My Life as an Extrovert Nearly Killed Me

How to care for introverts

I used to think that success required an extroverted personality.  Over the years this belief has nearly killed me with heartache, depression, feelings of failure and worthlessness. 

If you asked people who knew me in high school they would probably say I was an extrovert.  I was involved in everything: sports, music, plays, student leadership, and all sorts of social activities.  If you asked people about my freshman year of college they would say, “who?”  That’s right, they probably wouldn’t have known me.   I was usually hiding in my room listening to music or hanging out with a small group of friends with whom I felt very comfortable.   At the time I wouldn’t have admitted that I was an introvert (this would have meant admitting weakness), but I think things would have been a lot easier if I had been able to accept my introversion at a much earlier age. 

Following college I was pulled towards people ministry.  Work felt good when it involved serving others, being creative, or impacting another’s life.  My first attempt in this arena involved working as a camp counselor for the entire summer following my senior year of college.  I am not sure if you have ever met a camp counselor, but they tend to be an extroverted lot of people.  They are full of energy, excited about everything, and endlessly positive.  I gave a pretty good go of it for a while; I lead worship, sang silly songs, and built relationships with as many campers as possible.  I poured out all the energy that I had.  By the middle of the summer I was spent.  I had nothing left and I had no idea where to go to get more of whatever it was that I was giving.  The other counselors seemed OK; they weren’t as tired as I was, what was wrong with me?

Looking back on this summer, I realize that I was trying to be someone that I was not.  Actually, looking back on much of my adult life I realize that I have many times pushed myself to act like an extrovert when deep down I am an introvert.   I felt guilty when I wanted to spend time alone. I thought I was being selfish when I gravitated to individual conversations rather than groups.  I forced myself to speak up in classes when all I wanted to do was observe from the back.   I developed a love for reading, but felt guilty about reading too much and not spending enough time “ministering” to people.  In short I could not accept who God had made me to be because I thought to truly serve him I had to be someone different. 

In recent years and even months I have grown to accept my introversion.  I am learning to view the time I spend quietly reflecting, my sensitivity, and the way I organize my thoughts before speaking as strengths rather than weaknesses.   Working as a therapist has been a very good fit for my introverted personality.  I have the opportunity to connect deeply with the people I counsel.  We talk about deep, thought provoking subjects with ultimate meaning. One thing I have been reflecting on recently is how an introverted person like myself can successfully parent 3 seemingly extroverted children.  Like many other areas of my life, I have tried to fake it as a parent, over the years.  I have pushed myself to interact more and more and more while on the inside desiring time to slow down, reflect and think.  I wonder how much they have missed by my ignoring my inner self.  Could they too be introverts that have been pushed to act like extroverts in order to survive?  If I had viewed introversion as a strength would they have greater ability to accept themselves for who they are?  My introversion added into the mix could actually have been a good thing giving to them an experience of rest, and reflection in a culture that is hurried and over-stimulating. 

I am hoping to continue to grow in this area both at work and home.   I desire to parent more like “me” I desire to work more like “me”.  The more I accept my introversion as a strength rather than a weakness the more my personal leadership and parenting style will come out.  I think I will find that I will have more energy to give, because less of it will be wasted pretending to be something that I am not.

What Do You Think About That?

A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother. Proverbs 10:1

There are parents all across the U.S. struggling with the foolish decisions of their children.  I myself have often wondered about my own son, “why did you do that?”  I really wish that children came out of the womb with all the tools they needed to make wise decisions.   Unfortunately children are born ill equipped for the thousands of decisions they will make in there life time.  How then do we as parents train our children to make wise decisions?

I believe that we train children to make wise decisions by asking the question, what do you think about that?  When children become teenagers they are suddenly required to make many decisions.  If when they get to this stage they have never thought through the consequences of a decision or solved a problem on their own, they are in for a lesson.

I like to start out small and young.  Asking children at a young age what their favorite color is, food, movie, game, friend etc…  All of these questions require a child to think about their wants, desires, and at some level what is valuable to them.  These are not the ultimate values of life but they are the beginnings of determining the ultimate values.  One of the most important things to focus on as a parent during these conversations is truly seeking to understand your child’s inner life.  The more you are engaged with understanding your child’s thoughts, opinions, and values, the stronger they will hear the message, “what you think is important to me.”  If you value their opinion then they will see value in it as well.

As a child increases in age and practice it is wise for parents to begin asking their opinion in more significant ways.  What sport would you like to play? What assignment would you like to do first?  What do you think about this bible verse?  What is important to you in this?  The more opportunity they have to express their opinions about a wide variety of topics the more confident they will be in their opinions.  The more confidence they have in their own opinions the more likely they are to make decisions based on their values rather than those of their peers.

It is not possible to guarantee that our children will always make the right decision.  It is possible however to provide tons of practice and rehearsal for the moments when their values are really tested.  When the pressure is on they will rely on what is most comfortable and familiar to them.  Parents can influence what is most comfortable and familiar by engaging in thoughtful and challenging conversations.

