True Life: I Was an Introvert Raised As an Extrovert

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My life has been a nonstop flurry of activity since I was a little girl. I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t hustling from one thing to another, and don’t know how to live any other way. I probably would have been content to read, draw, write stories, and ride my bike on my own every day of my childhood. Instead, I dreamed and contemplated in stolen moments between ballet, T-ball, Girl Scouts, and church involvement. When I started marching band at fourteen, I was allowed to drop most other things, but band was so all-consuming that it didn’t make me any less busy. At home, my family ragged on me when I spent quiet time in my room, or wanted to be alone for a while. I was supposed to be outgoing, do and experience as much as I could, participate in family life. Quiet down time – or rest – equaled laziness and social awkwardness. Meanwhile, kids at school gave me a hard time for being more interested in books than in talking most of the time. Because I didn’t know any differently, I viewed my introversion (though I didn’t even know to call it that) as a flaw to overcome. The price of the overcoming was constant mental and physical exhaustion. One memorable day, I came home from practice, went to bed at six PM, and slept straight through to the next morning. But it never occurred to me (or anyone in my life) to question or change anything.

I don’t share my story angrily or to cast blame. My parents had good intentions and succeeded in making me a more outward-facing and well-rounded person. But I was in my late 20s before I understood the type of recharging I’ve always needed was not only legitimate, but also shared by about half of the population. Needing unstructured stillness to sort out my thoughts and feelings, needing not to be doing something and around people all the time, didn’t mean I was a lazy weirdo. It meant I was an introvert. I read Quiet and other introvert-power manifestos and felt validated. I learned to listen to myself and to scale back… a little.

But too often, I’m still that girl who powers through until she involuntarily collapses into bed at six PM – and now I’m the one making myself do it. I love people, going out, and being involved in as many things as possible, but sometimes it’s not what’s best for me. I struggle to see free time to myself as a valid choice instead of a lack of options. The harder I push myself, the more my mood, health, and creativity suffer. But I have innate Fear Of Missing Out and can’t seem to accept my own limits. After a lifetime of playing an extrovert, I don’t always know how to turn it off. I’m unsure whether I’m acting out of my true self or my conditioning, or how different they really are anymore. Being where the action is energizes me… for a while. Then I hit my limit and want to go home. Being at home by myself is relaxing… until loneliness takes over. I can flip from give me some space to no one loves me anymore in a second.

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Introvert Shame, with its shoulds and oughts, is entrenched in my heart. It’s powerful, and singleness makes it worse. Singleness means I have to actively seek out and maintain community, because I won’t find it in my home, and it usually won’t come to me. However, I’m really thankful for my friends who stay friends even if they don’t see me frequently, who can be happy hanging out without going out, who also think an occasional night on my patio talking over a bottle of wine is a good time. Especially when they’re willing to hike out to my house in the burbs to do so.

Singleness also means that if I’m not out there and on as much as possible, my singleness could be my own “fault.” The dating scene is an extrovert’s game, in which seeming boring is one of the worst fouls you can commit, and I’m only capable of sparkling effusively for so long. Eventually, I burn down to the metal wire of me. It’s an ongoing battle to believe that what I am at the core is enough, since it’s actually not enough for some people. I try to convince myself the right person will see me even if I’m not the go-to life of the party. And even if no one ever sees me, somehow that’ll be enough too.

I’m still figuring out how to respect and honor my inner introvert. Every time I think I’ve got it under control, I have another little crash and burn that proves otherwise. It’s a long road, and if you’re walking it too, I salute you.

About Brenda W.

Christian. Memphian. Reader. Writer. True blue Tiger fan. Lover of shoes, the ocean, adventure, and McAlister's iced tea. View all posts by Brenda W. →
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12 Responses to True Life: I Was an Introvert Raised As an Extrovert

  1. Paul Conn says:

    Hey Brenda! .. I have read a lot of your posts and I find you to be an excellent writer and a person that is willing to share your many life experiences in an effort to help others .. and at times maybe .. to put into words what you might need to hear to help yourself .. and I applaud you!

