I am an introvert (here’s what you should know)

I am an introvert, and I’m OK with that. No, I’m way ok with that. It’s who I am, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not like “I have only one arm and I’m OK with that because I’ve adapted.” There’s no adaptation needed with introversion. It’s the way I am, and ever since I came to understand it better, I realize it’s not only who I am, it’s who I prefer to be.

Introversion has nothing directly to do with shyness. Shyness is on a whole other scale of things, although it is true that introverts often seem to be shy (and in many cases really are shy). But they are not the same thing, not at all.

Introversion and extroversion are personality types. One is not better than the other, although people who belong to one group often think less of the others simply because they sometimes have trouble relating to them.

Several years ago I heard an interview on CBC radio with a Canadian scientist – an introvert – on the subject of what makes the two types different. I wish I could conjure up his name, and the interview, but I can’t. But based on what I remember, plus what I’ve learned through further reading and observation, the fundamental differences lie in how people in the two groups handle external and internal stimulation. Thus (speaking in general terms and painting with a wide brush):

Introverts

Introverts are all about internal stimulation. They have rich “inner worlds” that keep them from getting bored even when they have little to do externally. Introverts generally love reading and watching movies because those activities stimulate them internally. Introverts tire easily of the kind of external stimulation one gets at crowded parties and activities that require a lot of physical activity. Introverts generally don’t like a situation that involves a lot of small talk with a lot of people; they’d rather have in-depth conversations with a few people, such as at a dinner party.

Extroverts

Extroverts are all about external stimulation. They thrive on it. When there’s nothing going on they get bored quickly, even if they have a stack of books and magazines to look at. Extroverts certainly enjoy in-depth conversations, but they love lively parties with lots of people and noise. They love chatting with people and doing things. They also enjoy reading, but do so primarily for the sake of learning and gathering information, and less so just for the pleasure of reading.

But… but… but…

This next bit shouldn’t be necessary, but some of you might be skimming and missed the part where I say I’m speaking in generalities. Yes, introverts like parties. But we’ve all see the “wall flowers” at parties (and I don’t mean sullen moody people, just ones who stay at the edge of the action). Those are the introverts. They’re probably feeling a bit overstimulated, so they’re laying back a bit. There’s a lot going on in their heads, and they’re having a good time just observing and thinking about what’s going on. The extroverts, on the other hand, are out there in the middle of the room chatting everyone up. The more the merrier!

And yes, introverts can enjoy things like skiing and hiking and other physical activities. But if you asked an introvert and an extrovert what they’ve done over the past four weekends (barring neutral things like yard work and other chores) you’ll find the extrovert when skiing twice, went to a spa one other weekend, and relaxed on the fourth (but was probably a bit bored). The introvert, on the other hand, read four novels, saw a play, and went skiing once.

Degrees

Above, I was not only speaking in generalities, but I was referring to binary opposites; people at the extreme ends of what is actually a continuum. Most of us lie somewhere in between, although most of us lean one way or the other. Few are at the extremes or at dead-center.

Five things you should know

Via Darkly Dreaming David, I found this list of “Top 5 Things Every Extrovert Should Know About Introverts.” I would say that introverts should know it too, as some of us are not fully aware that it’s OK to be an introvert. Know thyself, introvert, so you don’t have to feel bad about not wanting to go para-sailing every goddam weekend.

Here are the five things, in brief, but if you’re interested, go to the source for the full explanations:

  1. If a person is introverted, it does NOT mean they are shy or anti-social.
  2. Introverts tend to dislike small talk.
  3. Introverts do like to socialize – only in a different manner and less frequently than extroverts.
  4. Introverts need time alone to recharge.
  5. Introverts are socially well adjusted.
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29 thoughts on “I am an introvert (here’s what you should know)

  1. Very very interesting. I’ve always tried to think of myself as a balance of the two, but this pegged me squarely on the introverted side. Actually much more so since moving here since articulating myself in a different language has not been easy so I just sit back and watch instead.

    Thanks. I have a much better understanding of this now.

