How I Survive in a Family of Extreme Extroverts

An introvert in a family of extroverts

Introverts prefer calm settings, but the word “calm” isn’t in my family’s vocabulary. 

To introverts, quiet time is like a dream — it never lasts. When you have a big family, it’s virtually nonexistent. 

My family is extroverted, but not in the normal sense. We don’t just talk, we shout. We don’t just make fun, we are the fun. We don’t just laugh, we cackle. Fellow introverts, do you see my dilemma?

Introverts prefer calm settings, but the word calm isn’t in my family’s vocabulary. 

To be blunt, my family puts the “extra” in extrovert. As a shy introvert around a bunch of socialites, sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself. Growing up has been interesting, to say the least.

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I Manage to Survive Family Functions… Barely

A big family means big family functions, and big family functions mean that I’m freaking out big-time, as any shy introvert would.

Let me break it down. Shyness + introversion + family function = wallflower. That’s me.

A wallflower is someone who stays on the sidelines at social gatherings. I’m magnetically connected to the wall, attached by an invisible tether. I stay in my own little world, away from the overactive crowd. That’s fine by me.

If the gathering is inside, there are plenty of walls I could attach myself to and feel comfortable. Like I said, though, my family is extroverted. No matter which wall I pick, I’m pretty much the only flower on it. Wallflowers naturally stick out. (However, just as the book suggests, there are perks of being a wallflower!)

However, I’m somewhat lucky because most family functions happen at my house, which means I know where the discrete spots are, the sweet spots that are far enough away from the heart of the party, yet close enough that I can still feel it beating. 

As an introvert, I don’t need to be in the limelight to have a good time. We introverts are subtle in the way we get involved. We might partake in the conversations and laugh at the jokes like everyone else, but we prefer not to draw too much attention to ourselves

Take, for instance, my family’s New Year’s Eve tradition, where you showcase your skills or creativity. You might dance, sing, play an instrument, or do a comedy skit. Anything goes. The only rule is that everyone has to present something. No skipping turns. 

You’d think I’d want to crawl in a hole, right? 

Here’s the kicker. I came up with this tradition. Me,  the shy, introverted one. It’s a bit ironic, since this tradition is almost 10 years strong.

Yet, somehow, I find a way to make it low-pressure. The goal: Get it over with. 

One New Year’s Eve, I wrote a poem in French and recited it in front of the family. I figured this was a good idea, since I was slowly becoming fluent in school. Still, after seeing a cringey recording of it, my New Year’s resolution was to never do that again.

The next few years, I settled for a self-made Kahoot!, a fun online trivia game. It’s a safe way to enjoy the tradition without worrying about being recorded, stared at, or hounded with chaotic questions and commentary from curious family members.

One particular year stands out in my mind as one of the most triggering to my introvert brain. When the clock struck midnight, my family randomly decided to have a dance party.

A surprise dance party? Seriously? That’s an introvert’s nightmare. 

Out of nowhere, someone turned the lights off, muted the TV volume on The Times Square New Year’s Eve program, and blasted Michael Jackson over the speakers. 

That’s when I wanted to crawl in a hole. Don’t get me wrong; I like dancing and MJ as much as the next person. But after six long hours of socializing, I was physically and mentally exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was bump hips and get blinded by the bright New York City lights strobing from the TV screen. 

So what did I do to minimize the part I played in the Harris Family Extrovert Extravaganza? I grabbed my phone and played the role of videographer, capturing the beautiful family memories. 

For a tired introvert, it was a genius idea. On the one hand, I still got to engage with my family. On the other hand, I was nowhere near the center of attention. 

If I detached myself from the invisible tether that bounded me to the wall, I’d be on one percent, just like a phone detached from its charger. And, like I always tell my phone, “We’re in this together. I’m not going anywhere without you.” If my phone got to be a wallflower that day, so did I.

Videoing the dance party was the safest thing I could do, because I didn’t look like a complete party pooper, but I also wasn’t exerting that much energy. A win-win. It was either that… or fall asleep, which, we all know, is what I really wanted to do.

I Wasn’t Always This Way…

Growing up in an extroverted family wasn’t always a challenge. As a little kid, I liked attention. Every time I saw a phone camera, I’d jump in front of it and pose like I was a model. Eventually, my family expected that kind of energetic response from me. 

