When things go terribly wrong in life, the introvert may retreat

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When things are just “comfortably” bad, like when I was a kid and teachers gave homework right before spring break, or later as adult when we found out we weren’t getting raises at work, I could grouse and bitch with the best of ‘em. But when I’m deeply worried about a loved one or worse still, grieving a loss, then I wish I didn’t even have to deal with most people. Even the very first time, when I was a teenager, that I knew someone close to me was going to die, I didn’t tell anyone at school at all. I didn’t want to talk to my family about it either. To me, having to do the daily small talk or worse still, dig into “my feelings” with well-meaning others was like scraping an open wound.

I’ve been through that situation, or at least worrying about a loved one who was gravely ill, now several times, and each time I’ve found that I usually tell one or two people only. Those people will have in common that I feel close to them and that they won’t make things even worse by trying to minimize my worry or bother me with foolishness when I least feel like dealing with it.

A few years ago, my dad had to have bypass surgery, and we were told that he might not make it because his heart was so weak. While others gathered in the waiting area full of conversation, admiring nearby toddlers, and just having a nice visit – talking to pass the time, I tersely requested that I be called on my cell phone as soon as there was any news. Then I walked the halls and the parking deck at the hospital. Alone. Maybe it would have been different if I’d had a husband there. I was married at the time, but my husband was kindly taking care of both of our small children. So faced with the horrible thought of losing my dad, I had to be alone in order to minimize my horror and pain.

I’ve done the same thing several times now – each time I’ve been faced with devastating news or a situation that was so full of dread and worry that I could hardly stand it, I’ve had to take off alone. During these times, small talk is excruciating.

I remember having to go to work one day after visiting my dad in the ICU at a hospital. No one else in the office was aware that he was back in the hospital or in such bad condition, and I didn’t expect them to be. But as I sat down at my desk (we were in cubicles at the time) a young extrovert actually stood on his own desk to look over the cubicle wall at me and say, “Smile!” I picked up my phone so as not to have to entertain him with my situation. It was all I could do to keep myself calm and do my job, and never have I wished harder for self employment!

We lost my dad a few years ago, but of course like anyone else I still have occasional other things to worry or at least be anxious about, and I always wish I could just be at home while I’m waiting to hear. The medical procedure my 84+ year old mother had to have under anesthesia. The biopsy surgery my cat had – when the vet told me that 90% of lumps like that on a cat would turn out to be invasive cancer. Each time I’ve been waiting and worrying, I’ve tried to avoid those who will not understand or who will come and annoy me when I least feel like it.

Check out the below verse from the book of Proverbs in the Bible. I’m not trying to shove religion down your throat, not at all. :) I just thought this was a really wise thing, and it’s funny that Solomon expressed so long ago and so well the feeling I’ve had all this time. This translation is from the New International Version Bible.

Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
Proverbs 25:20

For you other introverts, are you like this too? Do you try to be alone or with only a select couple of people when you’re dealing with sadness or worry? And for extroverts, this post explains why your normally pleasant friend may avoid everyone when things get bad.

Photo credit: diongillard

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87 Comments

  1. I too am really disappointed when others minimize my hardships. Unfortunately this happens often with extroverts (probably because they blithely dismiss their own problems and float on from person to person) and is definitely why I prefer to completely withdraw from others.

    I googled this subject because I am stumped about how to authentically support an extremely extroverted friend during her time of grief. I am still unsure of how to reach out

  2. The Shytrovert on

    I am exactly as you describe. Minor things, yes I will b*tch and moan with everyone else. But serious stuff, like a bad fight with my SO or a death in the family or some other more serious personal trauma does cause me to withdraw. It’s so emotionally overwhelming that there is just a lot of processing to do alone and I don’t want anyone near me, touching me or talking to me. I don’t want people to tell me how sorry they are a hundred times a day, etc., and so on. GET AWAY! That’s what I’m screaming internally. I can relate perfectly.

  3. I am glad to read someone else’s thoughts on this. When I am upset for any reason, the last thing I want to do is be around other people. With minor annoyances or concerns, it’s easier to cope with my fellow humans. My grandfather passed away this morning and here I am at work… a school, even, full to bursting with people of all ages and varying degrees of nosiness… and completely miserable with grief and frustration. I need to be alone, and I’ve told only one colleague, who happened to come in while I was crying earlier this morning, about my unfortunate news. But we don’t get special treatment because we’re introverted… no one does, in any job. So like you, I’m trying to steal away to the restroom, unoccupied classrooms, hallways without children, to try to process and it’s a nightmare. Thanks for writing– I feel less alone (which, oddly, through the internet, is just fine… in real life I can only wish to feel a little more alone!!). Much love to you, internet stranger, and may we both find peace in solitude. <3

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