  2. I’m in the same situation as Frank; I’ve always thought of myself as a balance of the two just because I am a pretty social person, and I am comfortable in large crowds/speaking to large audiences. I’d actually originally read the article as a link from another blog because my boyfriend is the quiet-type and part of me wanted to “tap into that”, only to read it and realize that I’m actually an introvert too.

  3. Interesting post Ed. I always say that I’m not the kind of person you get to know in 5 minutes. Not because you can’t get to know someone in 5 minutes, but because I don’t usually express myself (& therefore my personality) in quick sound bites. My personality comes out more in those longer ‘dinner party’ type conversations.

    So, count me in on the introverted side.

  4. It’s what I keep telling the extroverts who don’t get it. I have a social battery that’s small and needs time to recharge. I can’t stay in high levels of social interactions for to long, I’m just wired that way. It doesn’t feed my inner-Dave, it just wears out my battery.

    If any introverts want to read the ultimate book on introverts, I suggest you read Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto

  5. Thanks for the book link Dave. I’ve seen that book but I haven’t read it.

    However, lest anyone think “introvert = loner” I want to reiterate that introverts are not necessarily loners. While we do generally get overstimulated in crowds and need time to “recharge” as you say, it affects different people in different ways. And, as with all personality manifestations, there are combinations of factors at play. Some introverts are more (or less) “loner” than others.

    Personally, I also need “recharging” time, especially after a lot of social interactions. As well, I have no problem spending time on my own; in fact I actually like it. For example, the prospect of a 24 hour train ride by myself (with nobody else in the other seat) sounds wonderful to me. Gimme my iPod and a few magazines and I’m all set. But I’ll be getting squirrelly for some interaction by the end of it.

    Your classic extrovert, on the other hand, would hate the idea of a ride like that (unless he or she was feeling sick, or was really tired, etc.)

  6. Blork, people have to detach from the stigma of loner, because of everything that people attach to loners (killers, psychos and yada yada) but introverts are loners, unless surrounded by other introverts. And other introverts understand we each need our space

    I was once told by an extrovert I and another introvert had no life because our interests lied in the cerebral and not in the clubbing and drinking ourselves silly. Well sorry for liking good restaurants, books and movies, I’ll try better next time LOL :D

    When I tell people I can spend a week-end doing absolutely nothing in silence (yes I do that sometimes, it recharges the batteries – sorta like a semi-weekend-Buddhist-retreat) people DON’T BELIEVE ME and then I insist and they still don’t believe me.

    I was offered a 2 year contract where I have to travel a lot and I have to do a psych test to see how I can deal with long periods of time alone. I say no problem. I can spend days alone in a room as long as I have books, movies or what not. And they don’t believe me either.

    People, mostly extroverts, can’t comprehend, can’t imagine, that some people aren’t completly jacked into the social life. That some don’t need constant social interaction, that some don’t need social validation to feel that they even exist. I can do fine without seeing people for days. I’m not a freak. When I do see people, I want to go out and have fun to. But I need some alone time. Thats the part people cant get. And I can’t get they don’t get that.

  7. This week, I went to the web site of one of my favorite writers, Neal Stephenson, to see if he was coming up with something new. It has been two years since The System of the World, the last of the Baroque Cycle.

    In the section “about” the author, he writes: “Recently I found an article in the Atlantic Monthly by Jonathan Rauch that describes my personality with uncanny accuracy. Extroverts ought to read this article! Introverts don’t need to, but might get a kick out of it anyway.”

    The article is called Caring for Your Introvert, here’s the link: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200303/rauch

    I think that you will like it.

  8. Thanks Sales Guy; I’m gonna print up that article and read it later.

    Dave, I didn’t mean to imply there’s anything wrong with being a loner; just that not all introverts identify themselves as strictly loner-types.

