My 2nd grade report card tells me I was a friendly, socially active child. It contains one criticism, “Gina needs to learn to not talk to peers during quiet times.” I was, in the beginning, an extravert.
And so I believed for many years. After all, I am a verbal processor. I love talking. Public speaking is my jam. The bigger the crowd, the better. In groups, I easily jump in with stories. I’ve always left parties feeling energized.
Or so I thought. After awhile, I wondered if what I was feeling wasn’t energized, but “unsettled.” Mixed in with that energy, often, was insecurity. What did people think of me? Did what I share make them like me more? At times I feel compelled to join in social interaction. The FOMO is strong.
God brought me through a season when I recognized the dark side of this drive to belong. The expectations and opinions of others held me captive. As I experienced deeper peace and rest in my identity in Him, I felt freer. In that freedom, I thought, “Perhaps I am actually an introvert.”
So I gave that introvert emotional space to exist. My soul desperately needs solitude and silence to be restored. As fun as it is to entertain others with stories, I prefer sitting in the depths with someone one on one. Small talk is loathsome to me. It was freeing to step away from that which drained me.
I concluded that I am introvert. Ah, but what to make of all my words and love of people? To claim introvert leads others to assume things about that me are not true: I don’t want to engage with them, would rather be left alone, or need time to think (I probably should take more time to think, but if you need thoughts from me, they’re right there). It’s left me lonely when I didn’t want to be.
Lately, I’ve noticed an inclination to choose solitude when I actually need people. I use the excuse that I’m an introvert, but perhaps the real reason is I’m afraid or lazy. Easier to say I’m an introvert than drum up the courage to initiate with someone who might not have time. Admitting need is hard for me. Engaging with others is easy when I dominate conversation-harder when I have to listen well.
Perhaps on this journey I am neither and I am both. My suspicion is the majority of us are. More than that, I see is how easy it is for us to use either one as an excuse. We use them to justify seeking the satisfaction of something our soul needs apart from God.
Maybe our pull toward people sometimes isn’t because they energize us, but because we are afraid of being alone. We seek affirmation that we are loved. Our souls ache for belonging. We long to feel accepted. Being with others is both a way to affirm our worth and avoid the loneliness we dread.
There are times when we choose to be alone because we don’t want to put forth the energy to engage with others. Or we believe others disinterested in our presence. We let inertia keep us at home. And rather than using that time to feed our souls, we distract them with YouTube, social media, and a million other shallow pursuits. Our souls stay lonely.
These days, I’ve been trying instead to ask myself, whether I feel inclined to engage with others or not, what is driving me? Am I avoiding something my soul needs to address by filling my time with people? Am I hoarding my time because I’m afraid to need others, afraid of rejection?
We all need people, and we all need solitude. And yes, we tend to be more naturally comfortable with one or the other. But these labels harm us if we use them as an excuse to avoid what our souls truly need at any given time.
Could I suggest instead we be more contemplative? Rather than labeling ourselves one or the other, let’s acknowledge that we were made for both, and ask God to help us engage in ways that feed our souls and others.