Caring for your Introvert

Jonathan Rauch writes a fun article entitled “Caring for your Introvert” in the Atlantic Monthly about the woes of life as an introvert. This mogul of introversion is standing for the right to silence amidst the cultural pressure of socializing.

Rauch begins the article by asking readers a set of simple questions to see if they have any introverts in their life:

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

Rauch identifies the problem by noting: Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.

Rauch is determined to educate the masses in an effort to eliminate the mistreatment of introverts:

Now I am here to tell you what you need to know in order to respond sensitively and supportively to your own introverted family members, friends, and colleagues. Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts. It pays to learn the warning signs.

So what makes someone an introvert? The definition may be a little bit different than what you think:

Introverts are not necessarily shy…. Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring….For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.

How many people are introverts? Rauch deals with this question using a little humor:

I performed exhaustive research on this question, in the form of a quick Google search. The answer: About 25 percent. Or: Just under half. Or—my favorite—”a minority in the regular population but a majority in the gifted population.”

Are introverts misunderstood?

Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone…The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts’ Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say “I’m an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.”

How can I let the introverts in my life know that I support them?

First, recognize that it’s not a choice. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s an orientation. Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don’t say “What’s the matter?” or “Are you all right?” Third, don’t say anything else, either.

Are there any introverts out there who can relate? Let’s hear about your experiences.


4 thoughts on “Caring for your Introvert

  1. Fantastic article! If only extroverts would take the time to sit alone at their computers and read the article. That’s the other problem. All this stuff is in written format which requires some degree of silence and separation to think about which is exactly what certain of my roommates hate as well as many other extroverted types. That’s why my dad always told me growing up as the only child in the middle of nowhere on a ranch that ‘boredom is a state of mind and it reflects a lack of intelligence.’ I can get by without social interaction for a time as long as I have the capacity to think and reason (sometimes dangerous). Are you an introvert or and extrovert?

  2. I am an ambivert! Most of the time I am extroverted, but I have seasons of introversion when time with people wears me out. I find that the bigger issue is who they are. Some people and some settings will refresh while other people and other settings will drain.

  3. “Hell is other people at breakfast.”
    “I’m okay, you’re okay-in small doses.”
    Love it! Love it! These are pearls of wisdom in the introvert world. I’ll go for the 75% intro 25% extro orientation, but I will always escape meaningless conversation at all costs (hints my favorite game “spend 5 minutes getting to know someone new”). Phil knows how I feel about that one…

    I applaud your article choice–new and refreshing

  4. Finally! I do not feel so isolated in this world as I previously thought. There are others out there who do not think it is awkward or impolite or somehow incorrect to simply sit alone and think and not constantly make small talk. I am all for getting to know someone and being interactive, but I do enjoy a nice time of silence. As I type this the rest of the group is talking, screaming, and playing cards, while I am on a wireless computer spending time with my thoughts.

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