Even though the topic of introversion has hugely gained in popularity over the past few years, there is still a lot of confusion as to what introverts actually are – and what they are not. In order to clear up the terminology and what exactly I mean when I talk about introverts on this blog, let’s have a closer look at the definition of introversion.
In simple terms, introverts and extroverts differ in how they gain or lose energy.
Introverts get drained by socializing. This leads to a general preference for quiet and calm environments, as those keep stimulation low. In order to regain all the energy lost, introverts need alone-time. This is essential, as it’s how they recharge. In contrast, extroverts experience the stimulation caused by socializing more positively. Therefore, they prefer busier and more stimulating environments.
Furthermore, while extroverts understand the world around them by engaging with it, introverts prefer to first observe and see what they are getting into. You could say introverts live by the mantra „think before you do”.
There are many definitions out there that go into much more detail regarding the biological and neurological reasons behind introverts’ preference for low-stimulating and quiet environments. I will link some at the end of this article. For now, let me just say that there are actual differences in the brains of introverts and extroverts. These cause different responses to dopamine (yes, the happiness hormone), which in turn explain the different ways introverts and extroverts react to stimuli.
This also means that whether you’re introverted or extroverted is mostly decided by what genes you were born with. It is, therefore, a largely unchangeable part of your personality. This doesn’t mean your life experiences don’t have an impact on you as well. They might push you slightly towards the more introverted or the more extroverted end of your personality. Or they might express themselves in how confident or secure you are in your introversion. But they will most likely not decide whether or not you are introverted at all.
What introversion is not
Which brings me to a very important point: Introversion is not the same as shyness or social anxiety. Though there are many introverts that suffer from these, there are also plenty that don’t. Just like there are extroverts that are shy or anxious, and those that are not.
The problem is that introversion and shyness can look rather similar from the outside: someone doesn’t say much. However, they are in fact completely different because the reason behind the quiet behaviour differs. Shyness means being uncomfortable in social situations, especially with strangers. It is usually based on the fear of saying something wrong and consequently not being liked. Introversion, on the other hand, simply means that socialising exhausts you. It does not mean that you’re automatically bad at it or even that you hate it. Many introverts enjoy being with people and are confident in social interactions, as long as they get enough down-time in between to recharge and can do the socializing in a way that is meaningful to them.
To be fair, there seems to be a slightly higher correlation between shyness and introversion than between shyness and extroversion, but I believe that is more due to the fact that we live in a society that values extrovert characteristics. Consequently, introverts are often told from a very young age that there is something wrong with them for being so quiet, which can lead to feelings of insecurity, a lack of self-esteem and thus the development of shyness and social anxiety. However, if introverts are encouraged in their quiet ways and made to feel that who they are is perfectly fine, they can be as confident as any extrovert.
So, let’s dismantle all those prejudices about introverts for good
Introverts are not shy, antisocial, rude, selfish, stuck-up or people-haters. Of course, introverts CAN be any of those things, just like extroverts can. But they are not automatically that way because they are introverts. In fact, most introverts crave connection just as much as extroverts do and often find people very fascinating. However, they’d rather socialize less often and then more meaningfully, not constantly engage in random small talk.
Equally, their need for alone time doesn’t come out of rudeness or disregard of others. It is simply a necessary form of self-care that introverts need in order to function properly.
Introversion is not a character flaw
In this context, I also want to point out the often encountered assumption, which can even be shared by introverts themselves, that introversion is somehow inferior to extroversion and needs to be fixed. As I said earlier, introversion is something people are born with. Unlike shyness or social anxiety, you cannot „overcome” it. And neither should you.
Despite our society’s preference for extrovert traits, introversion brings a lot of advantages. Introverts, therefore, should not try to get rid of their introversion or deny their personality but embrace it as an important part of who they are and something they can gain strength from.
Most introverts, at least once they learn more about their personality type and how it differs from negative traits like shyness, have no desire to become extroverts. We usually value the gifts our introversion gives us, even at the price of maybe not being the strongest talker or the most capable of thinking on our feet and expressing ourselves on the spot.
While some (or even many) of us may wish we could be a bit more outgoing or have an easier time making conversation, that doesn’t equal turning into an extrovert. It is possible to hone your social skills without changing your core personality. While social interaction will always be draining for us, that doesn’t mean we need to be bad at it.
Not all introverts are the same
It’s also important to point out that not all introverts are the same. Introversion and extroversion should not be thought of as two opposite sides of a coin in an all-or-nothing situation. Rather they resemble a spectrum, on which we all find ourselves closer to the one point or the other. Some people may be very introverted and need a lot of alone time. Others are closer to the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum and can deal with a lot more socializing before they get exhausted.
Therefore, only because someone is an introvert, he or she does not have to subscribe to each and every typical introvert behaviour.
So, how do I know whether I’m an introvert?
Even though we’re all different, there are a few characteristics that a lot of introverts share at least to some extent. Those include:
- preferring staying at home to going out to social events, especially if there will be many strangers present
- appreciating quiet activities we can do by ourselves (like reading, writing, etc.)
- having a small number of good friends rather a huge number of acquaintances
- a dislike of small talk and/or unnecessary social interaction
- working better alone than in groups
- often living in our heads, as our rich inner world can be more important to us than the outer world
- having a natural tendency for self-reflection
- a dislike of being in the spotlight or the centre of attention
- preferring writing over speaking and finding it hard to think of the right words on the spot when in a conversation
- often feeling out of place or misunderstood, as our society seems to favour extroverts
- a tendency to think first (possibly for a long time) before doing or saying anything
- getting grumpy and into a bad mood after too much social interaction
Not every single one of these characteristics will apply to all introverts. Still, if you recognize yourself in a majority of them, you’re most likely an introvert. Don’t worry, you are in great society. After all, between one third and one half of the population is estimated to be introverted, including some famous and influential people like Gandhi, Bill Gates, Rosa Parks or Barack Obama.
Introverts can be successful at everything they set out to do. Not despite their introversion, but because of it. But we need to accept our introversion as an important part of our personality to be able to live with it in a happy and nourishing way.
If you want to learn more about introversion, I recommend this very thorough explanation by Introvert, Dear or this shorter definition of the Introvert Library, which looks at the topic from a slightly different point of view than you usually see.
Now that we’re all on the same page on the topic of introversion, check out my introvert travel tips!