11 challenges for the Mormon introvert

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Mette Ivie Harrison

(courtesy of Mette Ivie Harrison)

Mette Ivie Harrison

I was surprised by the number of responses I received last month to my post on Mormon introverts. In typical introverted fashion, several of these people contacted me privately with their thoughts but did not post them as comments on the blog.

And my regular guest blogger Mette Harrison wrote up a list of the aspects of being Mormon that are hardest for her, an off-the-charts introvert. — JKR

Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison

A guest post by Mette Harrison

Jana posted recently about the ways in which the LDS Church is designed for extroverts and the difficulties introverts must have, but she admitted not being an introvert herself.

As someone who is an introvert with some social anxieties, I thought it might be useful to talk about some of the specific problems I struggle with. Not all of these will be universal to introverts, and I also don’t mean to imply that because things are difficult they should simply be done away with. Part of the good the church does is expecting me to come out of myself in order to help others.

But nonetheless, it is more work for me than it is for others, and coming to accept that has helped me understand why Sunday rarely feels like a “day of rest” for me. I am often emotionally exhausted at the end of the day of extroverting in the cause of good, and I’m just a nursery leader.


TO READ: The Mormon Introvert


Here are eleven things I struggle with:

  • The three-hour block of Church. This means three hours of extroverting rather than shorter periods with a break between.
  • No private, silent space for reflection and relief (except the Mother’s Lounge or the bathroom).
  • Being called on to say prayers in church extemporaneously. A little notice helps me not feel so nervous about this. I don’t mind answering questions during lessons in church, so long as I raise my hand and choose to answer.
  • Constant pressure to do missionary work. The implication that it is not enough to simply live your Mormonism openly and discuss it when it is natural in conversation. I’ve tried a couple of times to be “bold” about my faith in the ways others talk about, but it is usually a disaster because I’m not naturally an extrovert and I do it wrong.
  • Testimony meeting in general, with its tendency toward unprepared remarks and people talking about their lives in more intimate detail than I am comfortable with.
  • Chairs set up at church social events in huge, long rows rather than smaller, more intimate tables that would feel less intimidating. Almost all ward activities are in huge groups and you are expected to introduce yourself and just find things to say.
  • Large class settings like Gospel Doctrine. I often tend to go to any class that is not such a large group, no matter what is being taught there, simply so I don’t have to deal with so many people.
  • Constantly changing visiting teaching/home teaching assignments, and being expected to welcome people I have never met before into my home.
  • The tendency to have other people involved in every ritual of the church from the temple ceremonies to blessings, setting people apart, and so on. I tend to want to experience God privately rather than with others, but it seems like this isn’t done in Mormonism.
  • Girls’ camp. This was excruciating for me as a teen introvert. Not only the constant activities where you are never allowed to be alone, but the “girls’ talk” at night when I wanted to sleep and was told I was being “selfish.”
  • Christmas activities or in fact, anything the ward plans during the month of December, just feels cruel to me. I feel obliged to go if I want people to think I’m a good active member, but December is a month filled with social obligations far past my limit. I just can’t extrovert anymore and I come off feeling like a Grinch because of it.

Quiet pleaseWhen I first tried to talk to people about the bouts of extreme anxiety I experienced every Sunday, the general response was to talk to me about “feeling the Spirit.” But for me, the Spirit tends to come in quiet, small situations, not noisy, crowded ones.

I no longer think that means something is wrong with me or with the Spirit. It just means I’m a little different, and that God speaks to me in the way it’s easiest for me to hear Him.

I’m someone who, as a writer, is perfectly happy to spend almost all day every day in utter silence. I keep earplugs with me whenever I go outside my house so that I can deal with too much noise.

I know that this seems “unsociable” to others if I put them in, particularly in church situations. But it’s the only way I know of to survive and remain part of the church I love.

Look around you and I suspect you will see plenty of other introverts who just need a little understanding to feel included and loved as they are.


OTHER RNS GUEST POSTS BY METTE HARRISON:


 

  • Josh

    Ditto on camp. Scout camp can be pretty rough on introverted boys. Every single activity is done with other people. I liked being in the outdoors, but I wanted a lot more time alone. For safety reasons we always had to have a buddy.

  • Az Nephi

    Nice article and a good topic for more discussion.

  • Yes! A few of these aren’t problems for me, but generally you’ve hit the nail on the head!

