Recently I read a book called Introverts in the Church, by Adam S. McHugh.In general, extroverts are energized by being around people, and introverts are re-energized by being alone. To say I am one of the latter would be a gross understatement.

McHugh cites studies showing that introverts are a minority (a quarter to a third of the general population, though recent research shows that the number may be way higher). He points out that we live in a culture that extols extroversion and that introversion may be seen as a sign of weakness, narcissism, selfishness and/or neuroses.

Here’s his summary of common attributes of introverts:

Prefer to relax alone or with a few close friends
Consider only deep relationships as friends
Need rest after outside activities, even ones we enjoy
Often listen but talk a lot about topics of importance to us
Appear calm, self-contained, and like to observe
Tend to think or speak before we act
May prefer a quiet atmosphere
Experience our minds going blank in groups or under pressure
Don’t like feeling rushed
Have great powers of concentration
Dislike small talk
Are territorial—desire private space and time
May treat their homes as their sanctuaries
Prefer to work on own rather than with a group
May prefer written communication
Do not share private thoughts with many people [p. 42]

McHugh comes from the evangelical tradition and writes of his struggles trying to make his way with an introverted personality as a minister in evangelical churches.He refers to introversion as a wound and though I have never felt discriminated against or looked down upon, I have never, ever felt at ease around people.I have made my way. I have faked it. I have taken contrary action. I have forged deep and enduring friendships. But the following passage rang so true that my heart stopped short when I read it:

“Many introverts will relate to a scenario like the following [recounted from an anecdote by spiritual writer Henri Nouwen]. An introverted woman spends hours contemplating a thought or observing a pattern in her life. She turns it over in her mind until it becomes a companion to her and then decides to share it in the context of a small group. When she musters up the courage to voice it, trembling as she puts words to this precious inner stirring, someone in the group cuts her off when she pauses in the middle, her thought still building steam. This person quickly tells her that she shouldn’t feel the way she does or else counters with a story of her own, which only tangentially relates to what the introvert was saying. Nouwen’s words perfectly capture the sense of personal violation and emptiness: ‘Often we come home from a sharing session with a feeling that something precious has been taken away from us or that holy ground has been trodden upon’” [p. 92].

My whole life I’ve thought that if I worked hard enough, I could change.

I haven’t.

McHugh cites a 2004 psychological study in which people were polled as to whether they thought Christ was an introvert or an extrovert, and regardless of their own position on the introvert/extrovert scale (because, surprise, we tend to think/hope that people are like us), 97% considered Christ an extrovert!How could the man who went off to “a lonely place” to pray be an extrovert, or a full extrovert? How could the man who spend the first 30 years of his life in obscurity, in “silence,” be an extrovert? The man who stayed 40 days in the desert, in complete solitude, fasting, praying, before starting his public life? The man who spent the night before he died in the Garden at Gethsemane sweating tears of blood, alone with the Father.

No, to me, Christ had major introvert tendencies. Being with us must have made him feel in a way lonelier than ever, just as being with people often makes me feel more lonely. And yet he never blamed, never took it out on us. And he also didn’t let his introvert tendencies keep him from fully participating.

The prime point McHugh makes is that the wound is addressed not by sort of going off by yourself and tending and fostering the wound, but by relationship, and here I think he is exactly right.

It is a wound of relationship and thus only in relationship can it be addressed.


  1. Love this post. Thank you, Heather!

  2. Great post – thanks from a fellow writer and introvert

  3. Have you explored Myers Briggs typology and the Enneagram yet ?
    If you are an INTP- Introverted Intuitive Thinking and Perceptive (like me)you will find yourself in an even smaller minority group- approcx 8% of population are in this category.

  4. I will share your essay with my Lay Carmelite community, because recently we had a Visitation from our Provincial Delegate, and she said we have to do small group sharing. I KNOW for sure that will upset some of our members. We will have to approach this carefully.

  5. I've "done" the Enneagram–major 4–but amazingly, have never taken the Myers Briggs…I will have to check it out…

  6. Never done the Myers-Briggs or the enneagram, but I probably don't need those tools to tell me that I'm a big-time introvert: heck, I spent two years of late adolescence locked in my room listening to the Smiths and writing imitations of Dylan Thomas. I exaggerate only slightly!

    I don't know what to make of the endless exhortations in some quarters "to do community," "to be community," "to live community," to eat and breathe and drink and sweat and bleed community! Called or not called, community is near. Community, like the poor, we will always have with us. There probably isn't enough emphasis on solitude, not enough cultivation of silence, not enough "in our labours rest most sweet" …

    I do think that people who make "community" the whole point of church are missing something. I mean, can't we get community at the local bar & grill? At our jobs (for most of us)? At a football game? At a political rally? No, there is something, as Bryan Ferry sang nearly thirty years ago, "more than this." Something deeper, to which we only have access if we go away to a quiet place. The still, small voice.

