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Can Introverts Become Lonely?

Some of the memes referencing our current health crisis highlight the sense of validation introverts feel in the sudden culture shift of social distancing. Some have joked, "we've got this down," referring to their normally quiet, withdrawn existence away from the public. While this is true, there exists a more nuanced reality beyond the binary labels of introvert and extrovert. Those who love being around people can also find themselves overwhelmed and exhausted in a group. Those who love being left alone sometimes express surprise at feeling lonely and discouraged with too much isolation. One confirmed introvert described the tension as "leave me alone but don't leave me out." The introvert’s “trap” comes in the paradox of wanting to be included but remaining too passive to express or act on their needs. Each of us can define community in different ways that change with the circumstances, sometimes in ways that surprise us. Think of any time you got what you wanted and found it less fulfilling than you expected. One way to understand these differences is to think of a rechargeable battery—some interactions charge our batteries while others drain it. Some of us feel drained holding our words inside, while some of us feel drained after listening to “too many” words from those around us. Measuring our ever-changing system of experiences that drain and charge us is not simple and requires much grace for ourselves and others. We have the power to live in more peace by affirming permission to ask for what we need, both for ourselves and those around us. This does not resolve the tension of conflicted needs, we must still negotiate how much each of us are willing to give, but at least we are having an honest and open conversation. In this strange season of adjustment with either too little or too much time with one another, practice living with grace and permission for each of us to be ourselves and to take care of our needs in healthy ways. Matthew Gallagher, LCPC

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