Growing up as the only introvert in a house full of extroverts was hard. I thought I was “wrong” for needing solitude.
I remember it so clearly. I was 20 years old and home from college for the summer. I was back to working my summer job as an ice cream scooper.
The field of scooping is a young person’s game, so at the ripe old age of 20, I’d been promoted to shift manager. This meant I worked 8-10 hours a day, interacting with customers and noisy kids, all while managing a team of high schoolers and keeping everything running smoothly. There was a lot of noise, a lot of people, and a lot of multitasking. It was utterly exhausting for this introvert.
The day of this particular incident, I knew I’d be travelling with my family to attend my cousin’s 21st birthday party the next day. Knowing my need to recharge, my plan was to spend the evening after my shift alone in my room, sleeping off my introvert hangover and gathering my strength for the party.
As I returned home from work, my parents were sitting on the porch, listening to music. Like the dutiful daughter I was, I did what was expected of me and sat a while to visit. When I eventually tried to excuse myself, my dad said, “Where are you going?”
“Upstairs?” I responded like it was obvious.
“No, you’re not. You never spend any time with us,” or, at least he said something along those lines. Something that was meant to guilt-trip me into foregoing my much-needed alone time.
I explained that if he wanted me to be pleasant at the party the next day, I’d need to take some time to be alone now. They could spend time with me now or later, but they couldn’t have it both ways.
“Oh, come on!” retorted my dad (his classic catch phrase). Then it was followed by something like, “Don’t be so dramatic.” I was always “the dramatic one” with my need for quiet and solitude.
That’s when I got up and ran away.
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How Could My Parents Dismiss My Introvert Needs So Easily?
Okay, I didn’t run away. I walked to the end of our street, sat down on the grass, and cried, not knowing what else to do. I couldn’t figure out why my parents didn’t understand me. Why, it seemed, they refused to understand me.
I wondered how they could dismiss my needs so easily without ever thinking that my need to sit alone in silence could be as valid as their need to sit in company with music playing.
As a teenager, this kind of thing happened often, and each time, it shook me to my core and made me question my identity. I felt like something was wrong with me for needing to spend time alone to recharge.
How to Survive Living With Extroverted Parents
Now, as an adult living with her parents again for the first time in 10 years, I understand better how to make this whole thing work. Here’s how I’ve survived as an introvert living with extroverted parents, the second time around.
Use a White Noise Machine
This machine has been my savior, seriously. A white noise machine is a little round device that emits a noise similar to that of an air conditioner. It works wonders in blocking unwanted sounds from your personal space.
If you don’t have the means to get a white noise machine, you can download white noise apps on your phone or use a YouTube video. I even listen to white noise through my phone with noise-cancelling headphones when eating lunch at work or cooking in the kitchen at home.
This doesn’t drown out all noises, however. Bass, for instance, still comes through, but it blocks out enough that I can escape into my own world when I need to and forget that there are other people around.
Create Your Own Space
When I was a kid, I, unsurprisingly, spent a lot of time in my bedroom. So much, in fact, that the space began to feel stale, and I had a hard time falling asleep at night. Still, I refused to spend my downtime in a common family room where I knew people would be walking through and talking constantly.
As an adult, when I moved back in with my parents, we turned a spare bedroom into what we call the “sitting room.” This is my own personal living room that I can escape into whenever I need to unwind.
If you can’t do something like this (I couldn’t as a kid), try to create separate spaces within your bedroom. Get a chair or a couch to create a boundary between your sitting area and your sleeping area; maybe use a bookshelf or two as a makeshift wall. Get creative and make the space your own!
Set Clear Boundaries
This is something that I struggled with a lot until I lived on my own. I was so worried about gaining my parents’ approval that I was nervous about asserting my needs and creating the boundaries I needed to be successful.
But learning how to do this is so essential to your wellbeing. Make it clear that if you’re going to have family time one day, you need the next day to yourself.
Call upon your ability to listen and empathize so you can create a compromise. For example, I realized that my dad needed to play his music to unwind, so I give him his set time to be noisy, then he gives me my set time of quiet.
Of course, this isn’t as easy when you’re young. Being an adult has definitely helped me gain the respect I didn’t get as a teenager, but it’s good to practice.
(Here are more tips on how to set boundaries when you’re a peace-loving introvert.)
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Know It Gets Better
Growing up as the only introvert in a house full of extroverts was hard, and I couldn’t wait to move out. I felt so different, and I thought that I was “wrong” for needing solitude.
But you’re not. Over time, your parents will start to see you, and they’ll start to listen more — at least my parents did. Just keep being clear about your needs and offer yourself kindness and compassion — especially when you’re struggling to make it through another week of school after a weekend with the ‘rents.
It may seem hard now, but, I promise you, it will get better.