Eye contact wears this introvert out – faster than anything else!

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As I’ve started to try to analyze the kinds of activities that I do with others that exhaust me the fastest and what I do to catch a refreshing break, eye contact is the number one battery drainer for me. A regular party will wear me out much faster than a game-watching party, drive, or walk with a group. That’s not only because there can be more lapses in talking when doing one of the latter things; it’s mainly because I am not connecting so intimately with another person through eye contact. I am an INFJ, and I’m very sensitive to the feelings of others and the nuances of their behavior, so that may be one reason that so much eye contact floods my brain after a while and I can take no more. Sometimes at a party, even with familiar people I love, I have to take a break to do something that directs my visual attention somewhere besides faces – help put out more snacks, pick up empty glasses, really anything to give my eyes and my brain a break.

Everyone understands that eye contact is important, whether good or bad. Some societies consider it rude to gaze steadily at someone, but of course here in the U.S. we are taught to maintain as much eye contact as possible, in order to show that we are interested in the other person. In my case, I always look directly at someone the whole time he is speaking, but I glance away from time to time while I am doing the talking. I can’t think as well if I’m talking and looking straight into someone else’s eyes with no break, and I think most people around me follow that style too, so I’m getting a break while they glance away here and there during their own speaking time. My problem is that there are some people who never look away, even when they are doing the talking. No matter whether they’re talking or listening, they’re looking right into my eyes with their own, and I get so exhausted (or overwhelmed??) that soon I find myself almost unable to look at them.

I hate to avoid eye contact, because I know that it appears I’m not interested, but with these steady gazers I find myself breaking eye contact abruptly when I can take no more. I can’t even will myself to maintain the communication with my eyes. I mentioned this issue to a friend who totally understood and suggested the following:

Try to imagine their eyes are something you really like, and not eyes – the gateway into people. After all, imagination is stronger than willpower.

That was brilliant. I do consider eyes the gateway into people, and that’s why the constant contact is just too much sometimes.

I had a chance to test this out the past couple of days, and it really works! One guy who is super nice but just never looks away (probably taught to do that in some class he took I guess) used to really wear me out and unfortunately I’d keep looking away while he talked, since he never looked away. So this time when I started feeling the urge to avoid his eyes while he was talking, instead I considered his eyes to just be objects – like pieces of candy – not eyes boring into me. And it’s funny – it made the whole thing a little abstract, like watching a news anchor on a TV screen. After all, they don’t wear me out. So I was able to keep looking at his face while he talked, and finally I could see that he actually did look away now and then. I was able to use that idea several times, and just like my friend said it would, my imagination helped me where my willpower never would have.

I’m going to try to practice this idea with all the people I talk to, to see if it will help my people-energy to last longer when I have days with lots of face-to-face conversations with others. Do you find yourself wanting to avoid eye contact when you’ve had enough of being with others?

Photo credit: Clearly Ambiguous

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40 Comments

  1. Hummm, I never thought about that, but I do find myself looking aways a lot especially to people I don’t want to talk to. People tend to blabber too much if I maintain eye contact. Anyways I find that individuals who maintain eye contact are intiminating. Makes me want to scream “stop looking at me!” I’ll try your method at work anyways…always up for new experiments : )

    • πŸ™‚ You’re right – if you give someone your eyes, then they’ll most likely talk more and stay longer. But this will be a fun experiment for you – and of course there are some people at work we need to listen to and look alert, so you can have good eye contact then.

  2. I’m glad my tip worked out for you in the tests, cb πŸ™‚ I’m curious to know if it keeps working or if, eventually, you start to enjoy looking into people’s eyes without imaging they are something different – keep me posted πŸ™‚

    Another great benefit of maintaining eye contact rather than looking away too much, is that you’re able to better pick up on all the microexpressions to better understand what the heck they’re talking about and what they really mean and not what’s just coming out of their mouth.
    .-= Klaus @ TechPatio´s last blog ..Twitter Mashup: 100 Megapixel Profile Picture =-.

    • I really appreciate it Klaus! From now on I’m bringing my most unsolvable problems straight to you. There are people whose eyes I enjoy looking into for a while – it’s just that I can’t take too much of it at once. It’s like being on the beach in the summer with no sunglasses. πŸ˜‰

      Y’know, if I’d start looking more for those microexpressions and thinking of it in an analytical way, perhaps I wouldn’t get so exhausted with all the other stuff going on. Thanks again Klaus!

  3. That’s a very interesting piece of advice, many thanks! It is true that there are people who just keep on staring at you during the conversation. I guess, maintaining eye contact during a chat or a conversation depends on the very relationships and chemistry between two people. I mean, I never have problems with how much eye contact I need to maintain when I am talking to my friends or family. But with strangers it can be really difficult sometimes.
    .-= Carla Fiscina´s last blog ..Health Benefits Of Mustard Seeds =-.

