The recent rise of discussions about introverts has been good for both extroverts and introverts in a number of ways, but what I have found most affecting is that much of the discussion, rather than pegging introversion as some kind of special disorder, has revolved around the strengths that come with being an introvert.
When I was a kid during the 1970s and 80s, my introversion was treated like a peculiarity that needed correction as if it was some kind of non-fatal flaw like being buck-toothed or very near-sighted. I know this because I was both of those things andintroverted, and since we had to accept my need for Holly Hobbie glasses and how long it would take for me to grow into my giant front teeth, people took it upon themselves to urge me to get out into the social arena. I know my friends and family meant well at the time—they thought they were helping me to be less awkward—but their machinations to get me on the field, on stage, and into social situations made for moreawkwardness, not less.
It’s no wonder that I started to view my natural inclination to spend time alone as a pernicious quirk—a personality defect best hidden, if not overcome. This did not lead to a strong sense of confidence, and I spent the majority of my younger years struggling against my introversion so that I wouldn’t appear “strange”—as I was so often described.
One of the brilliant things about post-grade-school adulthood, though, is that all the people who once shoved you out onto soccer pitches, onto church Christmas pageant stages, and into weeks of sleepaway camps can’t do that to you anymore. The more time I spent away from the imposition of extroverted activities and the more time I spent doing what I alone decided to do, the more I started to figure out that my natural inclination to lead a quieter and less socialized life maybe wasn’t like being buck-toothed or near-sighted at all. It eventually occurred to me that I liked being the way I was and that there were actually a few good things that came along with being introverted.
I am not “strange”—I am strong. And rather than trying to bend myself to an extroverted set of behaviors that hurt me, I have learned to nurture the gifts of my introversion.
5 Ways to Nurture Your Strengths as an Introvert
- Keep a lookout for your strengths, and make conscious note of them. What would you miss if you weren’t introverted? For instance, I realized that my preference to have deeper conversations over small talk led me to have a greater number of deeper friendships than some of my friends have. That style of communication combined with my desire to spend time with smaller rather than larger groups had brought some fantastic opportunities into my life. I volunteered to do one-on-one visitation at a local care home with an elderly man I came to adore; I worked behind the scenes for local performance artists; and I became a serious student of human behavior, which has done nothing but improve my creative and professional pursuits.
- Learn to see the word “introvert” as a broad descriptor rather than a diagnosis.Introversion is not an impediment but rather a style of communication and a way of being that is as much a part of who you are as your hair color, your love of 1970s rock operas, or your need to love every mangy cat that yowls in the alley behind your house. When things need a deeper and quieter touch, your way of approaching people and situations actually represents an important skill set. Embrace it!
- Take charge of how you communicate with people—find ways to preserve your need for personal space. As an introvert, you might often feel that communication style is dictated by extroverts, but it only seems that way because they tend to be more socially aggressive. You can take some of that power back without having to pretend to be an extrovert. One way to accomplish that is to organize social events with a scale and timing you’re comfortable with. Another is to give yourself permission to leave a large event when it feels right for you. If you want to dig a bit deeper into how to do this, read my article How to Connect with Extroverts: 3 (-ish) Steps to Help Introverts Create Boundaries That Work. By preserving your boundaries and choosing the setting and kind of communication flow that works for you, you will be able to use your introvert skills at full strength without suffering unnecessary guilt or shame for not keeping up with the extroverts.
- When you meet people who communicate and socialize the way you do, keep them around. Fostering relationships with people who are like you makes you feel more confident about who you are. For some of us introverts, it is too easy to turn into hermits, which is unnecessary when we can be each other’s best allies. Reach out to another introvert to have coffee, to go to a museum, or just to hang out while you make pies. Another introvert will likely have similar sensitivities, so you won’t feel that you have to fight to be seen, heard, or understood. When your friends understand where you’re coming from, where you’re coming from stops looking like a stumbling block, and you can enjoy being the introvert you are.
- Get rid of the jerks. Keeping people around who drain you or make you feel bad about your natural inclinations won’t help you believe in your strengths and the very real value they have. Do you have a friend who continually tries to make you feel guilty for not wanting to go out? Someone who refuses to respect that you are actually pretty happy staying home on a Friday night? A roommate who has turned your house into a drop-in center? It’s hard to believe in your own strengths if you have people around you who don’t value who you are. Ending relationships is hard, and it can feel terrible, but sometimes doing the hard thing is the best thing.
This one is so important that I’d like us to say it again. Repeat after me: get rid of the jerks!
Being an introvert brings gifts that might not be immediately obvious to everyone around us, but they are there, and they are vital in a world full of people who are seeking deeper connections. Embrace who you are, be social in ways that feel good and natural to you, and gather your tribe of fellow introverts around you. Now more than ever, with all the public conversations happening about what and who introverts are, we are in an excellent place to step up our introvert game and nurture the kinds of depth and leadership we have to offer.
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