Digging Deep for Pearls

by Barbara Glasson.

According to the Myers Briggs personality indicator I am very strongly introvert. ‘Don’t be silly, darling, of course you’re not!’ was the response of my extrovert mother. Which proved the point really; the point being that I thought she never listened and she thought I never told her anything.

As a child the thought of ‘being introvert’ hadn’t yet been invented. The definition was ‘being shy’ and this was something that you could clearly get over. Getting over being shy was just a matter of plucking up courage and saying something, learning some social graces and putting yourself ‘out there’. Being shy could stop you having friends and make you feel gauche and isolated. Being shy was a problem. But being introvert is most certainly not a problem – it’s a gift, it’s not something to be got over, it’s something to be claimed!

Being introvert is not the same as being unfriendly. As a friendly introvert one is in the cleft stick of really loving people and being totally exhausted by them. Really liking people means you will listen to them deeply and intently and really empathise with what they are saying; being introvert also means that all that intense listening is going to fill up your head until it has no room for thinking. The result is you forget things and get easily confused by simple tasks, well that’s my excuse for leaving my laptop behind.

I’ve just returned from the Greenbelt festival, which is why I am in a room upstairs on my own writing this (on my returned laptop) and recovering from being with fifteen thousand people for a whole weekend. It’s not that I don’t like people, I really do, I find them interesting and weird, complicated and funny. It’s just that, in my opinion, like chocolates, you’re better off enjoying them one at a time rather than by the box-full.

My Greenbelt didn’t seem much like anybody else’s. I didn’t go to any talks or any music or any stalls but I really got to know a lovely taxi driver from Ghana called Alec and the security guard on night duty at the gate and, whilst reading poetry out loud to myself in an empty tent I met two lovely young people and read them some poetry too. And on the Sunday morning, when there was the huge communion service in the main arena, which was all about Christmas and had camels and everything, I stayed in the Methodist sponsored tent called the Foundry to listen from afar.

But interestingly, so did about a hundred other people, all seeking quiet and gentle conversation and good coffee and that was so lovely. I moved outside on the grass and smiled, because there are a lot of us introverts around.

So what’s the story? They do say, if you don’t know what an extrovert is thinking you haven’t listened and if you don’t know what an introvert is thinking you haven’t asked. And an introvert’s ‘story’ will take time and pondering and gentleness to form and find words. We need space (and good coffee) and we’re not afraid of the silences and long pauses. In a group or meeting introverts may well be the last to speak, not because we are shy, but because we are still working out what to say. Just be patient, don’t keep asking if we are ok, just bear with us and eventually, with time, you never know there may well be a pearl of great price!

13 thoughts on “Digging Deep for Pearls”

  1. Thank you for this timely reminder and the way in which you help one ‘type’ to better understand the other. A good way to start the New Year!

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  2. An introvert draws strength from within, whereas an extrovert draws strength from outside. My experience of Myers-Briggs taught me, not least to try to understand those who always have to sit in the same place and get genuinely upset if someone else is in ‘their’ seat, but also quite a lot about myself.

    I don’t go much for labels, but I’d recommend a couple of well- run Myers-Briggs weekends to anyone seeking to know themselves.

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  3. ‘A huge communion service…all about Christmas and they had camels and everything’ is the funniest sentence I’ve read in months, and not an exclamation mark in sight. Hilarious! Thanks so much.

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  4. It’s so helpful for this extrovert to be reminded (again) that the way I engage with the world is not the same way others engage. I know myself to be richly blessed by introverts around me and will make more efforts to create space and to ask.

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  5. As a child I was considered shy and withdrawn, borderline autistic even, and my school reports told me I should speak up and join in more with class discussions. Or, as we up north so graciously put it, I was ‘a bit backward at coming forward.’ As I grew up I felt there was something wrong with me, socially awkward, preferring the company of books to people. I did the Myers Briggs thing a few years ago and discovered I was at the extreme end of introvert; no surprises there then! I like people, I really do, but like Barbara I enjoy them better one at a time. I’m ok in small groups so long as I don’t have to constantly make small talk. I find large groups challenging and big crowds quite stressful.
    I can think, too deeply at times, and I can express my thoughts in writing very well, but there seems to be a short circuit between my brain and my mouth. I’ve always felt this was a bit of a handicap, so to hear someone say that being introvert is a gif,t and something to be claimed, is wonderful and quite mind-blowing. I’m going on holiday tomorrow, so this is something I will be pondering on as I enjoy a glass of wine while watching the sun go down in a tranquil spot. Cheers, Barbara!

