On Introverts and Extroverts

Linford’s family visited us on the weekend of Jenica’s birthday. As everyone was packing up to leave on Sunday evening, I collapsed on the sofa and said, “That was fun, but I’m exhausted.”

My sister-in-law smiled. “All the people.” It was not a question; she knows how it is.

Belatedly, I realized I should have saved my comment for after their departure. “I’m glad you came. It’s been so long since everyone was here, and Jenica won’t forget this birthday for a long time. I wish all the planning and the people wouldn’t wear me out, but it does.”

From across the room, my brother-in-law said, “That’s what I don’t get. The way you portray yourself in your writing—that’s not the Stephanie I know.”

“You mean because I say I’m an introvert, but I’m not shy and quiet?”

Shy and quiet? Far from it. The meek will inherit the earth, but my unconverted self could barely lay claim to a small, well-rounded pebble of it since I’ve spent my life with big, square-shouldered opinions. Redeemed, I have acquired a little meekness, but only a little and it is not my native land.

Am I an introvert or an extrovert? I struggled with this in the years prior to my marriage.

When the occasion called for it, I could be (still am) outspoken and opinionated. I loved teaching fifth grade for three years at our local Christian school. I could hold my own in any conversation I cared about and did far too frequently.

But I would come home, and in my quiet room, alone, I felt like I could finally breathe. During the school year, I would often go to bed on Sunday afternoon and sleep until Monday morning, exhausted by the teaching I loved. My best friends were books.

And my deepest, darkest secret: I hated slumber parties and hated hating them because it felt so abnormal. I just wanted to be light and vivacious and not care so much about whether I looked silly in my pajamas. Instead, I brooded in a sofa corner, conflicted because if just one of these girls would sit down and initiate a deep conversation with me, I would have no trouble finding the words I couldn’t scrape together in the crowd.

I felt like a bone yanked between Introvert and Extrovert. Which one was I?

I settled on introvert because I preferred books, learning, and one good friend over parties, hanging out, and many friends. But sometimes I would get these blank looks from people like the one my brother-in-law was wearing. What do you mean, you’re an introvert? You just got done hotly debating the state of Mennonite publishing.

I said to my brother-in-law, “Not long ago, I read Quiet by Susan Cain, and she had the best definition for introverts and extroverts that I’ve found. Extroverts draw energy from people. Being alone drains them. Introverts draw energy from solitude and quiet. Being with people drains them. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy, and extroverts aren’t necessarily loud. The difference is in how we are energized.”

The look on his face. “You mean I might be an introvert? When I’m in a large crowd, I go home with a tension headache.”

I looked him, outspoken, opinionated, a voracious reader who wasn’t above publicly disappearing into a book. “You might be. If people wear you out.”

Opinionated introverts often appear to be extroverts. This past weekend, I attended a writers’ conference. Although I can’t see myself from another’s perspective, I’m guessing I appeared to be neither shy nor reserved and definitely not unopinionated. But out of what felt like 376 conversations, I initiated maybe 4 of them.

And I came home exhausted.

To be greeted by a small man in red rubber fire-engine boots who hurled himself into my arms and squeezed.

Children are people, too.

I used to think I was a terrible mom because my children wore me out. Surely, if I loved them like I should, I would not crave an hour of solitude even more than my morning cup of coffee. A good mom does not plot seven different ways to escape the house without being seen.

But now, I understand. The constant stimulation of people, large and small, wears me out. I don’t choose to be this way, any more than my husband, the unopinionated extrovert, chose to be stimulated by people, and the more the merrier. Let’s invite the whole church while we’re at it.

I didn’t choose to be this way, but I can choose how I allow it to affect my relationships.

So I’m working on saying “Sure, sounds good” when my husband suggests last-minute company. This one is hard; I prefer at least twenty-four hours to prepare myself.

I’m working at finding five intentional minutes throughout the day and exalting in that wee bit of solitude, before returning to my children, who are ransacking the house for me, with a smile instead of a snap.

I’m learning that if I want enough energy to be a wife and mom, I can’t have a full social schedule. I stay home as much as possible.

I try to meet my children’s eyes and smile when they come to me, so they feel welcome and accepted.

In friendships, I’m learning that quality beats quantity for me every time. It used to be bother me that some people had 279 best friends and I had only one. Now I realize that I have only a few close friends not because I’m weird (well, not only because I’m weird) but because I’m wired that way.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I want to write about a topic that is tied closely to my introversion.

