Why introverts often feel guilty

 

introvert myths

“Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.” -Susan Cain

Introverts spend a great deal of time and energy feeling guilty.  We worry that we’re breaking the unwritten rules that are largely designed by and for extroverts.  We nervously teeter across the invisible line between fulfilling our needs and disappointing others.

We worry that we’re somehow failing ourselves and the world by not talking enough; not going out as often as we should; not staying until the end of the party; and not enjoying the hyped up activities that others get a buzz from.

In short, we feel bad for not being extroverted enough. Perhaps, our guilt pushes us to do things that we normally wouldn’t do.  Maybe good things happen as a result. Fine.  But do we really want guilt to be our primary motivator.

We should be driven by our convictions, not by guilt. Click to tweet.

I can think of countless examples in my own life that relate to this topic.  It’s difficult for me to pinpoint just one to share.  Since I’m currently on a literal and philosophical journey of self-discovery, I’ll lead with that.

Five months ago, I set out on an adventure that had a dual purpose. I wanted to pursue my dream of living on every continent before I turn 30 (I’m 28 ½ now) while also discovering my purpose in life.  I was obsessed with finding that higher calling, which would bring my unique gifts and experiences into alignment with something the world needs.

So, how does this relate to introversion and feelings of guilt?  Well, people (cough … extroverts) have a hard time understanding why I need to spend so much time alone reading, writing, creating and exploring my own mind when I ‘should’ be spending all my time exploring my new surroundings.

The reality is, developing my gifts and finding my purpose is my number one priority.  Obviously, I do want to get out there and see new things and meet new people.  But I need to do it on my own terms and in my own sweet time.

I might spend three days in a row sightseeing, socializing and exploring and then hole up indoors for the better part of a week.  During such hermit periods you might find me working on creative projects, reading, drawing, or staring off into space while listening to Coldplay.

Extroverts are typically perplexed or appalled by this approach.  They suggest (either outright or implicitly) that I do things differently.

Maybe they think I should be going out more, visiting every tourist site on the map or partying each night until the wee hours of the morning.  In short, they believe I should be living my life by their terms.

I usually do whatever I feel like doing despite their turned up noses and crinkled brows.   Unfortunately, I end up feeling guilty and self-conscious in the process.  I think a lot of introverts share this problem.

I say it’s time we put our foot down (gently, without drawing too much attention).

Introverts have the right to make their own path and construct their lives as they see fit.Click to tweet.

Unless you’re hurting someone else, there’s no need to feel guilty about your preferences.  That’s why they call them “personal” preferences; you are not obligated to justify them to anyone else.

So, lets forget the guilt and focus our energy on something more constructive … like say, finding our life’s purpose.

50 Comments

  1. Beautifully expressed! I’ve over-introverted, repressed from emotional pain of a separated relationship. Hard to explain, I’m having one of of those days. . . Over-emotional, under-expressed, ugh, thinking about it has psychosomatic symptoms, I shut down. Crazy ey? I believe she is extrovert, maybe a bit borderline personality :-/ At any rate, I feel emotionally immature today! Aargh!, I’m too old! Almost 33

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    • Thanks Mike. I know how you feel. Hope tomorrow is a brighter day for you. P.S. 33 is definitely not old!

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      • I don’t know i am scared actually that if i dont hang out with my friends i ll miss something important.for example most of the time i dont want to go out but i feel guilty so i go out and finally have fun but the next time its the same struggle for me even though i know i ll have fun. I also feel shame if someone ask me “what did you do on weekend ” and i say i stayed home..the truth is i am jealous of the extroverts but its difficult for me,even though i sometimes I ask to go out with friends. But till i go out with them and have fun i am really anxious and i wish i could cancel it

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        • Constance ,You perfectly described me ,but I usually end up not going.

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    • You have completely described my inner feeling that i didn’t have the clarity on until i read this!

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  2. Wow this is great! I really related to it. I used to beat myself up about not being able to socialise as much as everyone else.
    This bit is so me, even down to listening to Cold Play – that is like one of my fave bands.
    “During such hermit periods you might find me working on creative projects, reading, drawing, or staring off into space while listening to Coldplay.”

