Every Halloween in my town there is trick-or-treating downtown. The main street gets closed off, dozens of parents bring hundreds of kids, and they work their way through each business. So far my kids are young enough that I’ve been able to avoid this mayhem. I’m already dreading (yup, dreading) the year I will finally have to deal with the costumes, the noise, and, ya know, people.
I’ll just put it out there: I’m an introvert. Those who know me probably would be surprised. I’m relatively outgoing. I like being active in the community. I’m friendly and somewhat interesting. For years I worked in positions where extroversion is a cornerstone: public relations, sales, program management. While I can masquerade somewhat successfully as an extrovert, it’s not the most comfortable thing. I can do small talk, but much prefer substance. I can approach complete strangers to sell a product that’s not mine, but I’m not always totally present because my inner dialogue is telling me I’m being less than sincere.
To me, crowds are exhausting. My circle of close friends is tight. In the midst of any discussion or argument, my thoughts run deep, and therefore can take a while to travel to the surface. I analyze and process and listen to intuition. My downfall is…wait for it…overthinking.
My 3-year old is this way as well. As a baby, when presented with new people or situations, he liked to sit and watch for a while before engaging. I called him my take-it-all-in baby. Today he is slow to warm to new people. But once you are in his circle, he’ll sing and dance for you, play pretend, tell you stories, accompany you to the toilet and discuss it afterward, any number of things.
Like many kids, growing up I was probably pushed toward being extroverted. At family functions I was expected to shake older relatives’ hands and make eye contact. At school I was expected to make friends easily. Society tends to favor extroversion. You can see it everywhere from the classroom to corporations to general social settings. Being able to establish relationships (however deep or shallow), being able to assert yourself to get what you want, being the life of the party – this is what’s valued. Being quiet, being more of a thinker than a doer, being reflective – not so much.
One thing I’ve learned in my journey of self-discovery: being introverted is not exactly the same thing as being shy. Being introverted means you primarily draw energy from within, and being alone revives and refreshes you. Typically introverts are introspective, focused, and independent.
Being extroverted means you draw energy from being around others. Typically extroverts are spontaneous, confident, and sociable. You feel energized after being at a big, loud party, for instance, whereas an introvert would feel drained (I feel drained just thinking about a big, loud party, but I digress).
I try to honor my son’s introversion and validate his needs. Sometimes I have to remind myself that when he clings to me when I drop him off somewhere doesn’t mean he’s a ruined Mama’s boy, that when he leaves other kids to play alone doesn’t mean he’s anti-social, and that when he melts down in a busy and loud setting doesn’t mean he’s choosing to be difficult, but rather he is overwhelmed and over-stimulated. I should understand – after all, I have similar needs. I understand his need to internally process events. When I weaned him from his pacifiers, each night I took one away. I let him pick which one would disappear that night so he felt he had some control over the process. I knew the cold turkey approach wouldn’t work well. By the end of the week the pacifiers were gone, thankfully without tears.
On the contrary, my 16-month old daughter is already showing signs of extroversion. She loves lots of stimulation and attention. And she dives right in without fear or hesitation. So we’ll see. Perhaps I will be grinning and bearing trick-or-treating downtown sooner than I think.