Because if you know me in real life and are as baffled as my brother-in-law, I’d like to you know even introverts can be loud and obnoxious. Introverts just wear out faster, so it’s over sooner.

Because if you see me in a public place somewhere, I want you to come over and introduce yourself. I am not a snob; I just initiate few conversations. I’d be thrilled to talk if you want to. You might regret it; don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Because once I understood the why, I could deal with the how. Being an introverted mom is hard. I can’t escape my people. I’m on call 24/7. Linford drives around all day by himself and comes home ready for Family Time. I’m thinking he looks like a pretty good babysitter, and he says, “What do you mean? We want to spend time with YOU, too.” That has been a recipe for a lot of frustration, but understanding why I feel overwhelmed goes a long way toward dealing with it. If this post helps just one introverted mom blow out a breath of relief, then it was worth writing.

What we really need is an Introverted Moms support group, but who am I kidding?

No one would attend the meetings.

28 thoughts on “On Introverts and Extroverts

  1. Thanks Stephanie! I finally found a definition that makes sense of me! Yes, I have a lot of opinions and enjoy talking, but I dislike meeting new people and initiating conversations and yes, large groups of people wear me out. It is somehow freeing to see myself more clearly.
    I very much enjoy your inspirational posts-thank-you!

  2. Interesting. Not sure I have myself figured out yet. Maybe I’m a shy extrovert? I enjoy being with people but I’m not good at starting conversations. I love deep discussions with a small group but can hardly talk in a big group and there are times I feel ready to scream for some peace n quiet(usually at supper:). But bring on the company…

    • Now you have me wanting to figure you out. 🙂 Uh…maybe you are an ambivert (yes, there are such people; I know at least two) who enjoys the opportunity to serve others with hospitality? And on your home territory you feel more comfortable?

      And I suspect all moms, no matter what -vert they are, want to occasionally scream for silence at the supper table.

  3. Here’s one mom you helped. I love that definition by Susan. I hate crowds but i love to talk and meet with friends one to one. I have opinions. I hate walking up to strangers…its hard hard work. I stay up late after everyone is sleeping because breathing space is more important than sleep. I can fake my way in a crowd for a little, then I am done. I want 24 hours notice etc etc. Thank you!

    • Funny. I almost included a sentence about staying up late because I love the quiet solitude, but then it didn’t quite fit, so I cut it. Besides, I’m trying to cut the habit because it exasperates my husband, who has to live with sleep-deprived me.

  4. This subject is a hard one for me to remain silent on. I love trying to figure out people and where they fit. I’ve also been in the danger zone of trying to categorize too much. I like how you bring out that the introvert can do extrovert things and the other way around. I call myself an extrovert, yet I find myself needing alone time and I’m not always bouncy, happy, and jolly. It’s been stressful when those around me think something is dreadfully wrong when I’m quiet and not so expressive. We are each a unique creation of God and the experiences in our lives tend to turn us into yet a more complex combination of personality.

    • Yes, and not only that, but a Spirit-controlled personality expresses itself differently than it does prior to conversion. Understanding my personality helps me identify my problem areas, but it does not excuse my bad behavior. No personality trait is beyond the redeeming blood of Jesus.

  5. So I’m not the only one like me in this world! I am an opinionated introvert…most people don’t believe the introvert side…just because I have an opinion doesn’t mean I like to be the center of attention in a crowd or group of people. I’ve been thinking you and I are alot alike as I have been reading your writings and today confirmed it….thanks for explaining me. 🙂 I forwarded this to my husband…maybe it’ll help him understand me better too. (We’ve been talking about going to Bible School again as faculty…my husband thrives on it and says I do great and the students love me…maybe, but I get exhausted just thinking about it, it is so draining!!) Thanks again!

    • I get exhausted just thinking about Bible school, too. As a student, I loved the learning, but the social activity drained me. After three weeks, I’d completely crash when I got home. I imagine that being part of the faculty is even more exhausting, because moms don’t have the luxury of a good crash now and then. It might happen, but it’s never a luxury–it’s a disaster.

