What is an Introvert?
Thinker. Dreamer. Independent. Quiet. Shy. Focused. Private. “In your head too much”. Observant. Aloof. “Head in the clouds”. Solitary. Standoffish.
Have any of these words been used to describe your personality? If so, you may very well be an introvert. In essence, introverts are people who recharge and renew themselves through being alone, while extroverts are energized through time spent with other people.
It’s important to understand introversion whether or not you are an introvert yourself; it’s estimated that one third to one half of all people are introverts while the other two thirds to one half are extroverts. So even if you yourself are an extrovert, chances are extremely high that you have introverted family members, friends, colleagues…perhaps even your romantic partner.
Both introverts and extroverts have positive, constructive aspects, but extroversion is valued much more than introversion in our culture. As such, introverts may have internalized shame over their introvert nature.
The keys to being a healthy and happy introvert are knowing, respecting, and caring for yourself rather than trying to fit into the extrovert ideal. Both introversion and extroversion can be conceptualized as a continuum rather than strict black and white categories, meaning some people are very introverted, some people are very extroverted, and all the degrees in between. There are people who fall directly in the middle, but it’s more common to relate more to one type or another.
Never use introvert/extrovert to pigeonhole yourself or another person; instead, use the introvert/extrovert categories to better understand yourself and those close to you. In this article, we will explore introvert strengths as well as problems common to introverts. We’ll also look at the question of whether an introvert can be changed into an extrovert (spoiler alert: no) as well as tips for navigating and caring for yourself as an introvert in a world dominated by extroverts.
So…what is an introvert? Let’s take a closer look.
Introvert Personality Traits
Having an introverted personality predicts certain strengths as well as certain problems or challenges. If you relate to most of the strengths and problems in this section, or relate extremely strongly to a few, it’s quite likely that you are a person gifted with an introverted personality.
Introverts bring certain positive qualities to the table that extroverts may lack. The value of introvert characteristics is often overlooked. Check out this list of five wonderful traits of introverts and realize how the world is made a better place by introverts. For these and many other reasons, introverted people can make excellent friends, colleagues, family members, and romantic partners.
Introverts gain a rich perspective from reflecting on their life experiences. Even young introverts can be very wise from their time spent focused inward examining situations and experiences from multiple perspectives. Introverts accumulate a lot of self-knowledge through lots of self-reflections and tend to be very authentic and sincere people.
Introverts think before they speak. Rather than spouting off the first thing that’s on their mind, introverts tend to first think of the message they want to communicate, take into account their audience and how best to get the message to that person or group of people, and then speak according to those considerations.
Introverts tend to be quite fluent with their own feelings, and as such are more responsive to the emotional needs of others. Introverts are often trusted and valued confidants as they really open up their hearts to the people they care about, not just listening to people’s feelings but feeling them right along with them.
4) Creative and Idealistic
Dreamy and idealistic, introverts can easily envision a better world. Introverts often have great talents for the visual arts, writing, music, and more. Some of our best social change advocates are and have been introverts, such as Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, and even Barack Obama.
Introverts think for themselves rather than being swayed by the opinions of the masses. They are guided by their own internal compass and are very conscientious, often having a strong sense of morality that guides their decisions. This internal sense of right and wrong has been developed through deep reflection rather than being forced upon them by societal norms.
We introverts tend to have a certain set of introvert problems or daily struggles that other introverted folk can relate to. Sometimes sharing these problems helps us introverts breathe a sigh of relief, thinking, “Wow, you go through that too? I thought it was just me!” Here are five struggles often shared by introverted people.
1) Feeling Weird and Isolated in “Normal” Situations
All introverts have been here: everyone around you seems to be comfortably enjoying some normal human ritual (noisy bar, sporting event, work party, family gathering) while you yourself are eyeballing the exit and yearning to make your escape as soon as possible.
2) Feeling Overextended by the Demands of Daily Life
Like Bilbo Baggins, you may find yourself feeling like “butter scraped over too much bread” when you have been on the go for too long. You need extra downtime alone at home, with pets, or in nature to restore yourself and resume normal functioning. People around you who don’t “get” you may hassle you about being too standoffish or antisocial, when really you are just recharging your batteries in the only way that works for your system.
3) Wanting Interaction But Having Trouble Reaching Out or Maintaining Relationships
Introverts still need and want friendships and close relationships, but we need to approach them on our own terms or we feel overwhelmed and/or invaded. We tend to be very private people who have a strong need for establishing our own space. Many of us swing too far in that direction and find ourselves feeling all alone during times we would like someone to talk to or go on adventures with.
