What Is An Introvert?
Think you know what an introvert is? Chances are you haven’t heard the whole story. The most basic definition of an introvert is a person who gains energy from being alone and loses energy in stimulating environments, such as social events (people are very stimulating, by the way). But there is much more to it than that.
What Is An Introvert?
Read On For An In-Depth Explanation
Introversion and extroversion occur on a spectrum. This means that there are different degrees of introversion. No one person is completely an introvert or completely an extrovert. Though every introvert is different, most introverts share certain traits and challenges.
Common introvert traits
Some introverted traits seem to be ingrained. Others are a result of the culture we live in. For example, many introverts have learned to cope with constant overstimulation by putting up a wall. This leads people to believe that introverts are cold, or standoffish, but this is not our true nature. The innate qualities that most introverts share are a love of introspection, a need for solitude, and a slower, more focused communication style.
Introverts love introspection
“Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering – because you can’t take it in all at once.” ~Audrey Hepburn
For introverts, introspection comes as naturally as breathing. We love to explore the colorful landscapes of our imagination. Many of us have been criticized for our mind wandering. We’ve been told to get our head out of the clouds and stop daydreaming. What people don’t understand is that there is a good reason for our inward ways.
The outside world often feels like an assaulting force for introverts. At every turn there are energy vampires threatening to suck us dry. Turning inward is as much a means of survival as it is a source of comfort. Our love of introspection also brings meaning and direction to our life.
I can remember contemplating the transience of life at five years old and feeling overwhelmed with emotion. I knew that our time here is short and ever-changing. Now that I’m all grown up, I spend ample time thinking about the very same thing. Today, introspection is a necessary part of my career as a writer and coach for introverts. It provides sustenance and shade from a world of neon lights and fluorescent personalities.
Solitude is essential
“Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.” – Cheryl Strayed
An introvert’s desire for solitude is more than just a preference. It is crucial to our health and happiness. We need time alone to restore ourselves. Introverts are pressured to push ourselves in social situations to the point of exhaustion. Then we feel guilty for becoming irritable and grouchy. We blame ourselves for not being able to be “on” all the time.
But when we give ourselves permission to seek the solitude we crave, life becomes lighter. Social situations are more bearable. Even annoying small talk is easier to endure when we’ve fortified ourselves with solitude.
The quiet introvert
“Wise men, when in doubt whether to speak or to keep quiet, give themselves the benefit of the doubt, and remain silent.” ~ Napoleon Hill
Introverts are known for being quiet. We are word economists in a world suffering from verbal diarrhea. Society tells us to speak up and speak out, even if that means our sentences are bloated with useless chatter. I’ll take silence over bullshit any day.
Most of the introverts I talk to would agree. Unfortunately, we introverts receive a lot of flack for our wordless ways. We are often asked “why are you so quiet?” To which we reply ——— um ————— ?? ———errr ————. The reason many introverts take a less is more approach to conversation has to do with the way our brain works.
Studies have found many differences between an introvert’s brain compared to an extrovert’s. One key difference is that information travels a longer pathway through an introvert’s brain. This causes us to process information more deeply and is likely why we take longer to verbalize our thoughts. My innie friend Jenn Granneman, creator of Introvert Dear, wrote a fascinating article about the introvert’s brain.
Other introvert idiosyncrasies:
- Many introverts identify as highly sensitive (HSP)
- Most introverts hate talking on the phone
- Introverts are often spiritual
- We have a tendency to overthink
- Many introverts love structure
- We prefer deep conversations over small talk
- Introverts tend to write better than we speak
The Introvert’s Dilemma
“Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again.” – Anaïs Nin
In our culture, extroversion is considered the norm. In many cases it is even exalted as the superior personality type. Countless times when I’ve told people that I am a writer and coach for introverts they’ve asked, “so, you teach them how to be extroverted?” I stifle an eye roll and tell them that is most definitely NOT what I do. Before we go any further, I want to get one thing straight.
Introverts don’t need to be cured, fixed or magically transformed into extroverts (this isn’t possible anyway – more on that later). Extroverts are not superior to introverts, and vice versa. We are different personality types with different needs, desires, and behaviors. Unfortunately, in our culture, different is scary.
You see, extroverts have laid claim on the definition of normal. Where does that leave introverts? For many of us, it feels like we are treading water in a giant pool of stereotypes, and judgements. Some of us are better swimmers than others, but we all get tired of the struggle at some point. Dealing with unflattering stereotypes is just one of many introvert problems we innies face. Other introvert problems include: communication problems, low energy, and extroverted work and social environments.
Debunking Introvert Myths
“In an extroverted society, the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is that an introvert is often unconsciously deemed guilty until proven innocent.” ~ Criss Jami
There are a myriad of misconceptions about introversion. We already covered a major one – the idea that introversion is an inferior personality type. Other common stereotypes include the belief that all introverts are shy, socially inept, or rude. For some reason, society tends to associate the above traits with introversion, yet extroverts are just as likely to embody these characteristics. Allow me to explain.