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  6. Barbara, as a fellow introvert thank you – for this post and for sharing your experience of Greenbelt. Thank you too for your sessions at the Foundry – this was a great new venue at Greenbelt.
    I am fortunate to work for an organisation which uses Myers-Briggs extensively to try and help people understand one another. I now know that my personality and what I bring to our team is valued.
    Thank you for sharing some of your story here, and at Greenbelt, and for challenging us to share ours, and listen to others. This is one way of building relationships inside and outside the church – something our church, our country and our world really needs at the moment.

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  7. Some people express surprise that I’m not an extrovert. My stock answer is I’m an introvert with opinions! I find it very hard ‘to work a room’ and there have been occasions when I’ve already given so much of myself that I just haven’t been able to do it, not caring what people might think when I’ve just sat in one place with a few people. Interestingly it’s mainly introverts who have posted responses. Could some extroverts share what they find particularly difficult?

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  8. Many thanks, Barbara. From the number of replies, you’ve obviously struck a nerve. As a fellow-introvert I appreciate the affirmation that comes from recognising that we can think and act differently. When people ask me not to speak about something I tell them that not speaking is my speciality! But I wonder if we can go further than that. How might our understanding of God Be affected by our introversion/extroversion and its accompanying sense of who we are.? And, as well as the positive aspects of our ‘type’, how might it bring with it particular temptations? For example, I am conscious of a kind of self-centredness that goes with my tendency to live within myself. I suspect that my call to ordained ministry is partly God’s way of challenging that.

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  9. Thanks for all these responses to what felt to me to be a vulnerable post!
    I’m intrigued by Richard’s question as to how our understanding of God is affected by our introversion or extroversion, do we find God more present in our interior or exterior spheres? I’m going to ponder this more (maybe the extroverts can have a chat and get back to me?!) I’m also thinking more about our personality type as a preference and we can often flourish from our ‘shadow side’ Hmm …
    Have a great holiday, Yvonne, and keep writing!!

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    1. Thankyou for taking the risk of being vulnerable Barbara.
      In our team we have had a Myers Briggs consultant help us think through the impact of our differing preferences eg on communication, and following that I wondered how our preferences might influence our ways of praying. Just as some of us extroverts might do our thinking out loud as we go along, our communication with God might be similar, and differ from those with an introvert preference. I concluded that when leading prayers or worship, it might be worth considering other preference types rather than only stick with our own preferred prayer style so that more folk have chance to engage in a way that suits them. And we could also consider for ourselves other ways of praying to develop our ‘shadow side’ too and maybe experience God anew.
      PS, I loved being in the centre of the bustle of the Christmas communion 🙂

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  10. Thank you, Barbara, for this generous and amazing piece. It is so very helpful to read and to realise that one is not weird or anti-social. I too can cope with a group of people, but only for a limited period, after which I “switch off” and need to retreat into myself for a bit. I am still participating, but just not in the way some other people do, and I can be chatty and sociable, but it takes an awful lot out of me. The Communion thing sounded dreadful, not because of te camels (!) but because it assumes a jolly enjoyment of all this, and I would have been with you in the tent – and then outside on my own, I suspect! Thank God that God can use us all and maybe we need some further insights into this, as Richard suggested, to aid our God-talk together.

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  11. I go along with the piece and most of the comments particularly the bit about it taking a long time to work out how to put the words together in making a response in groups and meetings.

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  12. Thank you for being so honest. I’m a definite 5 on the Enneagram sharing almost all the listed characteristics of fellow Fives! I try to encourage and give space in church meetings etc to those who are quieter, less vocal and often talked over, and sometimes talked down, by more extrovert folk. I thought you were brave to stay away from the communion service when others might have expected you to be in the middle of things…but what a good example/model for other introverts who might sometimes feel ‘forced’ into doing things they would rather not do!

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