These suggestions will make life more harmonious for your introverted child, partner, friend, or colleague.
I am a dyed-in-the-wool introvert — that temperament is a thick thread woven through the fabric of who I am, and informs how I tick. But sometimes it can feel like a contradiction.
Introverts tend to prefer deeper one-on-one interactions when socializing — and I love a good chat session just as much as the next person — 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 two teenage girls. To which the extroverted one will reply, “Let me know when you are ready to come out, Mama.”
Introverts are sometimes difficult to understand, especially for extreme extroverts. Because the world tends to operate around extroverted traits, it can be tricky for introverts to put their needs into words easily. They live much of their lives inside their heads — not as a way to hide, it’s just their nature.
Thanks to my introverted childhood, my 22-year marriage with an extrovert, and now the joy of getting to watch my two daughters — one the extreme extrovert I mentioned already and the other an introvert — navigate the world, I’ve come up with a number of suggestions to make life more harmonious for your introverted child, partner, friend, or colleague. Best of all, these tips won’t just improve their life — they’ll help your relationship as well!
I’m not suggesting you go down your list of loved ones and put each into a box labeled “introvert” or “extrovert.” We risk not allowing people to be themselves when we overgeneralize. But understanding our loved ones and knowing how to help them is so valuable that I think it’s worth thinking about where on the spectrum those in your life might fall. We all fall somewhere different.
And if you’re an introvert reading this, I hope these suggestions help you put into words what you need so extroverts better understand you.
10 Ways to Improve an Introvert’s Life
1. Provide scripts.
This is especially valuable for your introverted child as they navigate various social situations. 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 the wording I’d been struggling to find. Mentally grabbing and filing away her wording helps me to have wording “in the bank.”
2. Ask them specifics 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.
3. 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 tend to process internally without words, and then they’ll 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.
4. Mind the calendar.
When a depleting activity is scheduled, try to pad the calendar before and after to allow for some downtime. Introverts can enjoy social situations, but they feel more drained afterward, so it’s good to have prepared recovery time planned.
5. Arrive early.
Based on how social events affect their energy, 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 to get settled. (This, weirdly, is not the case with me. I am chronically late, but that has more to do with my eternal optimism. If you’d like to read my apology for this trait, check out this article.)
6. 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 because they feel exhausted, and it manifests through an array of emotional responses. Give them space and grace. They’ll surface after some disengagement.
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7. Allow them time in their own head.
Introverts thrive on deep connections, so after a big 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.
8. 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 as opposed to lots and lots of friends. 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 (an idea that struck panic in my heart when one of my bridesmaids suggested a bachelorette party).
9. Support solitary activities.
It is normal and okay for your introvert to want to read, play solo games, take walks alone, and do other solitary activities. This doesn’t necessarily 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.
10. 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.
There’s no set of responses that will work for every introvert in your life. After all, people aren’t boxes. But I hope you’ve found something here that will smooth your interactions with the introverts in your life. I’d love to hear your suggestions or hear which of mine resonated most with you!