Monday, January 27, 2014

When Introverts Get Lonely

Every once in awhile I'll mention something about being lonely or wanting to be with people and get a dubious response from whoever I'm talking with, as if an introvert could never be lonely, because isn't the whole idea that introverts don't want to be with people? Of course, that's not the case. Introverts like their alone time, but they value time spent with people they care about as well, and when they go awhile without it, they get lonely just like extroverts do. It may take a little bit longer for the joy of solitude to wear off for us, but it happens.

The problem is that, sometimes, we spend so much time seeking solitude during our busy overpeopled times that we end up accidentally isolated when we need people time.

That's been a huge adjustment for me the past few months. I spent the first 26 years of my life looking for ways to get away and have a break from people. I went from living with my family of ten to traveling in the drama company to college to living with four roommates in a tiny trailer to living with my family again. Then, suddenly, I found myself in a situation where, even though I am living with someone, I'm completely alone for a good 8-10 hours every day. I work from home and don't have a vehicle of my own, so while my husband is at work, I'm by myself.

For the first four months, I was like, "WOOHOO LOOK AT ALL THIS ME TIME I GET!" And it was wonderful. But then we went to Illinois to visit my family for Thanksgiving and I came back home with a profound sense of aloneness, and not in a positive way. I was suddenly struck by the fact that I no longer always had someone around to hang out with if I wanted to, and I began craving more human interaction.

Turns out when you're not constantly in a situation where you have to socialize with people, it's easy to withdraw until you've withdrawn yourself all the way out into hermitiness.


Still working on how to fix this for myself in my current situation. With no outside job and no vehicle, it's hard to do things like finding activities to get involved in. These are a few of the things I'm trying to see if I can regularly recharge my social meter:

1. Take advantage of any social opportunities that DO come along.

There's at least a part of me that will always go, "Ugh," to being a part of any social gathering, just out of habit. I'm getting better at reminding myself that, no, I want to do this. And then my brain goes, "Oh, yeah! This will probably be fun and good for me right now!" and I can cheerfully go off to church or a planned event or, heck, even a trip to the grocery store where people might be. (Just as even being in the same room as others can drain me when I'm overpeopled, being in the same room with others can recharge me a little bit when I need it.)

2. Reconnect with friends via the Internet.

I used to be big on texting and chatting with my long-distance friends, and I've lost some of that. A lot of us are really-for-real-now in the adult world, married, with kids, with jobs, with responsibilities, and it's easy to lose track of far-away friends in the shuffle. I've been trying to deliberately reach out to some old friends and reconnect with them, even if it's just a text or a Facebook message saying I'm thinking of them.

3. Look for meaningful conversations.

I can keep myself socially afloat by exchanging pleasantries with grocery store cashiers and people at church, but it's not satisfying. It's like keeping yourself alive by eating cotton candy when, really, what you need is an actual meal. Sometimes a single thoughtful, meaningful, significant conversation, even if it's with someone I barely know, can be enough to keep me going socially for weeks. I have been working to seek out these conversations and make the most of them.

How about you guys - especially my introvert friends? How do you deal with loneliness?


  1. I'm an introvert, most definitely, but my introversion is paired with the ability to "fake it" in order to please other people. I used to think I was just a horrible person since I didn't want to be around others all the time, especially in ministry situations (i.e. we work with the teens). But over the last year or two with the rise of awareness of introversion (and a distinct amount because of you championing the education cause), I've learned a lot about myself and what I need in order to be at balance with myself.

    My people-pleasing tendencies and my introversion butt up against each other quite often, and the last year or so has been spent learning to say "no" to social engagements or obligations for my health and for the health of my marriage. Now that I have allowed myself to say no and to spend more time solo, I too have reached what I am calling the "lonely" stage of introversion, and it's not because I don't see people. I see them ALL the time. They just aren't always the people I NEED to see, i.e. those meaningful connections that you mention in #3. I am finding it infinitely helpful to reach out to others that are strangers in real life but have similar goals and dreams as I do. I've had to really courage-up and hit the "send" button a lot lately, to make new connections and new friends and put myself out there for real. Real Abbie, not the person everyone expects.

    It's hard, but it is working to help me connect in more meaningful ways, and not just on the surface.

    1. That is a really good point, that sometimes introvert loneliness is not because of lack of interaction, but lack of what they'd classify as *meaningful* interaction. Many introverts (including myself) crave and thrive on deep, meaningful conversations and when they go too long with just light, fluffy social contact, they end up sometimes simultaneously overpeopled AND lonely - it's a weird dynamic.

      I'm glad you've been finding new ways to reach out and make connections that "count" - that is awesome!

  2. I absolutely agree that introverts can only take so much time alone. I don't think it matters whether one is introverted or extroverted, everyone has a threshold of tolerance to both the excess and lack of social interaction. Clearly, those thresholds are different between introverts and extroverts, but it would be ridiculous to think that either extreme would be indefinitely tolerable.

    I've been in a similar situation for nearly a year now. My work schedule is highly irregular, which usually means that I'm the only one of my housemates who is home during the day. This is the case as I'm typing these words. Frankly, there are nice things that come with the unobstructed time to myself, but it does get to be quite lonely after a while. And I look at my life and I know that I have things pretty good, but even so, I find myself beginning to value relationships above my own stability.

    Do you get the feeling like talking about one's own loneliness is a taboo? I do. There are exceptions, but I get the impression that openly admitting one's own loneliness misleads others into thinking that the person is desperate for attention. Maybe that's partly true. Maybe the thing is that I've gotten to the point where I'm tired of pretending that I'm not hurting. It hurts that my closest friends are scattered throughout the country. It hurts that those friends who remain in town are all in school, so the rhythm in which they live is completely out of synch with my life. It doesn't take long to begin to feel like an outsider and it takes too long to shake that impression off.

    But the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that talking about loneliness must be therapeutic. Let's be honest, if the staunchest of introverts are vulnerable to deep loneliness, can anyone truly be immune to the effects of prolonged social isolation? Not likely. At one point or another, this is common ground for all, so why pretend otherwise? Naturally it's not an easy thing to discuss, but if there is one lesson from my college days that has most benefited me, it is to "embrace the uncomfortable." And the funny thing is that by actively sharing our loneliness, I think we're simultaneously treating it.

    1. I think you have some great points in that comment, Matt - especially about it being both taboo and therapeutic to talk about being lonely. That's one of the reasons I blog, actually: it gives me a platform to share things like this. I find it incredibly therapeutic to talk through my loneliness or hurting moments, and it's even better when I get responses like yours or Abbie's or anybody else who has responded to this blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Such an insightful and wonderful post! I'm a major introvert. Working from home I cherish my alone time, and going to college has been a difficult process of getting comfortable with being "overpeopled." I've found that reading your tips I've been applying them lately with gradually being more social and breaking out from my aloneness and they have paid off.

    1. It wasn't until probably halfway through my second year at college that I got comfortable enough with my group of friends that hanging out with them felt less like work and more like truly relaxing. For some people it takes awhile, and it can be exhausting (and intimidating!) to make the effort at first, but it really does pay off. As tempting as it was to just sit alone studying or on the Internet, I also definitely found that it paid off to push myself into interaction every so often - especially when trying to get comfortable in a new environment! I'm glad my thoughts on this have been helpful to you :-)