The difference between shy and introverted
Many people use the terms “introvert” and “shy” interchangeably. They think that all introverts are timid. I understand where the confusion lies. Both introverts and shy people tend to avoid socializing at times, but we do so for different reasons. Introverts often stay on the sidelines at social events because socializing drains our energy.
We must be selective about how much we “put ourselves out there” because we don’t want to crash afterwards. Shy people, on the other hand, avoid socializing out of fear of the unfamiliar. The thought of talking to a stranger, or speaking in front of a group scares them. Instead of worrying about energy drain, they are concerned about making a fool of themselves, or being rejected and judged.
You might be thinking, “I fit into both of those descriptions”. If that’s the case, then you might be introverted and shy. The two characteristics can occur together or separately. This means both introverts and extroverts can be shy. Likewise, both introverts and extroverts can be self-assured.
Are introverts socially awkward?
“I talked to a calzone for fifteen minutes last night before I realized it was just an introverted pizza. I wish all my acquaintances were so tasty. ” ~ Jarod Kintz
When I tell people I’m an introvert, they often don’t believe me. “No you’re not,” they say “you’re so friendly”. The implication is that introverts don’t know how to behave socially. This is another misconception. Many introverts have superior social skills. They are confident, assertive, and interesting to talk to. People don’t realize this because they just assume everyone with good social skills is an extrovert.
Some introverts even come off as outgoing and gregarious. We have become great actors, skilled at wearing the mask of extroversion when needed. Who can blame us? In a world that favors extroverts, we have learned to adapt so we don’t get left behind. But, hey, even the most socially adept introvert feels a little awkward sometimes.
This is especially true in overwhelming environments where our energy is quickly depleted. Group outings, parties, and crowded rooms can be very draining for introverts. When our energy tanks are low it’s hard for us to be “on” in social situations. We begin to shut down and put up an invisible wall to protect what little energy we have left. Even if we have great social skills, and genuinely like people, there comes a point when we start fantasizing of sweet solitude. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking explains:
“Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family.”
Most introverts, myself included, prefer one-on-one interactions over large groups. We are the ones who hang out at the edge of the room at parties and have deep discussions with one or two people. We are more likely to shine in quieter settings that don’t assault our energy. I’ve also noticed that many introverts enjoy structured social activities over just hanging out with a bunch of acquaintances.
Structured activities (like clubs, classes, and volunteering) allow us to have more control over our social environment so there is less risk of overwhelm. I talk more about this topic in my Introvert Connection Guide. Download this 50-page ebook, and discover the steps to go from meet and greet to meaningful friendships in your own introverted way.
Are introverts rude?
“Let’s clear one thing up: Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people. We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.” ~ Laurie Helgoe
We live in a world where social etiquette was largely designed by and for extroverts. Sometimes this causes introverts to come off as rude. Declining invitations, setting personal boundaries, and leaving the party early can all be seen as rude. It’s gotten so bad that people don’t even know how to say “no” anymore without feeling overwhelmed with guilt.
There are tons of articles swirling around the Internet that detail how to stay “no” and why it’s okay to do so. Introverts have been struggling beneath the pressure to be “yes” people most of our lives. We said “yes” to social events when every fiber of our exhausted being was saying “no”. We poured out pleasantries and politeness to the point of depletion. Then we felt guilty for not having an ounce of energy left for niceties.
There comes a point when politeness is too painful for introverts. We don’t want to hurt anyone. We just want to slip away quietly and restore ourselves. Our exit might come off as abrupt. Sometimes we can’t leave and we’re forced to make a mental exit (a.k.a zoning out). So, are introverts rude? Yes, sometimes. But in a world where personal space is at a premium and “no” is one of the most feared words in the dictionary – can you blame us? I wrote a cheeky little post about how to (somewhat) politely decline an invitation.
Can introverts turn into extroverts?
“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured…Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.”~ Susan Cain
I am often asked “can introverts turn into extroverts?” Such inquiries are usually accompanied by a story of how the person used to be quiet and withdrawn as a child and then became more outgoing in adulthood. In most cases, their behaviour changed because they overcame their shyness.
As I said earlier, shyness is not the same as introversion. Shyness can most definitely change with time and effort. Introversion, on the other hand, is a personality type that endures throughout our life. A study by American psychologist Jerome Kagan found that introversion is present from infancy. In Kagan’s study, four-month old babies were subjected to various forms of stimuli, including new sounds, faces and objects. Babies who reacted dramatically to the new stimuli (crying, thrashing limbs, etc.) were defined as ‘high reactive’.
High reactive babies were found to have over-active amygdalas. Put simply, the high reactive infants were easily overstimulated. They later became quiet, careful teenagers – introverts. Kagan’s study shows that introversion is present from birth and endures throughout adulthood. Our behaviour might change, but our innate needs do not.
You cannot magically “cure” a person’s introversion. And why would you want to? Introversion comes with many unique gifts. The world needs more calm, more quiet, and more depth. Introverts are the best people to provide all that and much more. Instead of trying to change us into extroverts, society should thank introverts for bringing balance to an exhaustingly extroverted society.