I love children’s books that can provide a snapshot of familiar feelings and situations in our lives and offer ideas on how one might navigate these experiences. This week’s blog is about introverted personalities. I was inspired after reading a picture book that never labeled its main characters as introverts. But being an introvert, I immediately identified with them. You can read the review for On the Night of the Shooting Star by Amy Hest under the Recommended Reads section of this blog.
For the better part of my life, I have longed for acceptance and closeness with people. I mean, who doesn’t? Right? And yet, despite this need, I am often drained and overwhelmed by people, feeling the need to pull away and be alone. It turns out that this odd paradox is normal behavior for someone with an introverted personality.
Being an introvert can be a challenge for a child. We are conditioned to believe that the cogs that turn the wheels of this world must function in the same way to operate machinery most efficiently. As a result, introverts are pushed to be someone else or do things that don’t feel natural. We are often mislabeled as being shy. While introverts can appear to be closed off or even bashful, they are quite capable of being team players and performers. But introverts also always need to balance social demands with a fair amount of space and quiet time for introspection.
As an introverted child, I often felt different from other kids in my classrooms and even my own family. Honestly, the norm was to feel out of sync with others, though I tried to be pleasing and what I thought people expected of me. I followed all the rules, got good grades, did my chores, said my prayers, and played nicely with others. But still, I would have to say that my overall impression of childhood was feeling tremendous pressure to conform to be accepted and feel loved.
Because it was difficult for me to be all things to all people, I struggled with fear of failure and doubted my abilities. Low self-esteem is another common trait found among introverts. You know you can bravely be what is expected, but for only so long until your mind and body say flee. The pulling back is hard to explain to people. Introverts can shine bright, but like candles that burn down to a nub, they can reach the end of their wick.
Introverts can also sometimes have difficulty making lasting friendships. Fortunately, introverts aren’t rare. They’re everywhere! But often, they are challenging to find and connect with because they wear the required masks and perform the required dances we all do to get through life. I’m happy to report that I have enjoyed many wonderful friendships with both extroverts and introverts over the years. However, these relationships did not always happen quickly or easily. It took a long while and many uncomfortable experiences before I learned that I didn’t have to make myself into someone I wasn’t and follow the crowd to have friends.
People, if you have a child, or know someone who tends to be quiet, unsporty, unjokey, tends to be a loner, or refuses to be part of the clique- be patient. Be kind. Trust me. They want to please you. But they also need to be true to themselves. They are processing. Introverted personalities are common and not defective. Introversion is not a mental illness. Instead, it is a trait that we can be born with, as integral to our individuality as the color of our eyes or skin.
If there is one thing I can say to the parent of an introverted child, it’s don’t push too hard. And don’t worry. Love, friendship, and opportunities will find a way. Just be there along the sidelines and keep telling them you love everything about them. Honor their quiet and space. Reassuring love is all they need to be encouraged to step outside of themselves when the time and need are right.