Storming the Castle

'Castle' photo (c) 2004, Dave Stokes - license:

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. If you and your husband deal with an extrovert/introvert conflict, you’ll appreciate it!

Last week I did something stupid. I sent in my Easter column that I thought wasn’t too bad, and then realized only afterwards that I probably offended my Jewish readers by not mentioning Passover. It certainly wasn’t a deliberate omission; it just slipped my mind. And as soon as I realized it, I spent the day feeling horrible because I may have hurt some without meaning to.

As those of you who have read me for a while likely know, I don’t mind writing controversial things and offending some if it’s something I’m passionate about. What makes me cringe is when I offend because I worded something carelessly or, like last week, I made a sin of omission.

These tend to be landmines for me interpersonally as well. You see, I’m an extrovert, which explains a lot.

For those of you who are immediately picturing me at a party dancing on a table with a lampshade on my head, that is not actually what the technical definition of an extrovert is. An extrovert isn’t necessarily the centre of a party; an extrovert is simply someone who gets their energy through being with other people. When I need to rejuvenate, I talk. And I can talk a lot. In fact, it’s usually through talking that I figure out what I’m thinking. When something is bugging me, or I can’t find a solution to a problem, I talk. And while I talk, I throw out different ideas until the right one somehow magically emerges. I have to talk to bring it out.

An introvert does the opposite. An introvert energizes by having space to think. That’s why, by the time an introvert states an opinion, it’s something he or she has mulled over and now firmly decided upon.

Imagine, then, a conversation between an introvert and extrovert about something serious. The extrovert blurts out something inflammatory, and the introvert could easily believe that the extrovert truly thinks that. An introvert may assume the extrovert has expended as much mental energy leading up to the conversation as the introvert has, when really the extrovert is just trying on different opinions to see what fits. When the introvert says something that they’ve thought about at length, though, the extrovert is often quick to dismiss it, thinking, “they can’t really believe that, do they?” They figure most opinions are open to debate. No wonder we often talk past each other!

Unfortunately for those around me, though, I’m not just an extrovert. I’m an extrovert who is also a black and white thinker, which leads to several bouts of righteous anger a day, usually coinciding with reading the news, listening to a friend’s woes, or discovering that a family member has devoured the last piece of chocolate cake.

My daughters were recently in a bit of a conflict to do with some committees they’re a part of. I listened to their tale of woe and my typical extroverted black and white thinker self immediately wanted to charge in. My 17-year-old, slightly exasperated, said, “Mommy, your solution to most things is to storm the castle and burn it down. I think in this case I’d like to knock on the castle door and suggest a compromise.” Which is what she did. And it worked. Perhaps intelligence grows each generation.

Anyway, one of the hard lessons that I’ve had to learn over my lifetime is to think before I speak. It is not an easy one, because it goes against every fibre of my being. But if I did think before I spoke—and before I wrote—I’d likely save myself those days where I just feel so badly for burning down a castle I really didn’t intend to see smoulder.

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  1. I am right in the midst of addressing this issue for myself! “Think before you speak” never worked for me, I thought, because I speak to think so often. But then, after several months of practice and asking for feedback, I realized that I just didn’t know what to think about! So now I try to ask myself, “does what I’m about to say contribute to the conversation or build the other person up?” Another key for me was realizing that I don’t need to prove how right or smart I am. So many things I say are only motivated by a prideful desire to prove how great I am. The absurd thing is that always backfires! It never impresses anyone, and usually offends someone. On top of that, as a Christian, I need to trust God for my worth and always consider others better than myself. Realizing that this pride was at the root of my problem was very eye opening and convicting. It’s not that opinions are bad, but it’s how and when I share them that makes the difference.

