I feel a bit weird about this blog post title.
Part of me wants to know, “Why don’t I see any articles titled, ‘how to be a healthy extrovert’?” I ask myself, “what makes introverts so special that they need a whole blog to figure out whether they’re healthy or not?”
And yet, another part of me knows the truth--or at least the truth as I’ve experienced it my whole life: Western cultures naturally measure social well-being according to extroverted standards. More is considered “good”. More friends, more parties, more influential acquaintances, more followers on social media, more networking, more social events on your calendar.
Not only is it exhausting to try and live up to these standards that weren’t even made for us--which can lead to resentment, burnout, and guilt--but it’s also exhausting to protect ourselves from the judgements of folks who measure us according to these standards.
So what are the introverted standards for social well-being? What is our "normal"?
I hope to start the conversation here. I don’t pretend to know all the answers.
However, there are certain patterns I’ve noticed in how I feel and how much energy I have when I try to respect my own quiet way of navigating the world.
Keep reading for 8 of my favorite ways to connect with others while also connecting with my own need for downtime and solitude.
1. Say no, or only say yes when you really mean it.
This was by far the hardest and most liberating skill I’ve learned to do in my life.
Every day, we decide whether to say no or yes to phone calls, meetings, requests for help, outings with friends, dinner parties, family get-togethers, dates, and eating lunch with coworkers. Being deliberate about when you say no or yes is how you'll dictate where you spend your time and energy on a daily basis.
Saying yes too often can lead to resentment either against yourself or well-intentioned people, and neither are good for your health.
Think about it: if you accept an invitation when you're already feeling tired or overstimulated, wouldn't that result in more irritability? Wouldn't it be harder to actually be present and enjoy the company of the person you're with? Might you even take your crankiness out on them? I've definitely experienced all these things!
Whether you're an extrovert, introvert, ambivert, or any other type of person, it's simply social etiquette to contribute your best self to the social situation. When you're feeling the need to go for a quiet stroll by yourself at the end of a long week, it's totally okay to hold off on socializing until you're able to be a more active social participant, and thus contribute your best self.
Conversely, if you accept an invitation when you're feeling energized, you'll be more likely to connect, communicate, and make happy memories with your loved ones. Because you'll actually be present and engaged.
Saying no without guilt and saying yes with intention are evidence of an introvert who’s aware of her needs and accepting of who she is.
This requires that you practice being mindful of your energy level at all times, as well as stifling the knee-jerk reaction of saying "yes" (if you're a recovering people-pleaser like me).
2. Actually enjoy the time you spend with people.
It’s very easy to waste time and energy on toxic interactions or relationships that drain us--especially since we are just such good listeners! I say that a bit ruefully, as I’ve often found myself becoming the one everyone seems to cry to or complain to in any group I’ve ever been a part of.
And honestly, I don’t usually mind it that much.
I love helping people work through challenges, and it’s fulfilling to be of service. Plus, I get to hear all sorts of gossip and secrets because I listen well and keep my mouth shut!
However, the key to sustaining your energy as an introvert is to make sure your social interactions are actually energizing. No matter how much you get off on helping others with their problems, interaction is a two-way street. Make sure you’re gaining something from the people or person you’re interacting with, whether that means stimulating intellectual debate, connecting over shared interests (which I’ll talk about in a second), or getting immersed in a good movie together, sitting side-by-side.
If your friends insist on hanging out in loud, raucous environments that drain you, propose that you meet up in environments that better suit your sensory preferences.
And if socializing is super fun for you, but only for the first 48.2 minutes, simply enjoy the time you spend with people for those 48.2 minutes!
Remember, you have the power to orchestrate the topics of discussion, ambiance, and duration of your social interactions so that they are enjoyable and you leave them feeling energized.
3. Control your social calendar, not the other way around.
This overlaps with the previous two points. This also requires quite a bit of experimentation and self-awareness. How much socializing do you enjoy, and how much can you tolerate?
There are certain times of year--like the impending holiday season--which often require that you do social things that you normally wouldn’t do. Like visiting three houses in one day, hanging out with extended family for six hours at a stretch, or going to a holiday party almost every weekend. All these things are meant to be fun, but that doesn’t mean they’re not also depleting.
The healthy introvert learns to be self-aware so she doesn’t overschedule her social calendar, and she knows how to block off non-negotiable downtime during the busy seasons.
For instance, if you know you'll attend multiple dinner parties and potlucks this coming weekend, ensure that you can spend every weekday evening in quiet solitude so you'll have plenty of energy to share with your loved ones on Saturday and Sunday. Or you can prioritize: spend just an hour at your work aquaintance's get-together on Saturday so you don't poop out before you go to your best friend's house on Sunday.
