We internalize this message that something is “wrong” with us for not being more social, and we try to be more like “them” – extroverts.
From the very beginning, we introverts have been “taught” to be extroverted. The elementary school talent show, raising your hand in class to get a good participation grade, the dreaded direction of a teacher saying, “Now everyone pair up for our next activity.” Of course, there are the “lucky” ones who write such good essays that they get rewarded by having to read it aloud to the class. (Cringe!) All the popular kids seem to be ones who feel most comfortable in large groups of people. In other words, extroverts.
Even into adulthood, it continues. I had a job as an assistant once where I was constantly pushed to work sales in the front office instead of doing the background work that I was good at. There were endless Friday nights I would go out with friends instead of staying home to read like I really wanted to. And even the nights I stayed home, I was riddled with guilt about declining the invitation and mentally chastising myself for not just sucking it up and going out. The Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) was real…
Somewhere along the line, we begin to internalize this message that something is “wrong” with us for not being more social or outgoing, and we try to be more like “them” – extroverts. We force our introverted selves into extroverted roles and wonder why we are constantly feeling less-than, unfulfilled, and exhausted.
It’s not that extroverts need to be more introverted (although wouldn’t that be nice?), any more than introverts need to be more extroverted. It’s about understanding each other and holding space for each person to manage their energy in a way that promotes their own well-being. When introverts push themselves to constantly stay on the treadmill that is extroversion, we have to remember that extroverts are being rejuvenated by those things while we are being depleted. At some point, we have to stop pushing ourselves around and start pushing back.
The Pressure to Be Extroverted Is Real
This tweet by @tomandlorenzo stated: “Just once I’d like to see an article like ‘Extroverted? Here’s Some Tips on How to Be Quiet and Reflective” — it was in response to a tweet from @OprahDaily that said: “Introverted? Here’s How to Be More Social”. It was heard ‘round the introverted world and made me realize how often we find information online backing up the idea that we “should” make ourselves more extroverted, but nowhere can we find things that purport the opposite.
Just for fun, I entered the phrase “how can introverts be” into a Google search engine and the top three suggested searches were:
When I entered the phrase “how can extroverts be” into that same search engine, the top three suggested searches were:
…how do extroverts behave
…how to become extroverts
…how can introverts become extroverts
Well, I think that messaging is clear. I’m guessing there aren’t too many extroverts out there googling “how can I be more introverted”.
Introverts, It Starts With Us
Introverts, the extrovert “ideal” isn’t the only way of existing. If we want to make real, sustainable change in the way our families, communities, and society views and interacts with introverts, we need to begin with how we deal with ourselves. Becoming confident about who you are — and what your needs are — will help when it comes time to talk to the extroverts in your life. But how do introverts gain confidence after living our whole lives in an extroverted society? Here are three things that have worked for me.
3 Ways to Embrace Being an Introvert
1. Accept — and embrace — who you are.
You are brilliant and gorgeous and funny and kind. At least, that is what I told myself every morning when I began my journey of gaining more confidence as an introvert. Confidence is an inside job and sometimes you have to hype yourself up.
I also spent time journaling each day as a way to unlearn and rewrite the narratives I held about being an introvert (like, I’m not good enough to be a leader, or I need to be more social to accommodate my extroverted boyfriend-now-husband). Work to let go of your self-limiting beliefs about not being good enough as you are. We introverts have so many strengths, from the way we listen and empathize to the way we just intuitively know what the best way to show up for a friend is. If my husband wants to go socialize every weekend, for instance, that doesn’t mean I have to go along every time. Or if you’ve been going to brunch every Sunday with your girlfriends for the last seven years — but you really need a weekend to sleep in — take it! They’ll understand. Part of embracing your introverted self is letting go of other people’s expectations and reactions to your boundaries. Plus, when you show up as your true introverted self, you’re giving others the opportunity to love you for all that you are, not just the parts you let them see.
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2. Learn how to manage your energy.
The core difference between extroverts and introverts is where we gain our energy, so it would make sense that we would need to figure out what that looks like for us individually. And since we’re all beautifully unique, this won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. Like confidence, it’s an inside job.
In this phase of my journey, I spent some time observing how I felt after certain activities or at various times of day. Was I more depleted after a meeting or energized after having lunch alone? What things made me feel the most rejuvenated and what things seemed to drain me? Consider this a data-collecting activity. By tracking your energy, you can better figure out any energy-zapping triggers and adjust accordingly.
3. Work on creating boundaries — with loved ones, as well as yourself.
Once you begin to embrace who you are and have a better understanding of what things energize or deplete you, it’s time to work on creating boundaries. Boundaries are an important tool for protecting your energy and enabling you to thrive. Before we can set boundaries for other people (ahem, extroverts), we must be able to set them for ourselves.
For example, if you know you need eight hours of sleep to function well the next day, set an appropriate bedtime and stick with it. If weekly solo dates are an important way for you to get “me-time” in, schedule them and show up each week. This also means communicating your introvert needs — like 30 minutes of alone time every night (to read, write, or what have you) — and setting boundaries with the extroverts in your life, without guilt or feeling less-than. At first, I felt guilty wanting some time to myself — especially as a mom of two young kids. But once I explained this need to my extroverted husband — that this was a need, not a want — I was surprised at the level of support he gave me and the guilt was gone. Again, when we show up as our full selves, in our true introverted nature, we are offering other people a chance to love and support us in the ways we need. Think about setting boundaries not as a way to keep others out, but as a way to let them into a deeper part of ourselves.
This also means holding extroverts to the same standard we feel held to. It’s okay for them to initially feel uncomfortable with our introvert requests (we’ve felt uncomfortable our whole lives). But hopefully, as we explain our needs, those around us will begin to show up for us and support us in ways that build our relationships with them. And remember to use the tools you’ve cultivated, like knowing how to manage your energy levels, and talk to the extroverts in your life about how they can help in these areas. Maybe it’s as simple as letting your partner know you can’t stay up until midnight every night or letting coworkers know you’ll be skipping Friday night happy hour this week. Be consistent about your boundaries and hold the expectation that they will be respected.
It’s About Leveling the Playing Field
At the end of the day, it’s truly not about introverts being better than extroverts -– or vice-versa. Rather, it’s about making it an even playing field, which starts by acknowledging that, right now, it’s not and things need to change. It’s also about understanding that there is room for everyone. Introverts have spent their whole lives adjusting to fit into, and accomodate, extroverted lifestyles. It’s time to expect a little in return (or maybe a lot).