Being an introvert can make things harder than a non-introvert would think they should be. I say this based on my boyfriend’s mystification at what he views as my extreme sensitivity to certain stresses in my life. As an example, let’s take the recent two-week visit by my parents.
This visit was planned far in advance, and I was excited about it. I spent a number of evenings prior to their arrival discussing with my boyfriend what we would do with them.
Then, the week before their visit, I sank into a deep despair. Why? There was nothing I could tell my boyfriend, who felt no such despair, other than it must be because I was nervous. Why would I be nervous? My parents are great. They are easygoing, polite, and loving. They do not possess annoying political or religious views, and they accept and support my life choices. What could I possibly be so nervous about that I spent a number of days in near agony?
Let me tell you. For an introvert, the mere presence of others for an extended period of time is horrifying. It doesn’t matter how awesome those people are or whether they let you stay shut in your bedroom for hours at a time without comment (as my parents do, knowing that from childhood my favorite Saturday activity was reading alone in my room). Just knowing those people will still be there when you exit your bedroom and that some kind of interaction will be required (even silent interaction such as being in the same room!), disallows any recovery from the build-up of stress.
You see, that week before their visit I already knew how things would turn out. Ultimately, it would come off fine. I would do what was necessary to treat my parents as well as I could. They would be gentle and thoughtful toward me. However, I would suffer immensely, not in the least because I would spend the whole time feeling guilty for not being able to enjoy my wonderful parents’ presence. And indeed, this is exactly what happened. It did not help that this trip was the one in which they discussed “end of life” arrangements with me. Not that they’re close to that (hopefully), but as you can imagine, this did not help assuage my guilt feelings.
By the middle of the second week I was so overwrought and exhausted that I could barely speak. My boyfriend accused me of making him uncomfortable. This is a standard extrovert reaction: he could not see or fathom the extent of my own discomfort, which was so extreme I was incapable of any normal interaction at that point.
If you are thinking to yourself right now, “This girl needs to stop being so narcissistic/negative/selfish/sensitive/boring” or something of that ilk, you are not an introvert. Which is fine. I forgive you, just as I continually forgive my boyfriend for not understanding, after over ten years with me, why I have the reactions I do. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for extroverts to truly comprehend an experience so alien to their own. And because extroverts are the privileged ones in our society, they are not required to understand the introverted experience. It’s the introverts who must explain themselves, apologize for their inborn natures, and try to fit in.
I attempted to come up with an equivalent experience for an extrovert to explain what the last two weeks were like for me. Perhaps, though I can’t say for sure, it would be similar to a two-week solitary confinement with no TV. If I had to spend two weeks shut up in my home without human interaction of any kind, I might find aspects of this difficult but at the end of it I’d be like, “Eh, it was fine. I got through it. Parts of it were really nice.” There would be no serious damage to my psyche. My boyfriend, the extrovert, would come out of it saying,”OMG I wanted to kill myself by the second day never make me do that again it was the worst thing I have ever been through give me the rum.”
Love you, Mom and Dad!