I’ve come up against some bad old conceptions of introversion recently. I thought we had done a good job spreading awareness about what it really means to be an introvert and why our nature is valuable, but the misconceptions still remain.
A female student in the Netherlands told me that during her research on introverts as leaders, she ran across two other personal coaches who help people undo their introverted traits. Their goal is to make introverts more extroverted.
My own son declared (again) recently that introverts are weird and he can’t see why anyone would want to be one. And he is one! Clearly my message is not transmitting with him.
Yes, the old biases are still in place and ever pervasive.
These notions do not do much for the introvert’s self-esteem. I’ve felt the sting of being passed over or underestimated because I’m quiet and contemplative. I’ve felt the exhaustion of acting counter to my nature for too long. I’ve made it my mission to show introverts there is nothing wrong with them. As a personal coach and fellow introvert, I work to empower introverts. What I’ve found is it’s not about teaching introverts to be more outgoing, but teaching them how to be fully themselves and more resilient in an extroverted world.
Go with the flow, not an empty platitude to get you to act like others
Two of the first questions I ask new clients are: “Where do you feel most alive?” and “Where do you feel most at home?” I want to know where they lose track of time and where their inner critic disappears. If the client is an introvert, their reply is often: in solitude, in nature, with a special person or while doing something creative. I tell them, “That’s great. Do more of that.” Those experiences take place in the “flow state” a phrase most often attributed to psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It’s an optimal state of consciousness where we feel and perform our best.
As I learned in my course on Flow Fundamentals through The Flow Genome Project, deep thinkers enter flow through stillness and uninterrupted concentration. Our nervous systems relax during times of creativity, reflection and soothing repetitive work. Safe, non-judgmental spaces allow inspiration to enter. There are other triggers for flow, like high consequence (risky behavior like extreme sports, bungee jumping) and deep embodiment (breath work, zero gravity experiences), but I’ve found many introverts enter it through uninterrupted concentration. The outer world is so noisy, we need quiet time to luxuriate in our beloved inner world.
The flow state connects with intrinsic motivation. We actively seek out activities that bring about this state of consciousness. We get energy and contentment from experiencing the flow state. This kind of bliss fortifies us. Its presence makes us more resilient to outside stimulation. We have so much light and power coming from the inside. We can deflect irritations and overcome obstacles longer because we know we can return to flow when needed.
You would be surprised how much clients perk up when I grant them permission to play in their flow state. It’s like a treat they deny themselves because it may not feel productive or accepted by others in their lives.
Time to grow
To balance our time in flow, we need to spend time working on our growth function. I use the Myers Briggs Personality Type Inventory as a system to determine an individual’s type. The dominant function in a Myers Briggs type is what puts a person in flow. Our time in flow is effortless. It’s the perfect blend of challenge and skill. It usually involves a skill we’ve been honing since we were little. Not surprisingly for introverts, it involves internal processing.
When it comes to growth, we have to step into the outer world. This may sound like a request to extrovert, and in a way it is, but it’s in a manner that naturally suits you. If you practice your growth function your development is more balanced. You work internally and externally, in your head and out in the real world.
For example, if your Myers Briggs personality type is an INFJ, then your dominant (flow) function is introverted intuition (Ni). Which involves recognizing patterns and answering the question, “What’s really going on here?” People who love research often have Ni as a dominant function. The second favorite or auxiliary function of an INFJ is extroverted feeling (Fe). Extroverted feeling (Fe) involves getting everyone’s needs met. Seeking and creating a harmonious atmosphere. Where many INFJs need help with their growth is including themselves when they strive to meet everyone’s needs. They often take care of others first and neglect themselves. Fostering the inclusion of their needs, helps them expand.
We all have channels for introducing the world to our thoughts and gifts. It just may take a little extra courage and encouragement for introverts to put their inner world on display.
The safe haven
A safe haven gives an introvert the non-judgmental, unconditional support they need to flourish. A safe haven can be a place or a person but in this post I’m going to focus on the person(s). There are two components to a person’s safe haven: 1. Secure relationships and 2. A reassuring tribe.
A secure relationship is responsive, fosters growth and allows the introvert to be authentically herself while participating in an interdependent relationship. Responsiveness is showing empathy, understanding and emotional support in response to a partner’s request. For example, if a man calls his wife and says he’s had a horrible day at work and he’s really stressed and she says, “I’m sorry to hear that. Would you like some time to yourself after work?” She is being responsive. If she says, “Yeah, that sucks. We have Jon’s ball game tonight and the yard needs mowing.” She’s dropping the ball. He isn’t going to feel heard. A secure partner makes your concerns their own and tries to help clear them. There is interdependence, versus two completely self-reliant or dependent individuals. They rely on each other AND keep their integrity.
A mature partner encourages their mate to be the best they can be. They don’t try to make them in their likeness. They work through disagreements so they both learn and feel a level of success. I help partners understand their mate’s personality type by giving them a neutral language to use. I explain how their different preferences cause miscommunication between them but can be used to enrich the relationship. If one or both of them has an insecure attachment style we work toward security.
In my own introvert experience, the reassuring tribe I found through music and writing, definitely gave me the energy and courage to let my guard down and stop pushing myself to live like an extrovert. I have a hard time explaining the feeling of relief and resonance I felt when I started inserting myself into introvert friendly environments. I admit, part of the resonance and self-recognition was due to a common intuitive way of learning as well.
Suddenly, my resolve and emotional guard softened. I was home. I felt safe. I could relate to others. I talked and talked.:) Their nodding and metaphorical examples validated my way of being. I could move forward on my path of development. The gate had been unlocked.
My most fulfilling work allows me to do that for other people. I reassure, validate, support, challenge and form secure relationships with my clients. I try to be, as personal development author and entrepreneur, Michael Hyatt says, a high voltage person with batteries included. I want to energize, not drain others.
You don’t have to recover from introversion
We don’t have to recover from introversion or convert to extroversion. We get to glow in our own way. We get to treasure our beautiful inner world. We get to share ourselves with the world in ways that honor who we are. We often perform best in a solitary version of flow. We stretch ourselves by interaction with the outside world. It’s not our most comfortable realm, but it balances us and helps us grow. We do it for growth, enjoyment and resiliency not because we think there is anything wrong with our more natural way of being.
So, turn your introvert light on and let kindred spirits find you and let others see how a contemplative soul shines.
Do you still feel a need to change your introverted ways? If so, why? How are you stretching yourself in the outer world? What is your favorite introverted trait?
If you’d like guidance and a safe haven to foster your growth as an introvert, please contact me for encouragement, support and challenge.
Looking to enhance your personal and relationship resilience? Please check out my book for introverts and our relationships, The Quiet Rise of Introverts: 8 Practices for Living and Loving in a Noisy World.