  4. Wow, this is so interesting! I’ve often struggled with this and didn’t make the connection to my introversion. I’ll have to give Klaus’ tip a try.

    A couple weeks ago when my coworker stopped by a couple times, expecting me to start and carry a conversation, and I didn’t have the energy to deal with him, I noticed that I just couldn’t maintain eye contact at all. In fact, I avoided looking in his direction and kept looking at my plant instead. Sometimes it actually feels like pressure behind my eyeballs that makes it hard to keep looking at people. (Though I suppose this might be due to being short, and having to look up to maintain eye contact?) Funny, now that you’ve brought it up, I think the eye contact issue is one of my signs that I’ve emptied my battery and am almost done with my reserves.

    • Deb – you hit the nail on the head. At my family reunion this summer I found myself sitting with my hands over my face, eyes closed, after a couple of hours. I felt bad when a cousin asked me if I was all right… because I never see these people, and I wanted to enjoy the rest of the day with them. But I had that terrible feeling behind my eyes and couldn’t bear to look at one more face. I guess it’s tension? Or exhaustion from the tension. Or maybe a little of both. I sure hope this works for you – sounds like you have exactly the same reaction to eye contact as I do.

  5. Ah.. eye contact ! This is an interesting subject and your tips at the end can be just as helpful. You know I just had a ‘tough challenge’ weeks ago when I was on my trip, met a couple who I don’t know but happens to be my friend’s relative. They kept talking none stop and even though we just met for the first time, they shared almost everything about their lives. I tried to pay attention but I was so worn out from the lack of sleep the night before. If only I knew this tip earlier maybe it would be easier to get through the long conversation. πŸ™‚ hihi..

    @wchingya
    Social/Blogging Tracker
    .-= Ching Ya´s last blog ..How Blog Review Can Help to Improve Blog Traffic =-.

    • πŸ™‚ Oh yes Ching Ya – when we’re already tired, it’s just TORTURE to try to hold eye contact and attend to stories others are telling us. You’re so sweet to talk to, I’m sure that friend’s relative enjoyed the talk anyway!

    • Absolutely! Even the smallest break is such a relief! I have started watching for it now. One introvert who comes in to talk to me looks all over the place while he talks to me. He looks at my screens, out the window, other places, with real interest, while he is talking. πŸ™‚

  6. Ah eye contact. I’ve had similar experiences. As much as I would like to, when talking to people I find it near impossible to meet their gaze. Sometimes I find myself taking an extended blink, so my eyes noticeably close. I sometimes wonder what I look like through the eyes of the person I happen to be talking to. Another habit is my hands get very active, in what I assume is an attempt to distract myself or the person I happen to be talking to.

    Lately, in a conscious effort to improve, I’ve tried to use a trick from way back in elementary school that was designed to help us with oral presentations where “eye contact” was a component of our grade. If you skim the tops of people’s heads with your eyes as opposed to looking at any faces, it gives the illusion of eye contact and you avoid (or at the very least, reduce) the uncomfortable feeling that comes along with the real thing. Again, I’d like to see myself talking from the point of view of somebody else, then I’d know if it was actually working or not!

    • Hmmm… do you have an understanding friend you could try it on and ask them how it looked? I’ve also read that if you try to hit a spot right between the two eyes the other person will have the illusion that you’re making eye contact.

      My DENTIST closes his eyes while he talks to patients up close. One extrovert joked to me that he hopes the doc has his eyes open while he’s looking into our mouths. I totally understand though.

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  8. Hahaha, that makes so much sense! I went out for lunch with a friend yesterday, and he’s one of those people who can speak without looking away. While I don’t get exactly uncomfortable, I do get VERY distracted when I look into people’s eye for too long while they are speaking. I usually succeed in keeping eye contact, but it’s a monstrous effort to understand what they are actually saying, LOL.

    And I do look away a lot when I’m speaking. I try to make eye contact every few phrases, but it’s just too distracting to speak while seeing someone staring at you.

    • πŸ™‚ Yes it really is a monstrous effort! It’s so much easier to take a walk or drive with someone so you can really listen! And oh yes definitely – I “check in” with my listener with eye contact while I’m talking, but I also have to look up to a blank spot to retrieve stuff from my brain!

  9. I can totally relate, with one exception. Sometimes I find it hard to maintain eye contact even when the other party is talking. Actually, I conduct many conversations with my back to the other person! I have a desk where I face a window, and I don’t always turn around to face people – at least not fully – to talk to them when they come over. I know it’s not very polite, but coworkers know me and my style and don’t get offended. Some of them are introverts as well and talk in a similar way when *I* come over. As long as they listen, I don’t need the eye contact. Frequently it feels too intrusive.

