In recent years, the words introvert and extrovert have gained interest. I assumed, like many people do, that introversion is a negative personality trait. I was wrong.
In the past few months, “introvert” began popping up on my Facebook newsfeed. Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert? asked a quiz. Articles caught my attention too, and they were full of praise for introverts.
I began following an author on LinkedIn: Susan Cain. She wrote the book about introversion—literally. It’s called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and it helped me to finally understand and accept who I am.
I may feel comfortable and talkative at a party one day, but I might dread going to a fundraiser the next day. Why? Because I can become overstimulated.
I need a balance of solitude and social interaction. And being an introvert, my scale tips toward quiet. I need more alone time to be at peace and rejuvenate.
My late husband Jason was an extrovert—my opposite. He was a charismatic social butterfly. I secretly wondered if he thought I was too shy, but he didn’t seem to notice.
Jason’s gregarious personality carried both of us. When I was with him in group settings, I felt no anxiety. I did not feel the need to go home and curl up in bed with a book.
Here’s where I went wrong though—I was so content to spend time with my husband and his friends and family that I neglected mine or lost contact altogether.
I lost myself. I let my individuality slip away.
Many wives are financially dependent on their husbands, but what happens to a widowed introvert?
What happens to the widow who is socially dependent on her husband?
My husband died in 2006. Flashback to the night of the viewing:
I walked outside on the porch of the funeral home to escape the crowd. Jason’s cousin said something funny, and I laughed. He was trying to cheer everyone up.
I desperately wanted to pretend that we were at church. That Jason would walk outside and join us in a few moments. I was in denial.
I felt that other people should see me being strong. I could save them from worrying about me. I wasn’t sure what I should do or think. I was in shock.
Emotional turmoil seeped into my muscles, and I was physically exhausted by the time I went to sleep. I wasn’t eating. All day I was around hundreds of people, but I was lonely.
Over the next few weeks, I spent time with Jason’s family in Bluffton and Beaufort. They were all very kind, but I felt that I wasn’t good enough company.
Not only was I a miserable crying mess, but I couldn’t brighten up the room like Jason.
What a disappointment I must be. We used to have so much fun together. But without Jason, I was just a reminder that he was missing.
During another family gathering, my stress began to build. I felt inferior without him. I became more quiet and overwhelmed.
Other people in the room didn’t know me on a personal level. They only saw me through Jason when he was here. Without him, I felt that I had nothing to contribute to their boisterous conversations.
I imagined my husband walking into the room, smiling and laughing like he always did. He loved things like this.
“You’re missing this,” I whispered. “I can’t be here without you.”
I ducked away into the bedroom to read a book. I felt ashamed for being so aloof, but I could not be in the midst of activity any longer. They probably think I’m antisocial. Maybe they’re right. Sigh.
I was not only grieving, I was also overstimulated. I needed to be alone so I could recharge emotionally.
After the initial shock subsided, I set off to rebuild my life in the nearby town where I grew up.
I tried attending a young adults class at church, but I did not fit in with the bold military couples.
I craved human interaction, but I had to find the right environment: a single moms class. They sent me home with a book, and I studied it in blissful solidarity at home. Balance.
Next, I forced myself out of my comfort zone and became a tour guide. I’ve conquered the nation’s biggest fear: public speaking. And I’m good at it—at least with small groups.
My second job was a nice contrast consisting of solo horseback riding on a plantation. Balance.
I reconnected with some of my old friends and began taking classes to earn my bachelor’s degree.
I had to heal. I had to build my social circle on my own.
Meanwhile, I was avoiding social gatherings that I once frequented with my husband. I declined invitations for lunch at my husband’s church and politely excused myself from his family’s Thanksgiving meal.
I wanted to avoid any situation where I might feel awkward.
Being an introvert, I’m a private person. I talked about my husband and my grief with only my closest friends and family. I sealed away my thoughts and experiences in personal journals.
I was unaware of the slander for many years. Sadly, my standoffishness was misinterpreted and played into the angry person’s allegations.
By avoiding so many people, I did not allow them to get to know me.
Being misunderstood was tough, but it taught me to focus on my strengths.
By far, the most important thing I learned as an introvert is to cultivate your creative strengths. I have always been a writer, and it was natural to begin blogging last year.
Writing about these events was my responsibility. After all, I was the closest person to him, his wife.
I created a way for my acquaintances to get to know me through my writing, and many sent messages or encouraged me in person.
Thankfully, I was able to undo much of the slander by sharing my perspective of the situation.
I learned that for me, the most effective way to be heard is through writing.
Many marriages consist of opposites: extroverts and introverts often complement each other. But if you are the introvert, do not allow yourself to become an extrovert’s shadow.
Insist on going out with your best friend for lunch on a regular basis.
Insist on following and discovering your own passions. Keep those facets of your identity strong.
I still guard my individuality, but it’s more subconscious now. I stop by my friend’s house for a glass of wine, or I spend a Saturday afternoon blogging.
I researched what it means to be an introvert. I learned more about myself, like why I shy away from certain situations or why I’m content to spend an entire day alone.
I’m learning how to balance, and I’ve learned how to communicate those needs with the people I love.