Helping introverts be happy and healthy on their own terms.

 

Are you outsourcing your happiness?

I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.

A lot of introverts are proud of their independence. I know I am.

And yet we often let other people’s opinions about us affect us deeply.

We may have just read three articles about introversion and were reminded that introverts have many gifts (certainly no fewer gifts than extroverts); that there are many celebrities and high-profile CEOs who are introverts; that it’s possible introverts make up 50% of the population, making us the majority and not simply “weird.” And then our hearts sink when a family member calls us a “special snowflake” because we said we needed a few moments to ourselves (how ironic that so many articles about introversion seek to remind us how normal our personality is, and yet many of these articles contain the phrase “introverts think they’re special snowflakes” in the comment section).

Don’t outsource your happiness to the trolls – the ones online or in real life. Treat your happiness as an in-house job.

I’m not saying don’t let people into your life. But there’s a huge difference between letting people share your life, and letting people control how you feel about your life. You need to be the source of your happiness. Humans are messy. And flawed. And although we can welcome other people into our lives, and let them make us happier (and help to make them happier), ultimately it’s up to us to control how the world will affect us.

Gretchen Rubin, in her follow-up book to The Happiness Project, noted “If I’ve learned one thing from my happiness project, it’s that if I want my life to be a certain way, I must be that way myself.” She went on to say “If I want my marriage to be tender and romantic, I must be tender and romantic.” Ultimately, we can only control ourselves.

Here are a few tips to help you stop outsourcing your happiness:

  • You are the expert when it comes to you and what you need to be happy.
  • Other people’s opinions can be helpful sometimes, but opinions are different from “the truth.”
  • Keep a happiness journal. Each time you do something that makes you happy, write it down in the journal. When you find yourself wanting to do something fun, but not knowing what, take out the journal.
  • Happiness isn’t the only feeling worth striving for. It can also be fulfilling to be content, calm, peaceful, or serene.

Dear extroverts, here’s the worst thing you can say to an introvert

“You need to break out of your shell.”

Please, please, please do not say this to an introvert! In case my pleading isn’t enough to make you stop, here are five reasons why you should not say “you need to break out of your shell” to an introvert:
1. This sentence is something introverts have heard over and over again. Your words won’t feel like an epiphany. Instead, the phrase will feel like a familiar cliche repeatedly used to shame us.
2. Being on the receiving end of unsolicited advice is rarely welcome. Normally it’s at best annoying, at worst alienating. If you want to give advice, please ask permission first.
3. Someone in a shell might, in the long run, be happier after learning the skills necessary to step out of the shell. But you know what? They don’t need you to judge them, which is exactly how “You need to break out of your shell” feels.
4. There are times when the shell makes sense, and there are times when it doesn’t. Unless you know the person in question really well, who are you to say if this situation warrants them coming out of the shell?
5. They might not be in a shell. Sometimes introversion looks a lot like shyness or social anxiety. It’s even common for parents to mistake introversion for shyness. Unless you know the person very well, say if you’re their therapist or life coach, it’s very likely you could be misunderstanding the introvert’s behavior. Introverts feel depleted of energy after socializing, and gain energy by being in low-stimulation environments. Shyness, on the other hand, is often defined as the fear of public judgement. So unless you know the true reason behind a behavior you won’t know whether that person is hiding in their “shell” because they are scared, or if they just don’t have the energy to do whatever you are pressuring them to do.

I understand not everyone who says “You need to break out of your shell” is saying it from a place of judgement or wanting to shame. But you know what? That’s how it feels. If you want to encourage an introvert to grow, then support them and help them when they ask for help. If you have the type of relationship where the other person looks to you for advice, honesty, and a challenge, then for goodness’ sake choose words other than “You need to break out of your shell.” Try “How can I help you to try new experiences?”

Dear extroverts, here’s the best thing you can say to an introvert

I support you.

Chances are the introverts in your life are surrounded by people and things telling them what to do, from the noxious “break out of your shell” to the much less insulting advice “just do it” and “seize the day.” They are being instructed up to their eyeballs. They’re getting enough conflicting advice on how to behave and what to do from movies, TV, commercials, social media, and the people in their lives. In fact, I’m guessing “I support you” is the best thing you can say to an extrovert or ambivert too.

The extrovert bias may slowly be waining in American culture, but it is still present in our lives. We still hear the judgement. We still hear the incredulity when we decline a social engagement with kind honesty. And for some introverts it’s demoralizing.

Introverts need your support. We need someone in our lives who will tell us advice only when we ask for it. Someone who won’t judge. Who can help us feel empowered by our introversion, not ashamed of it.

Don’t you want to be that person?

How to make friends as an introvert

I'm not telling you it's going to be easy, I'm telling you it's going to be worth it.

 

For many of us, making friends isn’t easy. We’re content to stay at home, by ourselves. And we’re happy like that … most of the time. But there can be times when our solitude begins to feel like a cage.

Wanting friends does not mean you aren’t an authentic introvert. Wanting new friends (or a friend) just means you aren’t a misanthrope.

