The Mormon Introvert

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The 2013 book "Quiet," by Susan Cain.

Patheos

The 2013 book "Quiet," by Susan Cain.

The 2013 book "Quiet," by Susan Cain.

The 2013 book “Quiet,” by Susan Cain.

I’m (finally) reading a marvelous book on introversion called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

And in typically extroverted fashion, I’m going to tell you some of what’s in the book before I’ve even finished reading it, because blurting out first impressions as if we are already experts is precisely what extroverts do. You’re welcome.

The book is full of fascinating neurological and social scientific research about the different ways that introverts think, express themselves, and take on leadership roles. Reading it has been very eye-opening, particularly as it has made me think about how introverts might feel in the LDS Church.

Nutshell version? I don’t know that it’s a very hospitable culture for them.

In fact, Mormonism is a thoroughly extroverted faith. “Every member a missionary,” right? We expect children to start bearing their testimony in sacrament meeting at an early age. We send our recent high school grads out into the world talk about their faith with total strangers. In fact, the entire missionary experience could be a living hell for an introvert, because there is never any sanctioned time in which a missionary can be alone except when going to the bathroom!

Being introverted is not the same as being shy; plenty of introverts exercise leadership at work, school, and—if their unique skill set is valued—at church. The difference between introverts and extroverts has to do with where they draw energy. As an extrovert, I draw my energy primarily from being with other people, which makes it a challenge to work from home. When I tell introverts about my job as an editor and writer, and the fact that I “get to” spend most of the day alone, their eyes light up as if I have achieved nirvana.

As an extroverted Mormon, I have done some things that I now realize are exactly the things that introverts hate. I used to sometimes pop by to see the women I visit teach without calling first, just because “I was in the neighborhood” and felt like being social. This was more about my needs than theirs, I now realize. (Sorry . . . .) And as a gospel doctrine teacher, I sometimes called on people who had not raised their hands, just because they had made the cardinal mistake of looking interested in the conversation.

IntrovertMormons express our cultural extroversion in many ways. We encourage people to say yes immediately to callings or service opportunities. Making decisions right away is something that extroverts are prone to do (sometimes to our later regret). Introverts, on the other hand, are more likely to feel comfortable if given time to ponder a decision.

One thing the church could learn from introverts is the value of simply listening without making a judgment, executing a decision, etc. One of the best bishops I ever had is someone who may well have been an introvert; I’m pretty sure that in the long line of bishops I’ve had, there have only been a couple of introverts. What I liked most about him was that he was an excellent listener who did not feel the need to jump in and “solve” everybody’s problems. But “merely” listening this is not really what the bishop’s manual encourages. (Yeah, I read it. Extroverts are snoopy.) The manual’s full of great ideas for getting people help, pointing them toward resources . . . all of which are important, but little of which teaches bishops how to simply listen.

And then there’s our “hive mind” mentality. On Sundays, most Mormons see it as a virtue that every single ward on the planet is studying from the same correlated lesson plan, and that we are discouraged from bringing in outside sources to enhance our teaching. There is little room for creativity when what we care about most is doctrinal conformity. Reading Cain’s discomfiting chapter on Groupthink, I was struck by how our entire program of Correlation is an essentially extroverted enterprise.

But then, the whole notion of people being saved in families is an extrovert’s dream, isn’t it? To never be alone, for all of eternity. When Mormons imagine our eternal rest, it’s always in the company of others. What if your idea of deep rest is having at least some time away from the company of others?

So, fellow Mormons, there’s a lot the Church could do to make fellow introverts feel more welcome.

Have you hugged an introvert today? No, wait, don’t do that. First ask them if they want to be hugged.


RECOMMENDED READING:

Quiet, by Susan Cain

Introverts in the Church, by Adam McHugh (not LDS-specific, as McHugh is a Protestant minister, but very relevant questions and issues)


 

  • I am definitely an introvert, or possibly have social anxiety. I write well and courageously, but find it difficult to speak out loud in church on Sundays. Looking back on my depression, which was always exacerbated by attending church, perhaps this did not mean that church was “bad” for me as much as it meant that the social pressure to perform as an extrovert was bad for me. I’ve learned to hug fairly comfortably, but I’ve a long way to go to figure out how to be an introvert and a Mormon.

