My husband and I recently lost our first pregnancy. He is an extrovert and I am an introvert. What I learned about myself and him from this experience has been instrumental in growing our marriage. Though we both suffered the same loss, we processed our grief very differently.
Supporting someone who is grieving can be a tough task. Supporting an introvert who is grieving comes with its own unique challenges. Here are five ways to love an introvert as they grieve.
How to Support an Introvert Who Is Grieving
1. Give us space to process.
Introverts process things internally, and we need time to wrap our head around something before we talk about it. We turn our experiences over and over in our minds, examining them from many angles. Because of this mental investment, we tend to process things slowly.
If you’re an extrovert, you may be ready to talk about the loss much sooner than your introvert feels ready. Give us time, and understand that if we are not talking with you, that doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t want you to be part of our grieving process. We move slower and with deep intention, especially when navigating grief. Give us space for this meaningful process.
2. Be present while respecting our quietness.
Asking an extrovert to be present but quiet can be a challenge. I know, because I’m married to one! But what my husband and I have learned about each other over the years is just because we process differently does not mean the other’s process is wrong.
My husband used to take my silence for anger or frustration. What he has learned is my silence is not about him — it’s just the way my brain works. I love being able to sit quietly with my thoughts. Silence allows me to iron out details or consider a new angle to an old problem.
When it comes to grief, silence, I have learned, is especially crucial. I need to be able to turn inward and remember the person I was before the loss and the dreams and goals I once had. I need quiet space to mentally release those lost expectations. Regardless of the loss I am grieving, giving me the gift of silence is a respectful way of communicating that you understand my needs and can show up for me.
3. Just let us feel.
Many introverts, especially highly sensitive introverts, are deeply emotional. We are okay with simply sitting with an emotion without feeling the instant impulse to run from it. As strong empaths, our souls are easily wounded by the pain of the world. This pain resonates deep when it is a personal loss.
In those moments, we need someone who can be okay with us not being okay. We need you to allow us to live in the depth of loss and grief and not try to move us past it too quickly. I can assure you, we highly sensitive introverts will not appreciate when you try to rush us through our pain because you are not comfortable with it yourself.
I have experienced this as a loved one was quick to tell me that I needed to stop sitting in my pain and get moving. What she did not realize in that moment was the pain I was experiencing was part of my process. To brush past it would mean ignoring a need I had to navigate that grief and not simply bypass it.
Please trust that eventually we will come to a place where we are ready to start making forward movement. But until then, allowing us to fully feel the pain of our loss shows us your love and respect for our process.
4. Remind us that we are not alone.
When grieving, introverts gravitate toward burrowing into themselves. The weight of what we are experiencing may make us forget how important it is not to isolate.
This is when presence is needed more than ever. We want you there, but we may forget to ask. Reminding us that we are loved and are not walking alone can be critical to us emerging from our grief. Loss may easily muddle our mental process and leave us feeling stuck and unsure of how to move forward. Coming by our side and pulling us out of ourselves by being present can be one of the greatest gifts you give us.
This point may seem contradictory to my first three points, so let me acknowledge that an introvert’s needs are complex. The easiest way to address complexity is simply to ask. As we navigated the loss of our baby, my husband did an amazing job of this. Because he cannot read my mind (a reminder that we should not expect anyone to do so), he frequently asked what I needed. And, perhaps most important, he remained receptive to the fact that my needs might change from hour to hour. This was one of the most loving things he did for me during my grief.
5. Gently challenge our “people” capacity.
This last point may seem like it is the most difficult one, and perhaps it is. It is also one that should come toward the end of the introvert’s grief process.
After the loss of our baby, it took me two and half weeks to leave the house for anything other than work. One night, my husband suggested we go out, just the two of us, and grab a drink. He suggested a place that was small, fairly calm, and with low lighting. I appreciated those aspects, because I was not ready yet to be around a crowd, and I didn’t want to be seen if I started to cry. It was a short outing, but one I truly enjoyed, because it brought a much-needed sense of normalcy back to my life.
My birthday was the next week, and we invited a small group of our closest friends over for dinner. That night, I learned that I was not yet ready for groups, and I struggled to engage with anyone. The process of challenging my “people” capacity was trial and error, but it kept us moving forward and helped bring me out of my pit of grief.
Be gentle with your introvert as they navigate grief. Remember to ask what they need and how you can help. And above all, be patient. Your willingness to walk with us as we struggle will be one of the most loving things we experience during our grief.
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