  2. I guess I’m kind of a mix between the two. I talk (a lot, too much, to people I feel comfortable with) to try to figure out my opinions and such, and whilst doing that I often say things I probably shouldn’t say. I usually work through my thoughts by talking. When I was a kid, I got the nickname “chatterbox.” You’re right, this can make people think I firmly believe an opinion that I’m just trying on for size. At the same time, though, I’m horribly awkward and uncomfortable in social situations. I’m never sure how to position my face or my arms or legs, and it stresses me out to be around groups of people for any length of time.
    Jen recently posted…deliberately confident in the character of GodMy Profile

  3. That is a really great word picture – storming the castle vs. knocking on the door. I’m going to use that analogy the next time my husband and I are having one of our introvert/extrovert conflicts. :-) He’s the extro, I’m the intro. Makes life interesting around here! LOL
    Melissa recently posted…Today…My Profile

  4. Second thought, I always remember after the fact that “in the multitude of words there wanteth not sin.” For some reason it’s hard to remember that in time to apply it, though I am getting a tiny bit better.
    Jen recently posted…deliberately confident in the character of GodMy Profile

  5. This is something that my husband and I struggle with as well… there are many times when we wish we could rewind and take back what we just said (or didn’t say). It’s very humbling when we get put back in our place. Ah, the joys of being human.
    Nicole G recently posted…Sex and Chores?!?!My Profile

  6. That is what I love about you, Sheila. You say it like it is…We don’t have to guess what you are thinking. I guess I am the same way so I appreciate that in others! Variety is the spice of life!;)
    Lori recently posted…Martin Luther’s WifeMy Profile

  7. I can totally relate. I am a verbal processor. If issues could be solved by talking them to death well, I could solve them by the droves. Still working at learning how to translate my talking points into writing points as you seem to do so well but often I just stare at a blank screen. Thanks for being comfortable with the personality God made you to have but not getting so adamant about it that you are unwilling to listen to the Spirit’s guidance.

    donotdisturb blog recently posted…Guide For Newlyweds: A Message for MenMy Profile

  8. I am not an extrovert, but I still struggle with thinking before speaking. I loved your daughter’s illustration. It made me laugh. :)
    Leigh Ann @ Intentional By Grace recently posted…Comment on Last Day to Sign Up for A Surrendered Marriage Challenge by NikkiMy Profile

  9. This is the biggest source of conflict in my marriage. I process Everything by talking and it doesn’t necessarily go through a brain editing session beforehand. Thanks for the post today. Good to know that there are others with similar brains.

  10. I’m a black and white introvert and just love people who say what they are thinking and will offer an opinion :) I can migrate to the extroverted side of the fence when I know people to the point where people don’t believe I”m an introvert, but after too much people contact I start to twitch as I need my alone time LOL! That’s why by the end of the summer I’m twitching wildly and though I love my kids dearly, covet the quiet house while they are at school.

  11. This post really gave me a whole new perspective on the introvert/extrovert conflict. I’m an introvert and I often take what my husband (an extrovert) says personally. Maybe next time he says something with a little less tact than I would prefer, I’ll remember this post. :)

  12. You have a brilliant daughter!
    I am also an extrovert that works my way through a thought out loud, and sometimes people are there while I am doing this. I will often ask for input on the second or third pass through an idea, so that my thinking might be clarified. Sometimes a poor idea won’t be discarded before a fifth examination! Oy! Fortunately, this process is quick (three or four minutes total), so my family is gracious enough to wait it out, bless their hearts.
    With the discretion of age (smile), I’m able to pull from more experience to work through opinions internally. I am surprised at how many things I don’t say out loud now! I hope everyone in my world is grateful.

  13. Great article! I was convicted by it. I’m an introvert and seldom say anything until I’ve thought it through first. It’s what I love about writing – I can delete it if I change my mind after saying it. Not so with spoken words. There are many times I’ve been shocked by the things that extrovert friends and families say outloud but I realize it’s often because they haven’t thought it through first and probably later regretted it and/or changed their minds. If I’m honest with myself, I know that I think all the same shocking things that they say outloud, but my introversion keeps me quiet. The temptation is to pride yourself on a characteristic that is God-given while criticising someone else whose opposite characteristic is ALSO God-given. haha :) It’s interesting the opposite struggles of introverts and extroverts. I’ve been criticized my while life for “not speaking up” enough or being “too quiet.” So it’s funny that while I have to work at speaking MORE, the extravert has to work at speaking less. haha :)

    • Bekah, that’s an interesting perspective! I’ve never thought that there’s a danger of being “proud” that you don’t say things, but in fact you actually think them (I guess that’s because I’m so extroverted!). Thanks for commenting. Great to hear an introvert’s thoughts.

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