On being peopled-out

I was talking to a friend on the phone recently and she said: I’m not an introvert, I really like people.

Which points me to one of those common misunderstandings about introverts. The reason I get “peopled out” is nothing to do with liking or disliking people, I can get peopled out after spending time with those who are very dear to me – it’s simply that it takes energy for me to interact with others, and the only way I can recharge my energy is through time when I don’t have to be sociable.

Of course there are some people whose company I find more tiring than others – like those who “talk at you” incessantly, without pausing for breath and without asking you anything at all about yourself; those who enjoy talking about lots of minor details and never go into anything deep or meaningful; those who talk very loudly – and also I get more tired if it’s a large group of people than if I’m in a one-to-one conversation. But the crucial point here is that it’s about getting tired from having too much of it – it’s nothing to do with a dislike for the people involved.

I know people sometimes misinterpret my behaviour and think I’m being arrogant, antisocial, rejecting them – I’m not, I’m just doing what I need in order to remain relatively sane and avoid getting to the point where I’d be in danger of strangling an innocent human being just because they ask “how are you” when I’ve totally run out of social energy.

Dear humans, it’s not that I don’t like you. Obviously I like some of you more than others, but that’s normal, right? I like you in small numbers, I like you when you’re ready to have a real conversation about stuff that matters, I like you when you’re happy to have a quiet, leisurely chat without rushing on to talk to the next person, I like you when you show depth, and not only do I like you, I need to interact with you – being an introvert doesn’t mean I don’t need social interaction, it simply means that I can’t do too much of it, I have to pace myself or I get exhausted, drained, unable to utter a sentence.

Nothing personal. It’s just how I am.

8 thoughts on “On being peopled-out

  1. Hi, I can fully identify with you post. I really get peopled out. I am finding that it is getting worse as I get older. If I spend a day with people I need to spend the next day practically staring at the wall. Locked away in isolation to recharge and get over it. Yesterday I was was with really lovely people who were really generous with love and praise, but I got home and was washed out, today I can’t even bring myself to pop round the local shop.

    Have you come across anything that helps to recover quicker or not get so washed out in the first place?

    Thanks, Richard

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    • At the very least, I hope it helps you to know you’re not alone in this. And it’s interesting what you say about it getting worse as you get older – I feel the same. I guess it’s because we just have less energy on the whole as we get older.

      I think we each have to work out for ourselves how to pace ourselves better, it partly depends on our life circumstances and what options are realistically available – for example, I was talking to someone yesterday who said she is surrounded by extroverts at work and so she’s thinking now that the weather’s better she might go to a local park in her lunch breaks. I’ve found that sometimes if I have to be with people all day (which I try to avoid) it helps to just grab five minutes here and there to go stare at a tree and not talk to anyone. I’ve very much learned the hard way that I have to pace myself, and have had to learn to say “no” to lots of things that sound like they could be really nice…

      A bit like you, I’m feeling tired today after the social interaction of yesterday – wouldn’t give it up for anything, but when we sometimes have an afternoon tea in church before the evening service I usually don’t go to that because I know I’m likely to get peopled out.

      I think the key is to figure out what our limits are and to learn to say “no” to stuff – but at the same time not to overdo that so that we don’t get too isolated. And to concentrate on quality vs. quantity – to focus on those social interactions that are really good for us (which for me includes church once a week and home group once a fortnight, but also one to one conversations with good friends) and not waste our social energy on stuff that is highly unsatisfying for us (like a cocktail party where you flit from one person to the other, exchanging meaningless pleasantries). (not that I think I’ve ever been to a cocktail party, but that’s the metaphor I always find myself using.)

      Does any of this help?

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  2. Hmmm. It’s interesting that you both say you feel this more as you get older. I’ve found the exact opposite to be true. But I suspect that has far more to do with my day-to-day schedule nowadays than my age. I don’t have a “go to work” kind of job. So I’m not forced to deal with people daily. I most often am able to pick and choose which social settings I am involved with. That helps immensely.

    I think that also, after having 3 wee little kids, all of whom demanded a LOT of attention from me, I feel much more able to deal with day to day interactions.

    It helps a lot to know oneself. When I attend “social” events, I mainly choose action oriented situations. (I’m primarily an introverted intuitive. But I’m secondarily an extraverted thinker and extraverted thinkers LOVE to accomplish tasks. They’re the consummate “to do list” people.) So I may go to a city open house regarding biking in town. The room is full of about 200 – 300 people. I know maybe 5 or 10 people in the room. I actually prefer dealing with the folks I don’t know to the folks I do know in this situation because I can focus directly on the task at hand (giving feedback regarding various bike facilities within the city) rather than having to do any small talk/catching up.

    One thing I’ve learned is that if I want to attend an event, but I know it’s going to be much more butterfly-type social than I like, I volunteer to help out at the event. That gives me something to do and provides a framework to interact with people around. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s almost always better than just attending the event… unless it’s an event that I’m able to enter and leave at my whim. Those are good, too.

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    • Yes, you seem to be a very “doing things” person, I’m much more of a “let’s talk about stuff” person but as long as it’s stuff I find interesting. I think that’s a really important point, about knowing ourselves and knowing what type of social activities are easier for us than others, or what might make a social activity easier if we have a choice – say if a friend suggests meeting up for a coffee, you could suggest an alternative that involves doing stuff together.

      I found it really interesting what you said about preferring to do the task with the people you don’t know, so that you don’t have to engage in small talk – I’d be the same, I’d want to just get on with the task.

      And I’m sure having brought up children will have been a major learning experience for you – you’ll have had to learn some coping mechanisms, which would be useful for later. I do sometimes wonder how introvert mothers cope! (and this reminds me of this anecdote I read about the mother of John Wesley – at least I think it was John – who had lots of kids, as they did in those days, and when she wanted to pray she’d pull her apron over her head and the kids knew not to disturb her. desperate measures…)

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  3. Thanks for the responses it is very helpful. It is helpful to know that I’m not alone. I wonder if I am getting worse as I get older or whether I just know what it is now!! I have always found myself feeling drained. I really like people and although I love to get deep with someone I feel I click with, I also unusually love small talk. In the past when I worked in large factories I used to be drawn to conversations with people when I felt tired! I now realize they were what were making me feel tired! I guess I was like a moth drawn to a flame! I can still get like that now if I’m not careful, especially at church events. It does feel like it is getting worse, but maybe I am just being more generous with myself and allowing myself the time I need rather than trying to just push on.

    I’ve found that I really like getting into performing with others and working with others in that way. I am currently in the worship group at church, however, I sit at the back of the group and try not to be noticed! I have heard it said that acting is an introverts revenge! I do enjoy the rehearsals more than the actual performances though!

    When my children were little I stayed home and looked after them. They would start to get clingy and wanting me to entertain them rather than amuse themselves, so I would say that we all needed time to ourselves. We each went to a room alone and spent 30 minutes on our own doing something quietly. After the 30 minutes they were no longer clingy, they would happily carry on finding things to amuse themselves. I could then join in with what they were doing rather than me having to drive everything. As well as time to themselves they would also get a tickle time when they were getting factious! Tickling small children is a great stress reliever for all concerned I found!!

    As well as my love for being around people, I also love to sit alone and write. I find that after too much alone time I need to be with people. According to one Myers Briggs test I did I came out bang in the middle of introvert extrovert. Overall I came out as an INTP and a 5 (with a 4 wing) on the Enneagram. as much as I embrace who I am I can’t help getting frustrated at my limitations. I would love to have the boundless energy that some have.

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