Rachel Heath

Intentional Living: learning to be fully present

An Open Letter to Extroverts

Dear Extroverts,

We introverts really do like you, but it seems we have a bit of a disconnect. A lot of us feel misunderstood. We feel a pressure to fit into your environment instead of create a new one together. On the Introvert-Extrovert scale, I’m closer to the middle than either edge, but I’m definitely an introvert. I’m married to one of your people, though, which has given me ample opportunity to understand just where it is that we’re missing each other. I don’t want to blame it all on you, but there are a few myths that some of you seem to believe about us that I’d like to clear up. (And let me just say, I know not all extroverts are the same. I wouldn’t lump you all together. Just read with an open mind.)

1. Introverts are Boring

They’re so not. Some of the most fun, funny people I know are introverts. They’re often funnier because they are so unassuming, and extroverts can easily miss it. In a group of people, you extroverts will almost always naturally dominate the conversation or direct the activity. This isn’t because introverts are passive by nature. It’s because we’ve learned that we probably won’t be truly listened to and we don’t appreciate being verbally bowled over. You don’t mean to, but you often do. So instead, we choose not to engage. We don’t feel the need to share like you do. We’re happy to just observe and be silently amused by our unspoken jokes and ideas.

Introverts can be a blast if they’re with people they trust. Example: my mom is a total introvert, and she’s hilarious. But you won’t hear the funny stuff she’s thinking at a big party because she’s not about to trust a group of rowdy extroverts to stop talking over each other for two seconds and listen.

I’ll add the caveat that I do know some extroverts (not many, sorry) who are great listeners. The problem is that when you get around each other, you can tend to ignore everyone else.

2. Introverts are Shy or Anti-Social

Introversion does not equal shyness, just as extroversion does not equal confidence. This, I think, is the biggest myth about these two personality types. Let’s get the definitions cleared up.

Introvert: Someone who is energized by solitary time

Extrovert: Someone who is energized by social time

If I’m not already exhausted, I actually look forward to social gatherings. I really enjoy hanging out with people. I know who I am and I’m not afraid of big groups. The difference between me and you is that I arrive home from a party half dead with thoughts of yoga pants and a glass of wine and Tolkien for the next 6 hours and definitely no talking. After a party, you’re probably busy rounding up willing participants for FroYo or a midnight showing of American Hustle or a last minute road trip to Vegas.

3. Your Introvert is Mad because He/She is Not Talking

Your introvert is probably just thinking. Maybe about something important like health care reform or global warming or how Sherlock actually survived the jump. Or maybe not. But if they’re going to offer up their thoughts to you, chances are they won’t do it until those thoughts are fully formed. Ok yeah, sometimes we’re mad and silently flipping through a rolodex of sarcastic quips to throw your way. But usually we’re simply enjoying our head space.

My sister-in-law is high on the extrovert scale. It took her a few years to figure out that filling up the empty space in our conversation with more words was shutting me down. That empty space is an invitation for a slower-to-speak introvert to step in and share their ideas. (Likewise, it took me a few years to figure out how to insert myself into tiny breaks in discussion, and that my half-formed thoughts shared verbally would go a long, long way to making her feel connected.) She thought I didn’t like her and didn’t want to have a relationship with her. I thought she didn’t care about me and didn’t want to have a relationship with me. After 7 years of practice we now chat easily, but it took some learning for both of us.

4. Introversion is Inferior to Extroversion

Our culture is built for extroverts, and runs on the premise that extroversion is the superior personality type, and that, in fact, introversion isn’t a personality type so much as a character weakness. At some point during every team building exercise or social event, introverts are invited to “get out of their comfort zones” and “have a little fun.” First of all, I was already having fun until you coerced me into participating in an icebreaker. Second, this is a subtle but persistent assumption that my comfort zone is unhealthy, but yours is all good.

Just once, I’d like to hear the following announcement at a party: “Ok, all you social butterflies, it’s time to stretch yourself a bit and have some fun. I’d like you to pair off with one person you already know, find a quiet spot, and spend the remainder of the evening in meaningful, intimate conversation with that person.”

Here’s the thing: we all have a comfort zone, and it can be unhealthy if we stay there all the time. It’s a very good thing to stretch the limits of our ease from time to time. I’m just tired of being told that I’m the one that needs to push my boundaries in order to fit into your comfort zone.

You probably don’t realize that that’s the message we introverts are receiving. I don’t think it’s intentional. But it’s definitely there, in every arena of our lives. I’d like to ask you to give us a little space, a little time, and a little freedom. And maybe step into our comfort zones once in a while.

Introverts, what would you add?
Extroverts, what are we missing?

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9 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Extroverts

  1. Thank you — I am definitely sharing this! It has only been recently that I have appreciated and felt normal being such an introvert as I am.

  2. I must first address this as your sister-in-law (the high-extrovert). I have SO enjoyed getting to know and understand my introverted sis, and will agree that this relationship, while initially challenging, is one of my most treasured relationships. I really trust that you (Rachel) are going to listen and provide a thoughtful, valuable response. I have had much respect for the time spent alone, reflecting and enjoying the quiet moments to think and be introspective. I can see the fruit of that time in your life over and over again.

