What is an Introvert?
You Think you understand the Quiet and Shy Person In your group or in your classroom. No, you don’t. But let’s try.
BY SAHIL KAUSHAL (PSYCHOLOGIST)
Introversion is one of the major personality traits identified in many theories of personality. People who are introverted tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation.
Introverts tend to be more quiet, reserved, and introspective.
What Is an Introvert? Definition & Guide to Introversion
The definition of an introvert is someone who prefers calm, minimally stimulating environments. Introverts tend to feel drained after socializing and regain their energy by spending time alone. This is large because introverts’ brains respond to dopamine differently than extroverts’ brains. In other words, if you’re an introvert, you were likely born that way.
How Do I Know if I’m an Introvert?
Have you always felt different?
Do you enjoy spending time alone?
Do you ever feel like you’re the only person who doesn’t need to talk, talk, talk — or be around people all the time?
If so, you might be an introvert.
Being an introvert is perfectly normal. Despite what your peers, teachers, and even parents may have told you, being an introvert doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you—and it’s not even that uncommon. Studies suggest that 30 to 50 percent of the U.S. population are introverts. That’s one out of every two or three people you know.
The result? Even if you’re not an introvert yourself, you likely work with, are married to or are friends with an introvert. Most people know more introverts than they think.
Right now, there’s an introvert revolution going on. Slowly, our extroverted world is learning to understand and accept the introvert’s way. But in order to do that, we first need to better understand what introversion is — and what it’s not. That’s the purpose of this guide.
What Does It Mean to Be an Introvert?
The most common definition of an introvert is someone who gets drained by socializing and recharges by being alone. But there’s so much more to introversion than that.
Everyone is born with an innate temperament — a way that you gain energy and prefer to interact with the world. Introversion and extroversion are temperaments. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert is largely determined by your genes — meaning you were probably born that way.
However, we’re also shaped by our life experiences. If your quiet, thoughtful ways were encouraged by your parents, teachers, and others, you probably grew up feeling confident in who you are. But, like many introverts, if you were teased, bullied, or told to “come out of your shell,” you may have developed social anxiety or felt like you had to pretend to be someone you’re not.
Of course, not all introverts are the same. Some introverts will need only a little bit of alone time to recharge and can handle a fair amount of social time before feeling drained. Others drain quickly and prefer to spend very long periods alone. It’s different for each person, and many introverts are somewhere in the middle.
Sooner or later, however, all introverts will experience the dreaded “introvert hangover,” which is the feeling of being completely wiped out from too much “people time” or stimulation. This can mean feeling fatigued, unable to concentrate, or even grouchy. It’s as if your brain has used up all its mental energy and just doesn’t haven’t any left.
The result is that most introverts share certain characteristics:
- We’d rather stay home most nights than go out to one social event after another.
- We enjoy quiet, solitary activities like reading, writing, gaming, gardening, or drawing.
- We’ll usually choose the company of a few close friends over a wild party.
- We do our best work alone.
- Many of us will avoid small talk or other unnecessary social interactions.
Are Introverts Shy?
Some introverts are and some aren’t. This is probably the single most misunderstood thing about being an introvert.
The truth is that being shy and being an introvert are two totally different traits:
- Being shy means you get very nervous and self-conscious in social situations. Both introverts and extroverts can have this trait — not all natural-born extroverts run around chatting with strangers!
- Being introverted means socializing wears you out. You might not be nervous or shy at all. In fact, many introverts enjoy socializing (as long as it’s meaningful!). And some even get misidentified as ambiverts or extroverts. But since it will eventually tire you out, you probably avoid the extra social time when you can.
Compare social stamina to running. If extroverts are marathon runners, introverts are sprinters. That doesn’t mean that introverts don’t like running (er, social time). It just means we have to conserve our energy.
5 Myths About Introverts
Unfortunately, many people don’t fully understand what it means to be an introvert. They equate introversion with shyness, depression, or social anxiety. When introverts go quiet, we are wrongly accused of being stuck up, angry, or disinterested. And when we spend time alone, we are often accused of being antisocial or selfish.
For most introverts, these misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s the truth behind the five worst stereotypes:
- Introverts are not necessarily socially awkward. Just like shyness, social awkwardness is a separate trait from introversion. Many introverts can actually be quite charismatic in social situations. (In fact, introverts account for 60 percent of all lawyers, a profession that requires quite a bit of confidence speaking in front of others.)
- Introverts don’t hate people. An introvert’s lack of chitchat is often misinterpreted. People take it as a sign that we don’t like others. The truth is the opposite. Introverts often avoid small talk because we consider it to be inauthentic. We crave a more meaningful connection with the people we talk to.
- Introverts aren’t rude. Yes, if an introvert is completely out of social energy, we might start getting a little crabby or simply zone out. But we’re not trying to be rude — and we’ll be a lot more friendly if you give us some time to recharge alone.
