For the vast majority of my life I was extremely, painfully shy. I feared the judgment of others, and constantly worried about their opinion of me. My social skill were non-existent; I have spent many, many hours picking over conversations, replaying them over and over again. Desperately seeking ways to retrospectively improve my responses.
I dreaded meeting new people, parties made me want to hide in a corner and I swayed between feeling too visible and invisible.
It took a lot of work, but I’m now far more confident and actually enjoy social gatherings – up to a point. Because it wasn’t until I conquered my shyness that I realised that I am actually kind of an introvert. And no, it’s not the same as being shy. As an introvert I will seek quiet, less-stimulating environments. Social gathering and interaction can leave me exhausted, both mentally and physically. Like most introverts, I have a small group of intimate friends, and I’m a great listener. I also rock when it comes to empathy.
Although I don’t believe I am a complete and absolutely introvert, there are times when I need to get my head together and rebuild my energy levels. There are also times when I need the people around me to understand my desire for alone time, and not feel slighted if I prefer to stay in with a good book rather than party on down.
So how do you make an introvert feel comfortable?
1) If you see us sitting alone at a social gathering, don’t ask repeatedly if we are OK. Yes we sitting alone, but we may be sitting alone through choice and be perfectly happy to do so. By all means strike up a conversation, but don’t push it. Give us the go-ahead to join in with whatever party games, etc may be on offer then give us our space.
2) We have a limited amount of energy to use at social gatherings. Think of it as an ‘energy bucket’ – when it’s empty, it’s empty. The only way we can refill it is to spend some time alone. So please don’t expect us to participate in activities that will empty our bucket faster that you can say ‘karaoke’.
3) Don’t assume that we are not taking part in the conversation. An introvert will read between the lines of a conversation. Whilst others talk, we will listen and process the information offered. As a result our insights can be remarkable.
4) Don’t expect us make a lot of small talk. We will if we have to, but we hate small talk. All interaction can be exhausting so we see small talk as an unnecessary drain on our ‘energy bucket”.
5) Don’t assume that we don’t like people. On the contrary, introverts value the friends we have. We can usually count our close friends on one hand. If an introvert considers you a friend, you will probably have an ally for life.
6) We don’t want to be extraverts, so don’t try to change us. Introverts cannot ‘fix themselves’, and we deserve respect for our natural temperament. The world is filled with poetry, music, art, films, books, science and philosophy and most of it is due to the introverts among us.
7) Give us time to decompress. After a party we desperately need some down time. We need time alone in order to recharge our batteries and fill our ‘buckets’.
8) If you are our significant other, we need a signal. We are not great at mingling, which makes us sitting ducks for chatterboxes. We are also not great at extracting ourselves from long, boring conversations, which means we may need rescuing. You see our private signal, you come running – now!
9) Likewise we need a ‘let’s leave’ signal. There are times when we are so overstimulated and exhausted we just have to leave a social gathering. Please be understanding and know that we are not leaving to make you miss out, we are leaving because our brain is about to explode. Again, see our private signal and say your goodbyes.
10) For the love of all that is holy do not throw us a surprise party! Seriously, don’t do that because we may very well fall apart.
11) Don’t be afraid to ask us to speak in front of a crowd (just don’t expect us to make small talk afterwards). Some of the world’s most successful businesspeople are introverts (including Bill Gates), we are usually happy to talk to an audience if we are interested in, and enthused by, the subject matter. Some of us actually enjoy public speaking.
12) We are not shy. I get that some of the signals we give out are tantemount to shyness, but it’s not that we can’t interact with hundreds of people, we prefer not to (most of the time). The big difference between an introvert and a person who is shy is that while an introvert will quite happily skip a social gathering to stay at home with a good book, a person who is shy feels that they have no choice other than to stay at home.
13) Love us and hug us – with permission of course 🙂