How My Loud, African Culture Conflicts With Being an Introvert

An African man

African culture champions collectivism, a “we” mentality instead of a “me” one. So what’s an introvert to do?

As an African introvert, I find myself aware of the fact that I am “different.” It’s like others are dancing to a musical tune that I don’t seem to recognize or hear. Is it that I’m the odd one out because something is “wrong” with me? Or are they the ones who don’t understand what introversion is?

As far back as being a young boy, I enjoyed doing things alone. I rode my BMX bike in the mud (in the rain). I loved rewatching Harry Potter just to think about how to make it a crossover movie series with another great one, The Chronicles of Narnia. This was because, to me, my introverted mind saw the two movies from the same universal standpoint. To this day, my imaginative and creative mind has never disappeared. 

Am I just dreaming? Or is the introverted mind designed to process certain aspects of life differently? 

As I researched the phenomenon of nature vs. nurture, I knew there were aspects of my upbringing, like my culture, that played a role in shaping my personality. However, sometimes our culture can conflict with our inner personality. In my case, as an African introvert, there are definitely some conflicting factors at work.

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4 Ways My African Culture Conflicts With Being an Introvert

1. African culture is highly championed for collectivism.

While collectivism has its advantages — like enhancing inclusivity and promoting a spirit of contributing to society — it sometimes causes introverts in my culture to be viewed in a bad light. Some people think it’s odd if we want to spend time alone, and that we’re rude if we decline to participate in big family events.

Meanwhile, the extroverts in my family — there are many! — are praised, even though, in reality, introverts make significant contributions to the world just as much as extroverts do. (Here are nine famous introverts who have been hugely successful in life.)

The funny thing is, when an extrovert needs a listening ear, who do they turn to? Those of us who are introverts.

2. African culture tends to encourage huge family events and a lot of socializing.

One thing Africans are good at is planning huge events, whether it’s a wedding, graduation celebration, or even a funeral. And it all takes place through word of mouth (no need for social media). Trust me, African communication, from one person to another, is probably much faster than social media. People from all walks of life and villages come to the event and party from dusk till dawn. 

Understandably, many African introverts seek a small, personal group of friends and family to celebrate with… but we’ll do it at the expense of being viewed as those who want to diminish African culture instead of upholding it.

Obviously, this causes a sense of guilt for some of us introverts. On one hand, we seek to satisfy our needs as introverts without compromising our mental health; on the other hand, we also want to embrace our culture as much as possible. 

3. African culture, by default, embraces phone calls over other forms of digital communication.

Africans, in general, like to live in a “we” culture. This leads to customs like sharing resources, even personal items, such as smartphones and laptops. Sharing your belongings is a commendable act. But with introverts viewing life differently (and viewing privacy differently), this practice is bound to create some conflict. 

Someone might say, “You have something I need (like a smartphone). Why don’t I use yours?” Without waiting for a reply, they might start dialing. This might result in the introvert getting random calls from strangers later on! Scheduled phone calls are enough to cause some of us introverts panic, but random calls, too? No thank you!

While I’ll never tell anyone not to communicate how they prefer, whether it’s calling or texting, extroverts should not insist on random calls or video chats. Hey, I have an idea: Maybe they can use a smoke signal or drum to chat with me like my African forefathers back in the day. Ha, ha!

4. Your personal achievements are considered shared successes.

This one ties into the first and third points. Achievements, like getting a job or degree, are viewed as a collective achievement. So, it’s an unspoken rule that you have to give back to society; if not for your village or community, at least to your elders (your family members who are older than you).

This concept in and of itself is noble, but it gets complicated. You study and work hard to earn a living, only for the community to say, you owe us now that you’ve earned a little something. You know?

So what’s an introvert to do? Here are some ideas…

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.

How to Deal With Cultural Ideals That Conflict With Introversion

1. Embrace your introverted personality. 

Yes, I know actions speak louder than words, so I am preaching to myself, as to all the other introverts out there. Let your extroverted family members see you confidently succeeding in life as an introvert. This can mean enjoying your own company, spending time with a close friend or two, going on a solo trip, and so on. Gradually, they’ll begin to change their minds and realize that introverts truly see life in a different way. Sure, they prefer to be alone — and recharge that way — but that doesn’t mean introverts can’t succeed in life.

2. Seek introverted friends who make you feel accepted, both online and offline.

There are a number of online groups that aim to destigmatize introversion (like Introvert, Dear’s Facebook group). A quick Google search and you’ll get an idea of where the cool introverts hang out online! You’ll also feel less alone, as you’ll see how they deal with it when their family doesn’t accept them for who they are, and so on. 

Similarly, hang out with friends who “get” you — they know you have a limited amount of energy, know you prefer introvert-friendly activities (vs. huge parties), and you don’t have to constantly explain yourself to them.

3. Educate others on the meaning of introversion.

It can be as easy as posting a quote on social media or sharing the introvert’s worldview through famous introverts. That way, others can see that we introverts have goals and friends just like everyone else. We don’t spend every waking second alone, 24/7; we just socialize on our terms (if we can help it; meet my family first, ha!).

But in all seriousness, show your family books (like The Secret Life of Introverts by Introvert, Dear’s Jenn Granneman) and let them know what it’s like to be you (even if you are a private person). The more they understand, the less ignorant they’ll be.

4. Be kind… and patient.

We are all humans trying to achieve our destinies in this world and sometimes we get tired, stressed, and overwhelmed — whether we are extroverts or introverts. Kindness toward one another will make the hard times more bearable, and patience and perseverance will provide a space for honest dialogue. So be kind and patient with your family… and hopefully they’ll understand your introversion more as time goes on.

My fellow introverts, can you relate to not being fully accepted in a family of extroverts? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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