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  1. I’ve often thought about the implications of me being an introvert in a Church that encourages extroverted behavior. Sometimes I’m really grateful that I was able to learn how to fake being extroverted because it can be a useful skill, but that also means that occasionally people expect way more than I can give socially just because I was bubbly the first time we met. I’ve tried to turn that hi-I’m-Mormon-Michelle bubbly-ness down, but then I feel like I’m not being friendly because the Mormon definition of friendly has to have the bubbly personality. Visiting teaching and home teaching are tough because I don’t really want people disturbing my schedule and coming to my place but I don’t want to be seen as rude.

    What is reeeeally difficult and could fill a whole episode alone is the lifestyle the Church expects of singles. Singles activities are so overwhelming for introverts! I’ve thought, “If we have week-long events that include staying up all night and I don’t get any sleep between all of these childish, high-energy activities, how am I supposed to be cheerful enough to attract anyone or even have a semi-intelligent conversation?” I often bailed out on parts of these long events to re-charge, but very few activities would help me find out if someone was similar to me; it was better for me to go off and be my quirky self (such as playing the organ for no apparent reason) and see who came to join me. I ached for serious, one-on-one conversations in quiet, well-lit places, rather than loud dances, competitions, and the like.

    Anyway, like the panelists, it was such a relief to realize that I was introverted and it was okay to stop tiring myself out with Mormon sociability.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more on your point about singles activities, Michelle – Amen and Amen! Even as far back as high school, it was the exact same way at stake dances and youth conferences and even EFY sessions (and don’t even get me started on the social nightmare of being an introverted missionary). Anyway, it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one who feels/felt that way about singles activities.

    2. What you said about being bubbly and overly friendly totally resonates with me, Michelle. I have been that way almost all my life – especially at church for much for the same reasons you mentioned. I thought that was what I had to do to show I was part of the group and a happy follower of Christ. But like you said, once the social batteries are run down and I can’t maintain that bubbly facade then I only confuse people and come off like I have a personal problem with them because I was so friendly before.

      I really just want to say to people sometimes – and especially at church – “Hi. I’m Adam and I am an introvert. I am sincerely glad to meet you and I would love to have some deep conversations with you if we get the chance. I’m not fond of chitchat that doesn’t end in deeper conversations and I’m not fond of random stop-bys. But shoot me an email or give me a call and we can have some serious fun (read fun that is serious 😉 ).” But I know that will never fly.

  2. Thanks for the discussion. I’m only a few minutes in but I decided to pause the discussion to leave a quick note.

    I made a terrible mistake when I was much younger. I assumed that some of the personality traits that are unique to extroverts were Christlike attributes. I felt like I had to develop those traits in my quest to become perfect. It tore me in two.

    I would beat myself up when I failed at developing personality traits of an extrovert because I was falling short of perfection. Just trying to develop those traits made me absolutely miserable. It was a lose/lose scenario.

    I was blind to some of this but I did know that there were such things as introverts and extroverts… but the assumption was that god wanted me to be an extrovert.

    My issues would also manifest in another way. I would see the love that extroverts displayed and I doubted my ability to love others because I couldn’t express my love in that same manner. Further complicating matters, I also saw how the people that the extroverts expressed love toward were able to recognize that love. Those same people didn’t recognize my love for them. I was seen as cold, uncaring, and distant while the extrovert was absolutely adored. I fell into the trappings of assuming my love for people was deficient. I failed to recognize that my love was just as strong but not as visible.

    This anguish ate me up inside for decades. I can recognize some things now but the culture does make it difficult at times. The member that is an extrovert will always be more beloved than the member that is an introvert. Or perhaps the member that is an introvert will always assume that the member that is an extrovert is more beloved. 😉

    I don’t see this as an issue of the church’s creation. Sure, most callings and assignments are geared toward the extrovert, but that’s the world for you.

    I’ll shut up now and enjoy the rest of the discussion.

