Extrovert in a China Shop

Welcome! Today is a beautiful day for life.

I am writing this blog post in The Bounty coffee shop in Shoreline. The place is full of people. I love the energy of the other people. I renew through interaction and this coffee shop experience is enjoyable to me.

For me extroversion is a natural and unconscious habit. I am always looking for ways to include other people. However, I married an introvert. So today I’m going to write about the lessons I’ve learned from living with an introvert and what that experience has taught me about myself.

Let’s get in the Way-Back Machine and go back to the year 2003. This is the first year I dated my wife Erin. She lived in Yakima and I in Seattle. The cities are 150 or so miles apart. We only got together on weekends and holidays. As often as not, I was driving to Yakima. In Yakima, I was entering the life of an Introvert. Quiet time? Alone time? Down time? I had no real desire or need for these.

Eventually this began to be an issue. I was always trying to set up events where we were with people and Erin wanted us to spend time just us. I was often signing us up for situations where a lot of people were around. This was very irritating to Erin. Eventually we developed into a great dance of drama and co-dependence. Below I will describe my part of this dance and what I learned about myself.

I was an extrovert in a china shop.

My desire to be around a lot of people, fear of abandonment, and co-dependence where forming a perfect storm to push Erin’s introvert buttons, a storm made all that much more powerful by my belief that I was not responsible for the emotional reactions of others. My co-dependence and blame of her for “overreacting” was pushing a perfect wedge into our relationship.

I would set up events with other people, get Erin to commit months in advance, and when she felt overwhelmed during the event or backed away before the event, turn the tables on her and make her out to be the “bad guy.”

This led me into a cycle of “suffering”. A cycle that started to end one day in therapy when I was working on one such disappointment. My therapist said, “Dave it sounds like you set this all up.” Which I realized was absolutely true.

That light of that realization shined the way for me to make the greatest transformations inside of me to date.  My realization was that my suffering was 100% self-induced. The realization that my disappointment and suffering are self-induced has taken a lot of work and time to dig through. I hold this realization as a guiding principle in my healing process.

When I first started working on this issue I could only focus on changing my behaviors. I didn’t yet understand which of my beliefs were false. Here are the changes I made that helped me change my behavior:

  1. I commit to not blaming someone else for my feelings. I took 100% responsibility for my feelings, so anytime I am unhappy it is my own responsibility to determine what I need from me.
  2. I suspend my judgments of the feedback of others when they are talking to me so I can really listen to them. I quiet my mind so I can learn from the wisdom of others.
  3. I set as a clear goal to be fully present to the people in my life without being co-dependent with them — to engage with them on mutually agreeable terms.

These commitments have been hard to maintain, and there have been many things I’ve learned from them. Here are a few:

  1. I learned that when I was quiet and not around other people I had a lot of anxiety, so when around my wife, I felt anxiety at her quietness. This anxiety has nothing to do with her.
  2. I learned that I based my emotional state upon the emotional state of others, e.g. if they were angry, I was scared. I deal with scare by talking. Introverts process internally, and need time to think without talking, so whenever my wife got angry I’d freak out until she was ready to talk. I don’t need to be scared just because my wife is angry even if it’s at me. My feelings are for me and about me. See the page on dealing with Emotional Stress for some tools I use.
  3. I learned that when I fully owned that I set up situations that lead to my disappointment I could easily avoid them. Avoiding disappointment is actually a lot easier than setting up the situations that lead to it.
  4. I learned that I had a false belief. My belief was “obligation of others towards me makes me safe”. I have worked hard to change this belief through therapy.

With my commitments and learnings, I was able to make the following changes in my behavior.

  1. I will not tell my partner when I am “disappointed” in her. I will instead determine what I did or did not do that led to my feelings. I may share with her my feelings and why I felt that way if I can do so without any blame. Most of the time I do not share them as, under the microscope, they are all my own issues, and I have no further hard feelings towards her.
  2. I will not make any “demands” of my partner when I am feeling down. The only person I have any right to expect to do anything I want is me. I can ask for what I want and need but I must be willing to hear “no”. (BTW: if this is challenge for you, Karuna Poole has a great workshop titled “Saying and Hearing No” that she runs from time-to-time.)
  3. I will not allow myself to be bullied by my own fear or anger into taking actions that I know are not good for my relationship. This has been very hard to do. However, it has made the most change in my life.
  4. When I believe that my partner is thinking something I will ask her if that is what she is thinking. Living with an introvert, I have learned that when they aren’t talking I start filling in the gaps. These little fantasies about what they are thinking send me spinning. So I have learned to check out these fantasies. Sometimes they are real, and sometimes not.
  5. The beliefs and opinions of others are not my opinions or beliefs. No matter what someone else thinks, I can think and feel independently of them.
  6. I will determine what actions I’m going to take without resorting to drama. I do not need to take action out of being a victim, hero, or persecutor.

This post strikes most home for me, because for me, my codependency has been tied so closely with being an extrovert. I have often had a very hard time understanding how to reconcile my desire and excitement to be around others and my codependency. This is not an easy path, but one I have had great joy being on.

If you share this kind of struggle, please, accept my love and support on your path to interdependent extroversion.

I am so grateful for everyone who is reading this blog. Thank you for letting me participate in your life through this blog. I am on your posse.

7 thoughts on “Extrovert in a China Shop

  1. Wow. It’s almost like you pulled out a page out of my life and typed it out neatly. My fiance is an anxious extrovert, and I’m a textbook introvert. We face the same challenges as you and Erin, and I’m so glad I got to read this. Puts his side of the story into perspective. Maybe I should have him read too!

  2. I am an introvert, and what you said is spot on.
    Throughout my life, I’ve always been asked by extroverts “Why don’t you talk more?” “Why aren’t you participating more?” I tell them it is because I’m shy. They usually respond: “So am I, but I still talk to people.”

    I process everything internally. Talking to large groups of people, even if it is just something as simple as raising my hand to talk in class, is very anxiety provoking.

  3. I am also an introvert. I have a friend who is very extroverted. Life got easier between us when I realized that in my world I think things through thoroughly before they come out of my mouth, and if she had a thought she would immediately say it. I took everything she said as if it was a definite plan and as a result felt anxious….. until I realized that she sometimes changed her mind in the next moment, and forgot that she’d even said soon thereafter! Two ways of being in the world.

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