Quitting the Guilt: How to Cope as a Black Introvert

by Aydrea Walden

When was the last time you found yourself saying something like this:
“Ugh. I should just go out.”
“I feel really bad for not being there.”
“I know he doesn’t understand why I need to be alone right now.”

If you’re an introvert like me, the answer is probably “recently.” For me most of the time, it was, “Very recently. Like right this minute. Please don’t be mad at me for needing to take a break.”

As introverts, we often carry a lot of guilt around with us. We feel guilty that we’re not doing more socializing at work because we worry that we might be hurting our careers. We feel guilty that we didn’t want to go to that party because we worry that we might be hurting our friends. We feel guilty that we’d rather stay in than go on a bar date because we worry that we’re hurting our chances at romance. We worry that we’re making people mad. We worry that we’re hurting people’s feelings. We worry that people won’t like us. All because we need some alone time.

Being an introvert of color only adds to the worrying. Because there aren’t a lot of public examples of quiet, introspective blackness, we worry that we’re coming across as angry Black people instead of socially exhausted Black people.

But all that guilt isn’t getting us anywhere. Our energy reserves are too precious to waste on worry and guilt. In order to recharge and be our fully wonderful selves, we need to stop spending energy on emotions that aren’t useful. However, we should examine why we feel guilty, why we should let those guilty feelings go, and what steps we can take today to get rid of that guilt.

Why We Feel Guilty
They say that the first step to recovery is to understand the problem, so it’s necessary to look at some reasons why we feel guilty for skipping out on social occasions and seeking some solitary solace.

1. Well meaning pals pile on the pressure. When we’re innies living in an extraverted world, we’re going to feel the effects of our environment. People are going to get very excited about what they’re going to do and they’re going to want us to come with them. They can’t help but pressure us a bit. They’re loving the party, so why wouldn’t we?

2. We’re very empathetic. Our natural inclination to analyze and think through situations very thoroughly is great. It allows us to better understand how people might be feeling and gives us the ability to feel it along with them. But sometimes that thinking is really overthinking. We see a disappointed look on someone’s face when we reject their invitation and we think they’re very upset. It’s natural to feel badly when someone we care about looks disappointed.

3. Sometimes we do miss out. We often tell ourselves “oh, that party probably won’t be that fun, anyway.” But sometimes, the parties are really fun. And sometimes, opportunities at work or chances at love happen out in the world while we’re tucked away at home. So it’s natural to feel like we might be taking a risk by staying in.

Why We Shouldn’t Feel Guilty
The good news is that we can use the above facts to our advantage. These are some alternate ways of looking at these situations that can help alleviate the guilt.

1. Friends aren’t expressing disappointment; they’re expressing affection. When someone invites us to go to something and we say that we can’t (or won’t) go, we often interpret their facial expression to say, “You’re disappointing me by not coming to this event.” But what they’re really saying is more like, “I really like spending time with you!” So take their invitations as compliments, not pressure.

2. People aren’t that upset if we’re not there. Not that we’re not all fantastically amazing, but no matter how much our friends like us, they really will be okay if we don’t turn up to that one party. They’re going to go, they’re going to have a great time, and they’re going to be happy to tell us all about it. They know they’re going to be all right. Sometimes they just like to be dramatic about it.

3. There will always be other opportunities. Yes, we may miss out on some things, but there will be chances to take advantage of others. It’s rare that one single encounter is so life changing that nothing else would push us in the direction we need or want to go.

Action Steps To Take Today
So what do we do with this information? These are three actions we can put in place ASAP to help feel less guilty, stop worrying, and make alone time as effective and restorative as it can be.

1. Express affection in return. Instead of just turning down an invitation, take a moment to return the sentiment. Don’t just say “sorry, can’t go.” Instead, we can try making a connected moment out of it. We may call the friend if possible or go by their desk if it is a co-worker. We can try to take a second to look them in the eye, thank them for the invitation and let them know the effort is appreciated before going back to our routine. That moment of connection is really what most people are looking for. And if we’re able to make that emotional exchange, then they won’t feel like they’re missing out on our time.

2. Share a schedule. We shouldn’t be afraid to let people into our head and let them know when we need to be where. There’s nothing wrong with saying “Sure, I’ll come by for a little bit, but I really need to leave by 8.” Or, if it’s a longer time commitment, say in-laws are visiting, we might try something like, “I’ll have breakfast with you guys, but I’ll need to step away for a couple of hours in the afternoon to take care of some things. I’ll join you again after 3. Does that work?” Letting people know that they can expect us will make them feel included and happy that they can see us. Putting boundaries on our visiting time is perfectly normal and who knows, maybe they need the break, too!

3. Plan for the most meaningful opportunities. We’re not going to be able to go to every event. Or we just won’t feel like going to every event. So we can plan for and around the ones that we think will be the most meaningful or most impactful. Maybe we don’t go to the movies with the gang this weekend, but maybe we do go to a friend’s milestone birthday party. Maybe we don’t go to every happy hour with the folks from the office, but maybe we will go when there’s something specific to celebrate like a new coworker or an office mate’s last day. Maybe we don’t go to every football game with our partner, but maybe we make an effort to host a couple of watching parties during the season. By committing to special events, we save ourselves a lot of energy and maintain the connections we’re working hard to have.

Our alone time is important. Many of us would say that alone time is mandatory. So protect it! But with the above in mind, we can also protect our relationships, our career opportunities, all while respecting, nurturing and protecting our precious selves.

Photo: Shutterstock

A former newspaper reporter, Aydrea Walden was a writer for The Seattle Times Company before moving to Los Angeles and writing for Nickelodeon, Hawaii Film Partners, Highlander Films, The Second City LATC, iO West, the Now Write! Screenwriting Book Series, Makers Studios, and Disney.

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