“What is wrong with you, Eugene?” a girl in summer day-camp asked me.

“What?” I stammered.

“What’s wrong with you? You never talk to anybody? Why do you never talk?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I’m just . . . um . . . you know, shy.”

Yes, that was a conversation I had as an early teen, and it in no way affected my self-confidence.

*sarcasm*

Yes, I am an introvert. In addition to my same-sex attraction (SSA) struggles, I’ve also struggled with a lot of insecurity and self-loathing. I’ve placed a lot of blame on my introversion for my struggles making friends and my perpetual loneliness.

I was still shy and quiet as a kid, though considerably less often than I am now. I actually looked forward to presenting for show-and-tell. I enjoyed acting in plays and class skits. I could easily chat with the other kids and make friends.

Then puberty came along and disaster struck.

I seemed to lose a lot more of my energy around people and became far more quiet. I couldn’t speak or think of anything to say in group activities. I couldn’t walk up to other kids and start conversations. And I began to dread — instead of look forward to — class presentations. I’d turn into a pile of nerves, stuttering over my words or speakingsofastthatnotasinglestudentorteacherlatchedontoasinglewordIsaid.

What’s worse, my quietness seemed to make me invisible to most people in some ways yet stick out like an Eskimo at a nude beach at the same time. In my church confirmation group, I always got that well-meaning mother of another kid approach me and say, “Oh honey, are you okay? I noticed you barely speaking to anyone. Is something the matter?”

Then there was the fate worse than death when a teacher called on me to say, “Eugene! We haven’t heard a word from you at all today. Do you have anything to say about our discussion?”

Even worse (if that’s conceivable), a teacher might announce, “So, today we’re going to do a group project. How about you just choose your own groups today?”

In that scenario, I typically ended up in the all girls group or partnered with the foreign student who barely spoke English.

I was also straight-up abused for my quietness.

Back in eighth grade when I was first becoming friends with Mark, my one straight friend to this day, I wanted to sit at his lunch table. I had been sitting with a group of nerds who I was kinda/sorta friends with but also deeply resented.

Mark sat with a bunch of the athletic kids, so I decided to join him one day. A few lunches later, I again sat at the athletic table while Mark was home sick.

One of the other boys turned on me: “YOU. Why do you even sit here?! You never say anything! All you do is just sit there. You just sit there, and you’re like — ”

He then gave a dramatic reenactment of my sitting there, not saying anything.

“You see? You see how f*****g retarded that is? Why do you never talk?!”

“I . . . I listen to you guys,” I stammered, aghast in terror.

“Dude, if you’re just gonna sit there and not talk, then don’t sit at this table. Hey Phillip!” he called to another boy looking for a seat at the same table. “Phillip, there’s a free spot over here. Sit over here! Eugene, get out.”

I briskly got up and headed straight for the bathroom where I tried desperately to hold back the floodgates. I never attempted sitting at Mark’s table again, even all the way until the end of high school. I was doomed to sit with the nerds.

Situations like these just made me want to avoid a social life altogether.

I hated being the awkward, quiet introvert; I wanted to be like the energetic, chatty, extroverted kids. They always seemed to make a bajillion friends and were always the life of the party who people laughed at and enjoyed. I hated myself for not having charisma or speaking when it mattered.

I thought something was wrong with me.

I have been getting much better over the years, especially when socializing with my “Side B” brothers who I connect with on a deeper level. In those situations, I can actually explode with extroversion. I’ve also gotten much better at having conversations and keeping them going with folks. It’s taken some coaxing of myself to get out of my comfort zone, and conversations come surprisingly naturally.

It’s not easy, though.

There are times where it’s still hard. Lots of moments in conversations when my mind goes blank, leading to solid walls of awkward silence. In a large group of people, I grow insecure and self-critical if I’ve not said anything in a while.

I’ve had many well-meaning folks say to me, “Oh, you really just need to speak up and be more assertive if you want to make friends.”

Like it’s just that easy! Like a prescription pill. I can’t just do that; being an introvert is part of my personality.

But yes, there is a grain of truth — you do need to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try. You will fail many times probably, but keep going. You will improve with practice.

So, this post is called “The Joys and Sorrows of Being an Introvert.” Does that mean I have any positives to share?

I’ve honestly had to rack my brain to think of any. I’d say one positive is that my listening skills are much more amplified. I can listen to people and empathize with their lives and stories.