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    • Isn’t it amazing when you discover that there are people out there who share the same problems, insecurities and even the same taste in music as you! I’m really glad you could identify with the post, Kezza 🙂

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  3. Wow! i feel guilty all the time whenever my friends question me doing something alone, i sometimes goto the movies alone because….its convenient, i dont have to hunt everyone down….and I CAN BE ALONE lol but they dont understand that so i feel like im being a bad friend

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    • So glad you can relate, Jonathan. I also love going to the movies alone. I look forward to it!

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    • true,i felt so guilty not bringing my friend with me when i went shoping or on the trip with my brothers and their friend who was driving,and she made me feel very guilty,i just like doing things in peace and maybe strange but i don’t like when “two worlds” meet,people who don’t know each other well or they both have big mouth,i felt that it will end unplesent and everyone will be angry at me.

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  4. Oh, so very well written ~ that has been my biggest true concern as well. So many people feeling as if I’m stuck up simply because I won’t validate their lifestyle by being there surrounding them with laughs. HOWEVER ~ we really need to have conviction that our way is best for us, because to be shy and nervous the next day over anticipation of judgement just makes real problems out of smoke.

    Its especially pronounced overseas ~ I lived in China for two years, in an alien culture surrounded by the most extroverted of Westerners (the type who would WANT to live overseas) and could not understand why I didn’t want to go and party after a 10 hour workday talking in front of a thousand students…I very nearly lost my mind in depression feeling adrift when I could have just said “my life is just fine” and still been there now. Conviction.

    I say conviction because we can’t expect extroverts to simply magically understand us and not be a pain. Change yourself, not the world and stand firm. It’s so, so hard in this world of the Extroverted Ideal, but you can!

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  5. This is very well stated. I really resonated with “We worry that we’re somehow failing ourselves and the world by not talking enough; not going out as often as we should; not staying until the end of the party; and not enjoying the hyped up activities that others get a buzz from.” Yes.

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    • Thank you. I’m really glad it resonated with you and that there are other people out there who feel the same way I do … apparently a whole lot of people!

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  6. Great article! So much of it resonates with me. The only bit I wondered about though was at the end ‘unless you’re hurting someone else….’. I think that is the dilemma – often we DO have to hurt someone else or else we end up hurting ourselves instead. Did you mean ‘unless you’re deliberately hurting someone else’?

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    • Thanks Gina. You raise a good point. I meant hurt in the more concrete way; however, I do think a lot of hurt feelings can be avoided by helping people understand introversion better 🙂

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  7. I was listening to Cold Play while reading this and freaked out!! Needless to say this is so me. I didn’t realize how guilty I felt for just being me. Working on freeing my self from that.

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    • Haha. Its seems that Coldplay is the introvert’s go-to band 🙂 Glad you could identify with the post, Allison.

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  8. My grandma is an extreme extravert and she’s also quite “famous” in our town, because she wins a lot of tickets in newspapers and on the radio contests, you know – you have to call on a particular hour, or answer some questions and you get the tickets. Usually to the theatre or to classical music concerts. When I was younger, I was obviously the one who get pushed to go, because nobody else had time and “you should have contact with culture”, blah, blah… I didn’t mind theatre (I love it), but I hated those boring classical music events, where you just sit for two hours and try not to fall asleep (no offence to classical music fans, I just can’t stand it). I was telling my parents that I didn’t want to go, I mean, my grandma won the friggin’ tickets so she should be the one to use them, right? Perfectly resoanable. But I was yound and didn’t have enough strenght in my voice, confidence, whatever. Fortunately, when I got older, even before consciously discovering the fact that I’m an introvert, I was able to proclaim my needs. I started telling my parents and my grandma that I simply didn’t want to go anywhere, that I prefered to stay home for the evening. It got better with time, thank goodness. Now my grandma knows that I only tolerate tickets to the theatre, I even ask her sometimes to win or buy some for me. And nobody is pushing me to go anywhere. Well, mostly. At least I don’t feel so stress out all the time. I know now that there’s absolutely nothing wrong in telling others that you don’t want to do something and not explaining yourself. Not feeling guilty is important. Well, that’s the end of my essay, I hope I didn’t make any huge grammatical mistakes, English is not my first language 😉 Thank you for running such a lovely blog, I’ll try to read and maybe contribute from time to time by telling one of my introverted stories 😉

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    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Dana! And good for you for learning how to state your needs. This is an invaluable skill for introverts (something I’m still working on).

