Revisiting introversion and extroversion: Learning from each other, part 1

Introverts can learn from each other just as much as they can learn from extroverts and vice versa. As I’ve mentioned before, introversion and extroversion are on a spectrum, meaning that every introvert has a different threshold for stimulation. Understanding and respecting people’s differing capacities for stimulation and the way that this might impact their behavior is crucial to any type of relationship, whether it be that of friends, significant others or siblings. This came up in a significant way for me in terms of the last case, with my brother.

For reference, my brother is two years younger than me and might be one of the most introverted people that I know. As a pretty introverted person myself, that’s saying something. He’s a kind and intelligent person with a surprisingly dry sense of humor, who also happens to get overstimulated easily. Large family events like Thanksgiving can prove to be overwhelming after an hour or so. Even the full length of a school day and all that happens within it can be enough for him to reach his capacity for stimulation, effectively draining his battery. When this happens, he responds by being quiet, withdrawn and reticent. After long days at school, the last thing that he wanted to do was have meaningful conversation with me as we sat in traffic on our way home. Upon getting home, he would hole up somewhere to do homework, headphones on, the world effectively blocked out. Dinner-time conversation would often consist of my parents trying to squeeze details from his day out of him, and me trying to fill in the silence and gaps with a 50/50 success rate. Needless to say, this is something that both my parents and I, sometimes with great frustration, have had to contend with.

It was, and still is, incredibly frustrating for me sometimes. After driving him to and from school and all around town for two years, flowing conversation was the exception, not the rule. That’s not to say that we don’t care about each other. My brother and I have been close in that unspoken, I-knew-what-his-baby-speak meant kind of way. If he didn’t want to play with my toys when we were younger, I happily took up his current interests, resulting in what’s now our mutual love of penguins. But we didn’t reach the close, confidante level that many of my friends with siblings reached in high school. I aimed for that during my junior and senior years of high school but, no matter how hard I tried to establish a solid rapport, I was ultimately unsuccessful.

At the time, I pinned it on a lack of willingness on his part, that he didn’t try to reciprocate my efforts of developing a stronger sibling relationship. But thanks to hindsight and reflections on my own introversion as well as his, I’ve come to realize that the issue didn’t just lie with my brother. I do still believe that he could have tried a little bit harder to develop our sibling bond; after all, relationships are two-way streets. But part of the problem was also with me.