Monday, September 07, 2009


All the warning signs were there: my aversion to phone calls, my love for solitary reading, my disinclination toward meaningless chit-chat (and by extension, the entire institution of Visiting Teaching).

And yet I have always been hesitant to self-identify as an introvert. After all, I really don't mind being around other people, especially people who I am friends with. I am not afraid of speaking in public, even in front of large groups. I do consider myself to be socially awkward in general, but I am not incapable of making friends or enjoying myself at a party. Surely the label "introvert" was best applied to people other than me, people who are completely dysfunctional in polite company. Maybe I was just shy. Except shy didn't seem to fit me, either.

So what am I? Antisocial? Timid? Awkward? Taciturn? A loner? Nothing described me adequately.

And then I read this article: "Caring For Your Introvert," by Jonathan Rauch, from The Atlantic (thanks for the heads-up, Bryce). My life will never be the same. Now I know: I AM AN INTROVERT.

Everything makes sense now. As an introvert, I am

not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say "Hell is other people at breakfast." Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.

Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses."

Now, before I start getting angry comments from (people who thought they were my?) friends, let me explain. Just because I'm an introvert doesn't mean I am incapable of enjoying good company. But it does explain a few things, doesn't it? Now you all know why I was incapable of scheduling simple play dates, or returning your calls, or inviting you over for dinner or games. The introvert part of me could only ever see all the awkwardness involved or mistakes I would make or social effort I would have to expend. Now I understand that an extrovert, on the other hand, would see only the pleasure of other people's company while trusting that all the other details would fall into place. It all makes so much sense now!

I specifically remember attending a party a few months ago for a good friend's one-year-old daughter. The setting was gorgeous. The food was varied and delicious. There were cute decorations and lots of fun activities. The party was so good and such a success that as an introvert, I was exhausted just by attending. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, but I was worn out from all the quality socializing. And all I had to do was show up! I remember seeing the host and hostess - you know, the people who actually put on the party, cooked the food, decorated the venue, etc. - smiling and mingling and having a good time along with their guests, seeming to do so effortlessly. If it had been my responsibility to throw a party like that, I would have long since locked myself in the bathroom to cry.

I confess I feel liberated by at last discovering - or perhaps just finally being willing to admit - that I am an introvert.

What say you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? I wonder if I'll be surprised about anyone I know. I think I kept my introversion under wraps pretty well. I'm guessing that most people who knew me probably just thought I was a very unskilled extrovert. I think there are probably introverts out there who have become very good at mimicking extrovert behavior, but I am not one of them.


JackJen said...

You don't return calls, either? I keep telling people to email me, but few listen.


I read that article when it was on your gmail status and I really enjoyed it---and can now better-defend my assertion that I AM an introvert.

Liz Johnson said...

Well crap. I always thought I was an extrovert, but I don't know that I am anymore. I'm definitely not an introvert (ha), but I find organizing and planning and carrying out activities and social events to be stressful and not worth the effort. I enjoy being around people and socializing (and I do reach for my cell phone far more often than a book), but I hate being the one in charge of organizing the planning. I'm far better at just hanging out on the playground and chatting than I am at throwing a birthday party. Maybe I'm a low-maintenance extrovert. Or a low-effort extrovert.

I am having a minor identity crisis now.

Liz Johnson said...

Also, I would've guessed you as an introvert. Chris is a total introvert in the same way you are. I see it as a good thing, something enviable even. :)

Nancy said...

We read that article, too.

Definitely introverts. Definitely.

We enjoy small doses of people, but we're perfectly comfortable sitting in absolute silence for hours.

Our poor children will never have a carnival-sort of birthday...but they'll probably end up being introverts if genetics plays any part, and won't care.

Jeremy actually told the wives in Jordan that you'd be willing to visit with us/do anything with us but that we'd have to get the ball rolling because you weren't very "outgoing" (or something like that--I'm not sure what word he used). Unfortunately I'm not great at getting the ball rolling, either.

Good thing we're both introverts and can still be friends in spite of that. ;)

Brittany Cornett said...

Not to become serious when most people would write a witty joke but I was thinking you are talking about two extremes. I think most likely there is a spectum or range if you will in which people's personalities lie on. I cant say I am introvert or an extovert. If I dont get any time alone it kills me. But on the other hand some of my most recent happy moments involve me talking to other adults about adult things. Also I have a question for you Bridget would someone who is completely introverted write a blog that so many people post comments to and look at every week?

Amanda said...

I would have guessed about your introvertness. I'm almost exactly in between the two options. I hate calling people I don't know (and also have a hard time with visiting teaching), and I often let the phone go to the answering machine if I don't recognize the phone number. But, I can only be alone for so long and am willing to organize playdates/dinner/games to ward off insanity.