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  9. For years I thought I was self centered or selfish because I avoided social situations , especially related to church because, that’s the last place a person should exibit such behavior, right?? Then I read Introverts In The Church and everything got set right side up. I understand now that Western church is generally designed for extroverts along with the rest of the culture but the best part of the book was when the author encouraged readers to practice their faith while being true to their introvert traits. He ‘swept away the guilt and offered some great advice but he also presented some ideas for introverts which are often overlooked which is the ancient practice of meditation. I no longer feel stressed over my differences and I’m learning more about how much introverts have to offer in serving behind the scene and so on. I’m learning to be tactful in dealing with what used bring guilt but the guilt is gone.

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    • Thanks for sharing your experience as an introvert in a church setting. I think you will also be able to relate to the post I have lined up for Monday. It touches a bit on the subject of introverts in church. 🙂

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  10. Thank you!

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  11. Thank you I really appreciate this. I have a better understanding of myself.

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  12. Wonderful article! It resonated quite a bit with my own experiences and trajectory towards discovering my introverted traits, and developing a fresh perspective on our role in the contemporary social “norms” that seem to take so much of our energy and time to engage in. For the better part of my 20s, I really wanted to emulate the extroverts in the room, and felt honored that I would be welcomed into their social circles, especially in a business setting.

    Over the past few years, however, I began to question the fairness of why I should have to give up so much of my own time to please others, in a way that seemed very asymbiotic and not enjoyable to me. In other words, I began considering the idea that it’s okay to be selfish with one’s own time, and that we can decide how we will spend it each day, whether by ourselves or by sharing it with others if we so wish. As introverts, why should we feel guilty about our own choices, when we have so much more to offer to the world if we allow ourselves the time and attention to seek out and develop our gifts?

    As you stated, introverts have the right to make their own path, and I think we can make peace with ourselves by understanding that our “path” will be often misunderstood by others (ie. extroverts), because of their natural craving to maintain social harmony and the status quo. We should not feel guilty about our choices, however, because without the introverted mindset, who else would change the status quo and shape the future, that is different from the present? 🙂

    For the Coldplay fans here (I’m one of them too!), you should try Tycho. It’s like full-on ambient Coldplay without the rock. Listening to “Elegy” right now 🙂

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  13. Your blog is great and I love this article. I am 41 and have always felt guilty for being an introvert. When I was in sixth grade a teacher pulled me aside and asked, “why are you so anti-social?” I did not think I was being anti-social, but being labeled as such certainly left an impression on me.
    I always feel like I need to impress people in social situations which is simply not true. Thanks for all the wisdom in your articles. Like many have said, I can relate to so much of the information.

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    • Hi Josh, thank you so much for sharing your personal experience with this. Experiences like the one you describe are all too common for introverts, which is just plain sad. I’m glad to here my articles resonate with you. 🙂 xo

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  14. Great post, thanks. Your description of that guilt is pinpoint accurate. My conundrum is this: extroverts get such (annoyingly, smugly and obviously large) satisfaction out of socialising; meanwhile I, as an introvert, can’t get a comparative satisfaction from staying in, as I’ll feel bad about not ‘seeing people’ after a certain time. Part of this must be from breaking the extrovert-written rules of society, but also there is a part of me that does need to see people, but gets bored or drained very easily. This leads me to panic if I can ever find a compromise.. possibly meeting my friends for a drink for 10 minutes and then running home again is the nearest I can imagine! I’m only half joking.. I think quality rather than quantity should rule with social interactions.. e.g. balanced listening and giving a sh&t about what the other person is thinking and feeling. This makes me sound angry against my extrovert friends, and to be honest I am, though I know it doesn’t help, at least it’s honest and I can start to unpick these feelings. I can’t desensitize myself, much though I’ve often dreamt of being one of those ‘life of the party’ types who can roar with laughter while just next to them is someone, quiet, with obvious social anxiety, with tears welling in their eyes that he knows wouldn’t be noticed in a million years.

