Recently I learned something about myself that I had never realized. For years, I had been told I was very social, the life of the party, and an extrovert. However, on the inside, I never felt that way. In large groups, I often feel out of place, and I struggle with small talk. I am friendly and will talk with people, but if I have to speak with them too long, I will feel completely drained. My entire life I have always enjoyed helping other people, but after I finish, I need considerable down time to reflect and recharge. I have always struggled in social groups. In fact, I am really bad in social groups if I am going to be completely honest. I struggle to have friends for friend’s sake. In order for me to be invested, I need to feel a deep connection. If I am going to really open up, it will be in a one on one setting as I rarely trust the dynamics of a group environment. I have been told my whole life I am an extrovert, and I even thought I was an extrovert because I am not a shy person. Then I was meeting with a psychologist, and as we dug into my life it was revealed I’m actually a friendly introvert.
A Friendly Introvert? Is that even a THING? I had no idea an introvert could be friendly, but I am learning that introvert and extrovert personality has less to do with how you engage with others but more about how you recharge and what invigorates you. I am a reader, I love to write, and I absolutely love to spend hours researching and learning about new topics. When I have had a night out with friends, I will go home and analyze what I said, what I didn’t say, and figure out if what I did was appropriate or inappropriate given the social setting. It will take me a couple days to prepare for a night out, and I will often find a million reasons to stay at home. My social circle is very, very small. It is very difficult for me to exist in a group of people. In fact, the politics, social rules and personality dynamics of groups physically drain me.
It has never become more evident to me that I am an introvert than when I became a mom. The world of mom is like a series of one group to the next. There are baby classes, Early Childhood classes, toddler playgroups, preschool groups, volunteer groups for school, mom groups for support, and the list goes on and on. I have struggled at every single stage with the groups of motherhood. I love to develop relationships with others, but the idea of being in a group makes me very anxious, my skin gets clammy, and I get incredibly uncomfortable in these social settings. I have found ways over the years to excuse myself, remove myself, or make myself completely unavailable for these types of groups. I have found myself always drawn to close relationships with one or two people. If anyone tries to pull me out of this dynamic, I get incredibly uncomfortable. I try to tell people that I don’t do groups, but most people simply don’t buy it or believe it because I am a friendly person.
Being friendly does not mean that I am automatically an extrovert. It simply means I do enjoy engaging with others, and I do enjoy getting to know people. I love to make others smile, and there is no easier way to do that than by smiling at them. However, being stuck in a conversation with small talk will not only exhaust me but it will bring out my fight or flight. My body will find a million ways to try to leave the conversation, and over the years I have found creative ways to excuse myself from small talk. I find it best to keep it simple with people. Not all introverts hate people. We don’t all want to be stuck at home all the time, but we also don’t want to be forced to have small talk in order to socialize. I am best one on one, and friends who know me one on one would say in that type of dynamic I am personable and talkative. I may even lead the conversation in this type of environment. I am drawn to others that enjoy intimate interactions. My favorite type of days is a coffee date with a friend, spending the day at a friends house making bread or going for a walk or having a glass of wine over sushi with a good friend.
It is hard to find people in the social world that don’t want to be in groups. Everything we do in society seems to be structured around groups and group activities. The introvert in me silently yearns for a world of intimate one on one conversations, no awkward conversations at the playground while I watch my son play, and an invisible cape for the days I just really don’t want to talk to anyone when I am out in the world. However, I am forced to put on my smiley face so the world doesn’t think I’m a freak for preferring quiet time and nights at home with Netflix instead of parties.
I am finally starting to realize that it’s better to embrace your personality than fight to be something you are not. For years, I have forced myself to be social for social sake, and I have forced myself to try groups over and over. While I won’t give up on groups, I know I will not be my best in a group. I understand my limits now, and I realize that after time with groups I will need considerable time to myself. The introvert in me is strong, and it needs to be taken care of with books, reading, writing, quiet reflection, yoga, and meditation.
If you are reading this and feel the same, embrace your Introvert and know it’s ok to NOT go to the social events out of obligation. Go to the events when your Extrovert tank is full, and leave as soon as you feel it getting to empty! Be brave and embrace your need for the time by yourself. Do all the reflection you need. Don’t feel like you have to be a group person because other people are group people. Find the people that can you can be you with, and cultivate those relationships. The struggle for the friendly introvert is real, and we can overcome it – alone.