    1. Doug,

      You noted, “I assumed that some of the personality traits that are unique to extroverts were Christlike attributes.” That is a great insight. I realize that I have done the same thing.

      In our westernized version of Christ and Christianity, I think all of us (consciously or not) extol western values and characteristics as being “Christ-Like.”

      Studying Eastern philosophy and having a meditation practice has helped me realize that I am who I am – and I find comfort in that realization.

    2. Doug – I am not an introvert, but I vividly recall coming to the same conclusion you did. When I was in Beehives we had one of those example stories and the lesson very clearly described the girl-hero of the story as being vivacious. The teacher stopped and explained vivacious to us, we all got the message -“The good Mormon girl was vivacious.” Sure enough I worked hard to keep my vivacious up because I was a Good Mormon Girl. I can’t imagine how an introvert could process that lesson. In short we teach a silent message that Mormons in Good Standing are extroverts.

  3. I’ve finally listened to the entire discussion and had a few parting words to maybe fill in a gap or two.

    Church callings: This is probably the subject of a different discussion since I feel that there are issues that affect both the introvert and the extrovert. We are the body of Christ and the way we dole out callings can often be equated to telling the people that are the feet, “We’d like to extend a calling for you to be an eye” and telling people that are eyes, “We’d like to extend a calling for you to be a hand.” Sure it gives people opportunities to discover and develop their talents but sometimes an eye needs to be an eye, a foot needs to be a foot.

    One other thing… and this one is a big one for me. It’s okay for someone to not have a calling for a while. In those rare moments where I’m without a calling (usually I’ve been sustained to a new calling during the same meeting that I’m released from another) I get the distinct impression that leaders have this unscratchable itch to get me into a new calling. Leaders can be OCD about making sure people are filed neatly away in some calling or other. Maybe introverts need some downtime between callings to unwind. Maybe all of us do. Take a breath bishop, it’s okay if I don’t have a calling for a while.

    I realize that presents a challenge. I’ve been in wards were people needed to hold multiple callings to make the ward function. The tendency for a leader might be to draw attention to the fact that every hand is needed but I think that mindset aligns more with putting the needs of the organization ahead of the needs of the individual. Callings and programs could and should be scaled to the actual needs of the unit. We run people ragged trying to staff all these callings that may only exist more out of tradition than out of providing true vital functions.

    Getting back on topic… whenever I hear about the plight of the introvert in an extrovert’s church I often hear people come up with lists of callings that are well suited for the introvert. The list is always very small. If introverts make up 30-50% of the population maybe 30-50% of the callings that the church offers should be geared toward the introvert… not just the ward clerk and ward librarian. I’m not sure exactly how to go about that, but any attempt at making things better would be appreciated.

    1. More importantly for me is that leaders know people well enough to understand the needs of different people. Many need and find validation in church callings and want no downtime at all. Just a caveat to the above discussion.

      One note that I’d make about an introvert and callings is they come with a natural ‘social’ outlet. A presidency working together can become a social outlet and helps some contribute in a way and keeps us included in a social aspect of the Church where it doesn’t come naturally.

    2. Doug I think you’re on to something when you talked about more introvert callings. Because introverts spend so much time in their heads, sometimes I wonder if they would be well suited for some sort of ward “think tank.” Like to be problem solvers in leadership for issues that arise. Because so many introverts excel in tanking a therapeutic/listening type of role I’ve wondered about callings associated with that as well.

  4. I relate very much to what Doug said. “the personality traits that are unique to extroverts were Christlike attributes….that god wanted me to be an extrovert.” It really often seems that way. Go out and serve and connect with people. Which I’ve tried to do, then come home and recover, but there’s always the element of pushing in there. (YW Pres maxed my limit – I could handle the girls but it was the other leaders and parents that was too much.) Of course these stretches are good in moderation, but for less anxiety and better emotional health, we can try to work with the grain not against it.

