I'm An Introvert, And This Is What I've Learned

As an introvert, mostly what I've learned is that I am enough, just as I am. Yep, I'd rather be reading next to my sweetheart or hiking in nature than screaming small talk at an event. After reading Susan Cain's book Quiet some time ago, I've made peace with my previously-tortured, introverted "self" who frequently self-flagellated for feeling freakishly abnormal and ashamed that people, noise and extended social interactions left me seeking refuge in the nearest bathroom or quiet and solitude for days.

A few years ago, I was at a psychoanalytic event for eating disorders, chatting and doing my best at small-talking with other therapists. it was hot, bright and crowded! I found myself hugging the wall for comfort. I politely excused myself and rather frequently, to seek some space. At some point, a colleague looked at me, and rather intensely asked "do you have an eating disorder because you keep leaving? I do not, but I wanted to spill and say, "no, I'm actually an introvert and need to escape NOW because I’m feeling overwhelmed." Instead, I simply apologized and stated that I had some "phone calls to return." We are a society and culture that values extroversion—quiet people are often misunderstood, undervalued and asked to have qualities that they do not naturally possess. Faking being anything other than your true, authentic self comes at a price. 

I've since developed a great deal of acceptance and self-compassion for the way my brain and nervous system is wired, and as a result, how I need to function in the world. I make efforts to create situations that support my needs whenever I can. It is sometimes a challenge for me to make plans for next month or even a week from now, because I'm not sure how I'll feel on that day. Will I be able to rally for an event or social gathering when I need those resources the most? I've learned to embrace my brain differences, and have acceptance for my own needs. This includes my need for personal space, my need to retreat or create boundaries, and especially my need for recovery after extended social contact--it's a brain thing.

As it turns out, we now know that introverts need time to recharge and recover sometimes by being alone and by taking necessary time to withdraw. "Rest and digest," which is something that happens when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated in the brain, is the introverts best friend because it allows the nervous system to reset as cortisol and adrenaline normalize. My friends, the extroverts, recharge in different ways, they actually seek out other people to recharge. My good friends also know that my bandwidth is limited, and when they notice that I'm fading, or I appear to be writhing in pain, or I take my exit, they get it, and me.

What can I share with you, a fellow introvert, or a friend or lover of someone who is on the introversion spectrum? Read on...

  • I no longer force myself to be social, or go out of my comfort zone. I've done that. It doesn't work for me.

  • That said. Sometimes, life happens and you must do things that are really uncomfortable. Learn when to push yourself and when to take it easy.

  • Do the best that you can when forced to interact. Be kind to yourself.

  • Remind yourself of your own abundance and personal strengths when your introversion erodes your confidence.

  • Introverts struggle with "small talk." It's downright painful for the introvert.

  • Identify the situations that lead to over-stimulation. Some examples may be: trouble multi-tasking, noise, groups or crowded social situations, people small talking at you, extended periods of socializing, faking comfort when your miserable.

  • When you have an "introvert hangover," develop exit strategies or workarounds for when you're losing energy. Excuse yourself as needed.

  • Create time for yourself to rest when you feel stressed or drained. Recharge in the ways that you need. You will come out on the other side ready to reengage with the world, socially and professionally.

  • Hang with people who "get" you and don't overstimulate you.

  • Run from energy vampires or people who are negative or draining. They will exhaust you.

  • Make friends with sharing that you are an introvert. It's nothing to be ashamed of. You're in good company--a big chunk of the human population identify as introverts. Tell your friends or those you interact with in social situations that you have a "introvert hangover" and need a timeout. Own it.

  • Introversion is different from social anxiety which involves fearing judgment, feeling humiliated, self-conscious or awkward which impacts self-esteem and can lead to depression, avoidance and even substance abuse.

  • Create nourishing ways to recharge, whatever that may mean for you: Netflix, reading, writing, being in nature.

  • Find a job or career that suits your relational style and personal needs.

  • Honor your true nature. There is a big difference between what you want to do and what you feel you "should" do. Create a life that honors your needs and suits your soul. You can find success on your terms. Extroverts are not "better" than introverts. You are enough.

And for heaven's sake, if your mother enters you in beauty pageants, as mine did--say no--or find someone to help you say no. Negotiating stairs in a silly bathing suit and thought-finding and forming complete sentences in front of 200 million people is probably not your thing.