Know what you can tolerate so you don't bite off more than you can chew.
4. Respect others’ boundaries.
One of the dangers of being so introspective is that we can sometimes tip into navel-gazing or even self-centeredness at the expense of others. I haven’t seen this happen often (because most introverts I know are so damn nice!), but it’s just something to be aware of.
Our comfort with (and preference for) silence and deep topics of conversation is something I love about my fellow introverts.
But remember that other people might not be comfortable with this level of depth and silence--especially before they feel like they know you really, really well. To them, it may feel awkward or overly intense, and something they reserve only for their most intimate loved ones.
Meet others in the middle: don’t expect them to communicate in a way that’s simply unnatural for them, just like how they (hopefully) won’t expect you to be the one giving the toast at every party or act like the class clown.
5. Set your own clear boundaries.
That being said, we need to make sure that we’re clear about the social patterns that drain us so that we'll know when to go recharge to avoid turning into The Hulk.
Then, it’s our responsibility to communicate our limits to other people.
After all, what can be more unproductive (and unfair) than telling your S.O. that you’d love to go watch the Super Bowl with a bunch of rowdy friends at the bar, and then getting into a huge fight in front of everybody an hour into the game because you want to go home but he doesn’t?
Again, this point overlaps with points #2 and #3. Just like how you'll want to know what types of interactions, conversations, and social environments energize you, you'll also want to be aware of and limit the frequency and duration of interactions that totally deplete you.
Except this point takes it a bit further: I'm challenging you to actually TELL people so no feelings are hurt and no misunderstandings are formed.
You are a big girl. Know what you’re willing to tolerate, and then kindly tell others what to expect. Chances are, they’ll be fine with it.
6. Go to specific people for what you need.
Social support comes in many forms: advice, encouragement, activity partners, and hands-on help.
If you have social support that’s effective, you don’t need 25 people to give you each type of support. I’ll take quality over quantity, every day of the week. However, this doesn't mean it's healthy or even possible to get alllll the advice or emotional support you need from a single person.
Appreciate the complexity of relationships: no one person can be everything to you, and you cannot be everything to anyone else. But can each person be really good at offering one (or even two!) specific type of support? Absolutely.
If you're lucky, you've collected a balanced support system that includes several individuals who can offer you multiple types of support. From my experience, "quality over quantity" is still true for creating satisfying relationships, but it's still best to get support from a small handful of friends rather than just one or two individuals.
For example, who do you go to for advice? Maybe it depends what type of advice you need; perhaps Audre gives great advice about career moves, but Mel gives the best dating advice. And who do you call up when you want to go dancing, or go for a hike? Sandy loves dancing, but doesn't even own a pair of sneakers. Best to call Audre again.
It comes down to this question: Do they give you what you need and do you feel like you can count on them?
If you trust that your loved ones can pull through for you in a crisis yet they're not giving you what you need on a daily basis, it's probably time to add a few more members to your support system. Again, we all have needs, but it's best to spread our requests around sometimes so as not to overwhelm those we love.
But if you DON'T trust that they will be there for you even in a crisis situation, it may be time to loosen some ties so you can make space for new ones.
7. Spend time with people who get your interests, values, and needs.
Spend time with people who share your passions.
These are people who know how to celebrate your strengths.
These are people who push you to grow into the best version of you, because they see your idiosyncrasies as potential rather than flaws.
And most of all, these are people who get you. They get your need for quiet, stillness, spiritual connection, creativity, stories, open-minded discussion, privacy, art, nature, and purpose.
When you don’t have to explain yourself to people, you can finally rest in the safety of their unconditional acceptance.
And the beauty of spending time with these folks is that you can spend all your time sharing meaningful experiences and doing things--which means that the growth of your relationship does not depend on small talk!
8. Embrace diversity.
Introverts are, by definition, focused very much on their inner worlds.
Purposely exposing myself to colorful and interesting people who are different from me has brought me out of my own head and into the real world, time and again.
Remember that people do not have to be the same as you to understand what you need or where you’re coming from. The danger with interacting only with those who are similar to you is that you’ll just become more and more of one thing. For instance, the more time I spend with people who like to stay at home, the more time I’ll spend at home!
Spending time with people who have different lifestyles or perspectives than me is one of my favorite ways to get out of my comfort zone--which is a necessity for growth. Yes, our inner lives are beautiful, but there’s beauty in the outer world, too.
Ensure your growth as a human being by interacting with other kind souls who will invite you to leave your comfort zone.
Now that we’ve discussed 8 habits that promote social well-being for introverts, it’s time to put your insights into action.
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Until next time: may we all continue to practice these 8 habits so we can thrive as the compassionate, social creatures that we are.