Introverts: We need our shells, thank you very much!

Alone isn’t lonely, necessarily.

I once had someone tell me that when they saw me sitting alone on my porch swing, it made them sad to see me so lonely.

As much as I hate to admit it, the comment got to me a little bit. Like most people, I don’t want to be pitied. I also don’t enjoy being misunderstood. Don’t judge what you see in me based on your perceptions and experiences. Perhaps this person would have been lonely if she was sitting alone, I, however, was anything but.

The world is viewed and portrayed largely through an extroverted lens. If you doubt this at all, Google it! Try googling images for the word “fun” and see what pops up. You will see the concept represented by vivacious smiles, exuberant gestures (picture arms outstretched, hands in the air) and people clustered into groups.

Now try an image search for “alone” and it’s literally like night and day. All the bright colors fade into shades of gray, images portray solitary individuals bowing under the heavy burden of their solitude – heads down, shoulders slumped, faces covered.

One could assume that it would be practically impossible to simultaneously be “alone” and have “fun”.  As an introvert myself, I cannot even begin to count the times that I have been told to “cheer up!”, “have fun!”, “smile!” or to “come out of my shell” (be careful what you wish for on that one).

It may be a hard concept for extroverts to grasp, but I can be quite happy without it being expressed on my face in the form a grin that spreads from ear to ear. I can have fun without flailing my arms about or lifting my hands up into the air… it actually is within the realm of possibility. I can even be highly amused without the sound of laughter escaping my lips. When I am out in a crowd, those outward expressions of my inner self feel awkward and uncomfortable for me.

You see, as odd as it may seem to you, those expressions – for me – are reserved only to be shared with those in my inner circle. My acquaintances may think that I don’t smile much, but my friends are familiar with the upward twitch of the outer corners of my mouth. Someone I just met may think that I’m quiet, but those who know me well  often wonder if I’m going to stop talking and have heard the guffaw of laughter that escapes from me when I’m amused (sometimes taking even me by surprise). And those who know me really well may even elicit a giggle or two.

Why would I want to display those intimate expressions of myself to the world at large?

And let’s talk about fun for a moment. “Fun” is defined as something that provides mirth or amusement; enjoyment or playfulness. Fun, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I often have fun alone. I often have fun with one other person, or a small group of those with whom I am close. I very rarely have fun in a large crowd. I almost never have fun at any event that has the word “party” in it or is described as “fun” by an extrovert.

Anything that involves large groups of people, mingling, small talk, “ice-breakers”, games, “polite conversation”, or pretty much any situation where someone says, “the more, the merrier!” (unless they are referring to chocolate, dogs or kittens) takes a toll on my energy stores. I can do it. I can even enjoy aspects of it, but I have a limit. And once that limit is reached, I want out! And then I’ll need time – alone – to fully recharge.

This is what life is like for those of us who are introverts. We aren’t anti-social, most of us aren’t even socially awkward. Some of us are even down-right friendly! We just need our alone time in order to properly process life… and in order to be pleasant to others!

So, the next time you try to help bring your introverted friend “out of their shell”, ask yourself this: is it in the best interest of the turtle to be removed from it’s shell? No, it’s not. The turtle is happy with its shell, it needs its shell, the shell is a part of him. The turtle does not need to be “fixed”, because it is not broken. The same is true for introverts! Leave our shells alone!

If you are an extrovert with an introverted friend or loved one, the greatest gift you can ever give to them is one-on-one time. Instead of inviting them to come to one of your gatherings where it’s “the more, the merrier”, just invite them over for a cup of coffee and a conversation about something meaningful. Or better yet, a walk or a drive, conversation is always easiest when we don’t feel like we have been put on the spot!

Give the introverts in your life the space to be heard. Most of us are very good listeners and we spend a lot of time listening to others. If an introvert opens up to you, take the time to listen – it’s likely they haven’t been heard in a while.