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  15. It seems no matter what I do or where I go others tell me I’m not doing enough. Guilt is a constant part of my life. For vacations I would stay home for a week and watch nostalgic movies, paint, draw, write, workout, and trying to understand what skills I have and what my purpose is. Whenever I need to go somewhere or do something it is fairly easy for me to do it, in relation to all the fuss everyone else seems to make. Should I climb more mountains, paint more pictures, make more money, talk to more folks? Sure when the time is right. The only guilt any introvert should feel is not being able to do something when the time is right. To fear God is the beginning of wisdom, but if I don’t know myself how can I help anyone else. To save another’s life you must first be willing to save yours.

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  16. Thank you. This text is just what I was needing today!

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    • You’re welcome, Alicia. Glad to be of help. 🙂

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  17. relates

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  18. Things I feel guilty or odd about as an introvert that I know I shouldn’t:
    I much prefer shopping by myself than with friends.
    I much prefer going on holiday just with my husband and children – no other family or friends.
    I much prefer staying at home than working in a job that is less than fulfilling.
    I love celebrating other people’s birthdays (but not my own), but I avoid parties like the plague.
    I happily keep in touch with family & friends by email or text, but dislike phone calls, Skype & Facebook.
    That said, most people who know me would say I am quite sociable and I think they would be very surprised to know what I am really like, I hide it really well! I have become adept at avoiding social situations that make me uncomfortable but there is still that guilt or discomfort deep down when I do so.

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    • I agree with everything on your list, Bron. And I’m sure a lot of other innies can relate as well.

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  19. OMG, i’m so happy with this article. That describes me perfectly and my guilt sometimes overwhelms me so much that i can’t breath. I’m not alone in this.

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    • You said it perfectly. This guilt thing bothers me so much. Quilt shouldn’t be my motivation to force myself to do things I don’t want to do. I’m perfectly happy being alone and doing what I feel comfortable doing. Happy to know I’m not alone.

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  20. I have been reading your stuff for a few weeks now and can definitely relate to almost everything you write about! Thank you for putting your views and experiences out there to the world! It’s always nice to find someone else who can relate 🙂

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    • You’re welcome, Tara. 🙂

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  21. Wow. I’m shocked beyond words. In particular the words: Guilt? Shame? Selfish?

    As an INTJ, Aquarius, Type A person, I’ve often felt awkward in social situations. I’ve tried to chat the ears off a pretty woman in a bar, but quickly ran out of cliche’s to continue.
    I’ve even become chatty after a glass or two too many. But feeling guilty I couldn’t meet an extroverts social expectations I must join their crowd of babbling clones? Never. I actually resent the expectation/implication to go to the closet and pull out a social mask to wear. I resent it because I’m little more than an actor in a bizarre Twilight Zone episode. “Read society’s bland, boorish script” or we will try to humiliate you as an outcast. The real pain of humiliation is looking in the mirror knowing I’m giving up minutes, hours, days and weeks trying to please the outside world. Being a “good little boy” is a trap. It’s the worst of all lies, lying to yourself.

    Why would I feel selfish that my personal desires are different from the crowd. Should I feel selfish because it pleases me to read a book instead of going to a party? Do I feel selfish because I don’t want to parrot the latest water cooler dribble with the same boring people night after night in a bar after work? No I say! NO!

    My closest friends, a bunch of extroverts, understand (and accept) I’m not going to be at every party. That’s why they’re my friends. They understand me, allowing me the personal respect to live my own life. They allow and respect my boundaries.

    I have few ‘acquaintances’ because they don’t have the ability or interest to work past superficial chit chat necessary to develop a deeper relationship. Why would I spend time skimming the surface of a person? What’s the point other than not being alone. If I didn’t want to be alone, I’d get a dog.

