How Extrovert Misunderstanding Turns Into Abuse–And Why Introverts/Extroverts Need to UNDERSTAND Each Other

A scolding from my husband which to me was completely out of the blue, groundless and mind-boggling, and which to him came from a definite reason, has illustrated the difference between an abuser and a normal, nonabusive person.

The actual cause of the scolding was not anything I actually did, but springs from the fact that he is (apparently) an extrovert, and I am an introvert.

He did not understand that my brain works differently, that I must think before I speak, that I must take a moment to comprehend what I’m being told, that it’s impossible for me to respond and make decisions instantly, that to me saying things like “uh-huh” and “okay” distract me from listening.

It reminded me of my German teacher scolding me like this in college–and that, since I never could please her no matter what I did, I dropped my German minor.

Old frustrations sprang up and angered me, because I had no clue what this was even about, and I get angry when people get angry at me when I’ve done nothing wrong, was minding my own business, or whatever.  While he felt he had a cause to be angry.

But talking about it led to understanding.  I told him how the introverted brain works and how it differs from extroverted brains, that scientists have proven this.  (For more information, I have several posts on this subject, complete with links.)

He realized he was expecting things from me which are foreign to an introvert.  He stopped being angry with me, I stopped being angry with him, and we went forward hoping to understand and make allowances for each other in future.

(Introversion is not shyness.  And extroversion is not being outgoing.  You can be a shy extrovert or an outgoing introvert.  My quiet nature has nothing to do with being shy; I can be just as quiet among people I know well, as I am with strangers.  For more information, just Google it, or see my many other posts on this subject.)

As I linked in this post, another abuse blogger, Paula, has written Introverts and Emotional Vampires–A Toxic Mix.  She, an introvert who dated a sociopath, shows how sociopaths, narcissists, and the like can really screw with introverts.

As noted in the comments by Margie, extroverts easily misunderstand introverts.  But as Paula noted, that does not make extroverts into emotional vampires.  Her husband is an extrovert, but he allows her to be herself, and they complement each other.

Extroverts and introverts can try to understand each other, learn from each other and move on from those misunderstandings and hurt feelings.  Especially now that psychologists and scientists are giving us proof that our brains do indeed work differently in social situations, and that it’s unreasonable to expect us to be able to change that.

Instead, it’s best to accept each other as we are, and recognize each other’s limitations.  This is how extroverts and introverts can be friends, family members, spouses, and still be happy with each other.

But with emotional vampires, it’s not about understanding each other.  No, what the introvert does is just “wrong” and has to change to suit the vampire.  And the more the introvert is unable to change, the more offended the vampire gets, the more everything the introvert does becomes an “insult,” and the more the vampire sucks the soul of the introvert:

He could never “get” that exercising and decompressing before we got together each evening had a direct impact on my energy level and mood. I tried to explain how exercising was a natural anti-depressant. (I thought that would be something he would embrace since he hated that I took Cymbalta at the time.)

But, like most things that defined who I was as a person, I was forced to give up this practice. It was him or the gym. Because I thought choosing my needs over him was a heartless and selfish thing to do, I chose him. In choosing him, I didn’t realize at the time that I was also sacrificing me. (Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? Thank you, “CoDependent No More“!)

I also enjoyed reading and writing, two more activities that I was accused of choosing above him because I “must not have enjoyed our time together or loved him enough.”

As a result of not being able to do the things that were essential for the health of my introverted core, I quickly lost myself. If I tried to retreat to a quiet room away from the boy, he’d follow me and demand that I talk to him.

I’d try, but I had no energy to fight against his crazy-making arguments. I had no defense against all of his accusations. I relinquished all control and all boundaries to him. I was numb to it all.

This is what Tracy and Richard did to me.  My husband and I both tried and tried to explain to them, till we were blue in the face, how my brain works and that it’s not about snubbing anyone.

That I converse best one-on-one.  That I am an introvert.  That I’m not getting her cues to start conversations.  That I’m naturally quiet, and that I need to feel “safe,” not like I’m going to get jumped on for social mistakes.

But it didn’t do one bit of good.  No, I had to become extroverted or Tracy would never accept me as I was, and would treat me like I was trying to get into her husband’s pants.

My other friends just aren’t like this.  Over time, they just realize I’m quiet, and let me be.  Maybe at first they don’t get it, and make suggestions or criticisms which don’t work for me.  (“Talk to people!”  Seriously?)  But they don’t scold me, don’t punish me by withholding what I want most, don’t yell and scream and jump on me or treat me like an enemy.

