I've heard that introverts are people who prefer solitude, that they're energized by being alone and that they tend to focus on internal feelings as opposed to external stimulation. I've always thought myself an introvert, but I'm not so sure any more. Here's why.
I've noticed that certain people rapidly drain me of energy, such as small children, strangers, complainers, sulky teens, big groups, long-winded talkers, and reserved types. After an extended period of time with these people, I'm ready to be alone for a few hours.
However, other kinds of people energize me. Some of my energizing people are introverts. Some are extroverts. Some are shy. Others are more talkative. After having coffee with these people, I'm full of new ideas about life and parenting and the world.
Do you see my dilemma? I don't necessarily prefer solitude over being with people. I prefer solitude to being with draining people. And I prefer being with energizing people over being alone. My energizing people inspire me to look outside myself for stimulation. My draining people compel me to contemplate why they are so exhausting.
Why are they so exhausting?
Well, besides being demanding and asking a myriad of questions that I don't know the answers to, my children exhaust me because I'm trying so hard to do them justice. I'm trying to be patient and gentle or I'm trying to validate their feelings or not spoil them. I'm worried about saying "no" too much or emotionally cutting them off from me. All that effort and fretting is exhausting.
Strangers are exhausting because I feel I ought to take an interest in them so as not to appear self-absorbed. But truth be told, I don't usually care about them. Or worse, I'm altruistically interested in the hopes that they'll be genuinely interested in me. Again, all that pretending and expecting something to happen that usually doesn't is exhausting.
Complainers and sulky teens are exhausting because I tend to take on their emotions. I feel responsible for fixing them or cheering them up or sympathizing with them. And it's awfully hard to do that when I either don't care about their troubles or would rather they just buck-up and stop hemming and hawing because I don't think their situation is really that bad. They're like little wet rain clouds, and I'm a sponge. All that soaking up of their complaints is exhausting.
Big groups are exhausting because if I stay silent, I'm afraid I'm being a wallflower, and if I try to join in the conversation I worry that I'm saying something that is relevant to everyone. I'm nervous about people feeling bored or excluded or unwanted. I'm worried about how someone's bombastic comment might offend so-and-so. I feel responsible for making everyone happy and again, all that juggling and straining is exhausting.
Long-winded talkers are exhausting because, unless I'm genuinely interested in the subject, I find feigning interest and thinking up intelligent follow-up questions taxing.
Reserved people are exhausting because again I feel responsible for drawing them out, thinking up good questions, and helping them to feel comfortable. Fretting and straining.
Are you seeing a pattern here because I am.
Is that what it means to be an introvert? To pretend and worry and strain? And if I didn't pretend or worry or strain, might I be an extrovert? I sure would be less exhausted in social settings.
This last weekend I attended a wedding where I sat next to a gal with three kids. I started up a conversation and felt a wave of exhaustion overcome me as I began to worry about what to say and how I was presenting myself.
I can't do this, I thought to myself. If I keep this up, I'm going to have nothing left for the dancing and long drive home and unloading the car and putting the children to bed. So I stopped trying. I lowered my voice from that high-pitched-bubbly voice to my calm laid back voice. I sat back in my chair and contented myself with some silence. Why don't I do this all the time? I wondered.
It's the same with tasks. When I have too much to do, more often than not I'll forget it all to sit down and do something I enjoy: read a book, write a blog, journal a list of things I'm thankful for, organize a book shelf. (Yes, that's why this blog is getting written: because I have too many other things I ought to be doing.) I don't want to work myself up into a frenzy of activity, so I say, "Forget it! I give up." Perhaps I ought to try this in social situations too.
I'm not going to be a nice mommy. I can't fix complainers. I can't control people's thoughts about me or manufacture love for people. Why don't I give up already? I think that's where God wants me to be anyway: giving up and saying, "I can't manage. I can't produce the outcomes I want or the right feelings in people, But you can."
I think that's what living in the spirit must mean. It means that when I encounter people that drain me, I stop hoping that I'll be able to maneuver the situation properly and instead invite the Lord to steer me. Frequently, this means keeping silent. I've noticed that sometimes when I've kept quiet through a child's tirade or bickering that they come to a satisfactory conclusion on their own! I've noticed that sometimes when I merely display a contented smile, shy people share their lives with me! When I'm quiet I can listen to a group of people toss around conversation like a volleyball game! (I could write books about that.) Yes, sometimes I'm compelled to speak up too, but it can be done so effortlessly. It's not draining. In fact, it's invigorating because it's like watching a well-scripted play where I know the ending is going to be good. I'm on the edge of my seat. I wonder what will happen next.