How to Agitate an Extrovert

agitateextrovert
Though these days I pass as an introvert in certain situations, I am at heart an extrovert, and have always been, even according to early childhood stories from Mom and Dad.

I enjoy being around people about 5,000 times more than I enjoy being alone with no one to contact (unless I’m very sick or very tired, and even then I still hate suffering alone). When something happens to me, I want to talk about it; I want to share my experiences, I want to hear what others have to say. I feel my most alive, my most vibrant, when I am part of a loud, boisterous conversation or group music/dance performance, where the emotional energy pings back and forth between us all at lightning speeds, and the more energy you give to the gloriously chaotic situation, the more you have.

But I realize my way of life is not the way everyone lives–because I love an introvert.

I certainly don’t begrudge introverts their chosen way of living. I just couldn’t survive living as my boyfriend does; I would literally go batpoo crazy being alone all the time, not speaking up as much, not being as active in social gatherings. It’s just not how my brain or emotions work, but I love him and so I try to understand as much as I can. However, there are some things he does that are classic “introvert” behaviors, which I’ve had the hardest time understanding.

This article is written as the “other side of the coin” to “How to piss off an introvert”. We extroverts are people, too, and sometimes introverted behaviors are agitating to us. (I wouldn’t go so far as to say they “piss me off,” but I definitely get worried!) Here are 3 of the most worrying introvert behaviors, PLUS a handy cheat sheet to figuring out the extrovert(s) in your life!

Worrisome Introvert Behavior #1: The Flat “Mugshot” Expression at Parties

It’s really hard to enjoy a party when you spot somebody else sitting off by themselves who looks like they would rather be enduring a root canal. I don’t know if this goes for all extroverts or if it’s just me, but seeing somebody with that expression immediately dampens my enjoyment. I’m a “fixer” and a “nurturer,” so my immediate instinct is to go over and see what’s wrong, because obviously something’s wrong if they’re sitting there unsmiling!

Before you start arguing with me in your head, I know the counter-argument already, because my boyfriend and I have gone back and forth (jokingly) about this many times. You’re “not mad,” and you “don’t hate everything and everyone at the party.” But it sure looks like it! You look like you could be on America’s Most Wanted with that face! How am I not supposed to worry and not assume that something’s wrong? And most of all, how can I leave you alone without worrying that you’re not enjoying yourself (which makes me feel like I’m ignoring your needs and being a really bad person)?

confusedface I think I can speak for all extroverts when I say that we do get confused (and subsequently worry) about this. I’m not sure if it’s because we wear our expressions so much more vividly or because we express so much more of our emotional state outwardly, but it bugs me when somebody (aHEM, boyfriend) keeps reassuring me that they’re fine, only to elect to sit alone and have that weird “not quite frown” on their faces. I end up thinking, “If you were really that happy to be here, wouldn’t you, I don’t know, LOOK LIKE IT?”

Worrisome Introvert Behavior #2: The “Silent Treatment”

Imagine this scenario: you have been riding silently in the car with me for 45 minutes. I have tried every small-talk conversation tactic I know, talking about the most interesting things I can, asking questions, trying to draw you out so that I can communicate with you and enjoy your different perspective on things. But no matter what I do, you stare straight ahead, not replying or adding anything to the conversation, and yet insist, when questioned, that you’re not mad at me.

This happens with more people than just my boyfriend–many of the introverts I’ve met in my life have done this, and I end up confused and agitated because I don’t know what to do or say to reach them. One thing about extroverts: we show love through communication. If we don’t like you, we don’t talk to you. If I’m bothering to try to talk to you, it means I really want to get to know you, and I want to make the best impression possible. It doesn’t mean that I’m trying to talk your ear off or see how annoying I can be in 10 minutes. I just want human contact, and introverts are exotic, because y’all don’t talk a whole lot but you usually have something awesome to say when you do.

nervous So when our best conversation pitches and jokes are met with silence, we literally don’t know what to do next. Is he/she angry? Have I said something offensive? We rack our brains through the stream of recent conversation, trying to find anything that might have been even passably annoying. Does he/she actually hate me and is just tolerating me?

OK, OK, maybe not all of us extroverts are as paranoid about losing friends as I am, but you get the point. You sitting there in silence makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong, and I start getting desperate for ways to fix whatever I’ve done. (Which usually leads to more blathering as I hunt for something, ANYTHING to say to reconnect with them, and I end up bothering the heck out of them without meaning to.) This is extrovert torture supreme!

