the difference between an introvert and an extrovert

The weekend was wonderful, but I bumped up against my absolute limit for social interaction several times, in rooms full of extremely rowdy boys wrestling and shouting and knocking things over, and people running and dropping things and moving things and someone always being next to me, talking about something, asking a question, requiring focus and attention and interaction. The older I get, the more I realize that I have a problem with focus and attention, which makes interaction, you know, slightly difficult.

With a great deal of effort, I can drag my mind front and center and focus my eyes and be a reasonable human being with a normal attention span, who takes a great deal of pleasure in the people around her, and delights in the big and beautiful great human carnival we call life, et cetera, et cetera. But it wipes me out. Sometimes I have more stamina than other times, but however long it takes, my battery ends up drained and if I do not retreat and stare off into space for awhile, my head is going to explode and no one wants to clean up that mess, believe me.



It’s disappointing, when it happens. I don’t want to be that person–a
delicate flower, a sensitive artist who just cannot handle the
terrible cacophony of every day life, because it grates on my
sensitive, artistic tissue paper soul. I want to be hardy and loud and
social and happy around people, to radiate energy and life like a tiny
little social sun. Instead, I spent a lot of time in the back room of
the house while the boys shouted, and ended up missing spending time
with Xtine, a friend of E’s from work who I adore and never get to see.
I hid and hoped no one noticed that my nerves were spangly and my eyes
were spinning and if I had to smile and be friendly for one more
second, I would jitter all the way apart.

On Monday, I planned on staying home all day and not talking to a
single solitary human being. But E stayed home sick, so I went over to
hang out with him, and his brother was home and it was his birthday and
his friends all came over and then more people came over and they swept
me out the door and up through the canyon with them for lunch. And that
maybe sounds like I didn’t want to go, which isn’t true, because I love
A, and I was happy to celebrate his birthday, and his crew of boys are
good kids and they make me laugh until I snort and I don’t want to be
this way
, this easily overwhelmed. They were talking loud and playing
the harmonica and shuffling plates and knocking over glasses and I had
to get up and escape into the bathroom and sit on the lid of the toilet
for a while, wondering what the hell was wrong with me.

The worst is when you can’t get away, and you can’t recharge, and you
can feel yourself winding down, getting silent, your face falling, your
energy draining away and you become a big, tragic, energy-sucking black
hole sitting at the head of the table and your smiles look fake and
your conversation is uninspired and you sit there knowing how very much
you suck, and how little there is you can do about it.

Either way, someone always notices. What’s wrong with you? Are you
okay? What are you doing? Are you mad at me? Are you mad at something?
What’s going on? Why do you look so upset? Or, why are you in here,
why do you need to nap, tell me what’s going on? Nothing, nothing, it’s
me, it’s nothing, I’m broken and I’m really sorry, this just happens,
sometimes. It’s the way I am. I do not like it either I’m sorry! I’m
really sorry.

The boys stuck around for awhile, and the house was busy and loud, and
then it was time to leave for the movie and after the movie, dinner
with 15 people, and I welcomed the chance to sit between E and
Steve and zone out while they talked about solid state drives and
information architecture and I think everyone was happy and had a good
time and ate pancakes and A had a very good birthday, but I was mostly
glad when E pushed back from the table and held out his hand and took
me home. 

  15 comments for “the difference between an introvert and an extrovert

  1. Beth
    May 6, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    I get this way sometimes too. I’ve noticed it also happens most often when I really had my heart set on quiet time and it turns into a big party- like I’m fine if I get to mentally prepare for the Big Do but if it’s sprung on me I can’t handle it. At the same time, though, if I’m ready for the Big Do and it doesn’t happen I’m sort of listless and lonely. I can’t win, is what it comes down to. :)
    It makes me feel old and unsociable. At the same time, though, I have realized that I am at my absoultel best being with say, three or four other people, it’s the happy medium where I feel really social but not overwhelmed.

  2. May 6, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Man, do I hear you. If I spend too much time socializing with too many people, after a while I start to feel like my brain physically can’t take any more sensory input, the way my stomach can’t handle another bite when I’ve eaten too much. It’s like my head is inflated with too much information, and if one more person so much as says hello to me it will burst, and then I have to go sit in a quiet place and stare into space while it deflates back to normal size. I hate that. But thank God for locking bathroom doors.

  3. Ro
    May 6, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Ohh man. This was such a huge problem for me with the last person I was really involved with (particularly if we were visiting with his family). I think that needing some alone time to recharge is totally ok, especially as long as you know yourself and can sense when you’re reaching your limit. I think it’s the mark of a thoughtful and empathetic person (but maybe that’s just a rationalization for my own tissue paper soul). In any case, though, when there are loads of people around (or especially if you’re in an unfamiliar environment) it can be tough to explain to people that you really just need an hour to sit alone, quietly, and recompose. If you find a tactful way to handle that, let us all know!
    I don’t know if I’ve ever commented here before but I read your blog pretty much every day and always find it entertaining and relateable – thanks for that!

  4. May 6, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    The hardest part for me is explaining to my husband that I’m not mad at him, I just need a little peace and alone time. The rector who married us had us take the Myers-Briggs test and when he saw how introverted I am and how extroverted my husband is, he counseled us on this issue specifically (The rector’s wife is an introvert while he is an extrovert).
    Sometimes I just need downtime. Sometimes I like being a homebody because after being “on” all week, I need some time to recharge. It’s hard to explain to extroverts, who get charged up from being around other people, but every other introvert I’ve ever met knows exactly what I’m talking about.
    I don’t mean to get withdrawn and brusque and surly, I’ve just reached my limit and I can’t communicate any more.