- Introverts don’t need to be “fixed.” Being an introvert is part of who we are, and it can be a source of brilliance. We are at our best when we embrace our nature and use it as a source of strength.
- Introverts don’t (usually) wish we were extroverted. Sure, sometimes introverts envy an extrovert’s ability to think quickly or fit naturally into a social situation. But we also take great delight in our inner world and our alone time. Introverts have many strengths that don’t come naturally to extroverts, and we wouldn’t trade them for the world.
13 Signs You Are an Introvert
Every introvert is unique, but there are some signs you’re an introvert that is pretty telling. Here are 13 signs that you might be an introvert:
You enjoy spending time alone
Most introverts enjoy social time too, but all introverts enjoy the solitude of spending time alone. If alone time feels refreshing, peaceful, and helps you recharge, you’re probably an introvert.
Certain types of socializing drain you
It’s possible that not all social settings affect you the same way. But with new people, large crowds, or in noisy environments, you probably get wiped out fast. Stay out too long and you may even crash — a.k.a. the “introvert hangover.”
You do your best work alone
Introverts rarely work well in crowded environments. The more secluded you are, the more likely you are to focus deeply and produce great work. You may feel more creative, focused, or productive, or you may simply be able to do more in a shorter time. It doesn’t mean you can’t work on teams, but you like to retreat somewhere quiet once the collaborating is done. In an open office, noise-cancelling headphones are your friend.
You’d rather hang out with a few close friends than a large group of people
It’s a myth that introverts don’t like to socialize. Sitting with a few close friends, you may enjoy chatting all night, and you may even “seem” like an extrovert. For whatever reason, these types of interactions don’t drain you the way others do. But once you get to a party or large group setting, you know it’s only a matter of time before you feel wiped.
You have a vivid, rich inner world…
You might spend a lot of time pondering, and even dreaming. Or, you might just prefer to think things through before you act. Not every introvert is a dreamer or creative, but almost all have an entire inner world that they find just as comfortable as the world around them
…and you’re often “in your head”
Sometimes, you get caught daydreaming, or you get flak from coworkers who are quicker to act with less planning. You might even have been told to “get your head out of the clouds” — or you may simply tend to zone out during a conversation and pursue your own thoughts. It’s not that the world around you isn’t interesting. It’s just that what you’re imagining or thinking about is even more interesting.
You prefer to stay out of the spotlight
There are exceptions to this, but many introverts prefer not to speak up in large group settings — and would rather hand off speaking roles to someone else. Of course, many introverts are creatives and performers, and some even love getting on stage. Others are business leaders who speak in front of teams or audiences all the time. Introverts are fully capable of learning and mastering these skills, but if your natural inclination is to avoid group participation, you may be an introvert.
You can “network,” but you feel like you’re faking it
If you hate small talk, and you also hate having to talk to strangers, then networking is just about the least comfortable thing you can do — and that’s exactly how most introverts feel. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it when it’s necessary for work or business, but if given a choice, you’d schedule your next networking event for sometime in 2089.
You don’t always know what to say
Instead, you routinely find yourself thinking of the right response after the conversation is over. This is normal: many introverts struggle with word retrieval (the ability to choose the right words on the fly).
You’re better at writing your thoughts than speaking them
You may or may not be a natural novelist, but if writing something is more comfortable than saying it in person, it’s a strong sign you’re an introvert. Introverts take time to think about what we want to say, and while that can slow down a live conversation, it makes for very clear and expressive writing.
You dive deep, both in your relationships and interests
What exactly do you do with that alone time you like to have? It’s time for self-reflection, of course! You might spend it thinking about your life, the people you love, your career, or the “big questions” in life. Or, you might spend it reading, researching, or creating art. All of these things give you a tendency to go deeper than others into the topics and pursuits that interest you. (Of course, you also spend some of that time just relaxing and recharging.)
You seek meaning
When you’re the type of person who thinks deeply about your world, it’s hard to settle for shallow relationships, shallow goals, or shallow conversation. If you seek a sense of meaning in your job and your relationships and prefer meaningful conversation over small talk, it could be a sign you are an introvert.
You feel out of place in an “extroverted” society
Extroverts often don’t notice it, but our society assumes that people should be chatty, social and quick to speak up — pretty much all the time. Did you feel pressure to talk more even at a young age? Did you always feel out of place, or even wonder if there was something wrong with you for not being more social? This single factor may be the biggest sign you’re an introvert.
These are just some of the signs of an introvert, and not every introvert will match all of them. But if you — or someone you love — matches most of them, it’s a pretty strong sign.
There’s No Such Thing as a Pure Introvert
No two introverts are exactly alike. What’s true for one introvert may be quite different for another. Each introvert has a different level of tolerance for socializing and other types of stimulation.
Above all, there is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. “Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum,” the famous psychotherapist Carl Jung once noted. Introversion and extroversion are on a spectrum, meaning, they are not all-or-nothing traits. Everyone acts introverted at times and extroverted at other times. It’s all about what your preference — in general — tends to be.