How to handle extroverted family members
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
My girlfriend is related to the most extroverted people I've ever met in my entire life.
(She's an extrovert herself, but she's chill about it.)
Even when they aren't hosting guests or attending large group events, they can't stand silence for more than 3 consecutive minutes. They gotta talk. And I gotta talk with them, or I'm being "rude."
I can socialize fine, in small doses.
But they are Always On. And it can be Exhausting.
Unfortunately there's no easy solution.
Our personalities—and by extension our lifestyles and habits and household rules—are drastically different. I can't magically become a party animal, and they're certainly not going to chill out to accommodate me.
So I can't fix the introvert/extrovert issue by making it go away altogether. Sad day.
I love my Gal Pal™ too much to avoid or alienate her family.
So after weeks of angsting, I came up with ways to MODERATE the issue on my end, to handle the visits so that they don't feel so overwhelming.
Ways to handle being around extroverts
Tread a new mental path
Schedule some breaks
Research conversation starters
Prepare personal anecdotes
1. Tread a new mental path
This one is useful before, during, and after interacting with the almost-in-laws (and any other large social gathering, really). But it's probably the most important for preparing myself beforehand.
I tend to narrate in my head, and that can turn into circles of the same thought over and over.
(That's a big factor in depressive episodes btw. Fun fact.)
And the more times I think a thing, the easier it is to think it again.
I picture these thought circles as grass stomped down into a circular path. I go around and around, walking the same mental path. And naturally I'm not going to look for an alternate path if there's a well-trod option I'm already on.
Which, okay, fine, whatever. Who cares.
Well, it turns out my BRAIN cares. Especially when that circle path is "That person is a bitch" or "I never get a break and it's so exhausting and I hate it." Because those things aren't necessarily true (at least not 100% of the time!), but the repetition makes me think they are.
So now I actually do the self-aware stuff I've been telling my therapist I do lol
When I notice myself in the bad spiral thoughts, I picture my stomped-down grass circle path of negativity. And I picture myself walking away from the path to start a different one, with a more positive (or at least neutral) perspective.
Let's say I catch myself thinking, "Great-Great-Aunt Matilda is a bitch. She's a bitch. She's a bitch." Not ideal.
I don't start shaming myself for it, because that's another negative thought spiral.
Instead, I picture stepping off the worn grass path, wading through the high grasses around me, and then starting a new path with "Great-Great-Aunt Matilda is complex. She's complex. She's complex."
Note that I'm not trying to convince myself that Great-Great-Aunt Matilda is actually nice or that she means well or that we'll eventually become besties. That's a little too much to maintain long-term. But a more realistic perspective helps keep my brain in check, and that's the point.
2. Schedule some breaks
Part of my negative thought spirals is the feeling like I never ever get a break from the socializing.
They like to talk, and they require me to talk, and playing on my phone/reading gets me the Shame On You look from my gal.
The feeling of incessant conversation isn't that far off, tbh. But the complete lack of breaks is actually on me.
Eventually I got self-aware enough to realize that I reach for my phone games partially because I need to retreat and calm myself. (I tend to avoid my feelings. Kind of inconvenient.)
So I can just take a second on my game to calm down, right? The catch: Playing phone games in public is considered rude to the Extrovert Family.
Now that I've figured out why I reach for the Forbidden Technology, I've plotted an alternative. When I start itching for my games, I quietly get up and take a short break.
Nothing excessive. Despite my unintentional appearance, I don't want to be rude.
I just do something where I can breathe for a moment and be mindful of the silence.
take a long bathroom break
take a breather in the bedroom
stand in the kitchen and look at the food/drinks options lol
walk the dog (I haven't actually used this one yet, but it has potential)
The point is to make every tiny break feel like a BIG break. That makes them count for more.
3. Research conversation starters
Apparently it's important to initiate conversations as well as insert myself into existing ones.
Unfortunately, outside of casual small talk in customer service situations, I don't initiate conversations unless I have something interesting and relevant to say.
That is not how this family works.
They talk all the time about anything or anyone that pops into their heads.
I don't have that talent. But luckily other people do, and they collect their ideas on my good friend The Internet.
Google "conversation starters," sailor.
Then use them at any silence ever.
I love HubSpot's 125 Conversation Starters for Virtually Any Situation. I printed them off and studied them to prepare for a work conference, and then I realized that most of them could serve me in a social sitch too.
Yes, it's kinda random to be in the kitchen with my lady's mom and out of nowhere be like "have you seen any good movies lately." It feels so awkward. But I'm told they like this better than silence, so here I am, memorizing conversation starters.
If it works, it works.
4. Prepare personal anecdotes
This kinda goes with #3—ahead of time, I think of interesting things that have happened lately so I have stories to tell.
This is partially because I cannot trust my judgment on improvising during a conversation. Not at all.
I get nervous and then weird shit just starts coming out of my mouth. Like Kanye West in the Oval Office weird. Nervous Me is for real a whole different person from Regular Me.
This untrustworthy filter is why I learned to go silent during conversations with people I don't know well.
But as previously stated, Silence Is Bad Here. And basic responses are not good enough.
So on top of awkward conversation starters, I mentally collect anecdotes from my life. That way, I have them ready and available to alternate with the aforementioned awkward conversation starters.
Silence. "Do you like cheese." More silence. "Yesterday I saw a bald eagle eating roadkill on my way to work. Seemed like a metaphor." More silence. "Which Christmas hallmark movie are you most excited for." Repeat until I can go to bed for the night.
If anyone has better ideas, for the love of God please share them.
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This blog post was originally published in October 2018.