As Margie wrote after reading Paula’s post about introverts,

We all have something to learn from one another, and all experiences are for our growth, if we are paying attention. It is all to grow our hearts in awareness and compassion–for ourself and for others.

We can all get better at this, with time, and indeed, I believe that is what we are “here to do.”

Thank you, Paula, and others, for opening up an important conversation on a very tough topic, which affects probably most of us, one way or another.

We all come from families, and we all have friends and significant others. Let’s keep talking, and let’s learn to accept differences and love in better, healthier ways!

And that is the difference between your typical extroverted friend/family member and an emotional vampire.  Though extroverts do need to realize how easy it is for the majority–in this case, in this part of the world, extroverts–to bully the minority.

Once, Richard said, “I’m not responsible for your emotions” because I was upset at something inconsiderate and/or hurtful that he had done:

8. “You are ‘choosing’ to feel bad about the upsetting thing I did or said.”
This is highly invalidating. The person who says this is not making any effort to empathize, is refusing to take responsibility for the impact of their behavior on others, and is trying to blame the person they have hurt.

Feelings aren’t even processed in the same area of the brain as thoughts. If someone threatens you, you will feel fear. You’re not “choosing” fear; fear is an immediate, natural and healthy response to being in a threatening situation.

If someone you love dies, you will feel sad. You are not “choosing” to feel sad about their death. Sadness is a normal, healthy response to the loss of someone.

If your sibling, partner or other person you are close to says something insensitive or cruel, you will feel hurt. You’re not “choosing” to feel hurt; it is a natural and healthy response to unkindness.

Telling someone who feels hurt that they have “chosen” to feel hurt is generally a way of avoiding responsibility by making the hurt person retreat in shame that they have done “wrong”.

They’re supposed to “choose” properly by letting the person who hurt them off the hook, and instead, focusing on their own “bad choices”. –Light’s House, The top 10 most dysfunctional things ever uttered, link no longer works

I had hoped that, when I explained how my brain worked, Richard and Tracy would understand, and realize they had completely misjudged me and treated me far too harshly for not behaving “extrovertly.”

But no, the bullying continued–and I can call it bullying because I did try to explain many times, but they rejected it as an “excuse.”

They did not even try to understand me, while I did try to understand them.  Instead, Tracy chose to consider my introverted behavior “snubbing,” and say nothing when I (supposedly; I think they were making it up to gaslight me) did something she didn’t like–

while passive-aggressively punishing me, while Richard did not inform me whenever I was supposedly “snubbing” her–until far too much time had passed to even remember what had happened.

My frustration over the years was immeasurable and caused me many tears, until finally her abuse became too much to bear, she demonstrated unwillingness to work with me or hear my side, so my husband and I ended the “friendship.”

This is why I poured my feelings into this blog: because I wanted someone to read and say, Hey, I get it!  If they didn’t, maybe other introverts, and also NLDers and Aspies, would read and understand.

I also hoped that if Richard or Tracy ever found these blogs, they would read and finally understand what I had tried so hard to tell them:

1) That I am an introvert and this is how my brain works; it is not a “snub.”

2) That their abusive behaviors, to me and to others, caused a wall between us that could never be broken down until they acknowledged and changed them.

But no, they still dismissed everything I said as the ravings of a madwoman, laughed at me, and began threatening me with legal action.

Thus proving that they have, and have always had, zero interest in understanding me, cutting me slack, or forgiving social missteps, things which true friends would do for you, things which all my other friends do, as I do for them.

And that is the difference between your typical extroverted friend/family member and an emotional vampire.  That’s how you can tell if you should keep trying with a difficult person.

Come to think of it, Shawn was probably an emotional vampire as well.  I know he had diagnosed mental illness.  He, too, accused me of all sorts of unfair, untrue things which shocked my friends, and baffled me.  I tried to be kind and sweet to him, did what he wanted me to do, to try to please him, but he accused me of all sorts of horrible things.

He even got angry with me for not responding to questions immediately, when this is the nature of an introvert, who has to think before speaking.  If we do like extroverts do and just open our mouths to see what comes out, it’ll be nothing but gibberish, babytalk: goo-goo-ga-ga-ba-ba.  This is why extroverts call us “quiet.”

Shawn, Phil’s friend Dirk, a guy I barely knew, and the Richard/Tracy conglomerate all criticized me for being myself.  You always hear that you’re supposed to “be yourself.”  I was being myself, but these people all told me that myself was not good enough, that I needed to change.