  6. Oh. My. I really, really, really needed to read this. All the way to Sewing yesterday I battled with myself. My stomach hurt, I didn’t feel like eating lunch and racked my brain as to what I could talk about. And I’m 99.9% sure if you’d tell someone that’s the way I feel, they’d look at you in shock and totally disagree… Truly this is ‘freeing’ as in- so I’m not weird, I’m not stuck-up, I’m not anti-social (I think), and it’s ok to feel this way. I just need to work with it and go to Sewing anyhow. (And yes, I enjoyed it while I was there, and rejoiced in the quiet when I reached my vehicle…) Thank you!!!!

    • I worried for a long time I was anti-social because I enjoyed solitude more than crowds, but I no longer worry. For one thing, people crop up with astonishing regularity in my life, allowing me no time to turn into a hermit. For another, I’m learning there are ways to minister to others even in solitude.

      I like what you said about working with it and going anyway. Me, too. And it really helps when I can go without playing that personal blame game over my reluctance to leave the house.

  7. Thank you! Well, you have helped this one introverted (if that’s what you call it) mom to blow a breath of relief. Now I know I don’t have to feel guilty when I feel I must have a bit of solitude, even if it’s only locking myself in the bathroom for several minutes! And yes, enjoying a few quiet moments after everyone else is tucked in bed (that’s when I start feeling energized and now I understand why!)

  8. You know, I’m still recovering from the conference. I didn’t even post my Monday blog, I am so drained. A lot of that has to do with sleep deprivation also. I missed way too many hours last week.

    • You had quite the whirlwind trip, with some large responsibilities sandwiched in between flights. I was feeling grateful I had only four hours to drive. Hope you get your equilibrium back soon.

    • Luci, God bless you for giving. I know-giving is exhausting. I couldn’t make it up Friday because i was teaching. And sitting in your workshop Sat. made the day for me. I’m still chewing and brewing the ideas. And i’m free-writing. Never heard of it before. I had my students try it. They loved it. I’m fascinated with what comes out. Thanks and i’m looking forward to your next post.

      • Thanks, Karen. That encourages me and gives me courage. For some reason, I lost my stamina after the workshops, but it’s time for me to pick my courage out of my pockets and start writing again.

  9. Interesting. This answers some questions about myself. I go round and round with what I am. People look and listen and say extrovert because goodness knows that’s what they see. But I’d like nothing better then to stay home alone 7 days straight. Sometimes after all day of being needed, I just want to run! But then I go to the next social event and lose my inheritance of the earth! Sigh!

  10. Interesting! I believe I join you in the introvert club. Glad to know I’m not the only mom who sneaks through the house – beings our house has 7 doors leading outside, it makes it a little easier!

    And I remember those Bible School days. I made sure I got a top bunk and found a hide-a-way outside on the first day.

    Great post.

  11. Thanks for this post! So I might actually b an extrovert? I guess one who is tongue tied in public… Who enjoys the side lines and enjoys asking talkative strangers questions 🙂 but why I REALLY needed this post was because it suddenly clears the muddy water around my SIL!! Now I think I understand…

  12. I love articles about introversion since I am such a hardcore introvert myself. Really enjoyed reading yours. I come from a family of introverts, so it’s a bit hard to relate to my extroverted husband sometimes.

  13. Loved this post! I would definitely be in the same boat as you are! And it’s always amazed me how many of my married friends have married someone who is just the opposite nature!! Blessings!

  14. Thank you! I have been battling with this for years… Sure that I must just be anti-social. I know, my friends would stare at me if I ever say that! But it’s so true, I enjoy going away, but even more than that I look forward to coming back home. I struggle with tension migraines almost every time I go away. And last week my husband was ordained a minister. So, there will be lots of going away for us. I only read the post now, but it’s just as if God had you write this just for me!! Again, thank you!

  15. I get energy from being alone, and love a quiet day at home. But I do try to initiate conversations and enjoy talking to people (in a group or alone) very much. Loving Jesus, and letting Him change you to be a lover of people is so key to being an open, friendly introvert! I also think hormones can play a big part in this as well.

  16. Yes! You said it well! I understand the “loud introvert”. Sheds some light on my questions on how can I want to be at home all the time, be drained by crowds, and yet be willing to debate a topic in a group of people. Well written!

    • Thank you, Andrea. It’s nice to know there are more like me out there. Glad to see you here, although not much happens in these parts anymore. I’ll meet you in your inbox. 🙂

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