The Hidden Introvert

13 Jun

Many people have a mental image of introverts that includes reclusiveness, social awkwardness, very few friends and an empty calendar. Certainly there are introverted people who embody that stereotype. They are visible, even though their conspicuousness comes in varying degrees.

Perhaps they go so far as to bring a book to a party so they can tuck themselves into a corner and scrupulously avoid talking to anyone. Or they intentionally wander from one small grouping of people to another, offering the appearance of engaging, but escaping before being sucked into actual conversation. They may offer short, yes/no answers to informal questions and completely disregard the societal norm of expanding on their answer or even – gasp! – asking a reciprocal question. They tend to find or create jobs (like refilling the veggie tray, collecting dirty dishes, checking on the children) because it’s easier to be busy helping than it is to be witty and charming.

Visible introverts are known and recognized as introverts. They can get away with being stand-offish or aloof. It is a standard assumption that they will arrive late and/or leave early. Their family and close friends accept them as they are and everyone just goes about their business. No big deal.

I’m here to tell you about the hidden introverts. The invisible ones. Those who blend into the social scene. The introverts whom most people assume to be extroverts.

That would be me.

I am a competently social person. I am quite capable of witty repartee in a group. I can function reasonably well in one-on-one conversation, be that in the role of good listener, mentor, or simply holding up my end of the dialogue. But the underlying stressor is the constant unknown of “where is this going and what’s coming next?” That’s why I’d much rather be on stage than in a small group discussion. If I’m the only one doing the talking, I am free from the anxiety of constantly preparing myself for whatever the other person is going to say or ask.

I know I’m not the only person on the planet who feels the social awkwardness of an introvert yet is perceived by many to be extroverted. So how can we differentiate between the two spectra and be more understanding of those who seem to overlap?

Here’s a simple categorizing tool. It’s a question of whether being with people is draining or filling.

Extroverts are filled up or energized by social activity. Conversation and connectivity fuel them and stabilize them. Being alone quickly feels like loneliness. An isolated extrovert is an antsy, unhappy person.

Conversely, introverts are filled up or energized by being alone. No matter their level of capability in social settings, being with people – being “on” – is draining. It requires effort. And that effort has to be preceded and followed by some serious solitude in order to maintain an appearance of sanity.

Hence my disturbing anxiety at having to do seemingly simple things like grocery shopping on a Monday after a full weekend. (Why can’t people just let me read a book and eat pie all day?!?!)

Shopping is a whole beast unto itself. For an introvert, one of the greatest inventions of all time is the self-checkout lane. It ranks even higher than self-serve pay-at-the-pump gas stations. The goal of shopping is to get in, get what you need, and get out…without having to interact with anyone. I have been known to leave without some of the things I need because it’s easier to put it off to another day than it is to ask someone to help me. (I do know that “easier” isn’t necessarily “better”; I’m slowly improving my fake confidence.)

Going to a new grocery store is always a monumental hurdle. I don’t know where things are. The carts are different. The brands are different. The check-out procedure is different. It all makes me feel like a lost, bumbling idiot, and that just makes me feel conspicuous.

Learning how to shop in Ethiopia was the worst. The worst! I am quite sure my family would have literally starved to death if it weren’t for sweet friends that led me by the hand through the stores and taught me how to shop. Eternal blessings upon Beth and Colette (who had to go by “Nicole” the whole time she lived in Ethiopia because “colette” sounds like the Amharic word for testicle. Just thought I’d throw that in there for my own amusement, if not for yours).

Just to prove that I am indeed growing in this area, I went to the market on Saturday and bought things. Most previous attempts at market shopping have involved me wandering from stall to stall, too nervous about the procedure to do anything but pretend that farm-fresh, local, pesticide-free produce isn’t good enough for me, and I come home with nothing. This time I  pretended to know what I wanted and I had my own shopping bags with me and I paid cash and I bought apples, peppers, sweet potatoes and carrots! See? Progress!

Telephones are another anxiety trigger. They’re worse than face-to-face conversations because you can’t get clues from facial expressions or read lips if there’s too much ambient noise. Cell phone conversations make me want to go for a ride in the dryer; those half-second delays in transmission…the starts and stops as we figure out whose turn it is to talk…I can’t stand it! Just send me a text or an email so I can respond if/when I want to!

Okay, enough. Let me somehow bring this to a coherent close. Being an introvert means that being with people is tiring. That doesn’t mean I hate everybody (even though I may temporarily feel that way by the end of the evening). It doesn’t mean I don’t have friends. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to ever be with anybody anywhere. It just means I have to balance that social time with alone time, and if I don’t get the required alone time, I’m probably (definitely) gonna get crazy and cranky and unreasonably angry.

And so begins summer break. Lord, bless and protect these 4 kids who deserve better than Psycho Mama.


Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Personal Growth


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12 responses to “The Hidden Introvert

  1. sharilee

    June 14, 2013 at 7:37 AM

    This is me! I, too, can function as an extrovert, but oh how drained I am. And hard to explain to those who are not this way. Great post!

  2. kakeochi_umai

    June 14, 2013 at 7:48 AM

    “Visible introverts are known and recognized as introverts. They can get away with being stand-offish or aloof. It is a standard assumption that they will arrive late and/or leave early. Their family and close friends accept them as they are and everyone just goes about their business. No big deal.”