    I have also learned much from my much more extroverted sister. I have so heartily embraced and grown during the times I am alone. I find that I really enjoy shopping alone (or with my hubby), and gain so much during my trail runs, which I prefer to do alone. I revel in the occasional times I have a quiet house to myself to read, reflect, resolve, and restore (not trying to sound like a four-point sermon, but it does!). I find more of myself in those times I spend alone, and I find contentment.

    I don’t know if I’m speaking for all extroverts, but I can speak for myself and say that as an extrovert, I really only feel comfortable being vulnerable with someone who shares a bit of him/herself with me. Extroverts are feedback people. This makes it very difficult to relate to someone who is very quiet, testing the waters, and coming to a thoughtful conclusion, rather than talking through it with me. And I really do mean “with me.” This makes the silence a little scary, and definitely very uncomfortable for most extroverts. However, because we take the risk of working out our thoughts aloud, with others, it is common for our intentions to be assumed as the complete thought is forming. A quick response by someone with a well-formed thought that seems to misunderstand the incomplete thought of the extrovert will shut an extrovert down. What will happen to me when I experience this, is that several hours later, when I can complete that thought either by myself or in discussing it with my husband, I feel misunderstood and have to fight that protective wall that I want to put up next time I’m in a conversation with that person. This can be a major issue when an extrovert and an introvert are trying to communicate.

    We extroverts are typically very relational, and put a high value on close relationships (which can be very painful). This may be the case for introverts too, as close relationships may take longer to build and hold real trust. Extroverts love to share just about every experience (even working through a thought in conversation counts!) with someone else, and express ourselves to each other as the experience unfolds. This can include every single experience. To an extrovert, every experience can be better with someone by his/her side, sharing and exchanging in that experience.

    Thank you for allowing me to let you into my world a little bit deeper.

    • Kelli, I’ve learned so much about extroverts from you and Stephen, and I continue to. I so value our relationship and I’m thankful for the years of patience you gave me as I warmed up! 🙂 Your family was one of my first experiences in developing meaningful relationships with extroverts and it’s caused me to grow leaps and bounds.

      Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful comment! As I read it, I thought, “Wow, her needs are nearly the opposite of mine.” Ha! It’s easy to see why misunderstandings between introverts and extroverts are so common. I think relating to someone so different really comes down to assuming the best about them. For example, when I’m interrupted, I assume the person doesn’t care what I have to say, and decide not to share again, thus the relationship struggles. When you don’t receive feedback, you assume the person isn’t interested in sharing with you, thus the relationship struggles.

      What if instead of assuming the worst, I assumed the best? And even better, communicated about it? That’s a scary option for me – to just say, “Hey, here’s my perception based on your behavior. Am I wrong?” Talking face to face about this kind of thing can be so hard for introverts because we like to think comprehensively about what we’ll say before we say it- the reason so many of us prefer to write! The pattern you described is so true- Extroverts, as you pointed out, will work out their thoughts out loud. We assume the extrovert is saying precisely what they mean, because that’s what we do, so we misunderstand or get unnecissarily offended by something. When we assume the best, we avoid that whole scenario.

      Thank you for sharing. Love you!

  3. What about aversion to uninvited touch? That is a big one with me. I get extremely uncomfortable when “huggers” invade my personal space with little warning. I also go far out of my way to avoid accidental physical contact, and large crowds are my version of hell for that reason. I’m not averse to all physical contact, but if it’s uninvited/not on my terms, it can really agitate me. No past trauma – just freaks me out.

    • Oh my gosh. Yes. I HATED this about being pregnant. I truly didn’t mind people touching my belly, if they asked first… but why the assumption that my belly is personal property? But actually physical touch is my primary love language, I really enjoy it and feel so loved by hugs, touches on the arm during conversation, etc. But yeah, it makes me uncomfortable if I’m not expecting it. I’ve noticed this a lot with my kids- people seem to feel so completely free touching small children, I’m baffled by it. I wrote a whole post about it a while back.

  4. The introverts read this post, sit quietly and reflect, and post their well-formed opinions online.

    The extroverts are saying, “hey, let’s get together and verbally process through this subject.” 😀

  5. Maybe I am a rare type, but I think I am an extroverted introvert. I think I have evolved with age to be more extroverted but I used to be very reserved with people I don’t know and still have to work at getting to know new people. Like you, I don’t like big crowds, but like Kelli and Stephen I tend to process verbally if given the chance. That is probably why I have to work so hard at not interrupting. Yet I have noticed that with other verbal processors, if one doesn’t interrupt, one doesn’t get a chance to speak much. Another reason I interrupt is because sometimes if I don’t ask a question when it comes to me, I lose the thought by the time the opening to speak arrives. I have a mind that tends toward “pinging” I have been told. Random thoughts hit me and I have an almost unquenchable urge to speak them.

    As far as physical contact (hugs), I do appreciate a hug with those I am close to, but really don’t relish them from those I have not yet formed a close bond with. That eliminates most people except family and those who are like family to me.

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