  5. Thanks to everyone for putting this podcast together and for the insights from the previous commenters. As a proud introvert, I enjoyed this discussion very much! I have a few thoughts on the topic I thought I’d share:

    1. Joseph Smith was a strong extrovert, yes? How much do you think this personality trait of his influenced the way that he interpreted the revelations and doctrine that he taught? I’m thinking things like eternal families, strong kinship circles… and of course polygamy! The way we often talk about heaven in Mormonism is a place of being with other people continually forever. Sounds like a paradise for extroverts! I wonder if there’s a library in heaven where the introverts can go recharge for a while. 😉 This is not to say that I am not grateful for the teachings of eternal families and kinship circles, but when I think of heaven my thoughts turn to eternal progression of knowledge and discovery as often as they turn to eternal interpersonal relationships.

    2. I also appreciated the discussion on how to navigate callings for introverts. In some ways I can understand the popular argument that callings are to help us stretch and grow and develop strengths that might currently be weaknesses, which is often cited as a rationale for giving shy people callings that put them in front of other people or force them to “break out of their shell,” etc. etc. On the other hand, there’s a lot of social science research coming out the last few years saying that people are happier and more productive when they can “play to their strengths” instead of trying to develop personality characteristics that they don’t have, especially given that there’s only so much we can do to change our personalities (which is not a lot). This book (http://www.amazon.com/Growing-Engaged-Church-Doing-Start-ebook/dp/B001E95J5C/) relies on empirical survey evidence and argues that there are a few key things that church leaders can do to improve energy and engagement in their congregations, and one key one was giving people opportunities “to do what they do best.” This would all seem to support the comments made in this podcast about not forcing introverts into callings that are better suited for extroverts. At the same time, I still think there’s some kind of logic to the idea of giving people the opportunity to “stretch and grow” with callings they might not feel 100% comfortable in. Does anyone have any ideas on how to reconcile these ideas?

    3. I agree 100% that the church culture has a strong “extrovert bias” or “extrovert privilege” in that the way that we define what being a “good member” is often boils down to the things we do in our interactions with each other (sharing your testimonies in front of other people, attending and participating in meetings, being good go-getters in doing your home teaching or inviting friends to talk to the missionaries, etc. etc. – all things that require lots of social interaction!). On the other hand, I tend to gravitate to other things that we’re also told are what “good members” do: read, ponder, pray, think, study, develop a personal testimony/relationship with God, etc. For me as an introvert, taking time out of my day to read, study, think, and ponder about church-related or spiritual things is not difficult, and it’s very natural in a lot of ways. In my conversations with extroverts, those are things that they struggle a lot with and don’t spend as much time on. So maybe we introverts can “play to our strengths” by intentionally focusing on those things that we do well that are valued in the Mormon community (studying, pondering, thinking, teaching, learning, etc.) and use those skills to share and contribute in meaningful ways to our communities. And then maybe that will help reassure us that we’re still “good Mormons” even though we’re not as strong in the areas of Mormon life that require a lot of social interaction!

    Finally, this is my favorite explanations of what makes introverts different than extroverts: http://www.intellectualbubblegum.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/how_to_live_with_introverts_guide_printable_by_sveidt-d5b09fj.jpg

    Thank you again to you all for putting this together!

    1. Benjamin: I really liked your comments. One thing that I didn’t really talk enough about in the podcast was the idea that it’s ok to grow too. Thanks for bringing that up. I believe that as well. I’ve taken public speaking classes just because I wanted to be better at speaking extemporaneously. It helped a little bit. Contacting people on my mission helped build my character. I’m glad I did it. I just think doing less proselytizing and having down time or more specifically, different time, on my mission would’ve really helped me feel less drained. (I don’t mean work less- just differently. I worked full time and went to school full time after my mission. I’m not a slacker.) I think worse than feeling drained was feeling like my introversion was a lack of spirituality or Christ-like attributes. I think losing some of the damaging lingo in the church could help more than anything. I think it was maybe John Hatch or Shaw that mentioned callings should be more of a discussion with the person receiving the calling and I feel that’s one of the best fixes. Everyone needs to grow but I think we are each the best person to ask concerning timing and limits. Ironically, I would feel more comfortable being a gospel doctrine teacher than a primary chorister because there’s not pressure to be funny every Sunday or to have to sing in front of people. No one wants to hear my sing- myself especially.;) My RS president friend I mentioned in the podcast felt the same way. We all have different quirks whether we are introverted or not. In my opinion, above all else, we just need to try harder to honor and utilize introvert qualities in the church instead of making people feel bad when something is really not the right fit for them.