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    • Me too i get so tired of ppl trying to make me feel bad because i have no friends and im fine with it i have i love my animals and my family im going to school to be in the animal field and all i hear is you should be dating experiencing life you don’t have friends ok so what im still happy right that’s all that matters what ever happened to that . I couldn’t make ppl be my friends anyway

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    • My God, that is spot on. I’m an outsider at work because the tedium of what passes for conversation drives me to put on headphones for hours at a time.

      I refuse to either listen to or pass on gossip, which where I work, is a big issue.

      I also have excellent friends but few acquaintances. It’s a great relief when you accept yourself and don’t buy into what is not at all helpful or suitable for you.

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  22. Hi,
    just wanted to say, keep up the good work.

    Although I already know myself pretty well, it suddenly gets easier to deal with, when you hear it from someone else.

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  23. I had training at work that lasted a couple of weeks (full-time). The work itself is a very independent, self-directive activity. The training, however, was in a group setting and there were many opportunities to chat with the neighbour. The first few days were great as I got to know my colleagues better and we became closer. Then I reached a point where I started to crave quiet, detached time and had to distance myself from them again, but I couldn’t, since the training continued. Eventually I became quiet in class to the point where I would hardly speak to my neighbour and answer any questions they would ask with a short answer in hope they would not continue. As a result we probably became more distant than what we started with, which is a shame.

    There’s this assumption out there, a vibe that is hard to explain, the unwritten rule if you like, that when you are around people you know, you are expected to talk to them as long as you are near them. I suppose introverts would avoid such situations every now and again to recharge which is a solution that works well when you can choose not to go to the event, but when you cannot, I personally find it difficult to manage my relationship with people in that case. I think merely explaining that; “I am an introvert and I need a lot of quiet time to recharge” may not be enough to explain yourself and make a good impression. Any thoughts and experiences are much appreciated. 🙂

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  24. Thank you, this is very beautiful. I’m glad there are others that think similar to me, it makes me realize that there is a big world out there, and that I shouldn’t limit my views based on only the small portion of people that I’ve met.

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  25. I see a lot of things blaming TV shows and children movies for this belief that anyone who spends tons of time alone have something wrong with them. Whether it be ‘no friends’, ‘mental problem’, or ‘someone who hates people’. The TV shows and movies are then blamed for driving this idea home with the protagonist or someone else good shoves them outside and ‘shows them the right way to live.’

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  26. Many times when I feel weird and different, the next day I read an article by you on exactly that topic. It is SO comforting, so thank you SO much for writing!
    Just an hour ago I told my mom that I had stayed in all weekend and felt so guilty about it 🙂
    I have three kids, and after just one week of being back in school and back to our busy schedules, I had NO energy left for the weekend.

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  27. I LOVE being alone and puttering in my home, doing administrative duties, reading, etc. I like it quiet and rarely turn on the radio or TV. My husband works the afternoon shift, so I have the house to myself in the evenings. 😁 I work full time during the day, in a place with lots of people, which I love. I have several close friends, my parents, sisters, a husband, a daughter and a grandson and a pleasant social life, mostly meeting friends and family for lunch or dinner or a movie. But after several days of socializing after work, I HAVE TO have time alone. But then when I’m home alone and looking forward to enjoying a few hours of free time or catching up on things, I start thinking that I should be doing something with my mother-in-law or sister who live alone and might be lonely, or doing something with my grandson, but I really don’t feel like it, and then I just start feeling super guilty for not reaching out and I basically ruin my solitude by worrying about every one else’s well-being and how I’m not doing anything to help them or be kind. Uuuggghhhh!!!!!

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  28. Ms. Michaela, this article gave clarity on the things that I can’t even describe to myself and it is so relatable, it made me happy !!!

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  29. Thank you , I feel exactly the same, couldnt agree more

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  30. Very well , couldnot agree more with you I feel the same way

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  31. I really have been enjoying reading these. It makes me feel a little less bad for being me. Lately I have even gone as far as to make up a girlfriend so as to not seem so lonely to the people around me. It honestly makes me more depressed because I truly want the real thing but, after my last two real relationships, I just feel uneasy about it. I find myself hating myself because I’m not extroverted. So thank you for not making me feel like I don’t have to

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