Worrisome Introvert Behavior #3: Spending Lots of Time Alone

Being alone, to an extrovert, is punishment, plain and simple. A solitary extrovert is like a device that ought to be able to connect to the Internet but can’t. How much can you do on an iPhone that can’t make calls and can’t get on the Internet, for instance? NOT MUCH! Same with extroverts; we literally don’t know what to do with ourselves without others around. We might be able to get a few things done around the house or attempt to read a book/watch a movie, but it’s just not as interesting without someone else there to talk to. (Internet or text communications only partly alleviate this; face-to-face communication time is the best.)

So, when an introvert (like my awesome boyfriend) says they want some time alone, it’s an instinctive shock. You mean you actually WANT to be alone? You mean I can’t spend time with you at ALL? Am I that draining that you have to get away from me?

You think I’m exaggerating, but for the first couple of years of our relationship, I battled against these feelings every time my “wub” said he needed alone time. I actually worked myself into a full-blown anxiety attack once, lying there alone in my bedroom, nauseated and dizzy, scared to death he was going to call any minute and break up with me because he wanted even MORE “alone time.” I didn’t yet understand that the request for alone time had nothing to do with me; it terrified me because I thought it held a lot more significance than it did.

Maybe not every extrovert is terrified of losing relationships, but we still worry. When we like people, we want to spend time with them. And introverts are usually amazing people who have vastly different perspectives on life. Y’all are fascinating and interesting–and then suddenly, you deprive us of your wonderful selves because you say you need “alone time.” Know what that translates to in extrovert-ese? “REJECTION.” Like I said, if extroverts don’t like you, we’ll avoid you. When you choose not to be around us, we may just interpret that as “you don’t like us.” The resulting emotional state we end up in resembles the dog pound scene from Lady and the Tramp:

How to Put Our Minds at Ease

The two ways of life I’ve described here, however, do not have to be diametrically opposed or hostile to each other. Here are the best ways to put our extrovert brains at ease:

  • Take a little time to explain in words what you need from us as a friend or significant other. I recognize that introverts have different emotional needs, but extroverts won’t magically understand those needs without some communication. If something we’re doing is bugging you, we need to know.
  • Suggest things we can do together that aren’t so mentally draining for you. If you hate going out to parties because they exhaust you, for instance, would there perhaps be a happy middle ground of “being social without being in public”, like hanging out and watching movies at home?

Summary/TL:DR

  • Extroverts aren’t less mature than introverts; we simply relate to others differently.
  • Extroverts are usually other-focused and thus concerned about others’ emotional welfare, especially in social situations. If you don’t look happy, we feel like bad friends/significant others for not ensuring that you’re having a good time.
  • Extroverts use conversation as the primary way to show love and/or friendship. If you’re silent, our main means of showing you we care about you is shut down.
  • Extroverts choose to spend time with those they love and appreciate. If you want alone time, it literally requires a mindset-shift for us to not read that as rejection.
  • Extroverts just want to be friendly, and sometimes that gets misread as “annoying.” Just a little explanation, however, can stop us from blathering around trying to find out what’s wrong!

10 thoughts on “How to Agitate an Extrovert”

  1. You sound like a totally unempathetic narcissist. Every complaint you made just sounded like “me me me.” I feel bad for your boyfriend.

  2. Thank you for commenting, person who didn’t bother reading the article at all! Run along now and be a troll somewhere else, there’s a good boy.

  3. Wow-Wow-Wow
    This little bitty could save some marriages and/or relationships. Why is it that Introverts have to always be tiptoed around? I am low end extrovert and I am so tired of seeing Extroverts as the “loud mouthed, it’s all about me” group and the Introverts as sensitive, thinkers that we should tip toe’d around. Both groups have a responsibility in a relationship to communicate their needs (with respect) if they expect them to be met. Just because what you have to say may not be liked or may cause extra work for someone doesn’t mean it’s selfish. This was a great way of seeing things from a side we don’t hear from often. I have to say I know some Narcissistic unemphatic Introverts who expect the word to Shoosh when they say so……as well as Narcissistic unemphatic Extroverts who think “thinking out loud” is an excuse to be rude. It still comes down to a person being a jerk or not.

  4. Glad you liked the article! (It was born out of that very frustration you mention–the constant stereotyping of “introverts are precious little babies and must be treated as such by the big dumb extroverts.”) Hopefully one day we’ll all learn how to communicate with each other and appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses! 🙂

  5. The most annoying, excruciating types of extraverts I’ve met in my life were The American Females. They would yammer and yammer and yammer non-stop – mainly about themselves. And when you manage to switch yor brain off and zone out, they would tap you on the shoulder and ask: “Are you ok?” or “What are you thinking about?” They don’t really care if you are ok because if they did they would shut up for 30 minutes to give us a break.