    I'll stop running my unstill, unsmall voice! Can I close by saying I love the picture of the nuns?

  7. ha ha–great, Dylan! Enough with the community, already! No, seriously, I have spent a good part of my adult life feeling guilty because the word community, frankly, sparks giant flames of fear in my heart. I once spent a week at the Catholic Worker house here in L.A., thinking I should be Dorothy Day, and almost had a nervous breakdown. I'm with Emily Dickinson who, in her later years, had visitors come sit in the hallway outside her bedroom and spoke to them through a BARELY-CRACKED DOOR…

    "Emily's job is to think," her sister Lavinia once observed.

    Mine, as well–too bad no-one wants to pay me for it!!!

  8. Anonymous says: Reply

    ME-Major introvert, sometimes to an extreme
    and it does go beyond our common disease.
    Was Jesus an introvert or extrovert?

    While He was born in the form of
    a person, a baby,spent 40 days
    in the desert; weeping when Lazarus died,spending the night before His death is Gethsemane-
    I cannot apply the simplistic terms of introvert/extrovert to Jesus.

  9. I read this post yesterday and wanted to comment immediately since it immediately spoke profoundly to me, but thought I would process it first. Although I'm still not sure.

    Wow! I mean Wow! I have just recently been able to identify myself as an introvert (I posses ALL of those attributes except 2 and there are reasons for the 2).

    I'm just not sure how you accessed my thoughts. I could have easily written (if I wrote as beautifully as you) this. It expressed everything I have felt for such a long time and am beginning to learn about myself. There is so much more I want to say about this, but not sure if I am able, especially with my kids tearing the house apart as I write this. I need to get that book.

    I do, however want to share this. Jesus was and is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I think He was the perfect balance of both introvert and extrovert which is why both introverts and extroverts. We are called to LOVE AND TO SERVE. Our journey to Heaven is profoundly individual, but yet connected to all of the Body of Christ.

    He knew that the way to become one and truly know His Father (and now Him, for us) was through that introspective, silent, contemplative time. It is crucial to a life with Christ. It is there that we allow Him to fill us with His love, His grace, His presence.
    However, unlike introverts (speaking for myself), He didn't try to keep all that love to Himself, He knew that it had to be given away as soon as He was filled up. God wants to fill us so that He can love others through us.

    In some ways, extroverts feel more at ease with loving, serving, and connecting with the Body of Christ, but if that love isn't brought forth from a deep introspective experience in which they quietly meet Jesus in the depths of their soul where He can pour His love into them, it can become self-serving and prideful. Not Jesus working through them to serve others.

    Thank you for this post. Is it sad, though, that our society is becoming such that we can "connect" more to someone on the internet that we haven't even met than the people we see everyday? I think it's the "busy"ness of life.

  10. A most interesting post! I too am an introvert, and all my life it's been "me and the Father". But recently I have come to realize that we are not to seek salvation alone. The prayer is OUR Father. We are saved in community. What this means and how I can live this, I am still trying to work out. It doesn't mean small-group sharing, and it doesn't mean we have to join parish organizations. But I think it means we have to see others as Christ, which you, Heather, have shown us how to do in many of your posts, and we must work out how to be one with them. This, for me, is a deep mystery of the Faith.

  11. Thank you, this has helped me to better understand my husband and appreciate his love for me and for our children. I truly believe that our children are his "key" for getting outside of himself gracefully and wholeheartedly. I feel so honoured to be one of the few he lets into his inner life, and your essay has helped me to see just how privileged I am. It has also helped me to be more mindful of his silences and when he speaks. In the future I will try to do a better job of "caring for my introvert" – .

    Thank you again.

  12. Fr Patrick of Monterey says: Reply

    One of your best! Your words about being 'steeled for rejection' remind me of an ACA [adult children of alcoholic] phrase: "our sick need for abandonment." And they don't mean de Caussade!

  13. Thanks for another great post. I learned a long time ago that being an introvert was alright with me. I listened to The Smiths a lot like Dylan said he did. And the coolest thing about this post was that I learned that The Smithereens song In A Lonely Place was based on a Bogart movie. Can't believe I never heard this before! The Smithereens use the lines you quoted as "I was born the day I met you,
    Lived a while when you loved me,
    Died a little when we broke apart."

