When I was a teenager, I kept to myself. My childhood years were somewhat similar, and during that time, my parents would patiently (and somewhat adoringly) refer to me as a “shy boy.” It was sweet, endearing, and something they assumed I would grow out of.
Only I didn’t.
My “shy” qualities remained as I entered my post-puberty years, and suddenly those positive terms were no longer in my parents’ vocabulary.
They were replaced by new phrases. “You should get out more,” or “You should try out for a sport,” or the most hurtful, “Why don’t you ever have any friends over?” The tone of these questions was clear: They were asking what was wrong with me.
An Introvert, I Felt Like a Social Failure
I never considered that I was an introvert and that my behavior wasn’t something to be ashamed of. Instead, I internalized the way I obviously disappointed my family and classmates, wondering what had failed inside me.
I didn’t like parties, crowds, or loud music. I didn’t enjoy meeting new people, especially people my age. In school, I got along with people well enough and had several friends, but when the bell rang, I couldn’t wait to be alone in my own space, away from the exhausting strain of being surrounded by people.
Both my parents were social butterflies. Their existence was a constant stream of get-togethers, dinner invitations, and guests at all hours. Friends from their college days or people they met while traveling planted themselves in our home for weeks at a time. I was expected to take part, to entertain when those guests or friends had kids my age. I could barely grin my way through it, always escaping at the first available opportunity.
Of course, you know where this is going. Nothing was wrong with me; nothing had failed within me. I was simply an introvert, meaning I’m one of those people who needs time alone to process their day, who can’t handle the constant onslaught of sociability that is expected in society today.
What I Wish I Could Have Told My Extroverted Parents
I wish I could go back in time and talk to my parents about all this. My mother and father are wonderful people, loving and encouraging. They gave me an incredible life, and I will forever be grateful to them.
But there was a strain in my teen years related to my need for silence and alone time. They saw it not as a natural inclination by people with my temperament and instead a testament to my unhappiness.
That wasn’t only due to my “shyness,” as they had put it in my younger years. It was also because I had a tendency towards — sometimes gloomy — introspection. I, like so many other introverts, have always thought a little too much, leaving me stuck in my thoughts more than interacting with others.
My parents, on the other hand, are both open books. They don’t have time to closely examine the minutiae of life, because they are too busy living it. In their opinions, the world is there to be experienced, not read about or observed. That their son would rather hang out in the background seemed to them proof that they were failing to engage me, that they were doing something wrong.
Today I can look back with greater understanding and experience. I can honestly say that I missed out on nothing, and certainly, I was not unhappy. My place in the world is less about craving the adventures of the unknown and more about quietly examining and making sense of it all. My interactions with others aren’t based around quantity, but rather quality. Because my tolerance for interaction is lower, I make the time I can take count for more.
That is where I find my fulfillment, which is what I was unable to articulate to my extroverted parents when I was a child. I carefully picked and chose who I spent my time with. I cherished the moments I was in their presence. I watched the world around me, finding a quiet place within the bustle. Then, later, I retreated into my own world to take it all in, remember it, and recover from the experience.
When I finally started to recognize my introversion, I was able to find ways to cope with feeling overwhelmed. I also found more self-acceptance and peace knowing there wasn’t something “wrong” with me.
If you’re the parent of an introverted child, introversion is nothing to be afraid of. We are methodical people who contemplate and consider our experiences carefully. Allowing myself to unwind and settle back into my own skin made it possible for me to do it all over again the next day. Remember to allow your introverted child the same courtesy, and you’ll see significant strides in their abilities to socialize and self-love.
Introverted Dad, Extroverted Son
Today I have my own little family. At least one of my children is showing signs of extroversion, like his grandparents. I am happy that I was able to experience it from the other side, so now I will hopefully be able to give my son the greatest understanding possible as he sets out on his own.
But I’ll admit that even I don’t always understand him.
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