  6. Yes, these kinds of people are very difficult to be around, even for other extroverts, because of their nauseating levels of self-focus and idle talk. Ugh. I much prefer, when talking to anyone (introvert, extrovert, or ambivert), to formulate stimulating conversation topics for the other person to work with, and I try to only contribute to the ensuing conversation 25-30% of the time. 🙂

  7. Each type of individual brings value to human experience.
    The extraverts can make intraverts feel overwhelmed. Seeking time alone has to stop being some sort of taboo. It is unfair for intraverts to be tagged as sociopaths instead of being respected and given their space.

  8. Agreed! Introversion is not indicative of a psychiatric problem. But by the same token, it is unfair to tag extroverts as merely loud, rude boors who have no idea of common decency and personal space (which is what most “introvert-friendly” articles do, whether intentionally or not). Extroverts, introverts, ambiverts, etc., are all needed in our world, most definitely, and to realize that, we need effective communication between the types so that these stereotypes stop being perpetuated. 🙂

  9. Maybe there’s a pill to make Extroverts more meditative and contemplative so they’re not so needy? GABA supplment or valium maybe?? I don’t know. As introverts, we shouldn’ t have to escape extroverts because of their inability to grasp personal space and thrive through their thoughts. As un-PC as it is to say, the FACT is extroverts are handicapped with restless minds. You really should STRIVE to be more calm, emotionally mature, and meditative like your introvert partner.

  10. Valid point, and thank you for taking the time to respond. It is also pertinent to mention that not all extroverts have a severe anxiety disorder as I do, so it is a good bet that my natural extroversion plus the anxiety disorder produces many of the side effects that I have noted in this article. (In my defense, it has been several years since I wrote this article, and some things have come to light…I should edit what is written in the above article to be more accurate)

    All that said, there ARE emotionally mature extroverts out there (and perhaps someday when the anxiety is better controlled, I will be one of them), but the same disconnect and misunderstanding exists between introvert and extrovert on how each one functions. Neither preference is a BAD way to operate in daily life–just a DIFFERENT way–but when our different ways of operating happen to strike sparks, anger and resentment can start stewing very easily.

    Extroverts often thrive in group activities and collaborations; I absolutely adored school pep rallies and other such performances, for instance, while my boyfriend hated and avoided them. I also work in large teams better than he does–he can get frustrated with the varying levels of commitment in a team, whereas if I have a large group of people to encourage and support with my efforts, I am driven to work harder for them than if I was just working for myself. Introverts, however, seem to thrive in solitary work; I quickly learned he doesn’t want much companionship or cheerleading while he’s grading papers, for example. He just needs a quiet space to himself, and needs absolutely nothing from me or anyone else until he’s done. In that position, even without an anxiety disorder, the solitude of my own mind would get to feeling somehow “stale” after a while, and I would need to refresh myself with either a quick chat or some similar brain break in order to “hit the ground running” when I get back. I CAN work alone when I am being creative (and indeed I enjoy that solitude till I’m ready to show my work), but if I’m working on something utterly un-creative, I prefer to be in a team doing it.

    Regardless of operational preference, there are job fields that are suitable, and places in life where our particular approach is best. The remaining thing that frustrates me (and the reason why I was motivated to write the original article) is that even the youngest introverts are often treated like they are “better” or more “adult” simply because they prefer solitude. Extroverts, on the other hand, get shamed even in childhood for being too talkative, too social, etc., like those are ALWAYS bad or childish things to be, when in fact there are careers in which success is highly dependent on having just those qualities. And lastly, as I tried to outline above, my tendency to reach out to introverts in social situations is more motivated by love/support rather than neediness–I don’t want ANYBODY feeling alone or left out, because I know how badly it hurts. I cannot read minds; I cannot know just by looking that someone is an introvert and would actually prefer to be left alone. All I can see is someone sitting alone, with an unreadable expression, and my natural extroversion reads that as “uh-oh, someone may be being excluded or treated badly by my group–this should not be happening.” Thus, as an extrovert, I solve the problem by going and being social with them, to hear and understand the problem. This, in and of itself, is not offensive, is it?

    Hopefully, my attempt at explaining that “extroverts are decent/worthwhile people too” is a little more successful now. Again, thank you for the opportunity to probe a little deeper into this topic!

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