When I Grow Up

The Challenge of Being an Introvert in a Group of Extroverts


Even though I am an introvert, most of my friends are extroverts. Many of them are the type who are eager to dance and sing in public, even without a healthy dose of “liquid courage.” I try to join in, but not matter how intense my efforts, I am invariably hit with, “Come on, get into it!” Even when I am putting myself out there, I am still seen as being quiet and reserved.

I have overcome my childhood fear of people and over time have come to the realization that people are fun to be around. I can carry on a conversation, even in groups, and can even speak in public (when I am prepared to do so).

In a relatively recent workshop for youth leaders, I broke into a sweat when singled out as part of an icebreaker activity. The activity was completely non-threatening, but I felt put on the spot and felt panicked. I tried to hide my discomfort, but I saw that raised eyebrow.

For the most part, I am good at faking it. I can run events, manage groups, but put me on the spot and I freeze.  Getting up in front of a group takes considerable mental preparation. I can’t do it on the fly. Expressing my fears has resulted in comments like, “You’re so funny.” Clearly my distress is not apparent. But under that confident illusion is a small child who is sweating and shaking. The panic bubbles up. The flight instinct is kicking in. I know that I can’t run home (like I did as a child once from a birthday party that caused too intense feelings) but the panic is very real.

I want to be like them. I want to be able to dance and sing and have fun. This is not to say that I necessarily feel I am missing anything, I am content to participate quietly. I enjoy occasionally joining in as part of a group, but never as the center of attention. I envy those who can dance like no one is watching; I am just not one of them, unless I am surrounded by a crowd and therefore invisible. I find safety there. Being pushed to be the center of attention causes panic. Finding myself in the center of a ring of people, I can’t breathe. Of course I realize no one expects this, it is not” normal”, so then there is the flush of embarrassment.

My family forgets this about me. I have them fooled as well. I know they have at least on occasion been aware of my discomfort. My parents have known this about me. In fact, after the fact, I found out that they had held their breath when I read a passage at a friend’s wedding and were impressed that I got through it. Perhaps these successes make them think I have completely overcome my social anxiety.  I keep trying, and reminding myself to push beyond my comfort zone, but I don’t think extrovert will ever be a term that could be used to describe me. Honestly, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing.


4 of #52essays 2017



2 thoughts on “The Challenge of Being an Introvert in a Group of Extroverts

  1. debscarey

    Perfectly expressed – especially the bit about how you have people fooled. I’m an extrovert but you’ve expressed my voice too. Thank you.