For years, I acted like an extrovert, but my introversion kept bubbling up, like my constant need for alone time to recharge.
I am an introvert who’s playing catch up. For the first 25 or so years of my life, through a series of messages I absorbed in the world, I learned how to act extroverted. As a result, I was often exhausted and didn’t know why. I didn’t want to always be around people or have a large social circle or be the center of attention at a party (or even go to a party, for that matter!). People in my life would say that everyone needs downtime after socializing, but for me, it was more than that; like a fish in water, I preferred to be in that state of downtime.
Hindsight is 20/20, and when I allow myself time to reflect on my life, a flood of memories come back that I see in a new light. I now realize that my introverted nature was trying to come out and steer me through situations that depleted my reserves, even before I was ready to “get to know” that part of myself.
The Early Years: Hiding in the Bathroom in Kindergarten
Looking back, the most vivid memory I have of my inner introvert trying to protect me was in kindergarten. At the beginning of each day, the teacher would sit us in a circle and we’d have to share something with the group. Where would I be? Holed up in the bathroom. My teacher would knock on the door until I came out and then I’d be forced to participate in the circle.
I also had a friend that I carpooled with, and he wanted to hang out just about every day after class. I found myself making up excuses as to why I couldn’t come over.
In a later grade, I felt so burnt out from the social demands of school that I didn’t go for four straight weeks. My solace was daytime TV, rest, and reading Beatles biographies. (Side note: My favorite Beatle is George, the introvert of the group.)
What I know now: My inner introvert was just trying to protect me and my energy. There’s no shame in not being a participant in the group. There’s no shame in wanting to hide in solitude. There’s no shame in saying “no” to something you don’t want to do — and it doesn’t mean that you don’t care. I can still use my “temporary timeout” to recover in a social environment and return to it refreshed.
The University Years: Masking as an Extrovert
By this time, I walked the extroverted walk quite well. I had a big social circle, spent a lot of time on campus, and regularly went to parties, but my inner introvert was still trying to speak to me. I chose English studies (yes, seminars, but also reading, writing, and researching). In between classes, I worked in a quiet computer lab where the customers would work on creative projects and I’d be able to assist them one-on-one.
And if it all got to be too much, I’d still hide out in the bathroom and eat my lunch. (Oprah, also an introvert, has said she does this at parties sometimes!) Or, I’d take a nap in the arts atrium (on the top floor, of course — the more stairs to climb, the less people to potentially run into!). At parties, I’d feel the need to fill quiet gaps with talk or jokes, but I’d destructively use alcohol as a “social lubricant” to feel more at ease in these situations.
What I know now: Even being deep into my learned extroverted behavior and disconnected from my true self, my inner introvert still whispered in my ear. I didn’t lose contact with my real nature; I just had to be ready to listen to it. I learned it’s okay to act on it and not feign being an extrovert because I felt I had to, or because society told me to. Out of necessity, I knew I needed to embrace it. And that time would come…
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The ‘Adulting’ Years: Connecting With My Intuitive Self
In more recent years, I’ve been working toward learning about my true self. In many ways, I see my “adulting” years as a return to childhood: connecting with my intuitive self in all aspects of my life.
I work in the tech world as a writer, in a work-from-home environment with our three lovely cats (and previously our three dearly departed dogs). Group collaboration, meetings, and jumping from one task to the next can take a toll on my energy. But I’m able to work in lower-pressure situations through other projects and, of course, breaks that give me time to restore my energy (so that I can avoid getting an introvert hangover).
My wife is also an introvert, and I am grateful every day that we can connect on this deep level, and that I have her support on my journey of self-discovery. We live near our families, so it’s a conscious effort for both of us to protect our energies. For me, it’s quiet alone time to get lost in my favorite hobbies and go inward: yoga, walks with my wife or myself, weird sci-fi/horror movies with my cats, writing, and so on.
What I know now: I’ve learned to work in restorative time before I burn out, rather than getting to the breaking point and shutting down as I did in earlier years. As Adriene Mischler (of Yoga With Adriene) often says in her yoga sessions, “Serve yourself so you can serve others.” It’s a hard-won lesson, but one I’m glad I embrace more and more each day as I embrace myself. The more I take care of myself, the more I have to give.
My Introversion Is My ‘Shadow’ No More
“The ‘Shadow Side’ of Each Introverted Myers-Briggs Type, Explained” is a brilliant Introvert, Dear article that contains a quote that resonates with me as I write about my experience:
“The shadow appears when our dominant functions are having a hard time solving a problem or coping with stress. Depending on how it expresses, your shadow might feel like the complete opposite of your ‘normal’ self…”
Now I understand that, through the events and experiences from the first part of my life, my true introverted self became my shadow self. I still retreat to the bathroom for a breather whenever I need to, and now I embrace that (and the other things I’ve learned) by listening to the messages from my inner introvert.
Rather than shaming myself, I try to compassionately look at my earlier need to “survive”: I was doing my best with what I had, and understood, at the time. The more I embrace my introversion, the more I’m able to tune into myself, harness my superpower, and navigate a loud world with a newly embraced and intact quiet energy. And I hope you can do the same.