Loving Introverts

July 1, 2011 § 4 Comments

After reading Susan Cain’s article from the New Yorker on introversion, I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about the topic.  I was wondering if it would fit in on this blog despite the change of pace.

I’m personally extremely introverted, but also very good at passing as highly extraverted.  There is a funny gap between the perceptions people have of me who know me intimately versus those who know me in social or work situations – for the former, my introversion is a given, the latter are shocked when I mention it.  Most of my love bonds are with other introverts, including Emily and Valerie and other friends who will likely begin to appear in this blog.  As a group whose strengths are stigmatized, I think knowing how to love one’s self as an introvert and how to love other introverts is a skill we lack.  I decided it definitely does fit in to my journey and thoughts on love.

It’s funny how simply being introverted did not teach me how to engage other introverts.  I had to grow out of estrangement from my own natural temperament and learn skills of how to care for myself and my close introverted loved ones.  These are some things I thought of after visiting Susan Cain’s blog that I’ve learned cultivated my bonds with other introverts that you might try in learning to care for your introverted loved ones.  Not only do people who naturally tend towards extraversion often spook their introverted loved ones, but many of us introverts who are more skilled at passing will try to apply our same extravert-side with other introverts.

Tips for Being in Love Bonds with Introverts (Including Yourself):

1.) Allow for the gradual approach ~ I think of introverts like foxes.  Three steps forward and two back is still progressing forward.  The dance towards and away from something is part of the introvert decision-making process.  It is our form of taking action.  Try not to rush an introvert.

2.) Provide processing time ~ Especially after social or new experiences, introverts need time to process.  I can feel my need to process intensify, and if I don’t make time to be alone and away from external stimulation so I can think back over what I’ve taken in, I feel “oversaturated”, like my thoughts are muddled and I’m edgier and more skittish than usual.  I actually feel like I forget things if I don’t have adequate processing time, like they don’t sink in or become integrated fully into my awareness.  Time in between, even if it’s short, is important to sort and store information and reorient towards taking in the external world again.

3.) Signal shifts before affecting them ~ Give a warning or notice of an anticipated or desired shift and a little downtime for your introvert to manage their own inner state.  How many extraverts have been driven crazy by introverts who said yes to a suggestion then showed no sign of stopping what they were already doing?  And how extraverts have then been even more upset when they grew disappointed and withdrew, then had their introvert turn suddenly engaged and ready?  Give notice, such as, “We need to go soon,” or a subtle signal like letting the conversations die down, or hints like kissing your introvert lover on the neck and expressing desire, then moving away and giving them a minute to shift from what they were focusing on internally and reciprocate before either pouncing or assuming they’re disinterested.

4.) Gentle transitions ~ Introverts need special care surrounding transitions. They are likely to feel vulnerable and jarred by sudden shifts, when a gradual change would have made both activities enjoyable. Create rituals surrounding transitions when possible, especially when heightened emotions are involved.  A pattern that marks and facilitates incoming change can ease the process.

5.) Exhibit patience and reduce pressure, directly or indirectly ~ First, you have to genuinely be patient to exhibit it.  But if you do feel patient waiting for your introvert to go through their decision-making process, don’t assume they will know you are accommodating.  Give some verbal or nonverbal signals that they can take their time.  I often say, “No rush,” or, “Take your time,” or, “If you want to talk about it later, that’s fine,” or, “If you need a while to think about it, that’s okay,” or, “We can talk about it another time.”  I say, “No pressure,” and use a casual, gentle tone a lot with my introverted friends.  If an introvert freezes up, it’s best to de-escalate the situation rather than increasing pressure.  This is tough in conflicts, but very important to keep introverts from becoming overwhelmed.

6.) Leave silences ~ Silent moments may feel awkward due to our social conditioning, but generating comfortable spaces and silences is necessary to get introverts to move past their inhibition.  Most introverts won’t “butt in,” so leave some space that is not loaded with pressure or anxious vibes.   This can be especially difficult during conflict or potential conflict and other emotionally loaded situations when introverts will try to act with extreme caution and care.  Try to be patient and don’t hurry them or they may panic and become reactionary by fleeing or fighting impulsively.

7.) Manage interruptions ~ Try not to interrupt when an introvert is talking.  If you do, pick up the thread for them by prompting what they began before you interrupted and asking them to continue what they were saying.

8.) Don’t “play rough” ~ Most introverts will respond to teasing, heckling or other rough wordplay as if it were genuine.  This type of aggressive play won’t sit well with most sensitive types, so check the tendency and look for other ways to break the ice or display intimacy when you feel uncertain.

9.) Ask questions ~ Many introverts will give their opinion when prompted, as long as they feel safe.  This includes big questions about values and beliefs.  My own journaling and writing improved drastically when I began to ask myself questions first, then wrote towards an answer.   It was hard for me to pour my opinion out at random, and easy once I was asked, even if I was asking myself.

10.) Try not to suddenly single them out in a group and if you do ally yourself with them quickly ~ Being prompted by a friend to tell a story or give an opinion work for me, but it won’t for all introverts.  If you accidentally say something that draws group attention to your introvert unexpectedly, say something quickly to ally yourself with them and bring the attention back to you or spread it to both of you.

 11.) Focus alongside one another ~ Introverts often like focusing intently on tasks.  Cooking, dancing, watching films, and other activities that can be shared and yet individuated are a good way to spend time with an introvert.  You can be connected while allowing them to put their focus on their own inner world, which will be less exhausting for them.

12.) Stay up late ~ Many introverts are less inhibited at night.  Staying up late to continue a conversation or hangout can be an excellent way to get to know an introvert intimately.  My best conversations with other introverts have mostly taken place between 10pm and 4am.  You lose some sleep, but you gain true knowledge of a friend you might not get any other time, which I’ve definitely found worth it.

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§ 4 Responses to Loving Introverts

  • brittany220 says:

    Nice post, I read Susan’s article too! She has a good blog!

  • Lucy says:

    This is absolutely me! Thanks so much for posting this – it has helped me articulate some of my needs in a new way and allowed me to express them better to my partner.

  • JustGwen says:

    #12 doesn’t compute. What does the time of day have to do with inhibitions? Being more solitary? Yes, being at nite? not so much; although I agree that conversations (for me) between 4am and 8am are preferred to those after the sun gets too high

  • From what I’ve read, it has to do with cortisol levels. Though in my hippie brain it has to do with the survival tactic of avoiding parental abusers and other negative daytime experiences while being alone at night and also the collective energy being different when other people are relaxed or asleep. But that’s a private worldview from my strange brain, not a provable one. The cortisol thing is provable it seems.

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