Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Introvert Guilt

In a world where extroverts are considered the norm and introverts are considered abnormal (even if not deliberately), one result is that whenever I do take time for myself, I feel guilty, especially if I'm deliberately bowing out of a social activity to take time for myself.

So here are a few helpful introvert tips that help me to feel better about it.

1. Be open about yourself from the beginning. The more open I am about my introversion to those around me, the easier it is to explain to those people when I bow out of social situations. I have a group of people know who understand that I will only participate in activities with them about half the time they ask me to... and they're OK with that, and are willing to explain that to anyone else who asks why I keep to myself so much. Making allies is great.

2. Plan out your social time. Sometimes introvert guilt will push me to go out and spend social energy I don't have, and I suffer for it. I become cranky and unfocused, and all because I talked myself into deciding, "Well, I can go out and do this tonight." Now I plan it all out. At the beginning of the week, I tell myself that I will go out 2 times this week (maybe just 1 if it's a stressful week) and then I stick to that. If I know there are specific activities I want to attend - birthday parties or movie nights with friends - I schedule that in. Otherwise, it's open for spontaneous social gatherings. And if I don't go out twice that week, that's OK, too. It's easier for me to go along with a self-imposed limit than to judge on a case-by-case basis whether I should go out or stay in.

3. Find compromises. Best compromise: Coming back home early. Drive yourself whenever possible. Then you can make the rounds, spend a little time with everyone, and make your way home when you feel yourself starting to fade. If I can reassure myself I've put at least a little time in, it's so much easier to head back to my quiet time.

4. Remind yourself why you made this decision. Sometimes when I'm feeling especially guilty for not spending time with people, I think, "Well, I should be productive! Because then I won't just be sitting around doing nothing." The thing is, this does nothing to assuage the guilty, and frequently I have trouble even being productive because I feel pressured to get so much done to prove to myself that it was a good decision. So I started rewarding myself instead. If I felt guilty for bowing out of a specific activity, the first thing I'd do starting my alone time was watch an episode of my favorite TV show, or read a book, or turn up music and sing along to it. Something that reminds me how much I love doing things by myself. Something that reminds me how much I needed this. Something that overwhelms the guilt with delight at being alone. Then I can go ahead from there and be productive if I want... or I can just enjoy being alone.

Introvert guilt can be difficult to crush, and I still have a tendency to apologize to people when I choose alone time. (Or tell an introvert lie.) But these are some things I've found to help me not only embrace my introversion, but embrace it boldly, without feeling guilty that I just need more alone time than other people. Because that is OK. And I am not about to let misplaced guilt take the joy of solitude away from me.


  1. I share your comfort at being alone, but what keeps me from being the same kind of introvert as you is that I'm also generally comfortable around others. I can be the center of attention/life of the party just as easily as I can be the one who doesn't go to the party at all because he'd rather just have a quiet night in.

    That aside, this is very much the same kind of perspective that we Crohnies have about our activities. My family and friends know that even when I'm enthusiastic about plans, I'm at best a tentative "maybe." It requires a lot of patience to try to include me in things. And, like you, I have to pace myself. I know, for instance, that if my friends want to hang out on a Friday night that I need to have an especially calm Thursday night and that I'll need much of Saturday to recover because it's physically taxing on me to be around that kind of energy.

    One thing I've noticed with my group is that it seems we've reached a point where we only ever get together in some kind of major group event way. Like, we rarely just hang out a couple of us at a time. It has to be getting the whole gang together - significant others included. That means instead of just chillin' with my boys, a get-together is upwards of 10 people on any given occasion. Has that happened with your group? You're a few years younger than we are, and I can't say I recall when this trend began so maybe we weren't guilty of it at your age.

    Anyway, I can totally relate to the logistics portion of this post, even if I'm not quite the introvert you are. And as someone who has dealt with chronic depression, I know the thin line between trying to avoid energy overload and slipping into withdrawal. There admittedly were several instances where I played up being miserable from Crohn's to avoid going out because it was much easier than saying, "Sorry, I'm depressed and withdrawing from everyone right now." It was the truth, but a much less acceptable truth than physical pain. Again, we have different issues but there's enough similarity that I can strongly empathize with you.

  2. Yeah, I'm hardly ever the one who wants to be the center of attention. I'm frequently comfortable with individuals, but in groups of almost any larger than 2 I tend to fade into the background on purpose. On the introversion/extroversion spectrum, I'm VERY far toward introversion, while most people (including yourself, I suspect) lie a little further toward the middle. My introversion experiences definitely don't speak for all who identify as introverts. :)

    Huh. That's really interesting about your group. I feel like the same thing has definitely happened to my close group of college friends. Part of that is because the one or two who usually organize the get-togethers tend to like large group gatherings. If I want to meet in a small group, I have to be the one to plan it. But it's not uncommon to have a small group activity planned, 3-4 people involved, and then have it grow to a group of 9 or 10 by the time the activity actually rolls around. And usually when that happens, I bow out.

    1. I think I'm as much an introvert as I am an extrovert, really. They likely cancel out one another and I should just identify as a vert.

      The big production get-togethers have just kind of lost their appeal for me. It's nice to be able to get some face time with everyone all at once, but I never seem to get any meaningful time with anyone. It's like the friendship version of speed dating.

    2. Most people are much more evenly balanced than I am. (I know people who are extreme extroverts too - it's not just introverts who do the extremes, heh.) I had a conversation with someone once who said, "The introvert/extrovert bias thing isn't as big a deal as you think," but it was someone who was a much more even balance. So of *course* it wasn't a big deal for them. Whenever they were subtly pressured to be extroverted, they could switch without a lot of effort and didn't see why others couldn't. I know people who *would* be much more introverted if it hadn't been socially implanted into their heads from childhood that they weren't supposed to be.

  3. My mom showed me your post and I cannot tell you how it opened up my view. For years we played the "how can what that?" Card and have only recently began to open up and explore. While i have been doing thisI have struggled with "how can you watch that?" Constantly sitting on my shoulder while I tried to enjoy a "not so good movie" that I love.

    I recently had it out with a friend over a movie I went to see and music I listened too. She felt sternly that I was going down a path she could not follow. I had only shown her a few things and never had forced it on her and made simple statements. The result was loosing her friendship over my choices. Not a day has gone by were I haven't wondered if she was right. After reading your views I feel better abt my choices.

    She even used a similar verse on me in your post. It felt like I was making excuses and defending myself without any verse back up. Now you have broadened my view and have helped me feel more peace abt my choices in such away that I can now squash the "you watched that and your a christain?" Bug so hopefully I will never do what my friend did to me.

    Thank you so much for posting this,

    1. I am so glad that my post on Christian viewing habits was helpful for you! This has been something I've hashed out with myself for a long time now and have finally come to a conclusion that both makes logical sense to me and meshes with what I believe the Bible says. I feel like Christianity has closed itself off a lot to the arts because of their obsession with the "small picture" things, and it is heartbreaking.

      Some excellent reading I'd suggest on this subject: "Into the Dark" by Craig Detweiler, "How Movies Helped Save My Soul" by Gareth Higgins, and "Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts" by Steve Turner. Also, the chapter titled "True" in Rob Bell's "Velvet Elvis" is very much about this - one of the first things that opened my eyes to how incorrect the traditional interpretation of the Philippians 4 verse is.