Calling All Introverts

December 19, 2009 | 26 comments
By

There’s hope! At least that’s the message of a couple of posts I read through lately (here and here) presenting an interview with Adam McHugh, the author of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. By “Church” he means Evangelicals, not the LDS Church, but the discussion is still relevant to us.

Asked why Evangelical culture might be a problem for introverts, McHugh notes that the average Evangelical service “feels like walking into a non-alcoholic cocktail party. There is a mingling, chatty informality to evangelicalism that can be daunting for people uncomfortable with small talk and who may prefer a quieter, more contemplative sort of environment.” He adds that “Evangelicalism is a highly talkative, social, upfront, active tradition, and those of us who tend to listen before we speak and like to observe before we engage may feel marginalized, or even spiritually inadequate in such an atmosphere.”

In comparison, the three-hour block of meetings that LDS encounter every Sunday is certainly chatty and informal. The terms “quiet” and “contemplative” don’t generally leap to mind when describing LDS meetings. On the other hand, the LDS socialization process — by which I mean teaching Primary kids and youth to give talks and participate verbally in class, not making them into little socialists — makes almost every Mormon fairly comfortable with delivering talks before an audience and voicing their opinion in groups and classrooms. So I’m just not sure that LDS introverts feel marginalized. I’m not sure they even feel like introverts.

So what exactly is an introvert and how does he or she operate in a church setting? Pay careful attention to this response, bloggers.

Introversion is not synonymous with shyness, passivity, arrogance, timidity, or insecurity. An introvert is someone who first, finds energy in solitude. We lose energy through social interaction, no matter how much we may enjoy it, and we recharge in private, or with a close friend. Second, introverts process internally. For us, thinking precedes speaking, and when we are presented with new information, we reflect internally on it before we discuss it. And third, we tend to prefer depth over breadth. We would rather have a few close friends than a large circle of acquaintances, and we may enjoy exploring certain topics in great depth rather than spreading ourselves thin over many interests.

So, do Mormon introverts feel out of place at church? If so, I’m guessing they feel just wonderful attending LDS temples, a compensating attraction that Evangelicals don’t offer. But an introvert’s proselyting mission must be a particularly daunting two years. I’m tempted to mention blogging as another safe haven for introverts (imagine, stimulating conversation with no actual human contact required!) but if bloggers are introverts, what are lurkers?

And yes, this seems like the perfect post for long-time T&S visitors who have always read but never commented to take the plunge.

26 Responses to Calling All Introverts

  1. Nitsav on December 19, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    I consider myself an introvert, though I have no problem teaching classes or speaking publicly. I’ll admit to keeping my nose in my scriptures after PH or other meetings get over so I can avoid the (to my mind) awkward socializing, which I do enjoy elsewhere under more controlled circumstances.

  2. dangermom on December 19, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    “We lose energy through social interaction, no matter how much we may enjoy it, and we recharge in private…”

    That’s me. I enjoy church, I don’t feel out of place (now that I’ve realized that nearly every woman in the Church–and the US–feels like the oddball), I put a lot of energy into my calling and I like the people in my ward. It’s just quite tiring, and by lunchtime on Sunday I’m ready to hide in my room and hibernate for a while. Also I really like the part where we have the sacrament.

    I didn’t serve a mission, so I can’t speak to that part. I think my introvert husband did have a hard time with the constant companionship, but OTOH he really learned to be good with people and to be comfortable with putting himself out there. He just wants a nap afterwards. And he still hates making phone calls.

  3. Emily M. on December 19, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Yep, that’s me. On my mission, all I wanted to do on P-days was get all my errands done ASAP and then sit at home and write letters. Whenever we had a zone function I really struggled. Not that I didn’t like the other missionaries, just that I really, really, really needed my alone time to recharge, and if I didn’t get it, I suffered.

    Morning study provided my other alone recharge time. It was vital to me.

    It’s not a bad thing for me to be forced into extroversion, though. I have made more friends and learned how to care for people in a way that I would not have done if the Church hadn’t forced me outside of my comfort zone.

  4. Bob on December 19, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Like other commentators, I am some of each. Maybe 75% an introvert.
    I like my space and I an happy being alone. I don’t like takng the lead. But I don’t think I “lose energy through social interaction.”.
    I can be very aggressive if needs be. But I consider myself a “counter puncher”.

  5. Rivkah on December 19, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    ” . . . the LDS socialization process — by which I mean teaching Primary kids and youth to give talks and participate verbally in class, not making them into little socialists — makes almost every Mormon fairly comfortable with delivering talks before an audience and voicing their opinion in groups and classrooms.”

