The Introvert Excuse (and why we need each other)

An introvert movement is on the rise. People are coming out of their corners, their bookstores, their coffee shops, and gardens, and they are saying (or writing on blogs and twitter) that they, too, have voices.

We are not inferior to extraverts. In fact, we are better. We are deeper thinkers, problem solvers, and independent workers. We are low-maintenance—just give us our coffee and Netflix and maybe a camera so we can Instagram our socks alongside whatever book we are reading (probably something extraverts would never have the patience to finish).

I’ve seen a lot of activity from introvert activists on Pinterest lately. Here are a few examples:

“What I lack in social skills I make up for in hide-from-people skills.”

“If you think I’m quiet it might be because your energy is so LOUD that it overwhelms me.”

“It’s a beautiful day to LEAVE ME ALONE.”

“I hate it when people ask me ‘Why are you so quiet?” Because I am. That’s how I function. I don’t ask others, ‘Why are you so noisy?’ ‘Why do you talk so much.’ That’s rude.”

“Be afraid of the quiet ones. They are the ones who actually think.”

“I’m a social vegan. I avoid meet.”

In case you can’t read between the lines (you’re probably an extravert if so), then here’s what you need to know: 1. Introverts are better, 2. We don’t have time for you, and 3. You can’t judge us for not going to your birthday party because we can’t help feeling antisocial. (Your party is probably not worth our time anyway, i.e. it will be crowded, loud, and, in other words, have an excess of external rather than intellectual stimuli).

Sometimes introverts mistake their identity as people who need recharge time to people who don’t like other people. We look at the crowds with disgust. We take our feelings of overwhelm to mean that other people are literally draining our batteries–maybe even intentionally. We even believe that we don’t need other people.

I am guilty of this. For years I believed I didn’t need friends. I believed I was excused from certain community-building things because it wasn’t in my nature it be a part of them. I would even complain about how people annoyed me or misunderstood me.

I keep hearing conversations about what introversion and extraversion mean. I’ve heard people say things like, “I’m an extravert sometimes, but at other times I’m an introvert.” Even I used to think that I became “more extraverted” when I went to college and realized I liked having friends.

Introversion and extraversion are both healthy, and they are not about being outgoing or shy but about being outward-focused and inward-focused.

In fact, introversion and extraversion have nothing to do with your like or dislike of people. It has nothing to do with being the life of the party or being a wallflower. Some introverts can be the life of the party for as long as they have the energy, and some extraverts prefer to stay quiet and take it all in. In fact, many introverts love people, and many extraverts would rather get their “stimulation” elsewhere, maybe through skydiving or watching scary movies.

Introverts need people just as much as extraverts. We were all made to be in relationships. Thankfully, since growing closer to my church community and making some outstanding friendships, I have realized that living in relationship was a deep need of mine. No, I don’t need the stimulation of being around people all of the time–particularly large groups–but I do need those close friendships that not only feed me but also teach me selflessness and help me grow.

Introverts are not smarter or better than extraverts. Just because they live in an internal world does not mean we can make the assumption that introverts as a general population are smarter than extraverts as a general population. They may take information in differently, but that doesn’t make them better. And no, just because extraverts apparently ruled the world up until this point does not mean that introverts now have the right to take over. Extroverts have their place too!

I am, however, grateful that I have learned it’s okay to be introvertedIt’s okay to not want to go to every event. It’s okay to not want to play games that (heaven forbid) bring other people into your “bubble.” But I also had to learn that there is a balance. I couldn’t use my introversion as an excuse for neglect. Sometimes I have to decide not to go to something because I know I’ll be completely useless as a friend until I’ve recharged. That’s okay. But as soon as my introversion becomes an excuse for my failure at relationships, my unkindness toward other people, or my pride in my superior intellect–I’ve run into a problem.

I am very grateful for the rise in self-care advocacy, and introverts seem to be clinging to it for dear life. Self-care is so important, I think, for this generation. It has taught me a lot about being kind to myself. But I sometimes wonder–have we swung too far on the pendulum from selflessness to self-care that we have missed the point? Is life really all about personal growth and personal contentment? If it were, we’d have a lot of selfish people seeking out their own well-being instead of stepping outside and giving their lives to something greater. No–life can’t only be about sacrifice either. Even Christ stepped away from the crowds to have time alone with God. He needed that time to equip Himself for service. But He didn’t stay there.

Before it sounds like I’m going to encourage all introverts to start acting like extraverts (that would be a nightmare), that is not at all what I’m saying. In fact, I think what is truly beautiful is that, because we all have certain strengths and weaknesses, we all need each other. Introverts need extraverts and extraverts need introverts. Even that despicable human whom you just don’t understand may be the greatest lesson in patience you’ll ever have–and may even surprise you with their unique intelligence and way of seeing the world.

We need to stop fooling ourselves. We all need each other–all genders, all races, all people of religion. As we have seen in history, raising any one above the other is damaging, causing great divisions and oppression. The truth is that we are useless on our own, and our lives mean nothing if they are spent rooted in place, growing taller without spreading out and sharing life.

After all, it’s in giving that we truly grow, right? So all of this, in the end, is beneficial to one’s self. On the other hand, maybe giving  will get you nothing. Maybe your energy will pour into someone who can only receive. Maybe your journey takes you nowhere, you learn nothing, you gain nothing, and you only end up drained. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe personal growth and self care–while important–are over-rated, and we’ll finally learn that it’s not just about us and our growth and our pride.

You may be wondering how a conversation about introverts and extraverts got here. To me, it’s not too big of a stretch. Selfishness, pride, and “othering” (obsessing over differences and claiming that one is greater) will kill us. If it doesn’t kill us, it will kill our neighbors. My hope is that I can live my life learning and growing and adapting and recharging, but then going out, sharing life, giving, and loving till it hurts. Then I’ll go back, and I’ll recover and reflect and grow and have “introvert time”–but I won’t stay there. No one is meant to stay there. And so we go until we are no longer focused on our identity as a part of a group but realize that our identity is found in something much greater than what our bodies have inherited.

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