  5. Nicole
    May 6, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    I know how you feel. The older I get (and I’m not that old– only 24), the more alone-time I need. And it doesn’t always necessarily follow a lot of social encounters, either. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, I feel the need to withdraw even if I haven’t been bombarded by crowds of people.
    I think a lot of people feel the need to re-charge, but many push that need aside as being inconvenient or “abnormal,” and this surely gives them no benefit. I think it’s great that you recognize your psyche’s need for occasional solitude and down-time. In the end, it probably makes you a lot more fun to be around the rest of the time.

  6. Electropoptart
    May 6, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Um…hello, did you just describe me at social gatherings or what? I feel this way all too often. The fortunate things is that I know some of the triggers that cause social gatherings like this to get like this. This usually happens when I’m around people who don’t know I’m gay. I feel I have to have this protective shield around me, in which zoning out usually works. It’s pretty draining. However, this zoning out and needing to recharge happens without reason most of the time.

  7. Em
    May 6, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    oh my gosh. thank you so much for this post. I am almost an extreme introvert, and it’s always so comforting/refreshing/just plain fabulous to find others out there as well…other introverts…ahhh it just makes me HAPPY!! it’s especially hard for me sometimes since I’m at the young-party age where everyone is constantly going out, making plans, doing this doing that… I feel bad making up excuses like homework…when really I just want to recharge and be that homebody. anyways just THANK YOU THANK YOU! :)

  8. May 6, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Funny, most everyone who’s commented so far has claimed to be introverted. Yet, I am a TOTAL extrovert, and I get this way, as well. I can be sitting at a table directly across from someone who is talking directly at me, but if there’s too much noise and activity around me, I cannot understand a word that person is saying. It’s gotten so at our homeschool meeting once a month, I have to ask a friend what took place, since I can’t recall hearing a single word clearly.
    I have one of two reactions to loud, large gatherings. Either I get really hyper and talkative, and then burn out, or I don’t even want to stay very long because I get a headache and want to be alone.
    In other words, I can totally relate. :-)

  9. May 6, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Introverts unite!
    I’m like this too – and always have been. Now that I’ve moved far from friends and family, it gets a bit awkward. We only make it home a few times a year, so of course everyone wants you, every second.
    Eventually I have to go hide.
    Last Christmas, we found ourselves walking in the freezing cold, icy woods at 11 p.m., just to get some quiet time.
    But I think it’s good – it means we’ve got enough going on in our own minds to keep ourselves thoroughly entertained – no outside influences required!
    At least, that’s what I’m choosing to tell myself today.

  10. May 7, 2008 at 12:25 am

    I’m easily overwhelmed with parties and so was my father. If it was a party we could take a break from (say, close family), we’d both end up reading in the family room, for a bit, in companionable silence. If it was a party that we couldn’t take a break from, we’d just look at each other with a “Break time, but it’s not possible” look.
    I think the hardest moment at the get-together after his funeral was being at that “Break time” point, and realizing that he wouldn’t ever be there to share that with again. I felt alone in a world full of people who Wouldn’t Shut UP!
    He gave me the gift of feeling that it’s okay to be an introvert. It turns out that my older two kids are introverts (the jury is still out on the 9 yo), and I hope I’m giving that gift to them.

  11. Lizzy
    May 7, 2008 at 4:32 am

    You seriously could have been describing me here, I can relate so much.

  12. ladybee
    May 7, 2008 at 5:56 am

    This is completely off topic sorry but you may like: http://www.timeout.com/newyork/articles/features/29355/naked-new-yorker-photo-shoot
    She is gorgeous! x

  13. Mom
    May 7, 2008 at 10:14 am

    You probably always thought of me as an extrovert but I am definitely not. I am more of an introvert that you think. But, the more I ponder the more I realize our society is way too noisy, too crowded, too much of everything. We all need to have quite, peaceful, leave-me-alone time. For myself, it comes in the form of retreats even if just for a few days – not vacations where there is way too much of everything – but a quiet no phones, no computers, no noise where you can just be place. In fact, I am anxiously awaiting my retreat time near the end of the month and boy do I need it – I am about to exploded. Of course, I retreat to my room any chance I can to just regroup and revitalize.

  14. Anonymous
    May 7, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    As an introvert (and a sensory defensive to boot), I hear you, I feel for you–and I always wonder–why does it fall to the introvert to assume it is they who are “wrongly wired”? Sez who? The extroverts? (Yeah, well they would say that, I suppose.)
    Another thing I always wonder–why does my social life tend to clump up on the calendar, so that I have two or three stressy events going at more or less the same time?

  15. May 8, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    I think of it as draining my social well – some people seem to have very deep wells, but mine is quite shallow, and empties quite rapidly.
    I’m very fortunate that my husband not only understands my need to withdraw and recharge – he often recognizes it before I do, so he can find me a quiet spot before I melt down and explain to the people I’m fleeing from that I just need a moment to myself. And you know what? They totally get it! They might ask if I’m okay when I come back, but they don’t seem to take any offense when I have to leave. It’s helped me get better at recognizing when I need to take a break (before I get completely irrational), and helped me find the strength to say, “I’m just a little overstimulated. I’m going to go stand over there for awhile.” So far, no one’s asked what’s wrong with me.

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