Dammit, You're An Introvert

It seems that not a week goes by without someone posting on their Facebook that they are introverted, and then a few of their friends call them on it. "You are an introvert? Are you sure? Really? No you're not!" And then they go on to debate them on the subject.

First of all, you know yourself the best. If you read what it means to be introverted and that resonates with you, then dammit you are an introvert! And no one should question you about it. If they do, give them the facts. Clear up the myths. Because for some reason, this particular issue has gotten really warped and misunderstood in our culture. We use "introvert" interchangeably with "shy", and that is simply wrong.

Number 1: Introversion does not mean shy. Some introverts are shy, but most introverts are not. Actually a lot of shy people are extroverts who suffer from various forms of anxiety. If you want the psychological definition, shyness is on the spectrum of social anxiety. Introversion has absolutely NOTHING to do with anxiety or social phobia. I'm going to repeat that in ALL caps:

INTROVERSION HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH ANXIETY OR SOCIAL PHOBIA, in the sense that introversion does not cause or give rise to anxiety. Anxiety can give rise to introverted type behaviours (and I think this is where all the confusion comes from), but the motivations for those behaviours are completely different. An introvert wants to spend time alone because they enjoy that time. They need that time to recharge. People who suffer from anxiety, on the other hand, spend time alone because of overwhelming fear.

Number 2: The main difference between introverts and extroverts, is this: Introverts are energized by being alone. Extroverts are energized by being around other people. It's that simple. Because of this, you will see introverts doing a lot of activities on their own, and they are completely happy doing these things alone. They are not depressed or anti-social. Introverts love people as much as extroverts, but when they're feeling social, they prefer being with one person or a small group of close friends. This allows them to sustain energy longer and allows for high quality, meaningful interactions. Extroverts, by contrast, start feeling down and lack lustre without adequate socializing on a regular basis.

Number 3: Introverts tend to be more sensitive to loud sounds and other sensations. They will react more strongly than extroverts to children screaming, construction sounds, bright lights, extreme temperatures, even rough fabric, and the like. There seems to be some difference in their nervous systems. It's not a bad thing, nor is it something to try to change. It's just different.

Number 4: Another huge difference between introverts and extroverts is the way they process information. Introverts process information internally and often alone. This may be why they often take longer to enter a conversation or give particular feedback (especially in public, where there are so many things happening at once). They like to absorb information, sort it in their heads, and then speak their minds, as long as they feel safe to do so. Extroverts, on the other hand, process information by verbalizing, by talking, by brainstorming out loud with others. They do not internalize complicated issues; they externalize them.

Number 5: Introverts can sometimes appear to be extroverts because they can be talkative and expressive. If you encounter one of these introverts, they have simply gotten really good at faking it OR they are very comfortable around you and thus feel free to be expressive OR they are talking about a topic or issue that they are passionate about. Introverts can chat incessantly if given the right platform.

Number 6: We live in a (Western) world which vastly favours extroversion over introversion. (Countries like Japan are the opposite.) Because of this, many of us introverts have adapted defense mechanisms to fit in better in our extrovert-loving social environs. Some of us have gotten really good at faking it. (I am not one of these introverts, but I am social enough to have gotten the names "selective extrovert" and "closet extrovert".)

Number 7: The issue of introversion and extroversion is not black or white. Just like sexuality, it's more of a spectrum. Some people are right in the middle between introversion and extroversion (we call them ambiverts). Some are extremely introverted to the point of needing very little social interaction at all. Some are extremely extroverted to the point of needing to be around people almost every waking moment. These behaviours are only unhealthy if the motivations are based on fear or phobia or some other negative impulse.

If you're avoiding people because you're afraid of them or what they might think of you, chances are, it has nothing to do with introversion. If you're hanging around people all the time because you're afraid of being on your own, chances are, it has nothing to do with extroversion. So, examine your motivations. You know you better than anyone else.

One last thought. Introversion and extroversion are hard-wired personality traits. They are not phases or passing, treatable phenomena (like anxiety or social phobia). Ultimately, embrace whichever you are and run with it. It's all good.

(image by Sasha Freemind via Unsplash)