And when I think about what they said, they basically wanted me to stop being an introvert, and start being an extrovert.  Which psychologists and scientists can all tell us is impossible, that we are born this way,  that it’s not about being shy or not shy but about how our brains process situations, that it’s as much a part of our identities as gender or race.

The guy I barely knew, said I wasn’t “lively” enough.  Dirk said I’d end up an old maid, and asked, didn’t I want to go out my senior year with a bang?  (Uh, no.)

Shawn constantly criticized every little thing about me, things which I now see were directly connected to introversion or to NLD/Asperger’s, but back then I did not know about these things, could not explain why I acted as I did, or why others found it so different.  Richard/Tracy I’ve already explained.

While I kept wondering, “Everybody else is told to just ‘be yourself,’ but I keep being told be somebody else.  Why is myself not good enough?  Why can’t people just accept me as I am?”

For Shawn, I had to be my outgoing friend Catherine.  For Dirk, I had to be the life of the party.  For Richard/Tracy, I had to turn into their other, extroverted friends.  And when I wasn’t like this because that simply is not me, I was rejected and abused.

Just imagine what it’s like to be someone like me: You’re just doing things normally, minding your own business, or whatever, and over and over again people yell at, criticize, get angry at, fly off the handle at, or reject you, and you have no idea why.  This happens all your life, from birth through adulthood.

Whether it’s from introversion in an extroverted Western society, or NLD, or Asperger’s, or whatever.  Because you are gentle, kind and trusting, combined with being socially “different” from the mainstream, you are well-acquainted with the bullies, abusers, sociopaths and personality-disordered of the world, because you are often their target.

It doesn’t help that whenever you try to be “normal”–such as wearing fashionable clothes–you’re still pointed at and laughed at, or get funny looks, as if you can’t even do “fashionable” correctly.  Or you try to call up friends like other people do, and they act like you’re doing something odd.

If you weren’t shy to begin with, this teaches you to be shy, to withdraw from a world full of people you don’t understand, because they cause you pain and you can’t tell when they’ll go off on you next.

When people tell you not to be shy, this goes against how you’ve been trained all your life, because you keep getting burned by people, and can’t tell who will do it next.

You prefer the company of animals, call them your best friends: You just pet them, feed them, give them a cuddle, and they love you as you are.  Imagine what this is like, and be gentler with us.

I knew, from these past experiences and various encounters with mean girls/women throughout my life, that Tracy was the kind of person who is toxic to a quiet, retiring, socially awkward person like me.  But I was forced to be friends with her, to abandon myself, my feelings, my values, and change my very self, to please her.

I got the strong impression that it was do things as Tracy wants, or else, no meeting halfway with my needs–and I bristled at that.  My strong will resists control and force of any kind.  The results of this forced friendship, were disastrous.  If I had been allowed to follow my own inclinations, this never would have happened.

Lest anyone think I’m just a disgruntled introvert, most introverts in Western society probably feel just the same way I do.  I find plenty of articles on introversion which refer to us as misunderstood, maligned, and the like, showing that my frustration with extroverts is normal and common:

When psychologists Catherine Caldwell-Harris and Ayse Ayçiçegi compared U.S. and Turkish samples, they found that having “an orientation inconsistent with societal values” is a risk factor for poor mental health.

The findings support what the researchers call the personality-culture clash hypothesis: “Psychological adjustment depends on the degree of match between personality and the values of surrounding society.”

To the extent that introverts feel the need to explain, apologize, or feel guilty about what works best for them, they feel alienated not only from society but from themselves….

Introverts, those quiet creatures that walk among you, are not as mild-mannered as made out to be. They seethe and even will lash out at those who encroach upon or malign their personal comfort zones.

Here are a few emotional buttons to avoid with your introverted companions…. –Laurie Helgoe, PhD, Revenge of the Introverts

Do check out the list Helgoe gives in “Revenge of the Introverts.”  My pet peeves with extroverts are there:

“Surprise, we’ve decided to bring the family and stay with you for the weekend.”

Don’t demand immediate feedback from an introvert. “Extraverts think we have answers but just aren’t giving them,” Laney says. “They don’t understand we need time to formulate them” and often won’t talk until a thought is suitably polished.

Above all, “we hate people telling us how we can be more extraverted, as if that’s the desired state,” says Beth Buelow, a life and leadership coach for introverts.