The process of mourning and grieving is hard for everyone, but there are elements of the losing a loved one than can feel especially difficult when you're an introvert.
As an introvert myself, when I was mourning the death of my parents, so many of the traditional parts of the mourning process felt very invasive to me. For instance, people coming over to my house after the funeral. I had just been taking care of ailing parents and planning a funeral and now I have to have people over? I know that everyone meant well, but having people in my home, some of them I barely knew, felt very unsettling. And then came the inevitable questions, are you going to sell the house, are going to move and what are going to do now?
Being an introvert used to mean being labeled as shy, but today's definitions have thankfully broadened. Introversion now includes other characteristics like how introvert recharge while being alone or with just a couple of close friends, preferring a less sensory environment and being more deliberate in decision making.
The mourning process, however, can include lots of people visiting your home, strange environments like a hospital or funeral home, lack of privacy, social gatherings and lots of decisions just as a start. Not a great environment for any introvert even under the best of circumstances.
When you already feel terrible about losing a loved one, being thrust into a high-sensory, intense social situation can seem almost impossible to navigate.
I offer these tips to my fellow introverted grievers as you navigate the grief process while still honoring your feelings.
Accept that you are an introvert
Thanks to Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, there is so much more information out in the world about what it means to truly be an introvert and more acceptance for introverts. There is nothing wrong with you; it is just how you prefer to live in the world. Pushing yourself and forcing yourself to do things will only make you feel worse.
Know your limits
While many of the activities surrounding the loss of a loved one may seem mandatory, don't forget you get to decide the best way for you to honor your loved one and your grief. When your days seem oversaturated with obligations and people, carve out time and space for yourself. Volunteer to run errands so you can get out of a crowded house and take a quiet drive, take the time to write something to be included in the program instead of speaking at the service and use social media or CaringBridge to keep friends and family updated instead of contacting everyone individually. By honoring your introversion, you will be able to heal yourself and honor your loved one in a way that feels true to you.
Self-care and self-compassion are vital
Even if you weren't an introvert, you would likely feel drained by the mourning process. Your emotions are on a rollercoaster and there is just so much that has to be done; you are physically and mentally worn out. When your opportunities to recharge are limited, your emotions will feel so much more fragile. It is more important than ever to take care of yourself by eating well, sleeping and fitting in some exercise and quiet time for yourself.
It is also important to be compassionate towards yourself. Losing a loved one is a terrible thing to go through, and you need to cut yourself some slack if you aren't doing everything "perfectly." Not knowing the answers to all of the questions that will be asked is okay. You will make the right decision for you when you are ready and you shouldn't feel pressured into making any quick moves.
Find a group
Joining a group may seem like the exactly wrong thing to tell an introvert, but as introverts, we appreciate people that are talking about real things, not small talk. That is what a grief support group can provide. Of course, you will want some time and space on your own to express your feelings, but you will also need to learn that you are not alone in your suffering. There are others out there that understand what you're going through. Grief groups offer a "me, too" dimension that can be hard to find in your current social circle. Whether you find a group on Facebook or an in-person grief support group, being with a small group of fellow grievers can be very healing. It may take a few attempts to find the right group for you, but you can find some nourishing relationships there.
Grief is going to visit us all, and we all process it differently, regardless of our personality traits. At the beginning of the grief process when the loss is new, it may seem that extroverts have an easier time since they can thrive in social environments and take action when quick decisions need to be made, but once the traditional mourning activities start to fade, that is when the environment is more conducive to introverts. The crowds and the questions dissipate and you'll have the space and time to be more circumspective. It's important for extroverts and introverts to support and accept each other through the whole process because it is hard for everyone. We are all doing the best we can.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.