    I don’t agree–I know plenty of people who are very uncomfortable with giving talks or speaking out in classrooms. As for myself–a dyed-in-the-wool introvert–I am finally comfortable, for the most part, with giving talks and teaching, but I still have to force myself to make comments in a classroom setting.

    “I’m just not sure that LDS introverts feel marginalized. I’m not sure they even feel like introverts.”

    I felt more introverted than ever when I was called to serve in the YW. All those group activities we had to plan and participate in every week made my old teenage insecurities come rushing back. Pretty much all of the YW leaders who were considered “cool” were extroverts. Church became a pretty miserable experience for me when I held that calling–and I blame it squarely on my introversion. :-)

  6. Velska on December 19, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    The description of the Introvert fits me about 95%. I’m definitely that. I like to process; to go deep rather than spread thin; takes time to feel fully comfortable with people.

    I served a full-time mission (two, actually, by now), and my daughter just returned from hers to England. We both found the constant companionship — and the constant contacting — daunting.

    But you get over it, you find your solace in the short quiet moments, and you learn to interact with people a little better. Positive, overall.

    I’ve served in almost all callings in ward/branch and a lot of stake/district callings. It’s not the “taking care of business” part that is hard for me, it’s the times when you have to keep talking about nothing (never try to talk about a meaningful subject then!) for 15 minutes, because people seem to feel so awkward if I’m silent.

  7. Coffinberry on December 19, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    As a bona fide, I’m a Myers-Briggs INFJ. Relief Society meetings drive me batty. People think I’m aloof, and probably ascribe it to haughtiness. When I tell people I’m shy, they never believe me.

  8. meems on December 19, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Yes, I’m an INTJ, I think. My tests show a complete lopsided tilt towards the introverted side. To me, I wouldn’t say that the CHURCH makes me feel marginalized, but certainly some of the environment does. I don’t like to mingle and chit-chat in large social settings, so if I don’t show up for activities, or leave prior to the “sandwich Sunday” “munch and mingle” or after-church potlucks, people think I’m inactive or not with the program.

    Once when I was a primary teacher, I would run upstairs to primary after sacrament, teach, and then quietly slip out when church was over. I had a missionary in my ward tell a friend of mine that I always left early and was insinuating that I wasn’t attending all my meetings because she didn’t see me hanging around after church.

    So yeah, I think it can be a little weird for introverts to have to prove to everyone that we are full members, because we don’t do that interactive stuff as well as the others.

  9. CatherineWO on December 19, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    I fit all those qualifications for introvert. I like to observe people, both in person and on the internet, long before I participate. A lifetime of church activity has made it easier for me to participate in classes and I don’t have any trouble with teaching, either children or adults. Like Coffinberry, I have been accused of being aloof or haughty, until people get to know me. I have never enjoyed church socials. My nightmare calling would be chairperson of the activities committee. I cheered out loud when I heard Sister Beck say that sisters don’t need to feel obligated to attend those extra R.S. meetings (not that I ever felt such an obligation in the past). I think being an introvert has always made me feel like somewhat of an oddball, but there are other factors that contribute to that too. It is age and disability that now make me feel marginalized, more than introversion.

  10. Naismith on December 20, 2009 at 1:48 am

    “As a bona fide, I’m a Myers-Briggs INFJ. Relief Society meetings drive me batty.”

    At least you have the F going for you. Among women, 75% are feeling and only 25% thinking. So the INTJ women have a double whammy of appearing cold.

  11. Geoff B on December 20, 2009 at 8:39 am

    I think the word “introvert” has taken on negative connotations over time, and I like the description above. Introverts are comfortable being by themselves, a description that fits me very well. Extroverts must be surrounded by people constantly, which to me sounds exhausting.

    I try to push aside my introversion at church and make a real attempt to shake hands with newcomers and introduce myself to people who don’t speak up that much in class. I’ve yet to encounter somebody who seemed not to appreciate it.

  12. Dave on December 20, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Thanks for the comments. Geoff, I like the way McHugh describes introverts as people who prefer one-on-one interaction to large social groups. So introverts aren’t hermits, just social and friendly on a smaller scale.

  13. Bryan on December 20, 2009 at 9:26 am

    I think much of what is being described as the interaction of we introverts at church is generally the same as our interaction in American society in general. (At a Myers-Briggs class I recall being told that Americans are 75% extroverted and 25% introverted and that Australians are the opposite – for what it’s worth.)

    I, for one, sometimes manuever away from co-workers on the way into the office from the parking lot because I don’t feel like engaging in chit chat.