  6. Like many of the panelists, I grew up thinking that I had a personality deficiency. I didn’t understand why no one called me on it or tried to help me fix it. It’s a bit sad to think that I could have had a much easier adolescence if I had known about my introversion.

    One thing I’ve noticed in my church experience is that many situations better suited for introverts are actually frowned upon. Sitting out in the foyer with someone who showed up to church for the first time in a year and feels very nervous about heading into the chapel? You’re disruptung other wards with your chatter. Trying to start a small book club in your ward? You have to go through all the appropriate channels and end up having to invite everyone to join or you’re seen as cliquish. Heading to the back row in Relief Society to give yourself a little breathing room? Not in this lifetime, Sister. Go find a friend.

    I really do think a little awareness would go a long, long way.

  7. Thanks for putting together this podcast. I found the topic highly relevant to my Mormon experience.

    I am both an introvert and shy. When I was in the MTC in Provo at the beginning of my mission I reached a crisis point when I realized how hard it was going to be for me to make small talk with people on the street on a daily basis. It really was much more the introversion than the shyness that I was worried about. One day I broke down in tears in front of my district and instructors. In the end, my mission turned out to be a very positive experience. It helped me overcome a lot of my shyness, but every day was draining.

    I do enjoy going to church, largely because I can sit and meditate. Any kind of church social activity, on the other hand, is a chore. I hate parties. They just aren’t any fun. So much of the church structure and administration is geared toward extraversion, we introverts need to set boundaries for ourselves.

    Thanks again for all of the insights.

  8. Thanks for this podcast! I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert–in a family of introverts–but really hadn’t given much thought of my church experiences in relation to introversion. So many things were touched on that I could relate to. Luckily I’m independent enough-grew up in the UT Mormon culture and have lived my adult life outside UT–I haven’t let leaders guilt me into accepting callings that I knew I wasn’t suited for. I really think it can be extremely harmful to have the expectation that a member should accept all callings as if they are from God himself. It could be quite damaging to take a calling–and then “fail” in that calling to meet expectations.

    The last little bit about the Temple struck a chord. Most of my adult life I’ve lived several hours away from a Temple, so attendance has been somewhat sparse. But, I’ve not really enjoyed the temple experience, and perhaps that is due, in part, to being an introvert(?) I’ve always felt very inadequate in that area. On the other hand, I’ve really enjoyed visiting beautiful cathedrals (in Europe, St. Pats in NY), being able to sit, linger quietly, contemplate and simply enjoy the spirit I felt there. Maybe that feeling was related to the awesomeness(?) of the cathedral itself–rarely have I felt that wonderful spiritual feeling inside a Mormon temple–so programmed–move along atmosphere.

  9. Thanks so much for this podcast. It was a breath of fresh air. I too have only recently begun to understand and explore my introversion. I enjoyed and appreciated many of the suggestions in both the podcast and the comments. I think a lot of the fix really just comes down to recognition. For all the talk of agency and individual talents, I feel Mormon culture is a tad too preoccupied with forcing everyone into the same mold. I think we would be much more effective if we, as a church and a culture, did a better job of recognizing that there are a multitude of different personalities. This would not only help the membership, but also help us better target potential members. For much of its history, it seems our missionary program has assumed those we target are extroverts and respond to extroverted tactics. As an introvert, I can promise that had I not been born in the church, there is no way I would have responded well to missionaries showing up to my door or contacting me in the street. I just don’t react very well to sales people, inviting strangers into my home, or discussing very personal things with people I don’t know. I only have so much energy I can spend each day. I think if we recognized 30-50% of people were like this, we could devise better outreach efforts.