    As one of many, many visible introverts who has had to deal with their parents, teachers and employers trying to “fix” them and feeling like they didn’t belong in their family, in their workplace, in society, this makes me CRAZY angry. Like, boiling lava in my stomach angry. It was an EXTREMELY big deal for me, to the point where I checked in to therapy expecting to be taught how to be “normal”. I’m sure that being a hidden introvert is really hard, but there was no need at all to minimise what visible introverts often have to deal with.

    • Anita Neuman

      June 14, 2013 at 8:14 AM

      Oh no! I am so sorry that this came across as minimizing to you. That was not my intention AT ALL. The “no big deal” is how I feel about my friends and family who are visible introverts – that it’s completely okay and, yes, normal for them to be introverted. I am sickened that you’ve had to deal with so many people treating you awfully and I don’t mean to say that it’s no big deal for you. I totally believe that it’s been made into a very big deal. I recognize now that I made a too-broad generalization that most people are accepted for who they are. I’m sorry that hasn’t been the case for you, but I really didn’t intend to dismiss the pain that you’ve experienced.

      • kakeochi_umai

        June 16, 2013 at 5:00 AM

        Thanks, apology accepted. 🙂

        Also, re Collette sounding like “testicle” in Amharic: when I was teaching English in Japan I heard of one teacher who had a hard time because her last name was Mankovich and “manko” is a crude term for the vagina in Japanese.

  3. Colette Schwenk

    June 14, 2013 at 9:28 AM

    This describes me too! Then put me next to my husband who is an extrovert(even that is an understatement), and I really appear to be a socially awkward introvert. I enjoy being with people but it is draining physically and emotionally. I need alone time to recoup! I hate, no loathe, going to the grocery store. I will purposefully wake up at 5 am and go shopping to guarantee no one else is in the store. It still takes me 2 hours to shop because I am so overwhelmed by the selection…..I still think I’m dealing with reverse culture shock with that one. By the way, I expect a cut of your earnings for telling my embarrassing name story. It’s interesting that you mentioned it because I often use that story in a group setting because I know it’s the one story I can share that will make everyone laugh!

    • Anita Neuman

      June 14, 2013 at 9:32 AM

      What? Barry’s an extrovert?!?!
      You can have half my earnings. 🙂

  4. melanie

    June 14, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    Sigh…me too. Hi. My name is “mel” and I am indeed a secret introvert. Now laugh. Because everyone usually does. I know, I usually function just fine in groups and crowds and “take the bull by the horns” and lead the way in new situations….but it is all with fear and trepidation in my heart and the MINUTE someone else wants to take over…..HERE YOU GO! It’s all yours! WHEW!
    On the serious side my mother was an obvious introvert. I watched her struggle and sometimes it embarrassed me and even got me angry when I wished she would interact more with my friends, and in later years with my kids friends. Eventually the Lord helped her with this issue so her golden years were much, much better. But, it made me into a hidden introvert. I did NOT want to suffer like her so I FORCED myself into those award moments and situations. I to, hate new situations where I am unsure, and have been known to walk away rather than have to ask (does that make me a man???) Lol.
    I use people checkouts because I feel like such a fool at the self checkouts!
    Well my hubby disagrees, but then, how well does anyones mate truly ever know them? You want to have a little mystery in your marriage, right?

  5. brennagee

    June 15, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    Loved this. I am a social introvert. I enjoy people and conversation (particularly if it’s meaningful). I absolutely crave downtime post intense socializing.
    My new favorite thing that allows me to avoid phone calls and asking for help – Open Table. It allows you to make reservations at restaurants online, no human interaction.
    I won’t usually promote my own writing but I just posted a piece on summer parenting as an introvert at I think it will resonate.

    • Anita Neuman

      June 15, 2013 at 10:25 AM

      I get that inner conflict about promoting your own writing – but I’m glad you did. Your article is great and really does resonate! Thanks!

  6. sharilee

    June 16, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    Anita, for me, after teaching all week, which is people all day long, loud ones, at that (I teach grade six) I have to have one day of nothing to recover. My husband now understands that, but I don’t tell many people that I do absolutely nothing on Saturday, because it’s the only way I can survive the rest of the week. And it’s because I am drained by all of the socializing, and just being out … all week, all day.

  7. Tracy

    June 17, 2013 at 8:35 AM

    I’m currently taking an assessment course, and this past week we had to take a personality assessment. I find these things to be quite interesting, and I’ve learned a lot about myself (and my husband) by taking them. Counselors use them a lot with family therapy, so family members can learn more about each other. This time I learned that out of a scale of 0-100, I am a 10 on the extraversion scale. My husband was a 0. 🙂 We are both severely introverted! What I liked about this test was that it gave a lot of other detailed information about my introversion, and it does not cast introversion in a bad light, it just states the facts about what I probably like/don’t like/etc… It’s always interesting to read my feelings on paper that I don’t necessarily have the words to explain. If you’re interested in taking the assessment (there is a plethora of other information in the assessment too), it’s free online.

    • Anita Neuman

      June 17, 2013 at 8:47 AM

      Cool! Thanks, Tracy. That is fascinating!


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