Surviving to Thriving(a few tips on how to make it through church as an Introvert)
I am a recently aware Introvert. I have touched on this subject here once before. Going from thinking that I am strange to believing instead that I am strong in a quiet way is a difficult thought pattern to change. I have felt and told myself that I am strange for a very long time. Growing up I would watch my siblings play and think to myself "that looks so fun" but when I would join in their play I would wonder "why is this not fun?".
This is in no way a negative reflection on my siblings or my family life. I had a great home, great parents, great siblings that are actually quite funny and wonderful to be around. Therefore, by my very inexperienced deductive reasoning, I concluded that there must be something wrong with me. Over the years I have learned to compensate for my quiet nature that revels in solitude. The problem with compensating and acting against my true self was that it made me feel like I was doing something wrong that needed to be hidden. I was worried that someone might realize I was "faking it" and call me out on it one day. Then I was given this book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. My quiet self had found a source of validation and my need to don a false extroverted persona at times had a new light shed on it.
According to a new field of psychology, Professor Brian Little has come up with way of explaining why a true blue introvert might at times be mistaken for an outgoing extrovert, it is called Free Trait Theory. "Little believes that we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits-introversion for example-but that we can and do act out of character in the service of "core personal projects." In other words, introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly. According to Professor Little our lives are dramatically enhanced when we're involved in core personal projects that we consider meaningful, manageable and not unduly stressful, and that are supported by others."
Free Trait Theory explains why an introvert like myself would join the PTA, or teach a class, or agree to give a talk in sacrament meeting. It is why, when I'm with the Young Women in my ward, I can let loose with the girls and be silly at times, or appear outgoing in different social situations. I have even noticed that I tend to adapt my social mannerisms according to the needs of the person with which I conversing. My core personal project in these situations is that I love those persons I am talking with and genuinely want them to feel at ease, uplifted, and encouraged in life. So if I am talking with someone that is of a shy and quiet nature I will do more of the talking. If I am with more of an extroverted person, I am content to listen and offer validating gestures instead of my own thoughts.
This happens all over with all different sorts of people. A normally cantankerous grandpa will be tender as he interacts with his young grandchildren. A normally agreeable mother might act hard-nosed in defense of one of her children. Deep down we are the same people we have always been, we just learn to compensate for what we lack in certain situations, particularly the ones that have meaning to us.
This has been an eye opening theory to me, greatly decreasing my discomfort in donning a so called "false persona". Which brings me to the point and title of this post.
In a religion as social and as extroverted in nature as the LDS church it is important that an introverted personality be prepared to stretch beyond their limited boundaries of comfort. It is also important to thrive in such situations, not just survive.
My very first tip on going from surviving church to thriving at church is have the Father and Jesus Christ as your number one "core personal project". I have found that when something is uncomfortable and I don't really want to do it, if I give it to God in prayer and ask through the grace of Jesus that what I am doing will work for the good of His glory and my eternal salvation, then I generally have an easier time finding the energy required for that particular task-even if that task is simply showing up to church at all. The Sacrament portion of our meetings is a great time to talk to God and work this out with Him.
The second tip I have found useful is to do as I was talking about earlier and learn to use the Free Trait Theory, or in other words "fake it". It's 3 hours. I can smile, be engaged in class, talk to other people, and carry out a calling for 3 hours.
If you are feeling like its getting too much during those three hours, head for the stalls. There is no shame in taking a breather and gathering energy by taking a moment to yourself in the bathroom. Introverts love the solitude of a bathroom stall.(now you know where to find me if I suddenly come up missing-don't come talk to me-I'll come out when I'm ready ;)
Tip number three, make time after church to personally regroup and charge your battery again. I'm serious about this one. When introverts act as an extrovert it is draining, even when our core personal project in as meaningful as worshiping the Lord. If you will take the recovery time needed from such social endeavors as church, you will feel in greater depth the love God has for you, the atoning grace of our Savior and other positives that come from worshiping and attending church on the Sabbath. You will be given that great gift of charity, Christ's love, for the people you serve and attend church with. And you will have a much more willing heart next time, to do all that is required of you as the Lord stretches you and helps you grow beyond your boundaries of comfort.
These are just a few of my own helpful experiences. If you are an introvert, I highly recommend reading Susan Cain's book and reading the blog link by clicking on the title above. It is full of enlightening experiences of others.