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Parenting Peace

I truly believe that parenting is the most difficult job in the world.  The wonderful part is that many times when we encounter challenges personal growth follows.  In my personal experience I have found parenting to be one of the most powerful character-building factors in my life. I’m not even done with the process yet.   The most difficult part of parenting is to balance all the different skills that need to be used on a daily basis.  How much freedom is appropriate for my teenager?  How emotionally involved should I be in my child’s daily life.  What level of responsibility is necessary for my child’s age?  How do I encourage my child’s growth in identity?

I have struggled with these questions since I became a parent and am so thankful for the lessons learned a long the way.  I have come to believe that the four most important areas of parenting are Encouraging Challenges, Modeling Care, Giving up Control, and Being Present.  I believe that if parents can find the balance in these four principles they will also find “Parenting Peace.”

One night over three years ago, I could not sleep; my head was filled with ideas for a parenting workbook.  I could not shut my thoughts off so I got up and began to write what has become my newly released E-workbook “Parenting Peace.”  The book has taken several different forms in this time.  It began as a parenting seminar that I presented to groups of parents; I then developed it into a parenting class that I taught while in private practice.  It has now become what I never imagined, an E-workbook to be downloaded and used by individuals or groups.

I am very excited to share this resource with parents and those that serve them.  I am hopeful that the parenting instruction and self-reflection exercises contained in the book will help those who read it.  Please follow the links below to find out more information about the E-workbook.   Contact me if you have questions, and especially if you have any form of feedback.  If you know of a friend, therapist, or pastor who might be interested in using it feel free to share the link.


Eyes of Compassion

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

I have been privileged to meet a wide variety of people in my time as a therapist.  I have known children that were neglected and abused.  I have met teenagers that struggled with addiction, sexuality, and anger.  I have cried with the mother whose parental rights have been terminated.  At times the stories of these individuals are overwhelming and disheartening.  At other times their stories reveal to me in a very powerful way the exceptional grace of God.

I have learned that when people experience extreme pain, hurt, and rejection they begin to see themselves and the world differently.  These children, teens, and parents that have been through so much, begin to believe that they are “bad”.  They somehow view themselves as the sum of all their choices, and each mistake made adds to the conviction that they are worthless.

I often wonder how God views these children of His?  Does he keep a list of all the mistakes and shake his finger in disgust with each one added to the page?  Maybe he gets really frustrated with them and lashes out in anger?  Is it possible that he really doesn’t care what happens to them?

I think that God looks upon those who are hurting, broken, and wounded with great compassion.  I believe that he sees the prostitute, drug addict, child abuser, and rebellious teen with love rather than disgust.  I imagine God looking upon the brokenhearted and saying, “my child, come to Me, I will make it better.” I imagine tears rolling down his cheeks, as he knows the emptiness of drug abuse.  I can see sadness in His eyes as He feels depression and self-hatred.   He must experience terror when he sees through the eyes of the abused child.  John the baptizer says, “Look the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! “ John 1:29

I am thankful that, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”.  If only we could see those who are hurting with the compassionate and loving eyes of our father

How can we begin to see with the eyes of God?  How would seeing with the eyes of God change the way we respond to Sin?

Control Issues 2

The most important aspect to remember when offering choices to your child is that you must be comfortable with all the choices given.  As a parent, you have to be willing to follow through on your child’s choice, so offer these choices carefully.  For example, giving a three year old the choice between riding his tricycle in the driveway and riding his tricycle around the block unsupervised is not acceptable.  Once you begin to offer choices to your child, it will become second nature.  You will begin to see everything as a choice and will learn how to phrase things as opportunities for choices rather than commands.

            So, what good does offering all these choices do?  Children who have been raised with appropriate levels of control in their own life grow to be teens who are intrinsically motivated.  All the millions of choices that they have been allowed to make over their lives have taught them that they have the power and ability to make their life what they want it to be.  These children have what is referred to as an internal locus of control.  They believe that the outcomes of their actions are the function of their effort, skill, and personality.  They are confident in their abilities to succeed, and motivation for that success comes from within.  In fact, “allowing children the freedom to pursue their interests without interference is paramount for intrinsic motivation” (Mercogliano, pg 10).  However, a controlling parenting style leads towards children who have an external locus of control.  These children have been so controlled from the outside that they do not know how to make decisions without outside help.  They believe that they have very little power to make life what they want it to be.  They are waiting for someone to come along and do “it” for them, or are hoping for a miracle to make their dreams come true.  Those with an external locus feel as though they are not responsible for the outcome of their actions.

            Giving up control also allows our children to internalize their values.  Parents desire to see their children make decisions that are based on their value system.  It is sad to see a child who makes decisions based on the desires of his peer group or cultural influences.  A responsible child is one that makes right decisions because he is confident in his values and view them as more important than the applause of peers.  Internalized values are a very important part of identity development, as what we value contributes greatly to our thinking.  And when our thinking is deeply rooted in our values, our behavior usually lines up.  The positive result is an integrated identity.