    I’m certainly at least a part-time loner. Like I said above (about the long train ride), I love spending time by myself. And I also love spending time with other people; especially if they’re introverts. ;-)

    Like you, I’m often at a loss when, on Monday morning, some extrovert will ask what I did on the weekend. In my mind I had a wonderful weekend – went to a movie with my girlfriend, read a big chunk of a novel, wrote some stuff on my blog, went grocery shopping for a couple of hours, made a few killer meals just for me and her. Wow, what an excellent weekend! But when you explain that to a sporty extrovert it sounds like you had the dullest weekend imaginable!

  9. Interesting. Agreeing with Frank, I have always found myself to be a mix of the two, but according to this definition I clearly fall on the side of “introvert”. Interesting also, how these definitions peg extroverts a tad negatively as loud party people who can’t sit still for one minute.

  10. “how these definitions peg extroverts a tad negatively as loud party people who can’t sit still for one minute.”

    It’s how they look to introverts. Just like we look weird to extroverts. We just don’t try to change extroverts or convert them. We study them, classify them and dissect them, but we don’t attempt conversion, we know it’s a futile attempt.

    As your overlords we subtly control your lives through media and economy :D (JK)

  11. I bet it’s mostly introverts reading this…:-)
    There is a test out there called the Briggs-Myers Test which is basically about exactly this, classifying people into Introverts or Extroverts (by degree).

  12. Ah yes, I relate to this as well, as definitely an introvert. An interesting thing would be to learn how introverts manage in a relationship with an extrovert. If the extrovert partner wants to bring you into the fold constantly and refuses the fact that you cannot be an extrovert, it could be a problem. If the extrovert is rather independent and accepting, it works well. Mmm, I would have a lot to say about this…Any of you introvert in a love relationship with an extrovert or vice versa?

  13. I consider myself to be a social introvert, and I’ve had the best friendships with extroverts. We seem to gravitate towards each other and there’s a mutual fascination… mixed with a bit of confusion. The only problem has been my need to step away from my extrovert friends at times (like for an hour during a long day together) because there’s only so much of another person I can take in one day, especially if that person takes a lot of room or changes moods a lot during a short time period. They often take it personal that I back away, but when we get to know each other better then everything is okay (and I can suck their energy and use it for myself).

  14. Well, that’s what it’s all about, really; mutual understanding. But that can be a bit trickier when each partner is on a different side of the introvert/extrovert divide.

    In my case, I can think of one girlfriend I had who was very much an extrovert, despite her being somewhat shy in some ways. She quite literally experienced “activity guilt” (her term) if a weekend went by in which she didn’t do some outgoing thing like go skiing or horseback riding or whatever. I was up for doing that sometimes (and really enjoyed it when I did), but generally speaking was quite happy to read a book or lay around in a hammock. I thought she was nuts and she thought I was lazy. Go figure.

  15. Damn I want a hammock. I want to by those mini- hammocks you can setup inside a doorway so I can read :D

  16. I’ve thought about this a bit over the weekend. I’m wondering whether it’s right to correlate the level of activity with social interaction. Do people who are not as interested in being around other people also engage in less physical activity? It’s common to associate the jet-set with a flurry of activity, but are they really activites that involve meeting and interacting with others. Maybe it’s because we relate recreation with team sports instead of hiking or long distance running.

    Also there seems to be a suggestion that extroverts are shallow and introverts are deep intellectuals. Being largely an introvert, I’m quite happy with this insinuation, but I don’t think it’s necessarily true as a general rule. Extroverts tend to be engaging people and I doubt they would stay extroverts unless they had something of interest to share.

    I’d be curious to find out what is the ratio of extroverts to introverts among the general population (and among the various online communities). The more I think about it, I seem to have a very very difficult time coming up with people who actually lean more toward the extroverted side. There seems to be a much higher percentage of introverts among us. Maybe it’s just because extroverts are more vocal.

  17. If you read Blork, most likely you are an introvert. He geeks out about how to properly spice a steak. Not extrovert material ;)

  18. Frank, I agree that making certain associations regarding activity and social interactions is a slippery slope. I see it as a starting point, using broad strokes, towards trying to understand the various personality types.

