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How I Learned I Was an Introvert, And How I'm Learning to Deal

04/25/2014 05:16 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2014
Terri Peters

Before I became a mother, I didn't really identify myself as an introvert. I knew I preferred texting to phone conversations, and that I felt energized after an afternoon of lunch and retail therapy all alone. I recognized my stressors -- people who talked incessantly, crowded concert venues, being interrupted while enjoying a quiet activity -- but assumed these things bothered everyone.

I was unprepared for the ways in which parenthood would exhaust me: chattering toddlers, mom friends who wanted to linger on the phone all day, kids' birthday parties where I'd be forced to make small talk with other parents I barely knew. As my kids (now ages 5 and 3) got older, I got more frustrated, more exhausted, more drained.

I wish I could say that I knew I was an introvert before it became a trendy buzz term, but that is not the case. Curious about the hype, I picked up a copy of Susan Cain's Quiet and felt like I was reading a printout of my innermost feelings and thoughts. After years of beating myself up for feeling exhausted by my son's need to discuss LEGO Star Wars all day long or spending the entire day dreading my daughter's afternoon ballet practice -- where I'd be forced to chat with other moms in the hallway -- I finally understood why I was what I had for years called "anti-social." Me, an introvert -- who knew?

The discovery that there was a term to apply to my need for times of quiet was freeing. Instead of feeling guilt because I preferred to send my husband to a preschool friend's birthday party while I went to Starbucks to read a good book, I realized that those choices that appeared selfish were actually vital to my performance as a mother, wife and friend.

My journey into understanding my introversion has only recently begun, but already I've put specific steps into place that have allowed me to lose a great deal of guilt about the way I'm wired -- and to be a better parent, a more straightforward friend and (my husband would say) a much nicer person to live with.

1. Schedule daily "me time."
Introverts, especially moms who spend their days meeting the demands of little ones, need a few moments daily to regroup and enjoy some alone time. In my house, this means taking one hour a day of time for myself -- not to work, not to fold laundry, not to organize a kid's closet, but to take a bubble bath, read a book, sit at a coffee shop, meditate or go for a walk. Find the things that help you unwind, and give yourself permission to do them, even when it feels selfish.

2. Allow flexibility in your social commitments.
I cannot count how many times I have had good intentions about attending a friend's birthday dinner or taking my kids to a group playdate at the bowling alley, only to cancel at the last minute. When you're an introvert, there are days when life overwhelms you and you are too exhausted to put yourself in the middle of a chaotic scene. A recent goal of mine has been to commit to non-essential social events with a "maybe" RSVP. I've learned that the friends who matter are the friends who understand that sometimes it just won't work out, and love you anyway.

3. Choose where you invest your energy wisely.
A wise friend of mine, who has been aware of their introversion for much longer than me, once told me that the most important part of dealing with extreme introversion is to be careful where you spend your energy. A Saturday morning birthday party for my son's kindergarten best friend will wear me out for the entire day. Since these types of activities don't bother my husband, we choose to send him instead. On a day when I am gearing up for a big work event that evening, I don't schedule playdates or other exhausting social situations. When most social interaction wears you out, it's important to pick and choose which things you use your energy on.

Although I've been introverted my entire life, I'm thankful that the word "introvert" has become more mainstream. Without the term's increasing popularity, I'd still be beating myself up for avoiding phone calls and big parties. It's nice to put words to who I am, and actions to being happier in my own skin.

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