    I was single until I was 38 and went on many group single ward outings. I was always irritated when we arrived home with no down time before the next activity/meeting, (but was grateful for the opportunities to go in spite of the drawbacks.)

    I recently took a Negotiating Skills class and the instructor mentioned that skilled foreign negotiators know that Americans don’t like silence (perhaps because of the high percentage of extroverts?). So, the foreign negotiators will not immediately respond when Americans finish stating their negotiating position knowing that Americans will most likely continue talking in an attempt to fill the silence, and possibly show their hand by accidently divulging additional details.

    There ought to be a bumper sticker that says “INTROVERTS UNITE”.

    My 2 cents worth…

  14. Kylie on December 20, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Another INTJ, here. I feel fine at church; there are socially awkward things for me, but learning to reach out to others has been a good, expanding experience for me.

    Rivkah mentioned serving in YW as an introvert. I actually had a great experience: we had a very small gropu of young women, and I’ve found that serving in a presidency typically works well for an introvert. It is a small group setting in which deeper relationships can develop. Reaching out or being “on stage” in front of the organization as a whole is difficult, but working with a few, dedicated women has, for me, been a lovely place to serve given my personality.

  15. eremite on December 20, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Yes, it can be hard to be an LDS introvert. There have been times when I have dreaded going to Church on Sundays. And one of the primary emotions of my mission was guilt for not being a better missionary. I think Singles Wards can be particularly tough because often it seems the social atmosphere is emphasized over the spiritual.

    My case may be a little extreme, but here’s some ways I handle being an introvert in a Mormon (American?) Culture. On my mission, I came to accept the fact I would never be a great missionary, but I could be a good missionary in my limited scope (e.g. I could never really tract, but I could ask for referrals from people I knew). I deal with the Singles Ward by opting out of non-essential things that are too painful. For example, I can’t bring myself to “linger longer” after 4 hours of Church (an EQ Presidency meeting and the 3 hour block). Nor can I do Home Teaching by myself or attend FHE without a real family. I think I can give a decent talk or lesson, but I’m not spontaneous enough to comment in classes. I love being in charge of the Sacrament because it gives me something to do during that awkward time before and after Sacrament Meeting. Of course that means my social life is non-existent but at least I don’t dread Sundays like I used to.

    And you’re absolutely right about the Temple. The endowment is my kind of worship: quiet, contemplative and void of any unscripted human interaction. It’s awesome how Mormondom can include both high Church and low Church like that. (If I understand those terms correctly). So, no, I don’t feel marginalized, but yes, I most emphatically feel like an introvert (and I love it!).

  16. Mike on December 20, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    It’s great to hear from some other introverts. I’m a Meyers-Briggs ISTJ and I wholly identify with the social = draining, solo = recharge idea of introversion. I’m also often charged with being aloof and overly serious and stoic though I don’t feel that way at all inside.

    There are two ways that being an introvert has been hard in the church. As a missionary is was very difficult for me to do street contacting. It was horrifying to walk up to random strangers on the street corner or the bus. I always thought I had a weak, unsure testimony because I didn’t have the drive to run around screaming the gospel. I’ve started to learn to just be myself and be happy with my own strengths and not worry about those over the top seminary teacher types.

    Home teaching has also always been difficult for the same reasons being a missionary was. Forced relationships with strangers who you may or may not like is not my idea of fun.

    Those difficulties aside, I absolutely love to speak in church and give lessons. I credit that strength to the terror I felt being called as a district leader and having to give weekly lessons that taught me how to prepare a lesson and deliver it.

    Oh, and being called as activities chair is also my greatest nightmare :).

  17. Lurking INFJ on December 20, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Sigh. I took a personality/interest in college and the evaluator said that I was the most introverted person she’d ever seen. It’s so hard; especially being single. My parents tell me I need to learn to flirt but I have trouble to talking to the women of my ward much less the men. I try really hard but sometimes church exhausts me and I have trouble attending.

  18. Ardis E. Parshall on December 21, 2009 at 1:13 am

    I always score at the extreme end of the introversion scale on the MB assessments, although you might not guess that by the frequency of my ‘nacle participation.

    Teaching and speaking is pleasurable to me. Partly it’s because I’m good at it, but I think, too, it’s because it’s a way of interacting with people in a kind of role-playing situation, where I don’t have to deal with anyone personally.

    I usually start out pretty cheerful in Relief Society, endure Sunday School, and am downright grumpy (or worse) by the end of Sacrament Meeting. I’ve always blamed that on coming to church with optimism and then having it fade with the disappointment of poor lessons and talks that never address my needs. This post has me wondering, though, whether it’s really that three hours is just beyond my tolerance for being with people before I need to withdraw and recharge.