  • Marion Fust Sæternes

    I’m also an introvert, that did pretty well on a mission. Alone-time was, – well in my head. I may have zoned out of a conversation, or two or twohundred, “waking” with a jolt, smiling not to show that “I don’t have a clue what you were just talking about”. It mostly worked. I think? I love people dropping by!! – Perhaps because it happens not-every-evening. 😀 And I hug! Happily. BUT. After a long day at chuch, I might be (usually am) elated but also very reduced in energy for 24h day. I’m glad I do not have activities EVERY day. Teaching seminary might have been a challenge energy-wise. Dosage of people is the key. I did just fine when I had two teaching-callings simultaneously in a ward (Institute weekly & RF monthly), but when a third weekly teaching opportunity was added my kortisol-levels skyrocketed. (Sorry youth, I would have LOVED to teach you). Heaven? – Must include a lone meadow…

    That book is on my shelf. Someday I’ll read it. 🙂
    Thanks for considering our…

  • Meredith

    Ah! I don’t mind getting called on, but the visiting teaching pop by would have killed me. Terrifying. One thing to add, being a non-conforming mormon(liberal, feminist) seems to be a lot easier for my extroverted siblings and mother. Not too easy for introverts to voice dissenting opinions. Though, maybe easier to stay quiet and just keep my beliefs to myself. But out of the group, the more introverted siblings are the ones that have stopped attending.

  • Marion Fust Sæternes

    … situation!

    (the character-count is off)

  • Meredith, yes. I think this is something Adam McHugh takes on in his book “Introverts in the Church.” (I’ve only read about it via his excellent interview with, I think, CT.) He’s a Presbyterian minister and speaks from a Protestant perspective, but much of what he says sounds very similar.

    He says that a lot of introverts leave the fold, on a disproportionate level than extroverts. When I read that I thought about many of the people I know who have left the LDS Church — and I think a fair number of them were introverts, more so than the standard 1-in-3 idea would suggest. I wonder if it’s because many extroverts stay active in the Church even when they have doubts or questions simply because the Church is such a strong social glue that meets many of their needs to be with other people. If introverts need that social component far less strongly, it makes sense that they would just slip away.

  • I think just recognizing our existence is a great first step–and not expecting everyone to manifest their “faith” in the same way. I’m not shy–I have no trouble talking in classes (probably my academic training)–but I do run out of energy if I spend too long in meetings. My last calling was in YW, and while I loved the girls, Girls’ Camp was hard for me. So were the weekly meetings. Now I’m primary president! But I’ve always figured that God was interested in pushing me out of my comfort zone and I’m certain that if it wasn’t for church I’d have a much narrower world than I currently do.

  • Saskia

    As an introvert myself, I think this topic is super interesting and it extends beyond the LDS church as well–most church cultures aren’t very welcoming to introverts. I had a ‘aha!’ moment a couple months ago at a (non-Mormon) church dinner, where I was liking the people and yet wishing I was home: I do very well in church environments that either ask me to perform service or have a directed conversation (so cooking a church-wide dinner? No problem. Participating in a small group Bible study? Sure! But this, small talk over food with strangers? No thanks). But I do think the problem is magnified in the LDS Church for sure, in all the ways you mentioned.

  • Nancy Harward

    The scene: LDS Girls Camp. A dozen teenagers are huddled in a cabin, trying to devise a skit that they must be ready to perform in one hour.

    I am part of this group. I like to write skits. I am good at writing funny songs. So someone says, “Nancy, you are good at writing skits and making up funny songs. You should be in charge!” And everyone says, “Yes! Yes! Nancy, you be in charge!”

    But then one girl says, “I know! We can do the story of the 3 bears, but, like, make it funny,” and another girl says, “Yeah! I can be Goldilocks because I’m blonde!” But then someone else says, “No, let’s be secret agents! I want to be a secret agent!” and then others start calling out more ideas, and everyone is shouting, and no one is listening, and I want to run out of the cabin and go deep into the woods where I could write a really good skit about Goldilocks & the 3 Agents if everyone would just shut up and leave me alone.

    Decades later, Susan Cain finally explains why I hate…

  • Travis

    As a 38 year old life long, mission served, temple married LDS man, it was quite recently I discovered the idea of introverted individuals. I struggled the first 35 years of my life trying to make sense of the world around me. I always assumed all others went through the same process I did when charting a course through life. As I watched others take action with immediate decisiveness, I wondered how they could do what they did, and why was I incapable of functioning the way they were.

    It was a huge relief to find that I am wired differently, with different strengths and abilities.

    If you are out there and can’t seem to make sense of most people around you, do some reading and find out how your brain works. With the knowledge I have gained, life has become more bearable.

    Although it is not an end all solution, take the time to go online and take a meyer-briggs personality test. You may be amazed what you learn about yourself. Most importantly, don’t affix a label to…

  • Jessica

    Amen to that.

  • Debbie Snowcroft

    “I don’t know that it’s [LDS culture] a very hospitable culture for them.”

