Fellow introverts, let’s do an examination of conscience.
I don’t know if it’s just the bias of what the internet feeds to me specifically or the internet in general, but I’ve sensed a growing movement of “In Defense of Introversion” posts. They look a lot like this:
Or, you can find “That’s so true!” relatable introvert posts, like any of the tweets from @IntrovertLiving:
Why do introverts feel the need to be so defensive about their habits and preferences? Well, first, let’s define what an “introvert” is. The most widely accepted definition around the culture today is “a person who finds energy through being by themselves.” The opposite of an introvert is an extrovert, which is “a person who finds energy through being around other people.” Both categories have nothing to do with being shy, the depth of friendship either of them can reach, or general kindness. By this theory, it’s all about where a person feels most comfortable and at peace, that is, where they relax. So what’s the problem? The reason for all the defensive posts may just be that introverts, avoiding face-to-face conversation, have taken their views to the internet where they feel most comfortable with sharing how they truly feel. But I have a theory that maybe we’ve been taking the defense a little too far.
I would like to here create a new term distinct from “introvert,” a term I would like to call “introversion.” “Introversion” is not a personality type; it is a lifestyle. An introverted lifestyle is one that’s all about me. I would do anything to avoid spending time with others because it’s too hard. I might have a few good friends but often become dependent on those few to sustain my emotional need for interaction. I don’t take action because it would involve drawing attention to myself. I just want to be alone.
Not all introverts are this extreme, but the internet culture has been slowly confusing introverts with introversion. We are making excuses for this kind of behavior in the name of “That’s just how I am,” and “I was born this way.” But from what I have seen in the gospel message, all people are called to a very different form of life, one you might call, an extroverted lifestyle.
What are the two greatest commandments of the covenant? Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. I know that Jesus probably doesn’t fit into either category of “extrovert” or “introvert” (since the more virtuous you are, the more balanced your life is), but he definitely lived an extroverted lifestyle, preaching the gospel with both words and deeds. In Matthew 14, we read that Jesus was trying to go to a solitary place (probably to pray) but a crowd had gotten there before him. Instead of sending them away, he worked among them, healing them. Many of his teachings have to do with being a community of persons, and he exhorts us to be servants of one another. That famous quote from “Gaudium et Spes” sums up how the gospel message fulfills a human life: “Man cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of self.”
Introverts are told by the hyperbole of the internet that we are fulfilled by being alone. This is simply not true; no one is self-fulfilling. We might be most relaxed or feel most comfortable alone, but this not the same thing as fulfillment. We should not be living in a constant “recharge” state. A phone that’s always plugged into the wall is not very useful. We can’t be afraid of using our “battery” at the service of others.
Now I know that there are a lot of objections to this idea (because I’ve thought of them and held some in the past), so let me see if I can answer some of the most common:
People are supposed to have different gifts. If everyone lived an extroverted lifestyle, there would be parts missing in the Body of Christ.
Love is a universal calling. Introverts have many good gifts that they should not let go of: self-knowledge, precision, and gentleness, just to name a few of common introvert-type qualities. But just like all of the callings St. Paul lists in his famous Body of Christ analogy, gifts should be placed at the service of others.
What about cloistered religious or hermits?
First of all, to be cloistered or a hermit is definitely not the most common calling; it is extraordinary. Secondly, it’s not like they are giving themselves permanent relaxation time. They do penance and pray for the benefit of others in the world, and they develop their relationship with the One who should be loved above all things. I’m sure it is a great sacrifice to live alone, done for others and not for oneself.
Extroverts have got it easy, then!
I think we need to remember that along with different gifts, people have different crosses, too. If introverts find it a little harder to spend time around people, then all the greater triumph if they do. I don’t consider myself to be 100% introvert oriented, so I have many friends who are even more introverted than I. I love it when I get to share time with those friends, because the fact that it takes energy for them to be in groups tells me that they believe I’m worth it, and it makes me feel special.
Does this mean I can never relax again? I’ll just feel guilty about it from now on!
By no means should you stop having alone time! In fact, the grasp that introverts have on their own self demonstrates to the world the important concept from the theology of the body that you need to be a complete individual before you can give yourself away in love.
Of course, many introverts have a firm grasp on their own lives and live very virtuously. This post mostly provides a way for us to do a bit more self-reflection on where we might struggle more than extroverts. Here are a couple of things we can all think about:
- Relax for yourself, but also for others.
- Don’t constantly run away where you know you could love or be helpful. (I know I’ve deliberately avoided loving others in the past because I’ve thought “I know I’ll just be awkward” or “I’m too tired.” Virtue is more important!)
- This doesn’t mean we have to talk or be bubbly all the time. Be true to yourself, and this way, you will be an even better gift.
- Don’t believe that you are evil if you are an introvert. We are made in the image of God, who is Love. We all have the ability to love sacrificially, fully, and fruitfully.