As I wrote in a recent post, I recently moved cross country and have discovered that in spite of my assumption that I’d rush out and get socially connected ASAP that I am very introverted in my new home.
It’s a sharp 180 from my normal way of relating. A long-time extrovert, I’ve typically been surrounded on all sides by friends.
In that piece, I shared that this change had faced me with a decision: Should I just go with the flow and be open to the fact that I changed? Or was it more prudent to force myself to go meet people whether I felt like it or not?
The response to that article was huge. I wasn’t expecting that. I’d written the article mostly just to wonder aloud. And perhaps let anyone who was also facing (or had faced) these kinds of conflicts know that they weren’t the only one. But I heard from dozens of readers (via social media comments, PMs, and emails to the site) who had opinions on the matter.
About two-thirds of you said that I should just go with the flow. Be introverted if I was feeling it. That I should only throw myself out there if I wanted to or got lonely/depressed.
Some folks reasoned it’s normal to need time to adjust after a move. You suggested that if I were still in virtual touch with my once-local, now-distant friends (I am) that this might be providing me a lot of social support I wasn’t accounting for.
The other third of you said that I needed to venture out and extrovert myself ASAP. That any deviation from my norm was bound to be unhealthy. That extroverts need people. And that I was risking my mental health by being so introverted.
Interestingly, the split among you is basically how my internal conflict weighed it.
I’m generally quite happy, and it seems the most sensible course of action to not go turning over rocks looking for trouble where there is none. If I’m happy doing something, then why worry about coming to be unhappy doing it, simply based on a previous self-identity? (After all, life has a way of teaching me that such things can be remarkably fluid.)
However, I did also have a minority, although still significant, opinion that it could be unwise to continue being so introverted given my history of being extroverted to this date. A nagging doubt, if you will. One that’s hard to quell.
However, I’m happy to report that the last week has brought me an additional explanation. An explanation that rings true and possibly covers everything.
An Introvert Who Extroverted to Protect Other Introverts
I am the child of two shy introverted people. My siblings are all introverts. I spent most of my time alone as a kid on a country road with a 45 mph speed limit and no shoulder reading books and making my stuffed animals talk to each other.
My first day riding the school bus, I met my very first friend, a painfully shy girl whose mother had to lead her on the bus. Her mother told the story for years. I immediately jumped to welcome this girl to sit with me. I have a vague memory of that day, probably informed by later, similar memories. (And by her mother’s retelling of the moment.)
I couldn’t stand to see people anxious and alone in social situations. If I saw a shy kid standing alone, I would walk up to them and befriend them. I became incredibly popular this way, in elementary school and early junior high school, through essentially socially adopting introverts. Trying to make sure they had a place they fit in. Where they were safe from bullies.
Making sure they had a place to sit.
I couldn’t stand to see someone who felt like they had nowhere to go.
I myself was a really sensitive little girl. Cried at the silliest things. But when I was defending a painfully shy friend, my own fear melted away, dissipated.
I didn’t care that I had made enemies of half the bullies at school and made the other half put me on their short list for person to torment next. So long as I was doing it for a friend, I was brave, invincible.
Extroverted to the point of being downright mouthy.
Extroversion for Survival
The family legend is that I’m actually an introvert. That I artificially extroverted because of my shyer friends. Precisely because I knew how it felt to not know how to connect with people. And I was prepared to put myself out there first and be awkward so that no one else had to be in that position.
This tendency got stronger later when due to problems at home, I found myself crashing at the houses of friends and various relatives. Social capital was the only thing I had available to me. Being funny, polite, charming.
The brand of social interaction that seemed to be most effective required that I put myself out there again and again. Even when I didn’t feel like it.
I needed a lot of friends and a lot of social goodwill to survive. Because I felt like I couldn’t count on my nuclear family. And I couldn’t count on any other person to always be there for me.
So I pedaled harder and faster. Focused on ingratiating myself to people who taken together would be a safety net. Even if my natural tendency was to go on walks or long jogs in the woods, play music in private, read and write.
I was usually happiest not in the large groups I often found myself in but one on one with a trusted friend.
Not quite a loner but not the life of the party image I maintained so successfully.
Is It Possible That Extroversion Was a Coping/Traumatic Response and That This Sudden Introversion Is a Sign of Healing?
As I look back on my life so far and looking ahead to the future I find myself wondering the following thing: Is it possible that extroversion was a coping/traumatic response?
Could it be what I thought was natural about me was actually an affectation, an adaptation I made in order to survive my challenging surroundings?
And if so, does this mean that by becoming introverted that I’m not jeopardizing my mental health but that I’m finally comfortable enough to revert to a natural state that I never felt safe enough to inhabit?