    I, too, am an introvert. And, sadly, I was raised that way. I’ll try to explain .. my youth consisted of a lot of “being seen but not heard” .. I was chastised for wanting to play sports in school >> (Dad): “are they paying you for all the time you spend over there practicing ball?” .. I could go on .. but .. I won’t.

    Needless to say .. I was always very shy and suffered from a lack of self worth. And I still fight those demons everyday. But I’m not the same person that I was 30-35 years ago. Life and it’s everyday experiences will bring you out of your shell .. and .. pretty soon you realize that you are just as important and funny and smart as all of the people you encounter each and every day .. AND .. at times .. I have to “bump the brakes” before I get in over my head. I’m not the life of the party .. but I do like to be present .. and I couldn’t have said that many years ago.

    I’m still an introvert. I like to read and write (don’t need fishin’ or huntin’ or golfin’ buddies for those pastimes) .. and I need quiet time to enjoy both.

    Thank you! Brenda! .. for letting me take another look at my own life .. AND .. I send you a well deserved salute for living your life with the utmost class and dignity .. keep on writin’ !!!!! P.S. >> tell your Mom & Dad .. HELLO!!

    Paul

  2. Erika says:

    This is interesting to read and I can relate somewhat… I was a more outgoing child, though an only child and I really enjoyed my alone time. I think I had a good balance in my childhood, but I became really outgoing in college, and the “real world” left me a little shocked when I would come home from work and it would be… empty… and I had no place to go most days or people to do things with.

    Now, as a grad student, I think I am letting my introvert rise to the surface — perhaps a little too much. In many ways, I’m thankful because I’ve gotten to know myself way better and be a lot more comfortable with finding smaller joys and the beauty that is the comfort of the home. But I think that it’s all about finding our own unique blend for what we need on the introversion-extroversion scale. It sounds like you are beginning to break out of what other people say is right for you (what society generically says is normal) and figure out what works. But there’s always a period of weirdness when trying to strike a new balance — it’ll become more natural with time. :)

  3. Anna says:

    *salutes back*

  4. “Being where the action is energizes me… for a while. Then I hit my limit and want to go home. Being at home by myself is relaxing… until loneliness takes over. I can flip from give me some space to no one loves me anymore in a second.”
    That is totally me, but I was opposite growing up. We never went anywhere or did anything outside my own family. So now, I have trouble saying no because it’s still a thrill that people want to hang out with me and I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity :P

    And being an introverted single who still struggles with talking to new people is SO.FUN. too. “I want to be friends with you!!” Oh wait, I have to go over and start a conversation? Nope nope nope, maybe next week!

  5. Kathy Russell says:

    Great post Brenda! As a child introvert who became slowly an extrovert, remember that personality traits are a continuum. Just as someone can be less or more nearsighted, someone can be more or less introverted/extroverted. And there is a point on this abstract scale where you could be theoretically both, poised right on the edge. I classify myself mainly as an extrovert, but I still get exhausted by people sometimes and just need a quiet afternoon reading a good book in my pajamas. :-)

  6. Sarah says:

    Oh my gosh.

    “Singleness means I honestly have to seek out and maintain community, because I won’t find it in my home, and it usually won’t come to me.”

    That line really sticks to me.

    I’ve always been more of an introvert than an extrovert and living with roommates or having a big circle of friends made that all right. I had retreating time but also enough community. Now I’m struggling more that I live alone and don’t have someone to talk to or see outside of work as often. I don’t know. It’s hard.

    I remember doing so much growing up but I don’t know how it affected me. Some weeks I am busy too much and some not enough.

    Really liked this post :)

  7. Good word, Brens! I can so relate! I think that it would be helpful if we stopped putting ourselves/ others only in the extro or intro category. That’s only 2 categories for the entire world to fit in and that’s dumb. I’ve discovered that I really like hanging out with me over the last 3 years that I’ve worked from home, BUT I still have the daily struggle of too much/ too little people time. I think that’s the great part about 30’s is being ok with the struggle and admitting who we are and finding others who can roll with that. And I will happily hang on the patio with a bottle of wine with you any time! Sounds like a perfect night to me!

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