Any of you beautiful people out there with introverted tendencies, will be aware of the challenges of living as an introvert in an extroverted world. For years and years, I have struggled with making friends and participating in social events; I would much rather stay at home and read a good book or go for a walk with my dog.
People many a time called me a “shy person” or a “homebody” at school, spitting the words out as an accusation or something I should be ashamed of. I’ve had boyfriends tell me I do nothing all day but lay in my bed, and thus I am missing out in life –using this as an excuse for infidelity and emotional abuse. So, in my mind, there was something wrong with me for not wanting to be around people 24/7; I was not normal.
A few years later, along came the evolution of technology and the widespread availability of internet access. I was able to chat in forums with likeminded people, and watch videos of famous introverts explaining why it is normal to need alone time to recharge after social gatherings. Finally, I realised that I am not a freak of nature, just different. Being different and unique is what makes this world interesting and diverse; there are extroverts, introverts and even extroverted introverts and introverted extroverts –and that’s okay.
Sometimes quiet people really do have a lot to say… They’re just being careful about who they open up to.Susan Gale
But let’s go back to the finding it hard to make friends. I feel a lot of people do not know how to be friends with an introvert, especially if they themselves are very extroverted. They see them as weird for wanting to stay at home instead of going out. I had a friend who once gave me a lecture over the phone on why I should go out with her; in her words “do you not find it exciting that you will be out meeting new people, finding about their lives?” . Um, no I don’t actually. I prefer the comfort of the known.
So I decided to make a guide on how to be friends with an introvert. These are some pointers from my experience with people I’m still friends with and who respect my introverted needs. Obviously, take these with a pinch of salt, as every friendship and every person is unique – don’t forget there are extroverted introverts, as mentioned above!
1. Give them space to recharge (and accept they will disappear from time to time)
Introverts often find social interactions draining, and they have to retract and recharge their batteries. That is opposed to extroverts, who gain their energy from being in a crowd.
Therefore, don’t be offended if you haven’t heard from your introverted friend in a while. They have not forgotten you and they are not mad at you, nor are they simply rude. It is most probably a case of them needing to spend time with themselves to re-gain their energy.
What you could do, is shoot them a quick text to check in and make sure they are alright. If you want to go the extra mile, you could recommend a good book or film/TV show, or even post a pampering basket to them. Be assured it will be greatly appreciated!
2. Don’t force them into situations or guilt trip them
One of the worst things you can do to an introvert is guilt trip them in doing something that causes them great discomfort. It can be a party they don’t feel like going to, a concert they don’t want to attend, or even a simple night out for drinks.
Never put an introvert in a position to agree to an outing out of politeness. They will most likely cancel at the last minute with some lame excuse and you will both end up annoyed. If you see your introverted friend hesitating or outright declining an invitation, please don’t push them; it is best to give them space and either re-arrange or ask them where they would feel comfortable meeting at. It might be that they still want to spend time with you, but they would rather do so at their home, where they feel secure.
3. Be understanding when they feel overwhelmed
Continuing from the example above, if your introverted friend is indeed comfortable coming with you at that party or that concert, please be understanding if they change their minds and want to leave early. Remember, for an extrovert, being around lots of people is their source of energy and happiness; for an introvert, on the other hand, it might get very draining very fast.
Think of it as the Spoon Theory –you have five spoons to use for your day, one is for getting up, one for brushing your teeth and so on; if your introvert uses all their spoons in a matter of 2-3 hours, it might be best for them to go home and rest, as they’ve run out of energy.
Don’t make them feel guilty or bad for being overwhelmed by their surroundings. They probably already feel awful as it is.
4. Realise they need time to open up –it’s not shyness or snobbishness!
If I had a penny for every time someone called me shy or snobbish or antisocial, I’d be driving a Porsche by now. Being an introvert means you spend a lot of time in your head. It can be difficult to articulate what is on your mind and to meet new people. More often than not, when an introvert joins a new group of friends or a new workplace, they are perceived as the odd one out. However, if you do manage to get them to feel comfortable, you will discover their chatty side.
It is not uncommon to feel that your introverted friend changes personalities when a new person joins you. Do not perceive that as snobbishness; on the contrary, they might actually want to be part of the conversation but cannot find the words to do so. Be kind to them and try to get them to open up and feel part of the group.
5. Appreciate their definition of “fun” is probably different to yours (feel free to party with your extroverted friends instead!)
You will have to accept that your introverted friend is not the friend who will go clubbing with you. Don’t shame them when their definition of fun is a film and popcorn, or a day chilling in the garden.
Everyone is different and finds joy in different things. You can always compromise and find an activity you both enjoy.
6. Know you have a loyal friend in them (who will pamper you if need be!)
Introverts take their relationships seriously. It takes a lot of effort for them to open up and develop bonds, so consider yourself very special if they have chosen you.
They make some of the most loyal friends. Be certain they will always have your back, even if it is the middle of the night. What’s more, no one knows a good pampering day at home better than an introvert!
7. Support them if they ask for help in dating and romantic relationships
Sometimes it can be hard for introverts to approach potential partners. They could use some guidance on what is socially acceptable and on flirting!
Don’t make fun of them or tell them to “just say hi, stop being silly”. Instead, be supportive, and even offer to re-enact the conversation they hope to have with their love interest, which will boost their confidence.
8. Differentiate introversion and mental health illnesses (such as depression or Autism)
Speaking from personal experience, it is very difficult to differentiate between introversion and mental health illnesses. Depression and anxiety, for example, manifest the same symptoms as introversion –isolation, lack of energy, limited social interactions.
It is especially difficult to recognise when an introvert suffers from depression. It is not always obvious if they want to distance themselves because they are emotionally drained or because they are emotionally numb.
Be mindful of your introverted friends, and check in frequently with them. If you sense they appear to be off, try to get them to talk to you and even encourage them to seek professional help.
Tell me in the comments if you have any introvert friends. What do you find most challenging in your friendship with them? Did you find my tips helpful?
And to all my introverted souls out there, remember:
*Featured image by Flora Westbrook