I also seek a lot of quiet time by going on long walks in the woods. In these moments, I can recharge and reflect on my life. What helps in these moments is that I can listen to God rather than the sound of my own voice. I know extroverts struggle with finding alone time.

I think we all need a fine balance, no matter how extroverted or introverted we are. We need amounts of social time to connect with and love others. At the same time, we need silence and quiet time to recharge and connect with God.

Yes, I tend to overindulge in the latter.

But I’ve learned there’s nothing wrong with me. I want to embrace my introvertedness as I have no doubt it’s a gift from God. I am to use my introverted personality to his purpose with my perfectly flawed design.

How do you struggle as an introvert or an extrovert? Do you ever wish you were the opposite personality type? What are some positives of being an introvert or an extrovert?

  • Eugene, thanks for sharing. Kids can be so cruel. I am also introverted though only slightly more introverted than extroverted. There have been plenty of times in social groups of more than three people, in loud rooms, when I just freeze up. I feel most comfortable talking to one or two people at a time, however I have learnt that I can be a bit intense, and this can be too much for some people. That’s okay.Now I can adjust my practice and learn to talk of lighter things and to joke a little.
    I have found also that there is a limit to the amount of ‘upfront’ things that I can do, especially unprepared stuff. My high expectations (Enneagram type 1) and high value on some activities (like ministry) mean that it is especially difficult for me to ‘just wing it’. That inner critical voice combined with the self-loathing that you mentioned are major hurdles for me serving small and larger groups in an upfront capacity. It’s debilitating. I am working through these things with a counsellor.

    • I’m glad you can relate. Yeah I can get rattled when things go wrong especially when you’re in unprepared situations. Its so difficult and debilitating. Its so bad that it just wipes out my energy and I can do nothing more than crawl into bed.
      Yeah when I’m in loud rooms with large groups of people I just freeze up too. My mind goes numb and I just can’t think of anything to talk about. It isn’t until much later I’ll finally think of something to say. Ugh!

  • One of my pastors growing up would say he was “introverted by nature, extroverted by calling.” As an introvert I took that as a signal that my introvertedness was a weakness in advancing the gospel, just as I had come to believe it was a weakness in broader society. I think there’s a grain of truth to what my pastor said: we are all called to go beyond what comes to us comfortably or naturally in following Christ. However, I wish someone had told me that introvertedness is just as much a gift as extrovertedness, and that God can use it to build his kingdom just as well. (There is a very good book I read about this, “Introverts and the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture”).
    I will say, as I’ve grown up I’ve questioned the introvert-extrovert binary a lot more. I don’t think people are necessarily one or the other, or even occupy one point on a spectrum. For example, one of my friends suggested to me that I’m “selectively extroverted.” There are a few specific people I get energy from, but everyone else costs me energy to be around. I think introvertedness and extrovertedness is useful language, but just like the rest of MBTI or with the Enneagram or Strengths Finder or whatever else, we have to be careful not to put ourselves in boxes!

    • That sounds like a book I’d love to read. And yeah I agree, I wish someone had told me it was a gift too. I felt something was wrong with me and if I would ask for help the response was always “you just have to speak more!”
      And yeah, I would look at introvertedness and extrovertedness as more of a spectrum. And people on both sides of the spectrum can swing into one or the other depending on their situation or who they’re with. Like me when I’m with certain people I can become even more extroverted.

  • A long time ago when I was homeless, I took a job in the entertainment industry. I am an introvert by nature especially around crowds, fearing that someone might find out about my SSA. But in this job, I always got to wear a myriad of costumes and makeup. I became a dancing gorilla because no one knew who was behind the latex mask (I had to go through an hour of makeup to have it glued to my face). For children’s parties, I was covered in dopey costumes and clown make up, and found that I could play and make animal balloons. When I put on the Ninja Turtle costume, I could turn flips a wow children with my ‘ninja’ moves. As Batman I could fight villains and defeat them with one of my handy gadgets (no bat shark repellent spray). I suddenly was someone else in all situations, from the off-key singing nerd bellowing at the top of his voice to the dancing gorilla who did magic tricks; it allowed me to come out of my shell. I probably would have continued to do that, but they also had me performing as a stripper and cross dresser. THAT wasn’t me!
    I still tend to shy away from crowds, but at the same time I am not afraid to address a crowd of people.