    One could say the same of the inhospitably of LDS culture toward rigorously logical/rational individuals who lack the “shelf” on which so many otherwise intelligent Mormons place all the contradictions and absurdities of Mormonism.

  • L

    YES! And the endless activities, I.e. homemaking meeting, ward socials, etc. and then if you don’t go, people talk and “worry” about you. And it trickles down to the kids, if you have them. And then your family is talked about in Ward Council and BYC (bishops youth committee) about “how do we make this family feel more welcome…” Well I will tell you how – LEAVE ME ALONE and let me have “home church” like those that do home school because regular school doesn’t fit with them for whatever reason. lol. It just all becomes to much so you just stop going. 🙁

    The struggle is real….

  • “…and that we are discouraged from bringing in outside sources to enhance our teaching.”

    When teaching the Gospel, a good book to study is the book of Romans, verse by verse.

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/2015/03/definition-of-grace.html

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  • Gerald Smith

    Jana, great article. I am also an introvert, though have taught myself to live among extroverts. There are moments I enjoy company, but there are a lot of times when I could use quiet. It annoys me that for many Mormons the 20 minutes prior to Sacrament is for visiting in the chapel, rather than sit quietly and prepare ourselves spiritually. Same thing happens in the temple on occasion. I’ve had extroverts ask me if there was something wrong, when I sit quietly to ponder something – as if quiet is a bad thing. Perhaps if more people were to sit quietly, they would start to learn something new and better. And I hate correlation – there’s nothing new under the sun.

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  • Have you heard the Mormon Matters podcast on this? http://mormonmatters.org/2014/12/03/260-introversion-and-the-mormon-experience/

    The Church culture is really rough for introverts, and I’d venture to say ESPECIALLY for single Mormons. The Church’s idea of supporting single Mormons, especially YSAs, is to come up with a bunch of loud, long, really active, really tiring events.

  • Maegan

    Thank you so much for this post! Susan Cain’s book was a revelation for me in many ways, and it helped me finally realize why I felt so uncomfortable at church and why I had no desire to serve a mission, even though I have a testimony of the Gospel. I agree that it is especially difficult for introverted single people in this culture, but I don’t know what the answer is.

  • B

    I get this. My soul craves alone time. Life in the church is rough on introverts.

    I wish I could go to the temple and just SIT IN QUIET!!!!! It bugs me to watch a film, stand up, sit down, say words, switch clothes around. If I wanted that much noise and commotion, I would have stayed home and volunteered to babysit a set of quadruplet toddlers. Church is not much better. Too much going on.

    Another thing I hate is this: being on a committee with extroverts. Decisions are rushed, plans go nuclear, and I end up with too many busywork assignments. I have decided I am D-O-N-E with that.

  • Anarene Holt Yim

    I remember hearing Richard Bushman say he stays in the church because of all the good people, and I was thinking, “Well that won’t work for me because I’m trying to get away from all those good people!” 🙂

    I love both of the books you recommended and am so happy that you as an extrovert were interested enough to read them!

    And L, home church is my dream church too.

  • Kmd

    I knew I was an introvert, but the fact that I prefer people asking before touching me didn’t click as an introvert thing until your ending line. Ha! It’s not just me? I thought I was weird for not loving hugging everyone I just met.

  • Allen

    My mission was extremely difficult and part of the reason was the total lack of alone time. And the idea of inviting strangers on the bus to hear the discussions was way out of my comfort zone.

    I could mention a district leader taking me aside and reading me the verse “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ…”. That was quite a moment.

    Missionaries were (and probably still are) expected to be positive, energetic and outgoing. That is something I can actually do, but at a pretty high energy cost. It does works well for me, but only if I have enough down time and alone time to recover.

  • Laura

    I attended a Quaker meeting once, and really loved it. An hour of near-silence! So heavenly! Some people did get up and speak, and that was nice, too, but I liked that there was no expectation. That it was just time to sit and listen. I was invited to introduce myself briefly to the group afterward, and there was a chance to chat over tea and cookies, but I loved that the worship was done in silence.

    I’ve also really enjoyed taking refuge in the Catholic church near my office for a few minutes of quiet contemplation during my lunch hour. I wish more churches had open times/spaces like that. I realize that it’s not always feasible to staff–especially with a lay clergy–but I’ve enjoyed that.

  • Joni

    Oh man, Visiting Teaching is basically torture for an introvert. I almost never get to the actual visiting part because just picking up the phone to set the appointments sends me into a cold sweat. I finally got over the idea that I am a failure, and now I just don’t do it. Since there’s currently no choice to ‘opt out,’ I simply don’t do it, and report my 0% to the VT supervisor without apology or explanation. Sure I’m wrecking their numbers for the month, but shoehorning my introverted personality into an extroverted program wasn’t MY idea in the first place.