Finding a healthy balance in the amount of control we give to our children is difficult, but so important.  Remember, a child with too much control is no better off than one with not enough control.  I encourage parents to start small.  Give your child control over as many things as possible while maintaining appropriate limits.  Having clear limits for your child will help to balance the temptation to over-control.  As long as the child is within the clear limits, he is free to behave and choose as he wishes.  When he wanders outside the limits, make sure he experiences a consequence that reinforces the limit.

            In summary, a gradual release of control to your child will help him to grow into a teen that believes that the outcome of his actions is a function of effort, skill, and personality.  Giving up control will also foster the internalization of a child’s values, which is a key component to the development of an integrated identity.  Over-control by parents will leave teens with a sense that they are not responsible for the outcome of their actions.  They will also be susceptible to the influence of peers and culture in regards to decisions about values and conduct.

Hide ‘N’ Seek

We played a rousing game of hide ‘N’ seek at our house the other day.   The best part about this game for me is how the kids respond to being found.  As I begin to count they all run away squealing and laughing.  They find their spot to hide and wait.  I start to walk around the house saying loudly. “Where are my boys?” “I can’t find them, I wonder where they are?” “Oh, no where could they have gone”.  I look in the place next to where they are, and act surprised when I can’t find them.  All the while they giggle, whisper, and fidget fighting to contain their desire to call out, “I’m over here”.   If I take too long to find them they begin to make silly noises, knock on the wall, or laugh louder to give me hints as to their location.   When I finally find them they cannot contain their excitement.  They jump out of the hiding place yelling “surprise!” with a delighted and joyous scream.  I make a shocked face, and hug them as though it had been days since we had seen one another. 

Oh how wonderful it is to be discovered, to be lost, to be searched after, and to be found.  I wonder what goes through their minds while they are hiding?  Do they ask questions like, “will he remember me?”  “Do they miss me?” or “Do they love me?”   I believe that children do ask these questions.  I believe that in some small way hide and seek is a grand roleplay of the longing of every child’s heart.  The longing to have the hidden parts of themselves searched for and discovered by the adults in their life.  As parents find the hidden treasures within your children, then they discover these treasures in themselves.  Without the process of being discovered they may never uncover the gifts that are buried within.   As I experience my child, so they experience themselves.

A Boy Named Sue

My Sunday school class at church has been walking through the story of the Old Testament and we are in the book of Exodus.  According to our pastor, in the original language the title of the book was “The Book of Names”.  We have been talking a lot about the meaning of names in ancient Egyptian history.  We have learned that a person’s name was very important in ancient Egypt.  In the same way that we think of heart, soul and mind as what makes up a person, the ancient Egyptians believed that their name was a significant part of their identity.  This belief was so significant that when a new Pharoah came to power he might destroy all the documents that mention the name of the Pharaoh that preceded him.  This was thought to actually wipe out the existence of this Pharaoh.  There are several examples in the Bible where God gave new names to those that he has set aside for a special purpose.  He has a special job for them and changes their name to more accurately reflect the new Identity that he gives them.  In Genesis 17 Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, which means “father of many”.   Also in Genesis 17 Sarai’s name is changed to Sara intended to reflect that she would be the mother of nations.

All of this learning about the connection between a person’s name and their identity before God got me thinking.  I was reminded of an event that occurred while I was working for a counseling ministry in Branson, Missouri.  It was the last day of a family retreat in which all the families we worked with were in town.  One of the college graduate age students was giving her testimony during a worship service.  She did a wonderful job sharing the story of how God had worked in her life and changed her in recent years.   Throughout her testimony however, she referred to herself as “weird”.  She would tell a funny story and then say, “I know I am weird”.  She would relay a part of God’s work in her life and then say, “I know I am weird.”   She discussed the silly things that made her remarkable and then would say, “I am a little weird.”   When she finished her testimony the director of the program went up front to pray for her.  Before he did however, he touched her on the shoulder, looked her in the eye and said,  “Your name is no longer weird, your name is beloved child of God, You are precious to him and he has a purpose for you.”  As I sat in the back of the chapel with tears welling up in my eyes I was struck by the power of a name in this young woman’s life.   She viewed her identity as weird, but God saw her as his beloved child.  How did she begin to see herself this way?  How did she internalize this mistaken message about who she was?  Where did this message come from?

I am convicted today of the importance of how I experience and think about my children.  Children are so perceptive, and when I experience or think about them as an annoying, crazy, bad, or stupid, kid-they sense it.  If I experience or think of them as a lovable, delightful, engaging or smart child-they sense it.  I pray that the Lord will give me the patience to see my children, as He sees them.  I hope that despite my mistakes and blunders that my children will internalize the identity of Christ and their special purpose from God.