Friday, October 16, 2015

HOW TO LOVE AN INTROVERT

You may not even know who in your life is an introvert. Sometimes we are hiding in plain sight! You can deduce that I am one because of these telltale signs: I love to be in my pjs at home alone, I go out to breakfast alone (on purpose) several times a week, I take myself to movies, I sneak out of yoga class first so I don't have to chat anyone, I avoid parties, prefer small group interaction, and I cancel plans sometimes because I just literally can't deal with anything. But if you didn't know (thanks to my oversharing on FB) that I did these things, you might not know that I'm an introvert, because I also chat strangers at the grocery store, make friends everywhere I go, go on dates all the time, provide therapy to strangers, sing in public, am on a nonprofit board, and am generally (mostly) socially competent.
Introverts are not always shy, or socially phobic, or awkward. In fact, I know a lot of introverts who do public speaking or are performing artists or who are in leadership positions. Instead, it just means that introverts are energized by quiet and solitude and downtime, and are drained of energy by social interaction or constant stimulation. Introverts need to "recharge the batteries" at some point in order to continue performing at optimum capacity. This is true to varying degrees for all introverts, but some are more or less equipped to handle long stretches of energetic exertion. Introverts need to have coping strategies for these times, and it helps for the extraverts in their life to understand how they work and what they need.
I worry specifically about my introverted working parents. When do you get time to recharge if you're working around people all day, and then coming home to care for children and a partner and fulfilling household responsibilities? One thing that can help is for couples to negotiate for the introverted parent to get 15-20 minutes of quiet (a nap or some mindless activity) when they get home before they are thrust into family life. That small window of downtime can be the difference between cranky, overwhelmed introverted parent and patient, loving introverted parent. (If both parents are introverts, you may need to alternate or find ways for both parents to get this sort of respite.)
If your child is an introvert, try to not correct, embarrass, chastise, or even excessively praise them in front of people. Take them aside and discuss privately whatever the thing is. If they prefer to warm up slowly to strangers, don't make them hug or kiss someone they don't know well. If they prefer to play alone, don't try and force them to interact with other children all the time. If they get overstimulated at a crowded event and start to melt down, move them somewhere quieter and let them chill for a few minutes. If they ask you to not tell everyone at the restaurant that it's their birthday because it freaks them out when strangers come gather around and sing, honor that. We don't often pay attention to these needs in children because historically, American childhood is sort of designed for extraverted kids, but introverted kids will do better in slightly modified environments and we will honor our children's unique ways of being by being mindful of these things.
If your romantic partner is an introvert, make sure you give them the opportunity to be alone sometimes without making it about you. Don't give them a guilt trip if they're like, "I know we had plans to hang out tonight, but I really need some quiet time. Can we reschedule?" That has nothing to do with you or not wanting to be with you. That is an act of self-care. That is your introverted partner saying "I am overstimulated and would not be good company." But if you make an introvert feel badly enough and they go ahead and spend time with you despite feeling this way, they will probably resent you and be weird and quiet anyway, so you might as well just give them the space they're requesting. Once they've recharged, they can reconnect and you'll get a better, more rested version of them.
Don't make your introverted partner go to a bunch of parties or events or gatherings if they really don't like or are uncomfortable with that sort of thing. Prioritize the ones that are legitimately important to you, and request their presence at those events with the explanation that you would really appreciate if they would go with you. Understand that not wanting to go to every single event isn't a rejection of your (family/work/friends) so much as a deep discomfort in large groups. Instead, if there are people in your life that you'd really like your introverted partner to get to know, plan smaller, more intimate gatherings. Dinner parties of 4-8 people are ideal. Your introverted partner will likely be more comfortable, more authentic, and better able to connect with people. Introverts tend to be uncomfortable making small talk for any extended lengths of time, so any opportunity they have to avoid it and instead engage in meaningful dialogue will be enthusiastically taken. They will also appreciate that you understand this about them.
Give an introvert processing time. If you're trying to have an important or heavy emotional discussion, an introvert can sometimes get overwhelmed and not feel able to respond adequately in the moment. Be patient. Let them formulate their responses and do not interrupt while they're expressing themselves. Extraverts often want to get it all out immediately, and will become frustrated at an introvert's pace. If you wish to have a healthy, happy relationship with an introvert, it would behoove you to be mindful of giving them equal floor time in discussions even if it takes a moment to get there.
Understand that quiet does not equal unhappy. You don't need to ask an introvert 835 times if they are okay just because you've noticed they are being quiet. Sometimes they are just listening and observing and thinking, all of which are actually engagements of a sort. They are just internal engagement that you cannot see. Sometimes it means nothing at all that an introvert is being quiet. That said, sometimes it may mean they are overstimulated and are attempting to recalibrate within the environment. If you sense that your introverted partner may be overwhelmed, instead of asking another time if they're okay, simply offer to step outside with them.
(I have often been known to retreat to the restroom for a few moments when I feel overstimulated at an event, or in a crowd, or when there is a great deal of noise.)
Introverts often feel like the world isn't made for them, and struggle to balance everything they have to do and all the people they have to talk to despite sometimes just wanting to spend days at a time alone in their homes without human contact. It helps to have people around who understand and appreciate that there isn't anything *wrong* with introverts. They just process things differently and have different needs than extraverts.
Introverts often really appreciate having extraverts around to do some of the social heavy lifting. Personally, I love having an extraverted partner or friend around. It takes so much pressure off of me. (I'll write one of these for them in a bit).
There are a million other tips I could give for how to love an introvert, but I know the longer the post gets, the less likely people are to read it. smile emoticon This comes up in my client sessions a lot, though, because so many people don't even know they're introverts, much less how to explain that to the people in their lives. Hope this helps!

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