  • Mark

    Mette,

    I too am an introvert; and Susan Cain’s book was in many ways transformative for me. I appreciated Jana’s initial article because it raised the issue for more Latter-day Saints. If Cain is correct, 1/3 to 1/2 of the members of each ward are somewhere on the introvert spectrum. Joseph Fielding Smith and Howard W. Hunter were two introverts I’ve always admired. They were both well read, perhaps because they preferred a good book to social activities, but still managed to accomplish what they needed. I think we’ve already come a long way since Daniel Copley was excommunicated in early 1830s Kirtland because he was too “bashful” to serve a mission. But I think talking through the issues (on paper of course), can help us understand there are faithful Latter-day Saints who have used their introvert or extrovert personalities to the benefit of the whole community. Your comments are part of that. Thank you.

  • RyanB

    Uggh, yes, but everything you mention in this list is small potatoes compared to the actual mission. Asking an introvert to go stop people on the street and knock on on the doors of people who are, ahem, not thrilled to meet you, felt like torture to me. Oh, and yeah, no alone time for two years. It’s a testament to the power of social/family pressure that I, and many others like, made it the full two years. I still occasionally have nightmares about being called to do it again, it’s been 13 years.

  • IZ

    I think that if you have this level of anxiety it is no longer a matter of introversion and a legitimate mental illness. I mean that in the most inoffensive and sincere way possible. Perhaps therapy and medicine? This is not normal behavior to carry around earplugs, even for introverts. Just like depression can be treated so can anxiety.

  • Stacy

    To call introversion a mental illness is part of the problem. Some people prefer small groups and quietness. That is not anxiety or depression. That is introversion.

  • Joseph

    I find as an LDS Christian, if I focus on Christ, His Gospel and personal worship, I feel closer to Him who is the center of my Faith.
    If I let religious social norms and activities become the focus of Sunday worship and my main purpose for participation in the Church I lose site of reason for my religious life.

  • Wayne Dequer

    I agree introversion is Not a mental illness. However, if this tendency lead to debilitating generalized anxiety and/or panic attacks those are mental illnesses especially when coupled with long-long term depression. I know about them from personal experience. However, they are no more shameful than asthma or arthritis.

    My wife and I are both introverts. We’ve recently completed a part time 2-year mission working with the BYU Idaho Pathway program. Prior to that I served as a bishop in a small ward in southern California for 5+ years. As bishop there were a few things I had to do myself, but there was much that could be delegated to counselors.

    I note that Christ took time alone, especially after stressful interactions. The Gospel should be (and is for me) about choice and accountability, and Not compulsion and/or coercion (see D&C 121:34-46). We are counseled to do thing in order and not to run faster than we are able (see Mosiah 4:27).

  • Wayne Dequer

    Extrovert vs. introvert is an interest dichotomy to consider occasionally. Of course it is a matter of a continuum more than a dichotomy. The 11 items listed are worth considering.
    1) For those truly overwhelmed by the 3 hour block feel encouraged to take some breaks especially until you get use to it. I’ve known some who went and sat alone in the car during the 2nd hour, etc.
    2) For those who crave a silent space the car is also an option and so may be sitting the chapel after sacrament meeting pretending to or actually praying.
    3) Leaders and teachers are encouraged to usually arrange prayer before meeting to avoid embarrassing members who would prefer not offer public prayers. Saying “no” a couple of times will probably remind all but the most insensitive to follow the preferred procedure.
    4) Doing missionary work should be an invitation. Boldness should come through genuine spiritual promptings. (continued)

  • Megan

    I totally empathize with this list and wholeheartedly second how hard it is, as an introvert, to get through the three hour block of church. The thing about being an introvert is that social interaction takes energy away from us. So while an extrovert gets a big hit of energy from social situations, introverts just become more and more exhausted. So for three hours every Sunday (and countless other hours through the week) I am on, I am performing, I am burning up a ton of energy.

    Attending church leaves me exhausted. Not the good, “I’m high on endorphins” kind, but the bad, “I’m going to collapse and may never wake back up” kind. I spend a lot of time at church gritting my teeth, just getting through it, because I’m too tired to receive the spiritual benefit I so desperately need.

    Institutional religion cannot and should not have a “one size fits all” experience. There should be room for all to be comfortable in Zion.

  • Megan

    It IS a continuum but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t real differences that should be treated with respect and accommodation.