Bridget said...

"If I dont get any time alone it kills me. But on the other hand some of my most recent happy moments involve me talking to other adults about adult things."

Brittany, this also describes me perfectly. That's why I struggled against identifying myself as an introvert for so long. So yes, I think there is a spectrum, but as I read that article, I realized I was more solidly on the introvert side than I thought.

My affinity for blogging is a mystery to me. I prefer email to phone so maybe I prefer blogging to conversation? I don't think that's a perfect analogy but there must be an answer.

Susanne said...

I, too, read this when I saw it on your Gmail status. I liked it so much, I shared it on Facebook.

I much prefer writing to talking on the phone. Even back in the days of pen and paper. E-mail = heaven!

I like being with people and can usually hold my own as far as being conversational and even charming at times. But I just can't be with people 24/7. Actually when we went to Damascus, I told Andrew that it was killing me to be with him every hour of every day. Ha, ha. Nice, huh? I just like my alone time. Really, I NEED it.

And I think blogging is fine for an introvert. Introvert doesn't mean private. By blogging, you have your small doses of human interaction, leave it alone for your quiet, refueling time and then come back to it ON YOUR TERMS. That's how I see it anyway.

Natchel said...

My absolute favorite book ever about personality types is called "Enneagram made easy" by Baron and Wegele. It is really, really fascinating the way it lays out your personality. I learned so much about what kind of person I am and I really recommend it.

Crys said...

I struggle to know where I fall. I enjoy spending time with people and when Dr. J comes home I barrage him with talk, some about our children, most about random tidbits that I've acquired throughout the day. I love being with my sisters, and I love laughing so hard that it hurts. I enjoy running into friends on the playground when I'm watching my kids, it makes the time go faster. On the other hand, I despise making phone calls. I warned my new visiting teachees that I would be the worst ever, because I hate calling. Dinner parties stress me out, this includes feeding the missionaries :(. I do it occasionally because I feel this obligation but I don't find it enjoyable. I ditched our most recent ward party and a friend party that same night because I was just feeling "overwhelmed". I enjoy spending huge chunks of my life reading. I've been staying up until two the last few weeks so that I can have "alone" time without Jason or the kids. I talk to my favorite cousins on Facebook, blogger, IM and have managed to avoid having voice conversations with them for years. So tell me, what am introvert, an extrovert, just a vert :) Nancy I think you are more of an extrovert then you give yourself credit for :)

Jeanerbee said...

I've been reading the book "Raising Your Spirited Child" which opened my eyes to the whole intorvert/extrovert idea. Being an introvert doesn't mean you are shy/socially awkward as you mentioned - it just means you need alone time to recharge. This is WONDERFULLY helpful insight when you are a parent. I'm mostly an extrovert, with strong introvert side. My oldest is an introvert as well - understanding this totally helps me help him when he starts to get cranky.

AmandaStretch said...

I realized I was introvert as part of a class I was taking at BYU. It was an education class and we did some personality testing, similar to Meyers-Briggs. I love spending time with small groups of people, but I need my alone time to recharge. Big groups? Kind of freaks me out. If I'm going to a large party, especially on my own, I give myself a time limit of sorts. If I'm not having fun after an hour in or so, I'm free to leave.

Case in point - when I first moved to DC, my new-then roommates took me to a birthday shindig less than 36 hours after I arrived. The first half of the outing was bowling with maybe 8 people total, and I was just fine. Then, we went to the second half, which had been announced to EVERYONE in the DC and suddenly I was in a house with at least 100 people that I didn't know. I really did retreat into a corner and sit by myself until my roommates were ready to go. Conversely, I realized at about 3 PM today that I had yet to talk to anyone at all and, unless I made it to the grocery store (which I did later), I wouldn't. So, I called my sister and had a lovely talk with her.

I agree that there is a spectrum, as I have some extrovert qualities, but I do fall on the introvert side and I LOVE that both live and mostly work alone now. I usually get to choose when I interact with anyone, and especially who comes into my home.

One problem I've noticed, since "diagnosing" myself as an introvert is that sometimes I use it as a cop-out. I recognize my social anxiety for what it is and sometimes use it as the reason I won't go to a party or something, even though it's true. Sometimes I feel like it's getting worse, or maybe I'm just noticing it more. Or maybe I'm just currently very sensitive about it because I just moved to a new ward a few months ago. I don't know. Like you said, it's not a bad thing. Just don't let it get the best of you. :)

Sorry for the long comment. Interesting topic. :)

Bluebell said...

