Introverts, Extroverts, and Grief
With the tragic loss of 28 year old self-proclaimed introvert Avicii (Tim Bergling) we started thinking about grief. Grief affects everyone differently. Often, we don’t know how we’ll respond to grief until it’s upon us.
Even though there’s a lot of diversity in how people grieve, research has shown that the majority of people are resilient. (1) Resiliency doesn’t mean not feeling, but knowing that everything is ultimately okay, even in the grips of sadness and loss. (2)
It’s helpful to know how introverts and extroverts process grief, so that we might support one another and feel empowered by our own needs, instead of feeling ashamed of them.
Here are some reflections about the two personality types and how they respond to grief.
Things to Know About Introverts and Grief
Introverts like Avicii are loosely defined as people who recharge their energy by being alone. (3) When introverts are hit with grief, it can be an overwhelming experience.
It’s helpful to note there are many types of grief. There’s the grief of losing a loved one, a divorce or breakup, losing a dream, drastic change in a financial situation, etc. For the sake of examples, we’ll explore the grief of losing a loved one, but if you’re experiencing a different kind of grief, the situational context can easily be replaced.
When a loved one dies, there’s often a level of novelty, chaos, and decision-making surrounding the experience. When I lost my brother, it was after months of being in the hospital, living among extreme environmental stimuli. After he died, we were faced with various decisions related to his death, often discussed with the professionals in a clinical, removed manner. When we did arrive home, our community came to visit, bearing wonderful meals, support, and a desire to listen to what had happened.
As an introvert, these compounding situations, amidst the strong emotional reaction to just losing my brother, led to intense fatigue and a lack of the basic tenants of my own personal health: quietude, reflection, and connecting with myself and individuals on an intimate level.
As an introvert, recognize that you might need more space than you realize. Some circumstances will inhibit this – like needing to be in touch with hospitals or funeral homes – but to the best of your ability, make space for yourselves, your process, and your grief.
There’s no need to shame yourself for this need, or allow others to shame you by questioning whether or not you’re isolating in an unhealthy way. If you need to, share your internal experience with someone else, and let them know how they can best help support your needs.
In all things, be extra gentle. Prioritize your self-care. Grief takes a lot of energy, as does welcoming other mourners into your home or emotional space. Set aside time with nothing planned. Maybe a bath will speak to you, or a walk, or some journaling, or sitting with pictures and memories. Allow yourself to go with the flow
Create breaks in your workday to step aside and be alone for a little while so your emotions don’t pile up and unexpectedly knock you down. If it’s helpful, ask a few close friends to check in on you, or to meet weekly, to ensure you have a trusted outlet for exploring your grief.
Above all, know that there’s nothing wrong with you and your particular flavor of grieving. It’s uncharted territory, and even though it feels uncomfortable, it’s not only part of being alive, but part of being resilient, too.
Things to Know About Extroverts and Grief
Extroverts are defined as individuals who recharge their energy by being around other people. For extroverts, there might be a few conflicting things going on when grief hits. (4)
It’s possible you’ll process your grief aloud with your community members, and appear to quickly return to “normal” life. Others might question whether or not you’re suppressing your emotions. It’s actually very common for people to return to their previous level of functioning within a few days, or a few weeks, after a loss.
This doesn’t mean you won’t feel sad. You might feel sad about this loss for the rest of your life. Still, feel confident in the notion that grief doesn’t have to be a ddrawn-outprocess in order to be fully felt and expressed. This is what it means that everyone experiences grief differently. There really is no “right” way. There are many ways.
Conversely, if an extrovert feels the need to withdrawal because of grief, again this might cause alarm among their community members, but for another reason. It’s perfectly natural if you suddenly find you need a bit more time and space to yourself. If some of your friends express their concern, and you aren’t deeply suffering, assure them you’re okay. You’re just doing your thing. This is what calls to you right now.
Like introverts, you can also give your community instructions about specific ways in which they can support you. Even though it feels unnatural, giving directions when it comes to grief is important. Otherwise, your friends might say things like, “Let me know if you need anything,” and they actually need direction from you, otherwise they won’t do anything.
Our community’s support isn’t meant to “fix” our grief. Grief cannot be fixed, because nothing is truly broken. Often, even we don’t know what we need when we’re grieving. The secret is anything and everything helps. Try asking your community for something and see how it helps. You can simply ask for their presence, food deliveries, or a daily call. A simple symbol of their love and care goes a long way.
Lastly, because extroverts generally process their emotions verbally, have a bit of mindfulness about the people with whom you share your emotions, and what you say. Some might not be willing to receive what you have to share. That’s okay, and it’s important to identify the listeners in your life. They’re the ones who will hear what you have to say without judgment, and offer their presence in return.
Some friendships don’t withstand the experience of grief. It might be too much for them to see you in pain, and to be reminded of something they avoid in their own lives. Try to find a place of empathy in your heart for them, and invest in the relationships that do withstand grief.
Grief truly is a unique experience unto its own. Often we think we’re doing it wrong. The ultimate test you can do is quietly asking yourself inside, “Am I okay?” If the answer is “yes,” even as you experience crying spells and periods of low energy, you’re evolving right along with your grief. (6) If the answer is “no,” seek professional help. One of the best things we can do for ourselves is respect and honor our own process, including the times when we need additional support and care.
Grief was never meant to be endured alone. Find your tribe, introverted and extroverted, that’s there for you, holds your hand, and offers their hearts during your times of pain.
Today, we grieve with everyone who is missing Avicii. His music touched the entire globe lifting the spirits of millions. R.I.P. Tim. We'll miss you.