I am a dyed-in-the-wool introvert. This is a very large thread through the fabric of who I am and how I tick. Looking back on my childhood, watching my two daughters navigate the world (one introvert and one extreme extrovert) and enjoying a 20-year marriage with an extrovert, I’ve come up with 9 concrete suggestions to make life for (and your relationship with) your introverted child, spouse or friend more harmonious. If you are the introvert, this may help you put into words what will help your extrovert understand you. Introverts are sometimes difficult to understand, especially for extreme extroverts. They often can’t put their nature or needs into words easily. They live much of their lives internally. Stimulation that is exhilarating for extroverts can be anywhere from pleasurable but costly to intolerable for introverts. Of course, we risk inaccuracy when we generalize; but understanding our loved ones and knowing how to help them is so valuable. Our tendencies exist on a spectrum from extreme introvert to extreme extrovert with many points along the way. We all fall somewhere different. Feel free to accept the suggestions that ring true with your loved one and reject those that don’t seem to fit.
- Provide informal scripts. This is especially valuable for your introverted child. Reviewing an expected interaction ahead of time and suggesting exact wording really helps an introvert feel prepared. My Mom somehow understood this with me. When she asked me to interact with a store clerk, for instance, she’d say, “You could say something like this: Pardon me, I’d like to find out if you carry this top in any other colors.” This sounds so elementary, but trust me, it’s key. Talking through a situation with an extroverted girlfriend, I’ll often mentally grab and file away her wording. It helps me to have wording “in the bank.”
- Allow them time in their own head. Especially after a party or a day of superficial interaction (like errands or meetings), introverts need a break from engagement. Give them some time without eye contact and conversation. They might not need to be alone, they just need to be disengaged.
- Foster deep one-on-one friendships. It may worry you if your spouse or child seems to have only one deep friendship. This is normal for introverts. They prefer deeper, single relationships to groups. Introverts will often have several deep friendships with people who don’t know each other.
- Give grace after leaving overstimulating environments. Your introvert may be testy or withdrawn for a little while after a loud swim meet or large party. Give them space and grace. They’ll surface after some disengagement.
- Allow processing time. After asking your introvert how they feel or what they think, give them some time for internal processing. While you may process outwardly with words, they process internally without words. They then will need to translate for you which takes time and effort.
- Ask them specifics about their fears to draw them out. As a child, I had no idea that discussing my fears with my parents would help dissipate them. As an internal processor I naturally had fears my parents could never have anticipated. Your introvert isn’t keeping secrets – it just doesn’t occur to them to tell you. Most of the time they will discuss it if prompted. This may seem like a fishing expedition but you’ll be glad you did it.
- Support solitary activities. It is normal and OK for your introvert to want to read, play solo games, take walks alone, etc. This doesn’t mean they are depressed or lonely. They enjoy and need solitude. Hearing things like “You don’t ever spend time with friends.” can sound disapproving instead of your intended concern.
- Arrive early. Introverts may feel better when facing smaller interactions over time rather than being faced with a big group all at once. This translates into many of them preferring to arrive early to group activities. (Weirdly, this is not the case with me.)
- Do shoulder to shoulder activities. If you need to spend time with your introvert (your needs matter, too!) and they seem to need disengagement, do something “together” that doesn’t require face to face engagement like putting together a jigsaw puzzle or cooking a meal.
I hope you’ve found something here that will smooth your life. I’d love to hear your suggestions or hear which of mine resonated most with you!