So if you’re out of practice or are out of ideas, here are a few things to keep in mind about making friends as an introvert:

  • Realize that you want to make friends. And not just “kind of want.” “Kind of” doesn’t make things happen.
  • Ditch a desperation mindset. Turn desperation into hope.
  • Make a list of 5 places people with your same interests go (in person or online). If you have no interests make a list of where anyone goes when they leave the house or chat online. You can find a friend at your work’s cafeteria, in line at a grocery store, at a friend’s party, volunteering at the animal shelter, on Facebook in the form of an old classmate, in chat rooms for readers of Sherlock fan fiction, etc.
  • What mindsets need to change in order to show up to that place with an open and nonjudgemental (of yourself or others) mind, and with the only expectation being that you will meet people, not that you will make a friend.
  • Make sure you factor in enough downtime before and after you get out there.
  • Realize that for most people, friendships can take a while to form. Don’t push a possible friendship. Do acknowledge and be interested in other people and they are saying. You may click with a few people the first time, you may click with no one. So start showing up places with no expectations. You don’t have to impress anyone, you don’t even have to talk to anyone. The first step is showing up.
  • It’s ok if you’re anxious about going to new places and doing new thing. It’s ok if you’re shy. Just don’t let those things control your life.
  • Learn to tolerate smalltalk. I know, it’s the bane of our existence, but conversations have to start somewhere and most of the time it’s with smalltalk.
  • Be open to others. If someone smiles, smile back. Sometimes that’s the end of the interaction. Sometimes the smile turns into a conversation. Sometimes it turns into an annoyance (like being hit on or asked for money). But you’ll never know if you don’t smile back.
  • Have a plan. What are a few ways to express an interest in the other person? Can you ask them if you can connect on Facebook? What about giving them your email and telling them that you’d love to keep in touch. If the person is likely to be in the same place the next day or the next week (like a store clerk or a fellow volunteer) you can end a conversation with “see you next week!”
  • Don’t take rejection personally. Do you want to be friends with everyone. If you’re an introvert, I’m guessing the answer is a big No. The person you’re talking to may have too many friends as it is. They may be a sociopath misanthrope. You have no way of knowing so it’s best not to guess and take it personally.
  • Realize that hard things get easier the more you practice. Don’t give up.

Having no friends is nothing to be ashamed about, and wanting a friend (or new friends) is nothing to be ashamed about either. There are friends out there for you, but you may need some patience, luck, and a whole lot of showing up until you find them. It’ll be worth it.

 

p.s. Did you know I’m collecting signatures to challenge dictionaries which define introvert as shy? Go here to sign: http://introvertology.com/500-petition-signatures/

Advice for introvert-introvert relationships

Introvert-introvert relationships might seem like a match made in energy-management heaven, but conflicts can occur.

I’ve been in a relationship with another introvert for over ten years. Here’s a few I’ve learned:

  • Be ok with the other person staying at home while you go to a party. Two people not enjoying themselves does not equal one person enjoying themselves. And going alone to a party gives the other person a chance to be home alone in the evening. Letting the other person say No to a party without the guilt trip gives them more space to say Yes when it’s really important.
  • Make leaving the house enjoyable for both people. Not every activity needs to be a together activity, but shared non-Netflix adventures are a great way to create happy memories. Whether one person wants to get out of the house more than the other, or life starts to feel “boring,” I suggest using ethical bribing – find a way to make getting out of the house interesting to both people. For instance, I maxed on museums after living in England for four years (it feels like we went to a museum at least once a week), but I will be much more likely (and happier) to go to a museum with my partner if she suggests we eat out at a good restaurant afterwards.
  • Communicate downtime needs. Just because the two of you are introverts doesn’t mean you have the same downtime needs. The other introvert will understand your frequent need for quiet time, but it may take them years to accurately guess how much downtime you need. And not just how much, what kind of downtime can also vary between introverts. One introvert might need to be completely alone in order to recharge, while the other introvert might be able to recharge with a good book while there’s several other people in the room. Instead of spending years guessing what the other person needs in order to fully relax and recharge, try asking. And if you’re asked and don’t know your own needs try keeping an energy journal.
  • Find out each other’s communication needs and don’t take their preferences personally. One person might have to process their emotions for a long time before they can discuss something. In her book Introverts in Love, Sophia Dembling talks about how she finds it easier to write down her emotions, and on a few occasions wrote down what she wanted to say then read it to her introverted husband who prefers to talk through conflicts.
  • Divide crappy activities evenly in a way that feels fair. For instance, say both people prefer not to talk on the phone or ask sales associate questions, and one person dislikes both tasks more than the other. Instead of diving tasks based on who complains the most or expresses the most dislike, divide crappy tasks evenly. It’s not fair for one person to do all of the crappy activities, leaving the other one to only do what’s comfortable.
  • Ask, trust the answer, and don’t get offended by questions. Sometimes when I sense that my partner is angry I’ll ask if it’s something I did, and I believe her if she answers No. Asking is a much simpler (and less stressful) approach than guessing and ruminating about what’s going on with the other person. Similarly, try not to get offended by questions. Chances are the other person does not have ESP.

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