I don’t know who I thought I was, but I had no insecurities about it, that’s for sure.

Not only that, but I looked forward to family outings — going to restaurants, parks, the movies. Even if I was drained, I’d beg to stay out longer and keep having fun. 

At that young age, I didn’t think about if I was shy or introverted, because my family accepted me whether I was off the wall or on it. Plus, as a little kid, you don’t overanalyze questions of why and how. You simply accept things as they are.

It wasn’t until my preteen years that I started to ponder self-discovery. As I became more introverted, I grew obsessed with labels and social reputation, what other people — aside from my family — thought about my individuality. 

As I was dreaming of who I wanted to be, let alone figuring out who I was, those labels I’d hear all the time, “shy” and “introverted, started to feel so intimidating.

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

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Growing Up in an Extroverted Family Is Easy Compared to Growing Up in an Extroverted World

Whoever said you eventually have to leave the nest and spread your wings was right. But — that doesn’t make it any less scary. 

While my extroverted family accepts me fully, I’m afraid the extroverted world — people who won’t know me as well — wouldn’t be as accepting of my (for lack of a better word) ambivalent personality. The ambivalence is in the struggle to define and accept who I am outside of my family.

I always thought I was 100 percent an introvert… until I remembered who I was before — a happy, animated girl who lit up around her family and was fully comfortable expressing herself. 

Remembering this made me realize that a small percentage of me is still that extroverted little girl. The thing is, she doesn’t come around much anymore. I sometimes find myself searching for her, waiting for her to come out of hiding.

Who’s she hiding from? The world.

So, I struggle to find my place in the extroverted world as an introvert, whose subtle extroverted side gets overshadowed. It sounds a bit complicated and confusing, but that’s the simplest way I can put it. 

In other words, I feel pressure to be an extrovert when extroversion doesn’t feel fully natural. It’s uncomfortable, although it’s not completely foreign, because I’ve been more extroverted in the past. 

Well, before I was ready to face this dilemma, I eventually had to grow up apart from my family. Naturally, I was left with the question: Who am I without them?

Embracing the Many Layers of Who I Am

For a long time, I thought something was off with me and was paranoid that others thought the same. I felt broken and feared that people thought I was weird because I was hard to figure out; I stood out as the shy, introverted one. 

I’ve tried (to no avail) to find the person extroverts expected me to be; one day, I was this person, the next day, I was that person. It’s like trying to hit a bullseye target blindfolded. I never got it right.

Then, I felt ashamed, because I thought that all this shape-shifting to try to fit in made me insincere, even though I wasn’t trying to be. 

Why can’t I pinpoint who I am and make others see it? This was the question I’d write in my journal every day.

Yet it turns out that I didn’t have to do much to find myself, because I always knew, deep-down, who I was. I’m an introvert with a few extroverted qualities, and that’s okay. The imbalance doesn’t make me weird. It makes me, well, me

To be 100 percent introverted or extroverted is rare anyway, maybe even impossible. Most people are on a spectrum between introvert and extrovert. No one’s a perfect version of one or the other, because no one’s a perfect person. 

All in all, growing up in my extroverted family taught me a valuable lesson: It’s okay to be yourself. If no one accepts it or understands it, oh well. They’re not the most important people in your life — they’re not your family and those who “get” you

If you struggle to find your place in the world, it’s okay to be all over the place. Self-doubt and confusion are natural parts of growing up. So go back to your roots to refamiliarize yourself with who you are. The side of you that hides behind a shadow is closer to home than you think. Don’t be afraid to let them in. 

Remember who you were before you cared about labels and what other people think. Remember what it felt like to be accepted by people who love you before you worried about being accepted by everyone else. 

If you’re introverted, own it. Don’t “fake it” and be more extroverted than you’re comfortable being, just to appease others. At the same time, be open to getting to know every single aspect of yourself. That way, you’ll discover more layers of your personality as you continue to grow. 

Most importantly, loved ones will remind you of the best parts of yourself, but it’s ultimately up to you to express them. After all, when you embrace who you are alone, without concern for others’ expectations, who or what in the world can get to you?

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