Monday, June 3, 2013

Understanding Introverts

“The last introvert in a world of extroverts. Silence: my response to both emptiness and saturation. But silence frightens people. I had to learn how to talk. Out of politeness.”
                                                                     ― Ariel Gore

I'll have to admit something:  I spend a LOT of time alone.  Like, a LOT of time alone.  And I don't mind it usually because I'm actually a partial introvert.  People who know me are often surprised by that because I have such a LARGE extroverted side.  When I'm in a group, I am often loud and boisterous.  I tell stories and crack jokes and yell at people from across the room.  But I also don't mind the quiet time I get at dawn with my two four-legged beasts and a pot of coffee brewing.

What I DON'T understand, however, is people who are mainly introverts...the people whose extroverted side is hidden under layers of solitude so deep that they don't even LOOK for it.

I have an introverted child.

Moms who like wearing sock monkeys on their heads?

Extroverts say this in a whisper almost like we would say something like "My child is addicted to drugs."  We say it because we cannot, for the life of us, figure out how it happened.  We scratch our heads and bound into their rooms (uninvited and, for the most part, unwelcome) saying "HI!  Is there anything you want to TALK about?"  The introverted child blinks at us and slowly shakes his head no.  We bow our heads, dramatically.  Defeated and deflated, we walk away thinking that somehow this child doesn't LOVE us.  This child isn't CONNECTING with us.  It isn't the truth...we ARE connecting.  It's just that we have to figure how how to meet them where they are instead of the way that is most comfortable for us.

I have spent a great deal of time studying introverts because I want to understand the child who lives with me in a seemingly very different world.  My former-mother-in-law is a genius about this sort of stuff.  She has built a very successful career coaching people about this very sort of thing in business.  (OK, I don't want to diminish what she does...she's TRULY amazing and fabulous and has a very successful business and I will at some point write an entire blog about her if she would let me.) She gave me a book several years ago called Mother Styles:  Using Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths.  If you have a child who is markedly different from yourself, you will DEFINITELY want to buy this book.  I've read and referred back to it about ten gazillion times so my copy is fairly worn at this point.

I am an ENFP on the Myers Briggs scale.  If you don't know your Myers Briggs personality type, I highly suggest you learn more about yourself using a free online test to start with.  There are qualified professionals who administer this test but this little test will help you understand the basics. Myers Briggs offers 16 different personality types based on preferences.  My son is most likely an INTJ or an ISTJ (which would be the EXACT opposite of me).

As an ENFP, I YEARN for acceptance and approval.  I get very passionate about things...about EVERYTHING, really.  I loathe details and am easily able to drop what I'm doing (in the middle of whatever it is) and head off in an entirely different direction.  I enjoy people...talking with them and learning to understand them (until they bore me) and I truly need to feel appreciated and loved all the time.  In a word, I am INTENSE.  And, yes, I know...I'm EXHAUSTING.

As an opposite personality type, my son spends a lot time internally-focused.  He really doesn't care about other people's feelings (he doesn't want to HURT their feelings...he just doesn't spend any time THINKING about other people's feelings).  He makes decisions logically based on rational thought.   He is constantly gathering information.  He values intelligence, knowledge and competence.

So, take a look at the above.  I am basically a flighty nutcase and my son is the grounded reasonable person.

This morning's conversation went something like this:

Me:  Are you HAPPY?

Son:  Well, sure.

Me:  Do you hate that question?

Son:  Well, I don't mind it.  You ask it fairly FREQUENTLY though.

Me:  Should I not ask you if you're happy?

Son:  Perhaps if you decreased the FREQUENCY of the question, it would be better.  Say, maybe only ask once a week instead of five times a day.

Me:  I'm just concerned about whether or not you're HAPPY.

Son:  We've been over this.  I am not UNHAPPY.  I'm just never going to be happy like YOU are happy. 

I must drive my son absolutely nuts.  He has gathered huge quantities of information about me in his short life with me and I think he's determined that if anyone is going to be reasonable and rational and make good decisions in our household, he is going to have to be involved.  What I'm trying to get him to understand is that my way WORKS most of the time...except when it doesn't.  He has learned to deal with the ebbs and flows of excitement and adventure that surround me on things as mundane as a trip to the grocery store.  I am certain he will breathe a sigh of relief when he walks out of my house to begin his life on his own .

I try to accommodate my introverted son.  I know he doesn't like surprises (and I LOVE them!) and I know he doesn't really want to talk to me all the time.  I am growing accustomed to this and I work hard to make sure he feels as comfortable as possible in my hectic life.  I try to warn him as far in advance as possible of changes in plans.  I try to avoid changing my mind about dinner in the middle of going to dinner ("Oh! I KNOW we were going for Mexican...but let's try SUSHI instead!").  I try not to let it hurt my feelings when he's not jumping up and down about my latest announcement ("It's FAMILY GAME NIGHT!"  or "We're going to the DRIVE-IN!").

My poor son will spend a few more years getting tossed around by his mother's whims.  And I will continue to desperately thumb through the pages of Mother Styles in an attempt to be the stable and thoughtful adult figure he requires.  Hopefully, the one point that I get across to him will be the fact that life really IS a Great Adventure.  And, maybe, someday he'll find that there IS joy in having a mother like me.

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