    And again, most people are somewhere along the continuum, so it’s really pretty much impossible to peg individuals based on what they like to do. In terms of general trends, extroverts are probably more outgoing, expecially when it comes to team sports. But there are plenty of introverts who play on teams and go hiking on weekends and all that.

    I suppose you can never do more than just see these things in terms of trends and inclinations, not absolutes. However, when I think of the extroverts I know and who like to do activities, a big part of it seems to be the social aspect. They look forward to doing these things because they have a real desire, like an itch, to get out there with people and do things.

    The introverts I know? They also like to get out there and to do things and to be with people. But I don’t know if it’s for the same reasons, or if they have the same itch. It’s one thing to LIKE to do something, and another thing to almost NEED to do it.

    Going the other way, introverts generally like to space out their social interactions because they need downtime to recharge. I know that’s certainly the case with me — I love getting out and seeing people and all that, but I really need a lot of “me time” in between. But I also know that extroverts like to have their downtime too; they like to be quiet and read and to take a break and all that. But I doubt most of them NEED to do so, except for under the most extreme conditions.

    And that’s where the difference lies, I think. Going back to my original thesis, it has to do with internal vs. external stimulation. When introverts get overstimulated by groups or other external stimulation, they really feel a NEED to step back and calm down. Even if it just means going for a smoke on the balcony at a busy party.

    Extroverts, on the other hand, have a much higher tolerance for external stimulation. If they suffer at all, it’s from the LACK of external stimultion that they get when they’re on their own, which makes them jumpy and in need of getting out and being with people.

    In summary:

    INTROVERTS SUFFER WHEN:
    – there is too much external stimulation
    – there is not enough internal stimulation

    EXTROVERTS SUFFER WHEN:
    – there is not enough external stimulation

    (I don’t know if extroverts suffer from too much internal stimulation, which is the natural extension of the thesis. But the idea seems a bit absurd. One could argue that they only arrive at “too much internal stimulation” when they are in a condition of not enough external stimulation…)

  19. (I don’t know if extroverts suffer from too much internal stimulation, which is the natural extension of the thesis. But the idea seems a bit absurd. One could argue that they only arrive at “too much internal stimulation” when they are in a condition of not enough external stimulation…)

    Well Blork, I have often speculated that most of my extroverted friends seem to have a deep fear of their inner dialogue and that is why they must keep the external stimulation up high as much as possible. They seem to fear external silence because their minds get to loud.

  20. Good points, Ed. I agree that it’s more about trends than absolutes. And that it’s more about preferences and inclinations. Extroverts prefer more social interaction and vice versa for the introverts. One is not necessarily better than the other. It’s just that life will be better when they understand each other.

    This post is great because it brings to light the unnecessary stigma put on introversion. It has helped me understand myself (and others) a bit better.

  21. The Sales Guy linked to an article in The Atlantic by Jonathan Rauch that echoes a lot of what we’ve been saying. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say we’ve been echoing the article, since it came first (2003). Anyone who is interested in this topic should definitely check it out, along with the follow-up articles mentioned at the top of the first page.

    “Caring for your Introvert”
    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200303/rauch

    “Introverts of the World, Unite!”
    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200602u/introverts

    “The Introversy Continues”
    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200604u/introversy

    “The Introvert Letters”
    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200602u/introvert-letters

    For your convenience, I have compiled these articles into an easily printed, eleven page, eyeball-friendly, two-column PDF document.

  22. Hey, this is great stuff !
    Yeah, I’ve always been made to feel like an oddball because of my introversion.
    I do love outdoor sports like mountain biking, xc skiing and the like.
    But when it comes to team sports I totaly suck and have made a point not to even try anymore unless I’m really up to it. Mind you when I’m with a group doing the things I like it’s great!
    My job is that of a precision machinist and when some of my more extroverted workmates talk while working it just drives me nuts.
    I could never get any good work done and blab away at the same time.
    Anyhow thanks for this, we should not be made to feel bad because of our presonality types.

  23. Jim, I don’t think that’s the guy. I point to a guy in my lastest post that might be the one (but I’m not sure).

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