    However, there are a few individuals with whom I like having eye contact at all times because that’s the only way I feel we have an efficient conversation. My boss is a case in point – I *always* maintain eye contact with him because he tends to space out, so without a steady eye contact I know that he hardly ever hear what I am saying. Strangely enough, he doesn’t drain me. Must be part of the INFJ-ENFP magic dynamic πŸ™‚

    • That’s cool that your coworkers know you and your style – and accept you. All that eye contact does feel too intrusive. Hmmm.. I’ll have to start noticing – trying to think if I ever talk to any ENFPs. πŸ™‚

    • πŸ™‚ I know – I’d much rather take a walk with someone or look at anything else with someone than sit face to face and talk. My dentist does almost close his eyes when he’s just talking to patients before/after a checkup or procedure. I totally understand!

    • There are some people I find it very easy to have a face to face conversation with. I have a feeling they also look away – look out the window, look at this or that….and don’t just bore steadily into my eyes. You’re smart to force yourself to look into the boss’s eyes no matter what! πŸ™‚

  10. Recently I have discovered why I am so “different” than everyone else. I am an introvert. And while this has been a relief in some aspects, it has left me with the question…Now what?

    So I’ve begun reading your blog — Thank you! You’re words are a Joy to me as I don’t feel along in my family of extroverts any longer.

    This particular blog hit me, at work recently, my very extroverted boss says that during meetings, I don’t maintain eye contact. And that when I don’t maintain eye contact, it makes other nervous and they don’t know what to do with themselves. I told her I couldn’t think while looking into someone’s eyes and always had to a take a moment of quiet to think. She said I had to learn. I will try and use the “Object” image next time she thinks I am supposed to be quick and witty while staring deep into someones eyes. Course I rather just wriggle my nose and disappear.

    J

    • Wow, I’m with you! I don’t think I could come up with the simplest words if I had to do it while staring into someone’s eyes! Eyes are weird, aren’t they? It would be easier if we could think we’re looking just at someone’s face, but the eyes really get to be too much.

      • I know, my mind goes blank. If I look away, I can think. Otherwise I think I am too busy being the eternal “observer” and can’t move from a moment of intake to output.

        Recently I took the Discovery Insights testing at work and discovered I was not only an introvert, but I was the personality called the “Observer”. Fits me perfectly.

        J

    • Jewels,
      I understand how hard it is having an extroverted boss. I think it is rather insensitive of her to tell you to “learn” how to look into someone’s eyes. She needs to learn that as an introvert it’s just not that easy!! It’s too bad other people can’t be more sensitive and more aware of our issues and try to be more patient and not try to change us to their “ideal” standard. Take care and good luck.

  11. Emily Roberts on

    It’s peculiar; I have never been very comfortable with eye contact; I can’t keep my train of thought when I’m speaking unless I look away from people, and even when they’re the ones doing the speaking, if I look into their eyes, I find myself getting distracted and unable to engage in what that person is actually saying, so most of the time I find myself looking at their face, but not into their eyes. So far I’ve gotten no comments on it, but it is something I’m conscious about, and I’m unsure about whether or not maintaining no eye contact at all is really alright.

  12. This is odd. I am an extreme introvert, INTP and Observer. Maybe my gaze is offensive but I feel it necessary for meaningful contact, and I find most people severely lacking in this area. Usually only family or people of the opposite sex who are interested in me give good eye contact. If it makes you nervous a good way around it is to concentrate on the space between their eyes.

  13. I had no idea a site like this existed. I am an INFP, very introverted and a little socially insecure on top of that, and I was just thinking today of how I don’t make much eye contact at all. I dunno about tiring, it’s just kind of… uncomfortable? I feel like eye contact is just a really intimate thing, and I feel almost inappropriate for looking directly into an acquaintance’s eyes. I have to sort of remember that most people don’t think that way, though.

  14. Thank you for writing this. My whole life I have tried to keep eye contact with people but just can’t. I’ve read so much about how lack of eye contact makes a person appear dishonest and whatnot, and I feel I am an honest and caring person. Having others think I am dishonest really hurts.

    I am finally at a point in life where I’m beginning to feel comfortable with and understand my introversion.

    Thanks for the validation and the tip. I’m going to try it out.

  15. Mother of God…. Lol I am so glad I found this article as it echos my exact circumstances to a T!! I believe I am ISFJ but I’ve heard other INFJ’s mention a hyper awareness of others before which makes me wonder if I am more INFJ. It also makes me wonder if it’s just my Social Anxiety I see a psychiatrist for though? Either way this is the absolute BIGGEST drain for me, it feels almost as intense as holding up a weight that you can’t let go of or hanging from a chinup bar without being able to let go.

  16. I also find it weird to maintain eye contact, esp with strangers and work colleagues. I think my boss stares into my eyes on purpose coz she kind of smirks when I look away, the cow.

  17. I don’t really like eye contact because it distracts me from thinking about what the other person is saying. It’s hard enough trying to put my thoughts together without having to look into someone’s eyes. I don’t think it’s necessarily a sign of shyness, simply that we can’t do a million things at once like an extrovert could.

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