    As far as callings are concerned, I like the idea of encouraging leaders to have a more open discussion with members when issuing callings as well as ditching the “never say no” ideal. I also love the idea of a ward think tank mentioned above. That being said, some of the best leaders I’ve had in church seemed to be introverts, including several bishops. Sometimes I think we do not need to focus so much on creating new callings for introverts as much as church leadership should recognize that introverts, when given the opportunity, can and do make wonderful leaders.

  10. I have so many thoughts about this, and I have for many years, so these may be jumbled, but I thought I ought to share.

    I am an introvert as well, and I loved this podcast. It did frustrate and anger me at points because of the way introverts are treated in the Church and in the wider American culture, but it also gave me a sense of hope to know that there are people out there with the same problems as me who are trying to make things better. I loved the list that Laura read of the signs that someone is an introvert. Every single one of them described me perfectly. Seriously, none of you need to meet me now. Just read that list, and that’s who I am.

    I do not at all blame the Church for the extrovert bias. I place it squarely on American culture. The Church has been highly influenced by such, so it’s only natural that the extrovert bias would also be adopted. The entire world seems to be built around the idea that a normal, well-adjusted adult is an extrovert, and that there is something wrong with you that needs fixing if you aren’t such. I have been so frustrated by this my entire life, in so many areas. Like others on the podcast and in the comments, I was especially frustrated on my mission by the training I was given on what a “good missionary” was. I tried to do what I was told, to be more outgoing and outwardly excited about things, but I felt like I was putting on an act, and I’ve never been a good actor. Thankfully, I have a long history of not caring about advice from authority figures that I thought was BS. I played to my own strengths and had a lot of success on my mission. I realize, however, that it isn’t that easy for a lot of people. I have also realized that it may work that way on a mission, but not so much when you’re trying to get a job or become a “real adult.” Real adults are, apparently, extroverted, so I guess I never have become one.

    I guess the hardest thing for me is the fact that I don’t understand what life is like for extroverted people. As a small example, I don’t know what it’s like to *not* think about something before you say it. I can’t do that. It isn’t just that I *can’t* think like that, but I don’t understand how it’s possible to think like that. I think that’s probably the case for extroverted people as well: They don’t understand how it’s possible to think like introverts, and so they figure there must be something wrong with us. Frankly, I’ve often felt there’s something seriously wrong with extroverts (and I’ve found they don’t like me describing them as “crazy people” and introverts as “normal people”). Maybe once we realize that the feeling’s mutual, we can finally move on to actually understanding each other.

    Also, by understanding, I mean *real* understanding, not just in the “They live among us, aren’t they cute, let’s make sure they don’t feel bad” kind of way, but in a “Hey, they’re human beings too and in order to treat them like real people we may need to shift our biases quite a bit” kind of way (if that makes sense at all).

    1. Ben: Your comments about wondering what it’s like to NOT think before you say something made me chuckle because I’ve wondered that on several occasions too.

  11. I’m an introvert who has a basic tetimony of the church’s core teachings but struggle to enjoy many aspects of active church membership. For example, going home teaching, serving in certain callings, doing missionary work, “rescuing” less active members, and participating in church socials and service projects tend to be uncomfortable, draining activities for me. Along those lines, perhaps the most difficult church calling I’ve had was being Young Men’s president in a small branch in an outlying area where I was expected to plan weekly activities, be heavily involved with Scouting, play sports with the boys, and take them to weekend activities (dances, youth conferences, etc.)in far away towns, many of which were overnight. It was absolutely exhausting.

    On the other hand, there are certain aspects of active church membership that I don’t mind as much and, sometimes, even enjoy. These include temple attendance, scripture study, sacrament meeting, general conference, and sometimes (depending on the audience and the frequency I’m expected to perform) even teaching and speaking.

