Introverts, Extroverts, and Social Pain

My daughter and I share an artistic bent, but we are also very different. The main difference is that she is a shining extrovert and I am a textbook introvert. At age five, she will walk up to any kid on the playground and ask to play with them, while I practice invisibility spells when people try to talk to me. (So far I have not found one that works.)

Most of the time, my daughter’s outgoing nature wins the day and she happily joins in the other kids’ games. The other day, though, she was deliberately excluded from joining with other girls. She came to me and told me they wouldn’t play with her.

I had no idea what to tell her.

You see, as a child I was often on the outside looking in–but it never bothered me. Some of you might think I am remembering with rose-colored glasses, glossing over the hurt of being excluded. But I honestly don’t think I am. I cannot ever remember crying over not being included in social stuff. I cried when my one-time best friend slapped me across the face in a culmination of bullying in grade school. The semester I was bullied in high school, I dreaded going to school and seethed with anger. But I never once remember crying over exclusion.

I rarely sought kids out to play with, so I guess I didn’t have many chances to get rejected. And I preferred my own company, so when I was excluded, it was often more of a relief than anything else. Exclusion and rejection didn’t draw tears from me—at most, I was puzzled by the urge to be mean to someone for no apparent reason. (I am no saint—I understood quite well the urge to be mean to someone in retaliation.) And I would shrug and go back to my books.

But when my daughter came to me and said they wouldn’t play with her, I saw something besides puzzlement in her face. I saw pain. She was hurt. It broke my heart. Telling her to ignore it, to go play by herself, to play with a different toy, etc., just didn’t cut it for her. It wasn’t the toys she wanted—it was the company.

She’s an extrovert, and she experienced a social pain I have never felt.

So I got to wondering if social pain is more acute among extroverts than introverts. In the case of my daughter and myself, the answer seems to be yes. This makes me worry for the future. My daughter will walk a minefield I never did—the minefield of caring too much what others think. Of trying to fit in and be accepted. At what cost? And most of all, I see my sensitive little girl open to a world of hurt from the mean kids in a way I never experienced.

What do I say to her? How do I comfort her? How do I make her see that what mean kids think doesn’t matter, and that the kids who would purposely exclude her are not the kids she should want to be with anyway? I’m already at a loss and she is only five. What happens in those angst-ridden teenage year? In college?

I don’t know how it will all play out. Only time will tell. Do you think extroverts and introverts feel the social pain of exclusion differently? Do you have any advice for this introverted mom and her extroverted child?


  1. Susanne Dutton says

    That makes sense. Introverts lose energy in large groups and extraverts gain energy in these groups. Introverts are drawn to one on one or very small group, deep conversation, however. At parties, I’m in the corner looking a the bookshelf–or talking to one person. Although great writers are found in all types, the INFJ is dubbed “The Author.” It’s interesting that ENFP is “The Journalist,” a different type of writer and writing, though both intuitive. In the age of self promotion and social media, introversion can feel like a bump in the road. On the other hand, introverts are good at “virtual presence.” (Witness your blog, which is personal and personally generous.) In the more in-depth sorts of type indicators, each letter ranges from 1 – 60, so a low point extravert or introvert is harder to identify. As for me, I identify with your sense of relief when big energy-sapping group events go away, no matter how it happens. I bet I have been socially excluded, but I never took much notice.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Susanne. I love the distinction between the Author and the Journalist. And, yes, we are good at virtual presence. 🙂


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