    I’m actually a little put-off by your suggestion that introverts, or folks needing a quiet spiritual moment, should just go sit in their cars. I’m sure you meant it as a sympathetic ameliorative suggestion but it comes across as kind of dismissive.

    I think it would be marvelous if we started dedicating specific rooms in our meetinghouses as places of quiet, personal, spiritual contemplation and prayer. I have had so many wonderful experiences in the small, private chapels of other faiths. In fact, that’s something I love the most about the Celestial Room in the temple and I would love if we could implement spaces like that in our everyday worship.

    We need to do a better job of balancing the communal and the personal. We’re really good at the communal, phenomenal even. I think it’s time to focus on what we can do, as a community, for the…

  • tyson

    I am also an introvert, but I have been in the church for over 60 years and served a mission, so out of shear repetition and experience most of those things don’t bother me so much. I hate being in situations where I am expected to make small talk with others. I have nothing to say. Then when I do think of something to say someone will make a big deal out of hearing me say something and make some embarrassing remark like “why don’t you speak up more often?”

  • john

    It’s important to distinguish between being shy and being introverted. For those of is who tend toward both personality traits, church and all the activities membership entails can be especially difficult – at times excruciating.

  • Randy Gilchrist

    If 1/3 to 1/2 of all ward members are introverts, do 1/3 to 1/1 need professional help? I don’t think so. This article is just acknowledging the challenge and mismatch of being an introvert in an extroverted church. By saying she needs professional help, I think that makes her experience seem and sound more rare than it actually is. I could see 1/3 to 1/2 of all ward members attending church having some or all if these challenges. I think it’s all extremely common. Most people don’t want to say it out loud for fear of seeming like a bad member who is lazy, hypersensitive, or “lacking faith”.

  • Tauna

    My husband suffers from some of these things, along with being a “computer guy.” First he can’t remember someone’s name from one week to the next. Second, every ward we’ve ever been in has multiple people who, when they find out he works in computers (database architect), they want him to come fix their computers at home. For free. And whatever activity we are at, people come and talk to him about computers. That’s all he gets, whether its in the chapel after Sacrament Meeting, at a ward activity, or home teachers- all he gets is come fix my computers! Please people, the ward is not a place for you to solicit free labor!!! I wish I could get this announced in General Conference. My husband is completely inactive. He can’t fill his bucket at church when people are constantly draining it.

  • Hedgehog

    “I’m actually a little put-off by your suggestion that introverts, or folks needing a quiet spiritual moment, should just go sit in their cars. I’m sure you meant it as a sympathetic ameliorative suggestion but it comes across as kind of dismissive.
    “I think it would be marvelous if we started dedicating specific rooms in our meetinghouses as places of quiet, personal, spiritual contemplation and prayer.”

    Amen.
    We More often seem to be worried about keeping costs down, and cramming as many wards into a building as possible than the experience of those then required to use it.

  • belleboo

    That would be a fine thing Hedgehog, but seeing as not all buildings even have space provided for a baby/mother room….

  • Sherri

    Yep! I can relate to nearly all of those things. And people would be astonished to hear that, because everyone thinks I’m so outgoing. Not! I’m sure people wonder why I don’t go to Relief Society evening activities. It’s just hard. I’m so grateful that this is being talked about. Many of us suffer with these challenges and we need to feel valued and not judged.

  • Lord Roberts

    It also may explain why there are so many inactives. Practicing our faith isn’t a cookie cutter experience. We are all unique and so is our relationship with Heavenly Father. He knows and understands. He made us that way. It’s OK to say “no” too.

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  • Pr Chris

    I know the sort of experiences you speak of, even tho I’m not LDS. As a Christian minister, I am the center of attention every week. Thank God the form of worship we use is very structured; responses that are learned and used every week; everything written out ahead of time, and a God given talent to talk without notes if needed, and to be able to sight read anything–in English, anyway.

    For me, it was an Easter Sunday morning…the most important day of the Church year; we have more people than normal involved in the ritual, and the small church I led had no separate space for everyone to collect their vestments (liturgical clothing) and put them on–except in the Pastor’s office…so there I am dealing with the inevitable last minute stuff, trying to keep in mind my sermon for the day…and 6 other people are getting dressed in an office that is 6×8 ft. That was it–I couldn’t reach my closet. We repurposed a couple of rooms to cover needed functions. Being an introvert…

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