Looking back on my introverted childhood, watching my two daughters navigate the world (one introvert and one extreme extrovert), and enjoying a 20-year marriage with an extrovert, I’ve come up with 9 concrete suggestions to make life for (and your relationship with) your introverted child, spouse, or friend more harmonious. And if you are the introvert, this may help you put into words what will help your extroverts understand you. You are an introvert, or you love one. Either way, this article is for you! (This article is adapted from one I originally published here.)
In our culture of personality tests and self-help everything, most of us know what I’m talking about. If you do, skip to the next paragraph. If not, here’s a quick synopsis of introvert and extrovert characteristics. Introverts prefer calm, quiet surroundings and tend to feel depleted after social interaction. They recharge their energy by spending time alone or focused inwardly. Extroverts prefer exciting, lively surrounding and tend to seek out social interaction as a way to recharge their energy. Not all introverts are shy wall-flowers. They may enjoy and seek out social interaction, but they’ll need periods of intervening quiet. Not all extroverts are loud, life of the party types, but they’ll mostly choose being with a group over being alone.
I am a dyed-in-the-wool introvert. This is a thick thread through the fabric of who I am and how I tick. Now, I love a good chat session just as much as anyone, and if you know me, we have invariably had a few lively chats that I loved! Introverts tend to prefer deeper one-on-one interactions when socializing, and that is my favorite. But if I have multiple interactions strung together throughout the day, I will be dying for some “time alone in my head,” as I tell my girls. To which my extrovert will reply, “Let me know when you are ready to come out, Mama.”
Introverts are sometimes difficult to understand, especially for extreme extroverts. Introverts often can’t put their nature or needs easily into words. They live much of their lives inside their head not as a way to hide. It’s just their nature. And stimulation that is exhilarating for extroverts, like loud parties, can be anywhere from pleasant but costly to intolerable for introverts. Parties can be fun, but afterwards, they’ll likely need to pull into their shell for a while to recharge.
I’m not suggesting you go down your list of loved ones and put each into a box labelled introvert or extrovert. We risk missing the mark when we over-generalize. But understanding our loved ones and knowing how to help them is so valuable that I think it is worth thinking about where on the spectrum from extreme introvert to extreme extrovert those in your life might fall. We all fall somewhere different.
Read through these nine tips and pocket the ones that seem relevant to your relationships.
- Provide scripts.This is especially valuable for your introverted child. Review an expected interaction ahead of time and suggest exact wording. It will really help them feel prepared. My Mom was great at this. When she asked me to interact with a store clerk, for instance, she’d say, “You could say something like this: Pardon me, I’d like to find out if you carry this top in any other colors.” This sounds so elementary, but trust me, it’s key. And as an introvert, talking through a situation with an extroverted girlfriend often gives me wording I’d been struggling to find. Mentally grabbing and filing away her wording helps me to have wording “in the bank.”
Allow them time in their own head. After a party or a day of superficial interaction (like errands or meetings), introverts need a break from engagement. Give them some time without eye contact and conversation. They might not need to be alone, they just need to be disengaged.
Support deep one-on-one friendships. It may worry you if your spouse or child seems to have only one or two deep friendships. This is normal for introverts. They prefer deeper, single relationships to groups. Introverts will often have several deep friendships with people who don’t know each other. This may be why your introvert doesn’t like the idea of getting all of his or her friends together.
Give grace after leaving overstimulating environments. Your introvert may be testy or withdrawn for a little while after a loud swim meet or large party. Give them space and grace. They’ll surface after some disengagement.
Allow processing time. After asking your introvert how they feel or what they think, give them some time for internal processing. While you may process outwardly with words, they process internally without words. They then will need to translate for you which takes time and effort. This drives my husband crazy. But he knows me, so he waits, and I love him, so I work hard to produce the words he needs.
Ask them specifics about their fears to draw them out. As a child, I had no idea that discussing my fears with my parents would help dissipate them, and as an internal processor, I naturally had fears my parents could never have anticipated. Your introvert isn’t keeping secrets. It just doesn’t occur to them to tell you. Most of the time, they will discuss it if prompted. This may seem like a fishing expedition, but you’ll be glad you did it.
Support solitary activities. It is normal and ok for your introvert to want to read, play solo games, take walks alone, etc. This doesn’t mean they are depressed or lonely. They enjoy and need solitude. And hearing things like “you don’t ever spend time with friends,” can sound like criticism or disapproval instead of concern.
Arrive early. Introverts may feel better when facing smaller interactions over time rather than being faced with a big group all at once. This translates into many of them preferring to arrive early to group activities. This, weirdly, is not the case with me. I am chronically late, but that is another topic.
Do shoulder to shoulder activities. If you need to spend time with your introvert (your needs matter, too!) and they seem to need disengagement, do something “together” that doesn’t require face to face engagement like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, or cooking a meal.
I hope you’ve found something here that will smooth your life. I’d love to hear your suggestions or hear which of mine resonated most with you!