There’s nothing worse than sitting in a room full of people and feeling utterly alone.
When I was in my mid-20s, I had recently started attending a church after a move to a new city, and I was trying to get plugged into a community group of other believers. We met every Tuesday night at a carriage house that was just big enough to hold all 15 of us — curled up on the floor or crammed in on the couch.
There was no shortage of people or conversation about faith and our lives. However, every week, I left near tears, because I felt unseen, unheard and unknown.
The problem? I’m an introvert.
I would listen as people talked, rehearse in my mind what I wanted to say, and fail to butt into the fast-paced conversation to give my input. The small talk, loud guffawing, and easygoing nature of the time spent when not in group discussion also left me yearning for real connection. The large-group environment seemed to go against the very fiber of my being, and I felt out of place.
I’m a shy person, but the dynamic I was experiencing was deeper than a challenge to one personality trait. In a book about introverts, Susan Cain wrote:
Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.
The pain from my small group experience came, then, not from shyness or from being an introvert, but from feeling unseen. I wrote more about my experience with this in “I Am Not Invisible.”
I did end up finding connection and relationships with people in my community group, but it didn’t happen on Tuesday nights. Over time, my friends did several things to help me feel seen and loved. Here are a few tips to love your introvert friends well:
1. Ask meaningful questions, and remember the answers. While talking about the weather is perfectly fine, I feel heard and cared for when someone asks me something specific about my life or shares something specific about herself. This is the biggest catalyst for a relationship, because it gives us something to talk about next time we see each other.
2. Pursue one-on-one time instead of group interactions. Sitting down for coffee is like water (and caffeine) to an introvert’s parched soul. When someone puts forth the effort to spend time with me, I feel valued, and my attention and energy is fully engaged with that person, instead of spread too thin among many people.
3. Value each other’s unique personalities. Some of my closest friends are the extrovert-iest extroverts you’ll ever meet (that is if you don’t already know them; they seem to know everyone!) They appreciate that I recharge with a quiet evening by myself with a book, and I am glad that they have plenty of social events to energize them. Our differences don’t have to keep us from connecting.
4. Find opportunities to sacrifice. Jesus explains how we should love each other in John 15:12-13, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Sometimes introverts have a harder time asking for help or voicing their needs, so, as a friend, it can be difficult to know how to make sacrifices that would bless them. But by carefully listening to your friend, you can identify specific needs and offer support that will make your friend feel seen and loved.
An irony of introverts is that we like to be alone, but we don’t like to feel alone. I don’t think anyone does. By reaching out to the introverts you know, you not only gain friends, but also a deeper understanding of God and how he pursues us.
Kirsten Lamb is a writer and editor in Denver. She enjoys good food, reading memoirs, ’80s music, and basking in the quiet. She blogs about faith, parenting, and natural living at naturallyconfusedmom.com.