  14. Loved this post. I feel in communion with your distaste for community! Even an extrovert like GK Chesterton seemed to suggest it. From his book Heretics:

    The club is [now] valued as a place where a man can be unsociable. The more the enlargement and elaboration of our civilization goes on the more the club ceases to be a place where a man can have a noisy argument, and becomes more and more a place where a man can have what is somewhat fantastically called a quiet chop. Its aim is to make a man comfortable, and to make a man comfortable is to make him the opposite of sociable. Sociability, like all good things, is full of discomforts, dangers, and renunciations. The club tends to produce the most degraded of all combinations—the luxurious anchorite, the man who combines the self-indulgence of Lucullus with the insane loneliness of St. Simeon Stylites.

    Ouch! I resemble that remark. (Link to whole thing here.)

  15. I think that the Internet world, certainly the blogging Internet world, is primarily populated by we introverts; it's a way we can be alone and yet be connected.

    One of my favourite quotes ever comes from fellow introvert and fellow Canadian, Glenn Gould" "Glenn Gould: I don't know what the effective ratio would be but I've always had a sort of intuition that for every hour you spend with other human beings, you need X number of hours alone. Now what that X represents, I don't really know, whether it be 2 and 7/8ths or 7 and 2/8ths, but it's a substantial ratio."

  16. I wanted to add, as a former evangelical minister of 18 years I totally understand what you say when you write, "that it is no accident I was drawn to Catholicism: dark, inward, contemplative." In fact, somewhere, maybe in my own notebooks, I have said exactly that. In some way I always felt less at home in my own skin while Protestant. When I came home to the Catholic Church I came home to myself.

    It's for that reason that I disagree with the idea of introversion being in essence a wound. Rather I see it as a gift. It must be a gift, it is how I was made by my Maker. If it is a wound it is a particular kind that is at the same time a gift I can offer up. But no, no I see it as a gift.

    However, I am exactly at a place in my life were I realize the essential gift of being an introvert has been misunderstood and misused by me, selfishly, such that it has become a wound and while not yet an irrevocable wound it could become one; it was so with my father.

    It's taken a long time to see my introversion not as a wound or something I should be ashamed of but as a gift to be embraced and offered up for my conversion and the conversion of others.

    Maybe it's the difference between Protestantism that sees introversion as a wound Catholicism that sees a wound as gift.

    However, I may have missed the thrust of the author's intention & just made a total fool of myself.

  17. Oh I did a whole piece on the great Glenn Gould awhile back, Owen! And you may be right, I didn't even think of it, that seeing introversion as a wound may have come from author Adam McHugh's evangelical Protestant background.

    I, too, see my introversion–and we are legion, too, so I'm not in any way trying to say I'm unique or different–as essentially a gift. If used the right way, it is or can lead to the gift of contemplation, which is a gift that the Church has always recognized, embraced and treasured.

    I think the temptation, however, IS to feel wee're sort of fatally different; the temptation is to fail to fully participate, to somehow become TOO inward. So part of our job is to constantly discern this ever-shifting line…

    I spent the first 6 months of last year in somewhat deep solitude and silence, and now I am back "in the world," but realizing more than ever that I get to cultivate the INNER silence and solitude no matter what outer activities I might be involved in.

    And I'm also way more liable these days to "take care of myself," in the sense of not pushing myself too far. We'are all obligated to stretch ourselves as far as we can, in order to evolve and grow. But stretching myself too far gets counterproductive and though the impulse ostensibly comes from a "desire to give" is really driven in my case by a desire to get people to love me, i.e. from self-centered fear and pride…

    A friend recently sent me an incredible book: Everything is Grace: The Life and Way of St. Therese of Lisieux, by Joseph F. Schmidt, the first half of which (I haven't read the second half yet) is ALL about discerning this sort of ineward/outward line…

    Anyway, interesting stuff, to get to know ourselves truly! And the journey continues…

  18. Anonymous says: Reply

    That anecdote from Nouwen – that's how spiritual direction can even be sometimes, which can really sting.

    My deeper worry is how to function in a relationship, knowing my own limitations/gifts that come by virtue of my introversion.

  19. Oh I hear you, Patrick. I'm always wondering whether I am offering up my capacity for love in some beautifully sacrificial way to God, or whether I've so indulged my solitary nature that I've now become incapable of true deep interaction with a fellow human being!…but maybe the not knowing is part of the path, or even THE path…and all the introverts I know actually make huge efforts to "reach out" and participate, in spite of the fact that it's like exercise to us…Anyway, Lenten blessings and thanks for checking in…

  20. Beautifully written post. I am an introvert and an ordained minister of the Gospel. I am battling the notion that these are incompatible—that I cannot be effective in ministry and introverted. But now I am beginning to see it is introversion that I find prayerful time with God, that I listen to hear His voice, that I summon the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire and prepare my sermons, and that I deliver those sermons in ways that consistently (as I have been told) "genuinely move the masses".
    God created me an introvert and God gifted me with the power to speak His word. I suppose I will continue to do/be both.


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