  19. ESO on December 21, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Church is probably the place I feel the least introverted, and I credit my mission with that. Proselyting was very uncomfortable for me because of my shyness, but I just had to force myself to do it. I think that 18-month relentless putting myself forward made Church stuff slightly more comfortable than many other realms.

  20. Rivkah on December 21, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    You all might enjoy reading this: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200303/rauch

  21. nita on December 21, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    I think I’m a lot like Emily- when I served my mission, I also wanted and needed that quiet time on P-Day. I needed to regroup, for it was hard for me (shy then, not as shy now) to be more outgoing w/people all day. However some comps wanted to be up at 6AM on P-Day and play sports w/the Elders much of the day. Some comps could not understand that need for quiet/solitude for part of the day.

    When I returned home from my mission, one day I was walking by a poster shop at the mall. I saw a quote that perfectly summed up how I had felt about the need for some solitude on P-Day. The poster said, “Solitude is not a luxury. It is a necessity.”

  22. john f. on December 22, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    I join the crowd of introverts here and thank you for the post — nice an informative. My experience is similar to Coffinberry’s. My sense is that people definitely think I’m aloof and sometimes think I’m arrogant/mean/haughty etc. based on the introverted way I tend to approach social situations when the pressure’s not on. If the pressure’s on I can usually fake it and mingle with the best of them but it’s not something I particularly enjoy or would seek out.

  23. marianne on December 23, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    “So, the foreign negotiators will not immediately respond when Americans finish stating their negotiating position knowing that Americans will most likely continue talking in an attempt to fill the silence, and possibly show their hand by accidently divulging additional details.”

    That is an awesome bit of information–maybe I should consider a career-shift. On my mission, one of my zone leaders gave a little training once on the power of the pause–the need to deliberately pause during a discussion to allow the Spirit some room. I’m one of those people who is just about to raise my hand in SS when teachers start to feel uncomfortable and start talking again. Learning to accept some silence is a great teaching tool, both in church and elsewhere. Just giving people some room to think and compose an answer is important.

    And I run out of church right after too. 3 hours is about my threshold for big group gatherings.

    And as a missionary I pretended to be my mother, who, thorough years of practice as a nurse, can strike up a conversation with anyone. So, when I have to, I can turn it on at church, work, or especially in a job interview. I always feel conscious of those moments when it’s showtime. It’s not being fake, it’s just being a slightly different version of myself.

  24. MarenM on December 27, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Introverts of the Church unite! As an INFX (my J/P scores are always too close to call), many Sundays are totally draining. Thank goodness church is only once a week and not 3 times. Calling the sisters I visit teach is really hard every single time. Going there isn’t so bad, but making cold contact is hard.

    As many have mentioned, being active in the church long enough can teach an introvert the skills needed to acquire a specific “church personality” which might not be his or her natural state. It’s not really a bad thing, but a matter of survival.

    Yes, I prefer going to the temple over a ward activity any day.

  25. Bryan S. on December 31, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    I am also a ISTP. Never went on a mission because my fear of tracting overcame my desire to share the gospel. my introversion won the battle *sigh*.

    I was extremely lucky to find my wife because… she is a strong INTJ. How two introverts found each other only god knows.

    But with that said, going to church is wonderful until social interactions occur… then I squirm and shriek inside!

    I sit silent in PH and read the manual/scriptures and never look up. They might ask me to give the prayer if I make eye contact. *oh the horror!*

    When giving a talk… its prepared fully on double spaced large print paper and read verbatim from the pulpit… where I never look up… I might pass out otherwise.

    Getting together with others to do scripture study? what a bizarre activity.

  26. philomytha on January 1, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Oh, this is great! How wonderful to see there are other people like me. :)

    Extreme introvert here, as is my husband. Church has been pain and misery for us both for our entire lives. No, I don’t feel comfortable giving talks or teaching. Being called on to pray publicly has been the bane of my existence for thirty years, the cause of many childhood traumas and one of the reasons I went inactive for several years as a teenager. After going to the temple I decided it was the reward to introverts for enduring the rest of the crap. It was the only part of church that I enjoyed — always the same, predictable, you never had to wonder what you were going to say, you didn’t have to make conversation… heaven!

    I have often thought someone should write a book on “How to Survive as an Introvert in the LDS Church.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it myself because it would involve interviewing people.

    I once said to my husband about church, “It’s like we’re all supposed to be extroverts.” And he said “No, we’re commanded to be extroverts.” And it’s true. You can’t be a good Mormon without behaving like an extrovert.