Hello, Amanda's Friend,

I am an introvert. So is my husband. It bothers me that people think there is something wrong with being introverted. There is nothing wrong with introversion. It's just a different way of operating. You should read The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney. I didn't bother to read all the other comments, so take this comment as a completely independent thought, not part of the conversation, if you will. And I'm not blog-stalking you, I just happen to have an interest in the topic, so when I saw it on Amanda's sidebar I had to see what you had to say.
Amanda's sister-in-law

Kat Clark said...

I love you no matter what you are. I think it's great that you are finally comfortable with the person you are. I wish I could just take myself as I am and be happy.

The Ensign's said...

I think it's obvious what I am. It's soooo true. I LOVE being around people and it's sad and lonely when I have to spend all day by myself. (I mean I LOVE my kids, but I long for that adult intersaction/conversation)
I never would have guessed that you were uncomfortable in those settings. You hid it well. I knew that you weren't the type of person that would want to hang out all day everyday, but I never realized that in certain situations/gatherings you were uncomfortable. Well even after all this if you still lived here I'd still be inviting you guys over for dinner and games or to the occasional playgroup/girls night out that I arrange. However, if you didn't show up I wouldn't take it personally.
This post is actually really good for all your extrovert friends. We now know not to take things personally when you politely decline an invitation to a party. Good to know now that you've moved across the country.

Tyler Ball said...

I think it's funny every time I ask Amanda to order the pizza but she won't do it.

Eevi said...

I totally need my alone time and I cannot handle having my days too full of social time. I could hang out with my best friends every day, just not all day long. I prefer smaller groups and close friends and do not feel the need to have 100 friends. However, sometimes I feel the social pressure of being this social butterfly. I actually think that I used to be more of an extrovert and now I've become more of an introvert. Not to sound cheesy, but it might be because I always have a best friend at home with me that I don't feel the need to be on-the-go all day. Sorry for the long post. I loved the article. Wouldn't life be so much easier if we all could just be happy with our own personality and preferences:)

Jeremy Palmer said...

I congratulate Janae for admitting to her extroversion. That's why we like her and Chad... just in small doses. :)

Britney said...

I'm introverted, too. I wrote about this on my blog a few months ago after reading a book called Mother Styles. I'd much rather be home reading or blogging, even cleaning, than going out to a party.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely an introvert, and Scott is, too. I always need to recharge after spending time with people, no matter how much I like them. I sometimes think extroversion is preferred in U.S. culture, but I've come to be happy as the introvert I am.


Steven said...

At first I thought I was an introvert, but once I read the article, I realized that almost none of the description fits me. I feel like half the time I'm an introvert, and half the time I'm an extrovert. I might just be in the dead center of the spectrum.

Bridget said...

Jen, I forgot to mention to you that not only am I bad at returning phone calls, if I do "return" them, it is by email. Sad. And yet so much more effective for me.

Britney, your blog post was what got me thinking about this recently. I took the test and it said I was an introvert. It kind of surprised me, but then again not really.

Steven, I would have thought you were solidly an introvert.

Susanne said...

Wow, this subject has generated a lot of responses. I found it of great interest as well.

Bridget, I also return phone calls by e-mail. So much quicker to me than actually having to bother someone and then talk, talk, talk. I'm not always in the mood for that. :)

Jennifer said...

So according to all of this, I'm extroverted?? I never would have guessed as I consider myself somewhat shy, though able to to be outgoing when I know I need to be.

I never realized before that I do find it energizing to be around other people and maybe I should be more sensitive to my husband who is always ready to leave a social gathering sooner than I am. It never occurred to me that it could be tiring for him, etc. Really, I agree with the Ensigns that this is really helpful for those of us who (apparently) are more extroverted. :)

Kristen said...

I've always known you were an introvert. :)

I loved the article excerpt.

Is it possible to be a little bit of both? That's me, I think. My husband is definitely an introvert, and it is important to be sensitive to the differences. Sometimes I think I just want to be extroverted but I'm just masking my introversion.

Beth said...

Bridget, I thought of you and this discussion of introversion last week, when my sweetheart asked me to call our neighbor to update him on a project they were doing together for me (essentially, tell him how the flower boxes were coming) and I said I would rather not. After twenty-some years together, he looked at me quizzically and said, "Someday I'm going to figure out why it is you don't want to do things like that." And here I thought I'd been very subtle in not wanting to return phone calls or be the one to invite our neighbors to dinner or have the phone handed to me with the 'suggestion', "Here, say hi to my sister."

I am an introvert! Get used to it!

Ashi said...

Hi Bridget -

Just read your 1000th post which linked back to this one.. I think it probably shows that I'm an introvert as well. I've always considered myself just anti-social because it has always seemed just as appropriate, however, maybe it isn't. Either way - meh :) I am what I am and that's all that I am


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