I’m an introvert. I can’t pretend to be bubbly, outgoing or talk to people I don’t know. I’m not built that way. Being an only child for the first eight years of life taught me how to be okay alone. At the time I didn’t understand how valuable it was to enjoy your own damn company. This is one of the hardest things to do, especially when you become an adult. Don’t get me wrong, being an introvert has produced a few challenges also like not being popular or having friends, because people didn’t think I wanted to be bothered.
Skipping high school (a decision I made after being bullied in public schools) reinforced what I had already believed to be true - I’ll be better off alone. I didn’t realize that home schooling would rob me of the ability to socialize and build relationships with others. During that time, I was busy trying to escape the abuse to my self-esteem. I developed an unhealthy belief system that made me think people didn’t like me, because I was quiet and introverted. Looking back, I don’t regret being home schooled. I made the best decision for me at that time.
At work, I would stay to myself until someone befriended me. In college, I would didn’t talk to anyone unless they started the conversation. I avoided social events and became a homebody. I felt exhausted when I hung out with people for more than an hour. It wasn’t personal, it was me needing space to spend some time alone. I became a turtle, often coming out to do the bare necessities in life.
I used to think something was wrong with me, because I had no desire to be around people all the time. Little did I know this would become my biggest strength.
Here are five tips on dealing with an introvert:
Warm Ups – Introverts are some of the most loyal people, but you’ll never get to this side at first glance. We typically need people to make us feel safe, before we reveal anything about ourselves. The way to warm up an introvert is by sharing a personal story about yourself, which shows that you trust them enough to share something personal.
Include Us – We like to feel included. Invite us to stuff, ask for our opinion, or simply hang out with us (you have to initiate it though). We appreciate when people go out of their way to make sure we are part of the team, event, etc.
One-On-Ones - Nix the social setting and get to know us one-on-one. We like when people take an interest our hobbies, our lives and our backgrounds. It makes us feel that you care about what we think, how we feel and where we come from.
Give Us Space – This may sound contradictory to the ‘include us’ section, but we need space too. Unlike extraverts, we do not thrive on being around others. Once we have spent some time in social settings, we need a break. We need to be alone again and get back to ourselves. Once this period is over, we will connect with you again.
Don’t Make It A Problem – Always allow an introvert to come and go as they please. Don’t make it a problem if they decide not to go somewhere with you, or change their mind last minute and decide to stay home instead. When you allow them to be themselves (yes, even flaking out on previous plans) you become a trusted ally. An introvert will loosen up and feel comfortable enough to share things they would never tell anyone else. Acceptance is the greatest gift you can give them.
The recommendations listed above are based on my experience as an introvert. These are things I wish someone would have done instead of labeling me ‘anti-social.’ There is no one size fits all when it comes to people who identify as introverts, so handle each person with care and adapt to their personal needs.