Have you ever had an extroverted family member who really didn’t get your introversion?

This might have made family events uncomfortable, the holidays pure torture. Maybe you’ve thought that life would be less complicated if you were born into a family of introverts.

Quiet author Susan Cain’s upbringing in an introverted household certainly sounds idyllic. In her famous Ted Talk, she describes what it was like to grow up in a family of introverts:

“[I]n my family, reading was the primary group activity. And this might sound antisocial to you, but for us it was really just a different way of being social. You have the animal warmth of your family sitting right next to you, but you are also free to go roaming around the adventureland inside your own mind.”

Isn’t that a lovely image? Many introverts can only dream of such a cozy introvert-friendly family environment. In real life, we might come from a clan of extroverts, who think it’s rude to read in the company of others.

Or we grew up in a blended household of introverts and extroverts. Perhaps, talking was a hobby for mom, while avoiding conversation was a sport for dad. Or maybe grandpa was a jovial trickster, always ‘stealing’ your nose, and pulling coins out of your ear. Meanwhile, grandma sat on the sidelines, quietly crafting those creepy little fabric dolls you had to pretend to like.

On the verge of self-destruction

My family is artsy on one side, and Asian on the other, so introversion was the norm in our household. It wasn’t until I spent a Christmas with my Mexican stepfather’s family a few years ago that my introverted ‘strangeness’ stood out.

Ven, comer con nosotros … bailar con nosotros … beber con nosotros … vamos a divertirnos! (come, eat with us … dance with us … drink with us … let’s have fun!), they’d say.

Except, it wasn’t fun. Maybe for the first hour or so, but they often danced and drank and ate (usually all at once) until 3am. The whole family would join in the ‘fun’, including 82 year-old abuelita.

Mexicans really milk the holiday season for all it’s worth, so by about day 13 of endless fiestas, I was on the verge of self-destruction. I had to start saying “no” to protect my sanity. Then of course I felt terrible for withdrawing while they were being so warm and welcoming. Mental breakdowns are especially inconvenient when caused by excessive kindness.

Dealing with family pressure over the holidays

A large part of coping with pressure from extroverted family members is learning to find the balance between honoring both our family and ourselves.  One thing I always tell my introvert students and clients is to communicate their needs before their energy is depleted.

It’s hard to explain why  want to leave early when we’re already irritable and eager to escape.  When you receive the invite, you can say something like, “I might need to leave early so I can have some time to myself to recharge.”  It helps if they understand what an introvert is and that your need for alone is a necessity rather than a preference.

Usually, the main reason family is offended by our introverted ways is because they take things personally. They think that we don’t care. Explaining our introversion beforehand prevents hurt feelings, while allowing us to sneak away quietly.

Over to you

What were the holidays like for you growing up?

Do you come from a family of innies or outties?

Please share your experiences below. 🙂