Part Three: The Invaluable Lessons I Learned from Introverts

Last week I called my friend Jodi to check on her. Jodi is one of my favorite people, one of the J’s I dedicated my book to. (See Chapter Two: “Perfection is for Yo-Yos” for the story of the unlikely start to our intimacy.) I knew she’d been going through some, let’s just say, stuff. She had been unpacking some of it over the phone a few days before, and our call had gotten cut short by one of my teenagers’ needs. (Like being picked up from school or some such triviality.)


I wanted to make sure Jodi got her share of air time.


“So how are things?” I asked.


“Alright.”


“Did your weekend go okay?” I asked.


“It was fine.”


“Last week you were struggling a bit so I’m calling to check on you.”


“Thanks.”


Not exactly forthcoming with the deets, there, Jodi.


In years past, this exchange would have made me so uncomfortable that I would have started talking about myself, compulsively and rapidly to fill the silence. But because of what I’ve been learning about introverts and extroverts in general and Jodi in particular, I asked her an honest question instead:


“I’m getting the feeling you don’t want to talk today. Do you want to get off the phone?” I asked.


“I don’t want to talk about myself right now,” Jodi said. “But I’m in the mood to listen.”


So, I talked, because I knew she was being truthful. If she didn’t want to be on the phone with me, she would have said so; in fact, she wouldn’t have answered the phone.


On the introvert/extrovert scale, my friend Jodi and I are at opposite ends. Nine years into our friendship, I’ve experienced some real growth by living in proximity to her, literally (we are basically neighbors) and figuratively. She’s one of the first people I call when I feel the need to process a puzzling problem or big emotion. And I’ve come to learn that I am also one of the first people Jodi will call in the same scenarios. She just does it a lot less often.


I’ve been writing this series on misunderstanding introverts, largely because I love my introverts so dearly, and being in long-term relationships with them has been a humbling and educational process.


Here's what I’ve learned from Jodi and my other Introverted Loved Ones:


1. Being still with one’s feelings is wise. Talking feelings through right as you’re having them – even with someone trustworthy, even with a professional counselor -- is not always the most productive way to manage emotions and make wise decisions. I am by nature an oral processor and extrovert (these are not necessarily the same thing), and when I’m triggered by something, my first instinct is to pick up the phone.


Jodi has taught me by example that it’s a good practice to take some time to think things through before you tell someone else, even someone you love and trust. She tells me that her best practice is taking walks, doing research, praying and prioritizing what is affecting her most. Sometimes she does this for days before she talks about it. Then she can bring it to a friend for counsel and comfort. I can really affirm the wisdom in this.


2. Asking for comfort and input is important. Asking everyone you know for comfort and input is draining. I love the saying, “A burden shared is a burden halved.” But on the other hand, a burden shared with your three best friends and two therapists is a lot of time on the phone focusing on the burden. Before I went through Twelve Step Recovery for Codependency, I didn’t realize that I often did this because I needed several people to vote to validate my feelings before I could set boundaries. Continuing in my recovery process, I am learning that I don’t need a consensus to trust my God-given gut and the Holy Spirit’s voice in my heart. A couple of wise counselors if I have a major decision to make is plenty. Any more external processing and I’m just spinning my wheels.


3. Being in touch with one’s own emotional limits and waning energy is really, really healthy. For Jodi and my other ILOs, with their more easily over-stimulated nervous systems, limiting their activities and interactions is essential. They don’t struggle with it. They just do it. They say no, they leave early. I shared at the beginning of this series that my introverted daughter used to withdraw from play dates and suck her thumb with her bunny when she got tired or overstimulated. I had no such instincts. Yes, I get energized by being with people. But not with all people. And not ad nauseam. I literally had to get sober from alcohol before I realized that I didn’t like being out in crowds and at large parties as much as I thought I did. The pandemic has also taught me that though too much isolation is bad for my mental health, a lot more isolation than I had pre-pandemic is not only good for me, I actually really enjoy it.


4. Confidences are not currency; you don’t have to balance their frequency in friendship like deposits and withdrawals in a back account. My ILOs don’t confide in me as often as I confide in them, but that doesn’t mean we don’t trust each other equally. It means our needs are different. In fact, it can be a sign of a toxic relationship when one person demands emotional disclosure on their timeline. And like I recently read on the internet, I want my relationships to be like my cosmetics: non-toxic and cruelty free. My extroversion doesn't demand that my friends be like me for me to keep being like me. Typically, I need to share out loud more often, and my ILOs are willing to listen more often than they want to talk. (This is my marriage in a nutshell.) That doesn’t mean I’m “too much” for them, or that my ILOs are being withholding or emotionally avoidant. Instead, it means we are both learning to love each other well – just as we are – and accept each other’s boundaries. We also find the blessing in our differences, and maybe even becoming a little more like each other, for our mutual good.

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