As a psychology undergrad, way back in the extrovert-centric 90s, I subjected myself to countless personality tests. Favorable results on these quizzes — along with the abundantly social nature of university life and the academic reliance on participation grades — clearly skewed in the extrovert’s favor. And the subtext of selecting either “works well with others” or “prefers to work alone” wasn’t lost on me.
Each time I encountered one of theses quizzes, my introvert nudge said yes to solitude, space, and quiet, but my hand checked every socially-sanctioned extrovert box. And some of those checkmarks were legit: I really did enjoy connecting with people in conversation, leading teams at work, and participating in classroom discussions.
But give me a book and a quiet room, and my whole being would unwind, saying, “Yes. This.” Long before today’s introvert-power movement, and moments before the ups and downs of life taught me that strength comes in volumes both loud and quiet, my introvert nudge beckoned.
Enter career, marriage, and parenthood. The sturm and drang (thanks, Psych 270!) of my 20s and 30s culminated in a near-unraveling in my early 40s. Forced to reevaluate who I was and how I met the world, I learned that some of the encroaching anxiety and depression came from a failure to honor my introvert nature. Thanks to books like Susan Cain’s Quiet and websites like Introvert, Dear, I learned to listen to the whispers of my own introvert nudge — the quiet internal compass that aligns us with our introvert intelligence and maps the way forward.
Once we allow our introvert nudge to speak louder than the noise of the world, we begin to make choices that protect our mental and physical health. We free ourselves to be, just as we are.
So, here are four ways I learned to listen to my introvert nudge.
How I Learned to Listen to My Introvert Nudge
1. Just because I’m good at something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for me.
As an INFJ personality type and a highly sensitive person (HSP), I’ve been drawn to many socially-engaged jobs. Whether volunteering for ex-offender rehabilitation programs or working with children with autism, my ability to connect with people and their stories has been both a strength and a burden.
My emotional permeability means I don’t just empathize with others’ pain, I absorb it. Their highs are my highs; their lows are my lows. My introvert nudge would tug at me: Retreat! Rest! Recover! But I ignored its insistent voice — there were people to help, and my INFJ cape kept sweeping me to their rescue.
Working closely and intensively with other people can lead to heart joy and heartache. The payoff from helping others is immense, but this is very difficult work to leave at the door. I would carry others’ burdens over rivers and mountains, while leaving my own baggage abandoned at the station.
Once I began to honor my introvert nudge, I learned that my INFJ “counselor personality” goes into overdrive in work that’s oriented toward helping people. But I could still draw on my joy in connecting with others by finding work that better balances the “we” with the “me.” My introvert nudge has since guided me to work that’s deeply rewarding, and gives me just the right balance of connection and solitude.
2. Quiet is loud enough for me.
A few years ago, I worked as an office manager in a very busy, very loud martial arts studio. I adored the children and the community, but consistently maxed out two hours into a four-hour shift. I would go home and stand alone in my clothes-lined (and thus sound-proof) closet, and soak up the quiet and solitude.
It took me four years of this to realize that my system is just not wired for a raucous environment. My mental and physical health were suffering, and I, like so many introverts, was trying to power through. My introvert nudge was drowned out by all the noise.
Just as emotional permeability can threaten our mental health, the sensory sensitivities of INFJs and HSPs can threaten our physical health. Our nervous systems are just not wired for certain environments. I discovered the role of adrenaline and the fight-or-flight response in anxiety.
By finally listening to my introvert nudge, now, when I feel the surge of adrenaline that once lead to anxiety attacks, I hear it as a warning sign to seek shelter and space from a too-much environment or situation. I am able to stay one step ahead, so even when the alarm is blaring, I’m calmly looking for the exit.
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3. When the world seems too big, find peace in the small.
The challenges we face as a nation or global community can be difficult for anyone, but we introverts often absorb this turmoil in unique ways. My intense desire to understand and make sense of the last few years, and my empathy for people from a variety of backgrounds, started to take its toll.
Fortunately, my introvert nudge reminded me that deep connection with a trusted someone might help. I reached out to a family member, and together we commiserated, then looked for a way forward.
His suggestion: We write and submit haiku for an upcoming poetry competition. Haiku is short poetry that seeks to capture brief moments in very few words. This was the perfect antidote to my angst. In writing haiku, I could tap into my INFJ strengths: It offered me a creative outlet, allowed us to help one another through a tough time, and was a step in a positive direction. The process asked me to seek out the beauty and meaning in the small things of life. My introvert nudge reminded me that even while we keep an eye on the complicated world around us, we need to keep an eye on the simple joys as well.
4. Having children doesn’t have to mean losing yourself.
When I became a parent eighteen years ago, I took the submersion approach to mothering: If this is “all” I am doing, I am going to do it all. So, added to the sleepless nights, endless diaper changes, and countless nursing sessions, was the mess of judgement I hurled at myself like so much dirty laundry (of which there was plenty!). My introvert nudge was completely drowned out by the advice of well-meaning relatives, meddling strangers, and my own critical self-talk.
Slowly, slowly my introvert nudge reminded me that looking after myself is important too. For INFJs, putting on the emotional equivalent of an airplane air mask before offering it to someone else doesn’t always feel right. But it really is so necessary.
In the early days of parenting, this meant dropping my son off with his grandma for three hours once a week. I would park my car in a shady spot and devour newspapers and chocolate-covered almonds, ravenous for solitude and sweetness. Now that toddler and his little sister are teenagers, and I am no longer submersed in the deep end of motherhood. But even though they only need me to occasionally dip a toe in the shallow end, my introvert nudge still reminds me it’s okay to grab a good book and watch from the shore.
My university days are long past, but life still occasionally asks me to squeeze myself into an ill-fitting box. Now, though, I listen to reminders from my sometimes faint but always faithful introvert nudge — usually before it becomes an introvert shove.