Class discussions, talks, callings, meetings, ward parties, dances, and activities… combine these all together, and it can begin to look like an overwhelming nightmare to an introvert.
Don’t get me wrong, we introverts enjoy being around people (well, most of the time). And The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides many awesome opportunities to get to know and interact with the people around you. But, like many places today, it can sometimes feel like we’re playing on the extroverts’ home field, which can be tiring.
As someone who grew up preferring books to parties and who constantly had teachers prodding me to participate, I often felt out of place. I sometimes wondered what was wrong with me.
There’s nothing wrong with you
Susan Cain, author of Quiet, notes in her TED Talk that being an introvert doesn’t necessarily mean you’re shy or socially anxious. It just means you prefer less stimulation than extroverts. Personally, I like to think of it as a “social battery.” And an introvert’s social battery usually drains faster than an extrovert’s.
You might also be a little more reserved and less likely to speak out in large groups. And this is often because you’re content to observe others who love the limelight a lot more than you do. And what recharges your battery? You guessed it. Alone time.
Cain states that as many as a third to a half of the population are introverts, so you’re not as isolated in your experiences as you may think!
Here are some ways I’ve found to “survive” in an extroverted church while staying true to my introverted self:
1. Study and prepare before church
Although this is great advice for everyone, I think it’s especially helpful for introverts like myself.
In Sunday School and Relief Society, I sometimes find that by the time I formulate my thoughts and work up the courage to voice them amid others competing to talk, we have moved on to something else.
So, if you’re like me, consider trying out what one of my college professors called a “two minute writing period.” At the beginning of class, she would ask us to quickly write down what we remembered from the readings. Then we would discuss. This always made it easier for me to consciously participate in the discussion.
Try scribbling out your thoughts after (or even during) your personal gospel study sessions. What stood out to you? Why? What are your responses to the questions in Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families? What questions do you have? It doesn’t need to be elaborate. Then, bring these written thoughts to church with you.
You can’t anticipate every question or discussion topic (nor should you), but I often find this to be the little boost that propels me into the discussion.
2. Take advantage of smaller interactions
I personally find that interacting with smaller groups of people is less taxing. And once you get to know people one on one, participating in large group activities becomes way easier.
If you appreciated someone’s comment or talk at church, approach them after the meeting and let them know. Similarly, if you had a thought or question that you couldn’t bring up during the class, express it afterward to the teacher or a friend.
Individual ministering effort is also a great way to socialize on a smaller scale. Take those you minister to out for ice cream. Invite just a few people over for a movie night. Despite what some think, you don’t always have to go to big activities to socialize.
3. Find a way to contribute using your skills
Maybe you can play a beautiful rendition of “How Great Thou Art” on the violin and find yourself willing to play it in sacrament meeting. Maybe you are a graphic design whiz and could help with church event flyers. Maybe you’ve been told you make a mean guacamole and could bring it to an activity.
There are plenty of ways to contribute to your ward in addition to speaking and teaching. Make a list of your sweet skills and talents, and volunteer to offer what you got when the opportunity comes along. (This is also a great way for people to inadvertently get to know you.)
4. Honor your battery’s limit
Sometimes getting out there and socializing feels awesome for introverts. Many times I’ve been grateful for friends and roommates who dragged me to activities and parties. All of us should step out of our comfort zones and seek growth.
One quote from Sister Sharon Eubank and Sister Reyna Aburto I really appreciate is that “Doing better doesn’t always mean doing more.” But I guess in this case I would amend that statement to be “Being acceptably social doesn’t always mean doing more.”
Don’t feel like you have to “cure” your introversion and go to absolutely every activity.
Did you have a fun time at the ward party but now feel tired and ready to go home? Go home. Has it already been an exhausting week and you’d much rather stay home and read a book tonight? Stay home. Just be sure to prioritize your church meetings.
5. Know that your thoughts are valued
As I said earlier, introversion ≠ shyness or social anxiety. But being shamed and made to feel something is wrong with you because of your introverted nature can sometimes lead to feelings of inadequacy and fear of judgment.
Unfortunately, the cold truth is that not everyone is going to like you or what you have to say. As a writer on the internet, I have learned this lesson many times over (in fact, I’m sure some people won’t like or agree with this article for whatever reason).
Nevertheless, your voice is needed and valued. As Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson once said, “we really and truly need each other” and “have so much to learn from one another.” Chances are, at least one other person in the room will benefit from your input.
Fellow introverts! What are your thoughts? How do you operate in extroverted spaces? Let us know in the comments.