  • acw

    Oh man, this is totally my husband’s situation. His mission was hard for him, and now home teaching is the greatest stress. He hates to make appointments with people and doesn’t want to visit them, but then there’s the guilt trip all the time for not doing your home teaching. We’ve mostly gotten to a point where I attend activities solo since he’s so uncomfortable, and serving as a clerk is working better for him than some other callings did for his personality–but he jokes about wanting to be a Mormon monk.

  • B

    Love your comment. Some situations are difficult but God wants us to stretch and grow. And just because we can be an eternal family, it does not mean we will be with each other every second like full time missionaries. I don’t know of any grown family that functions like that (of course when kids are young they need constant supervision).

  • B

    I am currently an introverted Relief Society President in my ward, and there is always a choice to “opt out” of Visiting Teaching (or anything else in the church). You just need to tell your VT supervisor or RS Pres that you are not willing or capable (or whatever you want to say) to do Visiting Teaching, and you will be taken off the VT routes. In my opinion, it is much worse to say you’ll do it but have no intention of ever doing it, than it is to just let someone know that you won’t do it.

  • Sheryl

    One more thought–some commenters feel they would be happier with less “pressure” to talk. I often felt that way when I lived in the West. I think it’s because many people who settled the Rockies came from northern Europe, where shyness is taught. Public school teachers, for instance, warned me not to “talk to strangers” without explaining that it was safe to introduce myself to classmates when I moved to a new school! Combined with my natural introversion, this advice left me cripplingly shy.

    I moved to the Southeast over 20 years ago, and was astonished. Total strangers wanted to visit while we were in line at the grocery store! I hated it, seeing it as an invasion of my privacy. I gradually realized that people weren’t trying to make me uncomfortable–they were just raised in a more social culture. African Americans in particular are some of the friendliest people in the country.

    Introverted or not, we all grow outside of our comfort zones. Try talking–give new people…

  • Martin

    But there is no way to “opt out” of home teaching: it is not voluntary. I love home teaching at its best, but also hate that feeling of dread every time I’m given a brand new list with people I don’t know–something that’s happened far too often as of late. It literally takes me 2-3 months to get over my initial anxiety and make contact. Then another few months to begin feeling comfortable visiting them. Unfortunately some EQP’s translate this manifestation of introversion to mean that I need yet another new list with another new companion…just when I’m starting to feel settled.

  • KMD

    I guess this is where I am not an extreme introvert because I love being able to have a conversation with anyone at the store in the south. Especially if I haven’t really talked to another adult all day.

  • Hildie

    Amen! The sisters need to be visited. When I was RS Pres, if a sister didn’t do her visiting teaching for several months in a row, I’d call and ask if she needed a break.

  • Hildie

    After getting released from being RS president several months ago, I felt so depleted by having to speak to people ALL THE TIME that I basically stayed in bed for four months and refused to socialize. People kept asking if I was depressed. No, I’m just all talked out!

    Now I’m back to normal (socializing occasionally). I am so grateful that the church pushes us out of our comfort zones. I learned so much as RS Pres, as well as in my calling of Vis Teacher. There is never a day that I wake up and think “I’d like to go spend an hour in the houses of several women who are sort of strangers.” But I am always glad when I do.

    We are a church of helping others and it’s hard to do when you don’t know anything about the others. One of the big reasons we go to church is to be part of a community. You can’t sit at the back of a room and never make comments and expect people to care about you. I’m saying this as an introvert. I get it! Sometimes you just have to get over it and…

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  • Kristen

    I have a very hard time with setting up appointments. I feel really inadequate in speaking, when on the phone. I don’t mind visiting because the occasional visit is a needed must when you are home by yourself all day in peaceful quiet. I am feel more validated that I am not the only one that doesn’t like calling to make appointments. I love texting for appointments. Or set up the same time every month to get around arranging for the appointment.

  • Preston

    As a long term member who served a mission I agree with the perspectives introduced in the article and many of the comments, however, one large part of Mormonism was overlooked. LDS Temples are a great environment for introverts. Its quite, conversation is kept to a minimum, and it is completely normal for a person to sit there are read wrapped up in your own little world.
    Also the problems faced by introverts in the Church aren’t much different from problems faced by them in different places. (As an introvert I feel qualified to say this.) As with any other organization we just have to leverage our interpersonal skills where we can to influence change in mormon culture.

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