    • Oh how liberating putting on a mask can be. Its kind of said the same about comedians, like they’ll be crazy on stage but folks will be shocked to see how quiet and unassuming they are in real life.

  • I actually used to be an introvert of sorts. I wasn’t as shy as you were, but I did often find myself wanting to be alone or at least not talk a lot to people. I would see friends at rehearsals for stuff and that was enough. I mean, I legitimately did not speak to anyone outside of seeing them out in public. It wasn’t until my bipolar was triggered right before college that I became an extrovert. Apparently bipolar Dean is an extrovert while non-bipolar Dean was an introvert. Weird.
    However, because I spent time as introvert, I have a great respect for the needs of introverts. I know many of them don’t always like to talk, so I am content to sit in silence with people. I also understand that sometimes they just need space. My wife, Lisa, is an introvert. I know there are times that she has to go be away from me to recharge.
    I am sorry to hear you experienced abuse because of your introversion. I pray you continue to find people who love and accept you, introverted nature and all.

    • I guess it was like a Gollum/Sméagol thing when it came to your introvertedness and extrovertedness! But that’s cool though, it gives you an insight to the needs of introverts. I have some friends I can sit in comfortable silence with which is great. I can understand the need of extroverts as well, and I’m more than happy to be with them in their need of social time!

  • Yeah, it’s my one of my greatest struggles in life. I’ll never be happy about my introverted tendencies.

  • I work alongside a colleague who has completed her PhD about the power of introversion. She has taught me much about the “label” and the experience. It was not without profound emotion that I read your article, Eugene. I fear we might not quite “hit it off”, though; I tend to find myself on the gregarious side of life, but my pilgrimage of many years has taught me the value of silence, solitude, and stillness of soul. (The alliteration was actually not intended, but…well, there it is). Your instructive voice is one more phrase in the symphony of the introvert…played at ppp and at adagio…at the very quickest. Thank you for the music.

  • Eugene – thanks for writing this. There’s so many points in your post that I identify with, having been an extremely shy and sensitive boy. I had a very similar situation to your lunchroom experience on a school bus in ninth grade. I tried hard to be invisible on the bus because I was a new kid and didn’t know anyone. A good looking jock (who I’m sure I probably gawked at too much,) stood up at his bus stop , turned around, and started yelling at me. “What the hell are you doing here? You never say anything – you just sit there. What’s wrong with you? Who are you?!!” I couldn’t say a word – I just wanted to disappear. He got off the bus with his brother, and I just shrank into the corner of the seat trying to keep from crying until my stop came around. That really hurt.
    I so admired the extroverted guys who were so confident, popular, muscular, and good looking. If I only tried harder, was more assertive… I could act like them. I still have many of those crazy beliefs. The shyness improved and I found my place among the nerds and the brains. I slowly learned h act extroverted when I needed to be. Actually, I’m still learning.
    Anyway, thanks Eugene. Great post!

    • You’re welcome Ray! So glad my blog resonated with you. Amazing when we have such similar stories like that isn’t it? As painful as they are it can be healing to hear that others have gone through the exact same thing. I can empathize with that because I know just how much it hurts. Thank your for telling me about that part of your story.
      My shyness has improved too and I’ve found my place amongst my YOB brothers. Still learning too, but I’m much better than I used to be.

  • Eugene thank you for this post and I relate to a lot of this! I know this is a substantial amount of time later but I am curious if you still feel the same ways, or if you have felt there been much growth? One thing I am curious about is do you prefer big groups of people or one on one? I personally find it a lot easier to talk one on one and I often like to hide and say very little in big groups. One thing that I do is that in big groups, if I notice someone was talked over or wasn’t heard I ask that person directly what they said. I feel like this is my kind of gift as someone who is quieter, that I notice shy people more and try to make sure they are heard as well.

  • Eugene Heffron

    I’m a 30-something still trying to find my way in the world. Lover of all things creative, I am a drawer with an intuitive mind while also a deep thinker. I can be a person of extreme opposites: one moment a lone wolf, the next a social butterfly; one moment joyful and optimistic, yet sad and melancholic the next. As I came to terms with my SSA I met fellow SSA Christians and formed deep, intimate bonds. I’ve always longed for brotherhood and, at last, I have found it after years of social isolation. I am glad to be part of this community of bloggers and share my stories and struggles, joys and sorrows, dreams and longings.

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