4) Hating and Fearing Situations Requiring “Small Talk”
Exchanging shallow pleasantries with people you don’t know well may feel a combination of overwhelming, boring, and just plain awkward. Introverts are usually the type of people that can talk deep into the night with a trusted confidant about everything under the sun, but freeze up during more routine interactions. Many of us will go out of our way to avoid these types of situations and need extra time to recharge afterwards.
5) Others Perceive You as Snooty or Shy
Due to your more reserved and inward-facing nature, other people may assume you are stuck up, when in reality you are just quiet. This is rough, because introverts are often NOT the one to reach out first to start a friendship or other relationship. If we are accidentally giving off an aloof and unapproachable vibe, we may be feeding into a cycle of events that makes us more comfortable in the moment but ultimately feeds into an overall feeling of isolation and loneliness.
Is It Possible for an Introvert to Change into an Extrovert?
Since introverted traits are so undervalued in mainstream society, you may be yearning to learn tips and tricks to become more extroverted so you can fit in better. Extroverts tend to be the ones who, at least on the surface, have power, status, success, and popularity. Oftentimes, well-meaning parents and teachers may try to get you to “come out of your shell”, or ask questions like “why can’t you be more like so-and-so?” Introverts may be bullied and teased by their siblings and peers.
You may even be curious if an introvert can somehow train him or herself to drop the introversion and become an extrovert. The answer, in a word, is no. It seems that whether you are an introvert or an extrovert is determined early in life based on a combination of nature and nurture, your innate nature holding a much stronger sway. Although specific genes are yet to be identified, introversion appears to be a hard-wired trait rather than something that can be wilfully altered.
What is an Introvert to Do in an Extroverted Society?
All of the above being said, there are times when it is necessary to be a “pretend extrovert” at least for a short time. Perhaps you have an important presentation to give or a networking event that you simply can’t weasel out of. You’re going to be required to put on your game face, orient yourself outward, and turn on the charisma in front of people who may not be familiar or comfortable to you. Many introverts approach situations like this with dread for days ahead of time and squirm uncomfortably until it’s over.
The amount of time you need to spend “extroverting” will, of course, vary based on your job or lifestyle choices. And the amount of distress and fatigue it brings you will vary based on your degree of introversion. Here are five self-care tips to help you navigate those extroverted times with minimal stress.
1) Minimize Time Spent Extroverting
As much as possible, design your life to be introvert-friendly. A lot of us introverts succumb to societal pressures to be “out” and “on” all the time and find ourselves exhausted. Instead, do what you need to do in the extrovert world, and then return to more hospitable settings and activities. Get into one of the best jobs for introverts that suits your interests and skills rather than burning yourself out in a career that requires you to be a pretend extrovert too much. Remember that introversion is a gift and you’re in the best position to offer your gifts to the world when you are in an introvert-friendly situation that allows you to really shine.
2) Schedule Adequate Downtime
Be protective of your time off, especially if you have a more extroverted job that drains your energy day in and day out. Make sure to work in activities that you enjoy and find refreshing, whether that’s working on art projects or hobbies, walking in nature, or just pure unadulterated couch veg-out time. During work days, be sure to take breaks that allow you to tune out of your responsibilities for blocks of time.
3) Communicate Your Needs to Family and Friends
Stand up for yourself make sure you are not over-committing. Let people you care about know that you need downtime if that’s the case. If they resist, it may be time to go over the nature of introversion to help them understand you better. It can be a serious blind spot for more extroverted people!
4) Be True to Yourself
Don’t try to be something you’re not. Avoid internalizing messages from society that there is something wrong with you for being an introvert. Examine your thoughts and reactions to this article to see if you are holding any negative self-judgments regarding your introversion. If you find some, do your best to embrace your introverted nature and love yourself instead of being overly harsh. You will be better off for it, and you will be in a better position to be a good friend, partner, and family member if you are taking care of yourself first and foremost. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
5) Distinguish Between Introversion and Mental or Emotional Disorders
Please know that there is a huge difference between having an introverted personality and having social anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. Introverts may suffer from these things at a higher rate, but being an introvert does NOT mean you are naturally depressed or anxious. There are mentally healthy introverts and mentally unhealthy introverts; the same can be said for extroverted people. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, reach out for help.
What is an Introvert?: The Bottom Line
Being an introvert is an innate characteristic that helps make you YOU! Don’t accept societal or family pressure to change who you are. It’s not something that you can change through willpower or training, though you can learn to take better care of yourself so that you can function well in the extrovert world. You’re not doing anyone any favors by exhausting yourself, so set boundaries and practice good self-care. So…what is an introvert? Now you know!