I have a friend at work, one who is becoming more and more an ACTUAL friend (you know, other than a “friend at work”). Once we started sharing our life stories, we discovered that we share a number of quirks. We are bookworms. We cringe at the sexism and discrimination we see at work, even today. And, we are introverts in an extroverted world.

I wish there were a way to explain to extroverts what it means to be introverted. And what it does NOT mean. In case you don’t know, “introverted” is NOT synonymous with “shy”. Actually, it means that a person needs time in solitude to regain energy and focus. There are many different flavors of introverts. Some are sociable, others may be reserved. As for me, I’ve ranged the spectrum, ebbing and flowing, in and out of sociability and shyness.

When I was at the peak of my period of sociability, I attended happy hours at least three or four times a week, and stayed out late on the weekends. I’m honestly not sure how I mustered up all that energy. Maybe I slept any time I was home? Lately though, I have no inclination to go down to the corner bar solo. I’d rather read my book all day and night and cozy up with my cats at home. What’s equally satisfying are board game nights – like Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit!

I believe that these aspects of introverts, most people KNOW, even if they don’t understand. Now for the deeper recesses of an introverts mind.

When I’m at a bar, you may see me a little separated from the crowd. I may be more likely to strike up a conversation with the bartender rather than someone in the group. No, this does not mean I’m conceited, bored, or unwilling to engage in delightful conversation. I know many people think so, but that’s definitely not it.

As I’ve said, not all introverts are shy. But many of us not only are tentative in approaching others, we’re INTENSELY and UNDENIABLY TERRIFIED to approach a group of people and join in on the banter. Seriously. Just the thought of it makes my palms sweat, my jaw to tense up, and my heart to rise to my throat. Sure, we want to be included. MORE THAN YOU KNOW. But that initial step drowns our bodies in waves of fear. And the incessant worrying commences…

What if people ignore me if I speak up? What if people don’t want me around? What will they think of my outfit? Was that an eyeroll I just saw? What if this, what if that…?

Yes, there are no fewer than 20 worries, however irrational, that course through my mind during social encounters like this. The breath-halting anxiety is, at times, enough to make me rush off to the bathroom in tears. I realize that I’m an ultra-sensitive introvert. I also acknowledge this as a main reason why I enjoy my time at home. I feel safe and far from public embarrassment or humiliation. Even when others don’t intend to be insensitive, my not-so-tough skin signals to me that I’ve just been stabbed in the heart.

What’s more is that I cannot count the number of times I’ve been cajoled with, “Get over it” or “Stop being so sensitive.” Can I counter with, “Stop being human” or how about “Stop being an ASS.” This may be hard to believe but those comments are similar to my telling you to stop breathing.

My goal in point these things out is that I would love to see is a little more understanding or at least a little effort to ACCEPT introverts. I’m starting to see that I’ve been struggling to fit in as an extroverts, since they seem to rule the world. They have more friends, they stick out in a crowd, they don’t get passed over for promotions at work, and their charisma attracts the opposite sex. But, moreover, I contend that extroverts are far less likely to try to understand with introverts than vice versa. I say this because introverts don’t bring fear to the hearts of extroverts through reckless judgment. This makes it hard to WANT to go out with a group of strangers.

I’m finally ready to accept that I’m an introvert and always will be. What will be more difficult is accepting my sensitivity and fears that go along with it. I’m beginning to wonder if my stint of acting like a social butterfly was a result of feeling pressure to conform to the majority, to change myself in order to fit in.

Here’s a final truth: when I decline an invite out, I may not have a “valid” or “good” reason, other than the fact that I’m quite comfortable at home and don’t have the energy to put up an extroverted façade. Yes, it takes a lot of energy. Please don’t take it personally. I will tell you a secret too – I’m much more likely to join in on a small gathering in a known place rather than trying to mingle with strangers in a crowded bar. Yes, I LOVE spending time with friends. But I would rather spend time with friends when I’m not distraught with fear or anxiety.

So, how about a nice game of Trivial Pursuit?