January 9, 2021

The (Real) Difference between Introverts & Extroverts in Times of Trauma.

The other day, my neighbor called to make sure everything was okay at our house.

Our dog, Charlie, was barking incessantly (which he always does, but he was, indeed, more frantic than usual), and she saw a strange man walking around the exterior of our house.

I thanked her for her concern, assured her that I was home and that it was a serviceman walking around my home. By extension, this explained Charlie’s behavior; she does live next door to us, after all.

But, I quickly took the window of opportunity to spurt out a clumsy apology: “I’m so sorry we’ve been such flakes lately. I really appreciate your husband’s kind invitations for a (socially-distanced) bonfire! It’s not personal of course, and it’s not Todd’s fault, it’s all my fault. It’s me. I just can’t seem to drum up the energy.”

To my relief, she returned the sentiments (she’s also introverted) and assured me there was nothing to apologize for; that she, too, wasn’t really in the mood these days.

It felt so good to get this off my chest because though we live next door to each other, we haven’t seen or talked to each other since Halloween when we ordered takeout and sat by a bonfire giving out prepackaged candy to the sparse trick-or-treaters strolling down our street. But, I would never have initiated the phone call to say so—not these days.

Admittedly, I only picked up her call because I thought it probably was about our obnoxiously-barking dog, the stranger, or both. Otherwise, I would’ve let it skip to voicemail.

I remember when I first truly grasped the difference between introversion and extroversion; I learned that it isn’t about whether or not introverts can teach, lead, or give speeches (introverts can be good public speakers), or if we enjoy a good party (and sometimes we are even the life of the party…for a while).

Rather, the difference is in how we recharge our energy: Introverts need to recharge via solitude and even silence, while extroverts recharge when they are around people and activity.

As an introvert-extrovert marital couple, this difference is clear anytime we go to a neighborhood gathering. If energy were measured like gas in a car, we start the night with about the same amount of gas; but, as the evening goes on, his tank fills, while mine empties.

At some point, I make eye contact with him or give him a nudge, he walks me home, and then he returns to the party alone for a couple more hours. It’s perfect.

As an introvert, I’ve never enjoyed the small talk. My husband and I have a long-standing joke about this, in fact; years ago, when I was complaining about how difficult it was to make female friends in our new neighborhood, he chuckled and said, “Keri, sometimes you have to start with the weather.”

In Minnesota, it is customary to share cordialities about the weather. I should know this better than he does, as I am from the Midwest, while he is from southern California where discussing the daily weather (75 and sunny) can earn you some strange looks.

But, like most introverts, if I only have so much energy to spend, I choose to spend it wisely. Let’s get to the deeper stuff—the crux of who you are, why you believe you are here on this planet, what brings you joy, what frightens you most, and, over these past few years, politics. Still, I’ve learned how to build up friendships more slowly, and have been rewarded by deeper, richer, (but fewer) friendships that provide the intimacy I crave.

I don’t need to remind anyone that we just witnessed a coup attempt this week by a group of violent Trump supporters, and in all likelihood, this is the beginning of their treachery, not the end.

We’re starting year two of a global pandemic, and the vaccine distribution, so far, seems as flawed as the testing and tracing plans were.

Small businesses everywhere are suffering, failing, and the owners are hurting. And not just a little hurt, but in serious pain. I have a good friend who will likely not only lose her business but her home, too, through no fault of her own. And there’s nothing, nothing I can offer her but an ear.

So much pain. So much heartbreak. What kind of world will we have in five, 10 years?

As a writer and philosopher at heart, these are the issues that plague me all day.

One might think that in times like these, even introverts would crave more companionship. That even introverts would start jumping at an invitation to a neighbor’s bonfire. But my neighbor and I agreed that despite the pandemic preventing us from getting together more often, we have not suddenly missed our social calendar, sparse and controlled as it may have already been.

If anything, my introverted nature seems stronger than ever these days, and I feel increasingly more protective and defensive of it, too.

Before the pandemic, I skillfully managed about one or two social events, usually lunches or coffees, per week—it was my sweet spot.

I cannot imagine engaging in two whole social events per week right now.

But, I wonder if this isn’t really a conversation about introversion versus extroversion anyway.

I wonder if, instead, it’s a conversation about trauma, and what we do to protect ourselves in times of trauma.

Trauma is the right word here; there’s no overstating it. And we’re going to be here a while longer, too. Nobody is exempt from feeling pain, heartbreak, anger, and frustration on all levels of our being; including our physical body, our psyche, and our emotional health.

“As above, so below,” is what is taught in the Hermetic tradition.

“What is here is elsewhere, what is not here is nowhere,” Tantra teaches.

In fact, all the wisdom teachings understand that we humans are not separate from our environment. What’s happening “out there” affects all of us—whether we are directly impacted or not.

A couple of weeks back, my extroverted husband expressed surprise about how tired he was, and how he didn’t wake up feeling fully rested anymore.

“Really?” I replied, aghast at his surprise. “Do you think you’re somehow exempt from the pain and suffering our world is going through, just because the pandemic and the unrest hasn’t touched us directly (yet)?”

I am sorry, to the extroverts in my life, that I can’t do more or be more for you right now. To be clear, I am not apologizing for my nature, as nature is what it is; I’m simply sorry that there’s no switch I can flip.

All I can say is that I want you to take care of yourself, in the best way you can. I don’t know what that looks like for you—but the answer can’t be me.

Yet, the philosopher in me wonders: is it possible that extroverts are so conditioned in needing social activity that they aren’t heeding an inner call for more rest? For a non-scientific answer to my question, I asked my extroverted lab rat—I mean, my husband—if he really, really, in his heart of hearts, wants to go to more bonfires right now.

He immediately said yes.

But then, after I brought up the concept of trauma and reminded him of his own admitted fatigue, he said, “Well, maybe I’m just not as aware of that need, either.”

But I can’t really speak for all introverts either, as introversion lives on a spectrum. There are some among us, I’m sure, who really do miss social activity.

But right now, my answer is no, I can’t fill a bucket today, Ms. Carol McCloud, (author of the children’s’ book, “Have you Filled a Bucket Today?”).

And no, I won’t agree to be a Giving Tree either, Shel Silverstein, for fear that I could easily end up as nothing more than a stump of my previous self.

And none of us should feel guilty about doing what we need for ourselves right now.

For the sake of the country, of the planet, of our children, we all must emerge from these times if not stronger or even basically maintained, at least reparable—regardless of where we lie on the introversion/extroversion spectrum.

So, we don’t have to excuse our needs. We don’t need to apologize for not reaching out more. We’re living through incredibly challenging times, and whatever makes us feel safe, secure, and to whatever extent possible, joyful, it is right. It is natural. It is nature.

Just as I was finishing up this article, my husband asked me if I would like to join him on a Costco run this afternoon.

I told him politely, “No, thank you, you go ahead.”

Inwardly, though, I shivered: “Costco on a Saturday afternoon? Is he serious?”


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