    One of my biggest frustrations with the LDS culture is that it doesn’t allow for much variability for differences in individual preferences or inclinations. For example, we are taught to be obedient communially minded doers of the word who are anxiously engaged at all times, a message that has been amplified by the recent “hastening” and “rescue” themes. When it is suggested that introverts may have more difficulty being involved with certain initiatives to the degree expected by leadership, the implicit response is to forget yourself, go to work, and stop being so lazy, selfish, and fearful of men. While I agree that church service can help us “overcome the natural man” and turn perceived weaknesses into strengths, I lament that introverted tendencies are viewed purely as weaknesses in the first place (or that introverted strengths aren’t as valued as extroverted strengths) and further lament that little allowance is provided for introverts to grow in the church more at their pace and on their terms.

  12. when I was listening to the SS lesson today about Daniel I wondered if Daniel was an introvert. He just went about doing what he wanted to do and didn’t worry about social expectations.

  13. November 16th Music and the Spoken Word message was quite interesting. Lloyd Newell echoed the sentiments in the podcast. It makes me wonder if those at COB are aware of the extrovert bias that exists in the church.

    http://msw.bonnint.com/cgi-bin/messages.cgi/?20141116+SpokenWordMessages

    We Need Everyone – Sunday, November 16, 2014

    We live in a society that often seems to value outgoing, adventurous personalities over others. In a variety of ways, our culture suggests that we need to be bold to be successful, talkative to be happy, even loud to be worth hearing. This message is so pervasive that those who are more introspective, private, and quiet can begin to feel ashamed of their personality traits. They may long to be the life of the party—not the one who sits in the corner, lost in thought. They might think they need to be the one with many friends—not the one who enjoys fewer but deeper relationships. The culture may lead them to think that it’s better to be the center of attention—not the one who is content to observe.
    The truth is that much of this world’s most inspiring art, most important discoveries, most influential ideas, and most revolutionary inventions were the work of people who tended to be more quiet, who did not seek the spotlight.1 In fact, it may be that the inclination to be quiet and deliberate and contemplative is more likely to foster such achievements than a bold, aggressive approach.
    By some estimates, approximately half of us are more introverted than extroverted.2 And that feels about right. The world was not meant to consist of only one kind of person. Our lives are enriched by varieties of personalities and dispositions, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. We need thoughtful, cautious people just as much as we need daring risk-takers. We need introverts and extroverts and everything in between.
    Most of us have a little of both in our natures anyway—traditional labels are too simplistic to truly define anyone. And our personality develops over time; nothing is forever fixed in place. When anyone neglects his or her talents, we all suffer. On the other hand, when everyone is encouraged to be authentic enough to develop their gifts and then selfless enough to share them, they unleash their potential, make meaningful contributions, and find contentment—and we’re all the better for it.

    -Lloyd D. Newell

    1. See Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2013), 5.
    2. See Quiet, 3–4.

  14. I have enjoyed reading all your comments so much. I, too, have wondered at times if there was something “wrong” with me because I wasn’t as outgoing and social as others in my ward. I was put in the RS presidency recently and giving lessons has absolutely pushed me to my limits. (Nausea, heart palpitations, light headed ness, etc.). I have to have a nap almost every Sunday afternoon because it completely wears me out to be so bubbly and talkative.

    So, thank you for helping me feel “normal”. I guess more people feel this way than I ever thought.

  15. I think that many of the Apostles and leaders of our church are introverts who encourage us to ponder, meditate, and slow down. I think the teachings and example of Jesus encourage us to think before we speak and so many other things that introverts offer this world. I have a lot of respect for introverts and all they offer to us.

  16. I always thought that I should open up more and that was a spiritual prompting driving me to be extroverted. Later on, after numerous times feeling empty inside, I realized that it was probably my anxiety, and that I should have been ok with being calm and quiet. Took a decade for that, though.

  17. Pingback: Introverts in and Extrovert's World: A Review of "Quiet" - Rational Faiths | Mormon Blog

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