Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Socially Functional Introvert's Confession

Recently I was sitting at one of my favorite places, Panera Bread, with a few of my girlfriends. We have a crochet club, but only two of the five of us crochet. One knits, and the other two are just there for the entertainment. We even have a not-so-secret hooky hand shake. Ha! As we were talking about everything but yarn crafting, one of the gals began to talk about an upcoming Women's Ministry Summer Picnic. You know, thirty to fifty women all getting together at a bug infested, blistering hot park shelter, shooting the breeze about faith, jobs, kids, menopause... As she was telling us about it, I said, "PLEASE no ice breakers!" The phrase, "Let's all break into small groups and get to know each other better" causes my stomach to tighten up to a pre-pregnancy state! I realized that not only am I not the only person who hates those stupid games, but that in my little crochet club, every last one of us are introverts. This is funny because I recently discovered that the ratio of extroverts to introverts is 3:1.

I never considered myself to be an introvert because I have an outgoing personality. I'm learning much more about the introvert / extrovert thing by reading Marti Olsen Laney's "The Introvert Advantage: Making the Most of Your Hidden Strengths". Dr. Laney is an introvert who married an extrovert. I'm only on page 22, and already have learned that it is not so uncommon for someone like me to exist. I quickly discovered that I've mistaken introversion for shyness or aloofness.

Introverts, I've found, can be friendly and outgoing. It's not about personality, it's about what energizes a person. For the introvert, we focus inward to gain energy. Since we like to live inside our own heads, we like to process things internally and gain refreshment from being alone with enough time to think clearly. We revel in ideas, emotions and impressions within us. We love email, blogging, Facebook. Phone calls are difficult. For an introvert like me, going to church is fun and I love being there when I'm there, but when I get home I run up to my room, toss on some sloppy loose clothing, and tell the kids, "Unless you're bleeding, throwing up, or on fire, do not bug me for one hour please." I always say this with a smile and a twinkle in my eye, but the kids know I'm serious. Every week after church I feel like one of those well worn, used, wet washcloths after doing dishes for a Thanksgiving meal. Nothing left inside me. All socialed-out.

Extroverts, on the other hand, are energized by lots of people and activity. They are all about people, places and things - like nouns, I guess. They like to talk to people, but this doesn't mean they are necessarily more out-going or lively than introverts. Too much alone time can greatly dampen an extrovert. I suspect that three of my five kids are extroverts. After hours of being at church (service plus after-service lunch) they cheerfully exclaim, "What can we do now mom? Can we have all our friends over to play?" For them, the party has only just started, and for me, let's just say I'm not usually inclined to do a whole lot of socializing after doing a whole lot of socializing.

Introversion and extroversion are not personality types - they are just labels for what energizes or drains a person.

Are you a socially functional introvert?

Getting back to my story, as my friend was talking about the upcoming Women's Ministry Picnic, I looked around the table and saw a couple of my friends smiling, and one was rolling her eyes. I think I literally put my head on the table and moaned. Since we're all introverts, the thought alone of two hours of trying to make small talk in a large group tires us (and for some, causes anxiety). I piped up and said, "I'll do the devotional!" Yeah, as a functional introvert I enjoy speaking to large numbers of people, but have a much more difficult time actually conversing with them. Weird, huh? Well, maybe not. As I'm considering what to say, I am reflecting on how so much of what the church does seems to be extrovert - focused, but that's a post for another time. For now, I'm enjoying the relative quiet of my home (the kids are still asleep, except for one, and the hubby is out) and trying to recharge my soul. Ahhh :-)


  1. Great post! Although some introverts might take issue with "socially functional" sorry I had to go PC. But you say yourself that you are an outgoing innie and indeed many innies are perfectly functional in social settings. I have become more so over the years, but it's been a struggle because I happen to be shy as well as an introvert. I am in total agreement with you on the icebreakers. Let's break into groups and talk about anything makes me want to scream and dive out of the nearest window! Cheers.

    The Shytrovert

  2. I think I picked up the socially functional term from "The Introvert Advantage" or perhaps another introvert article? My introvert friend Todd, who is an infectious disease specialist who deals with patients all day, every day, calls himself a "functional introvert". No one would ever know that he's recharged by alone time, and he married the most social little butterfly on the planet. heh.

  3. Sending this to my hubby (the extrovert) so he can begin to understand the three socially functional introverts he lives with! Thanks!

  4. now see, being myself a functional introvert, I need those ice breakers, I need the crutch of something specific to talk about. : )