely difficult to get alone time when you have 3 children and 2 working parents and are homeschooling.  It is extremely easy for my introverted self to be overloaded by the incessant chatter and connecting my 3 psychosocially intense chatterboxes demand day in and day out.  Seriously, you’d think we could have gotten one quiet one!  It is extremely easy to set my own needs aside “for the sake” of my family’s needs.  But, this doesn’t work.  I am less of a mom when I haven’t had alone time.  I am a distant wife when I haven’t had my alone time.  Alone time is as essential to my introverted self as fruits, vegetables, and water are to my body.  So, how do I get it?

I directly ask my husband for what I need. 

I listen to my husband when he suggests I need more alone time.

I carve out time in my work schedule that provides me with a break.

I intentionally set low-key homeschooling days so I can sequester myself off and recharge.

I pay attention to how I’m feeling and attempt to pre-empt any energy overload.

I intentionally schedule down-time when I’m at conferences.  I may even choose to skip a session so I can head back to my room and sit quietly alone.

If I have an end of the day cancellation at work, I stay at work.  I used to rush home, but if my family is provided for and not planning on me, I’ve learned to take in that time.

I stay up late at night or I wake up early in the morning to be in the home when everyone else is quiet.

We strictly adhere to daily quiet time for everyone following lunch.

We institute talking time-outs, where the kids aren’t allowed to talk if I’m feeling overloaded.

I remind myself that by doing these things, I’m not only teaching my children what I need, but I’m also teaching them how to prioritize and ask for what they need.

Ultimately, I prioritize my needs.  I prioritize the fact that I need alone time to recharge.  I remind myself that a mom without energy is a mom without patience, without emotional stability, without as much compassion as my children deserve.

Only by spending time away from people, can I actually be someone people want to spend time with.