Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Introverts, Extroverts, and Stress

One way I can tell something is bothering me is that I grind my teeth at night. This is an introvert problem, I'm convinced, not something that would affect an extrovert. Why not? Because if something is bothering an extrovert, they know it and say it out loud. That, I suppose, is one of the reasons I find extroverted women so appealing--there's not a lot of doubt about what's going on in their mind at any given moment--give them a moment and they'll TELL you what's wrong. Of course the downside of that is (in my mind) that extroverts can have a tendency to over-share. Do I really need to know/hear about everything that's bugging you the moment it starts to arise?

Introverts handle stress differently. Not wanting to bother or impose on others, we keep our problems to ourselves. Instead, we have a ready-made set of behaviors that allows us to process stress out of sight from the public. Personally, I go down the list: is it work related? Person related? Something else? Then I start asking why: why is X situation bothering me? What is so-and-so person doing to push my buttons? What do I need to say to stop grinding my molars into gravel at night? Next, I start analyzing what I might do to fix the situation. Do I need to do something? Say something? Or do I need to refrain from something? After that, I can take constructive action, do what needs to be done, and get back to a normal, grind-free sleep.

What's interesting about this way of doing things is that extroverts often are taken aback when an introvert takes that unilateral action to relieve stress--and that action might be something like the introvert taking the extrovert aside and reading them the riot act for something they did weeks ago or are continuing to do in the present. The extrovert gets defensive or dismissive, asking, "If it was that big a deal, why didn't you say something when it happened?" But that's not how introverts work. We don't always feel something hurtful immediately, or we put a feeling/action into a distance buffer as a way of reducing the immediate pain, lest it overwhelm us completely.

Another unfortunate side effect of introverts' delayed reactions is that extroverts can tend to mistrust us or start to read into what we say more than is necessary simply because we haven't said anything. "What do you mean by that?" is a phrase I often dread, either because I feel I'm being mistrusted or because I'm not yet prepared to share everything that's on my mind. That might be an introvert's caution or my own personal efforts at politeness and restraint, it's hard to say. But really, forcing an introvert to say, on the spot, what they're feeling about something is about as constructive as telling an extrovert to go away and be quiet for 30 minutes.

I guess if there are any lessons here, it would be these: extroverts need to give an introvert who is clearly stressed out or bothered a chance to work things out for themselves. Observe that we're upset, express a willingness to listen (and then be ready to stick to it) when we're ready to talk. Introverts need to be better about stating when something is bothering them. It doesn't have to be a long-winded explanation, just a simple statement of, "I don't like it when you [do X]. Would you please stop it?"

Meanwhile, I have to go back into my mental routines and figure out what's stressing me out. My jaw is getting tired.

1 comment:

Dea of the House Phillips said...

I grind my teeth as well. Usually it's because something's bothering me that I haven't quite put my finger on yet.