Wednesday, January 7, 2015

When Introverts Have Meetings

It should be no secret by now that I'm an introvert.

And... just in case you are confused, let me assure you --for the record-- that I am not shy, reserved, or anxious. I'm actually quite the opposite; gregarious, outgoing, fun and adventurous.

In it's simplest terms think of a battery discharging energy. An introvert is one whose battery is drained by being around people and stimulation, while an extrovert's battery draws energy from those things.

My sister and I (both introverts) often chuckle over things that are suggested in our culture that have to have come from an extrovert. At church for example. When the pastor says turn and greet 3 people you've never met before, or, let's all join hands to pray. Those are exciting fun ways to connect... for the extrovert. For an innie like me, not so much.

At social functions where I don't know very many people, I tend to navigate to a quiet corner and seek out one person (that I already know) to converse with. Having to make small talk with strangers can choke me into paralysis if I'm already tired. Add loud noises and several things going on at once, and you might see that 'deer in the headlights' look on my face. That is if I haven't already snuck out the back door.

Let me clarify, that this is NOT a social dysfunction -it's not an anxiety attack or shyness or fear. It's that my brain has to process things, analyze things and if there's a lot of stuff going on around me it takes energy to filter it. It takes energy to mix and mingle. It takes a lot of energy to engage with others, especially if we don't already have a relationship established. And as the event goes on, more energy goes out and with no time to re-charge, eventually the battery goes dead.

Over the Christmas holidays we ended up having back to back parties to attend. Both were being held in the homes of people we know and love. However, at both houses, the rooms were filled with LOTS of people who also know and love them. But to me, those other guests were all virtually strangers. My husband was excited to meet and greet, mingle and laugh. His battery was getting charged up by all this interaction.

For me... well, it was a completely different story...

There was a lot of noise, it felt crowded and chaotic. I looked around for that quiet corner to hole up in, hoping I could sip a glass of wine and observe. As the evening went on, I could feel my battery draining fast and soon I was operating on reserve and that was dissipating as well. The thought of sitting down next to someone I didn't know was so overwhelmingly beyond me the very thought of it made me my skin crawl.

Thankfully, my sweetie recognized the signal I was sending and we were able to make our polite good byes and escape.

I remember the days before my husband truly understood my introverted nature. We'd enter a large gathering place-- a concert for example,  and because we'd not had a previous discussion about  it, he sort of expected me to choose where to sit and he would follow me. I'd stand at the back, almost frozen because the largeness of the room, the amplified noise and the unknown of all of it rendered me literally unable to make a decision. I didn't know where to sit because my brain was too busy trying to process all the stimulation around me and filter it into appropriate categories. Now that he better understands me he knows when we arrive some place new that I really do  NEED him to just take the lead. Don't ask me where I want to sit, just find us a place and lead me there!

I can play hard and love every minute of it when in a group of people I already know and am comfortable with, but eventually I'm fidgeting to be done. Ready to go home, put on my PJ's and curl up and veg. I relish and cherish my alone time, but that doesn't mean I don't  love people! I do need to be socially interactive. I just want it to have meaning.

So, it strikes me as funny that I now head up a women's writers group, which I'm willing to lay bets, is largely comprised of introverts. ( I don't have percentages to back this up but I think a large majority of writers are probably introverts)

Why this is funny to me is that when we started the group, most of us did not know each other. And what's more dreadful than going to a meet up with of a bunch of strangers? (Answer: going to a meet up with of a bunch of strangers and engaging in small talk! EEk!) It's been helpful to hide behind the hand outs of guidelines and reading our written words, rather than make surface talk around the table. Over time we've built a rapport, and gotten to know each other better and found connections of the heart and soul.

We have several gals who joined the writers group but haven't made it to any of our monthly meetings... and I wonder if the idea that they will have to face a room full of strangers and make small talk is just more than they want to pursue. I want to assure these ladies that I understand completely and I don't really blame them for choosing another activity (like staying home!!) over our meetings! I  also want to assure them that because I do understand, I can promise there will be no hand holding, no greeting 3 people you've never met before and really, no surface-y small talk.

Being an introvert is a wonderful thing. It's not something that needs to be fixed, as extroverts sometimes think. But it is helpful to recognize the differences between an introvert and an extrovert and then work to honor those differences. After all, this is the way God made us!

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