The holiday season tends to be heavy on social engagements. You might have a party at work; your partner might have one as well; there might be social events with friends, events at your place of worship, even the occasional birthday party or two (which often doubles as a holiday gathering.) For those of us who are introverted, this kind of non-stop contact with other human beings can be a serious drain on our energy reserves.
That’s right: socializing takes energy. Extroverts don’t realize this because they draw energy from social interactions. Introverts, on the other hand, draw energy from being alone, often in silence. Neither of these orientations toward the world is right or wrong; they’re just different ways of being human. They make certain things easier, others more difficult.
And holiday gatherings, for introverts, definitely fall into the More Difficult column.
Fortunately, there are some ways introverts can make the holiday season a little more bearable.
Fill up your tank.
As I mentioned, introverts draw energy from being alone. If you’re going to party in the evening, spend the preceding day alone as much as possible. Don’t fill every hour with errands and other things that require spending time around other people, even if that’s your usual routine. If you find yourself double- or triple-booked for a particular day (the holiday season is notorious for this), do your best to build in breaks between events. This might mean cutting short your attendance at one event or the other, which is an added bonus.
Think about whether you have to go.
Sometimes you do. Office parties are often non-negotiable, because they’re networking opportunities. But sometimes you don’t–and there’s no need to feel bad about declining an invitation. Is the host a good friend or close family member? Will your presence be missed? If the answer to these questions is Yes, then see above: fill up your tank and go. But if the answer is no, then think about what will happen if you don’t attend. Quite often, the answer to that question is nothing at all. Send the host your regrets and move on.
Think about whether you want to go.
My knee-jerk reaction to most invitations is Thanks so much for inviting me, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it. When I respond that way without taking a moment to consider the invitation–to think about who’s likely to be there, and whether or not I’ll enjoy catching up with that crowd–I sometimes regret my decision later. That leads to feeling left out. This is where introversion can, in fact, become a problem: when it keeps you from doing things you might enjoy. So when you receive an invitation, take a breath and think it over before you respond.
Revisit your conversation skills.
I’m eternally grateful for the fact that I lived in a sorority for a while when I was in college. Although introverts do not belong in sororities and my tenure there was short-lived, one of the benefits of that experience was Conversation Practice. (I’m not kidding: we practiced making small talk.) This skill was primarily put to use during sorority rush, but it also came in handy when alumni, professors, or other important people visited the sorority house for social occasions.
When I know I’ll have to attend a event where small talk is likely, I remind myself of some basic techniques. These include The Question (in which you repeat the last few words of someone’s sentence, effectively asking them to provide more information), The Introduction (which welcomes a new party into the conversation, spreading out the responsibility for the conversation), and The Backtrack (in which you go back to something your conversation partner mentioned earlier, asking them to elaborate.) Having those skills at the ready makes me less worried about being perceived as an inept conversationalist.
Hide in plain sight.
There are several ways to do this. Inspect a piece of art on the wall. Peruse the books in the bookcase. Interact with you host’s cat or dog. Do whatever you need to in order to disengage from human contact for a few minutes. If someone starts a conversation from this point, it might be about books or art or animals–something more interesting than the usual small talk.
A variation on this strategy that’s useful for long visits with family is planning an outing to a place that discourages talking: to the movies or an art museum, for example. This allows you to spend time with your family, but avoid the constant chatter.
If you’re at someone’s home, wander outside and survey the yard or view from a patio or balcony. If you’re visiting family for a longer vacation, take a walk outdoors–in a park, or even just through the neighborhood. You’re not leaving; you’re just getting out of the throng long enough to refill your tank a bit.
Introverts do not hate people. Those folks are called misanthropes, and you will never see them at a social event. Introverts simply need to take their interactions with people in small doses. If you see a friend standing outside, alone, on a balcony or patio during a party, do not go outside and ask “What’s wrong?” (unless, of course, he or she appears to be in distress.) Do not assume that someone who’s alone needs to be saved from their isolation. It’s entirely possible that a little time on their own is exactly what they were looking for.