What is an introvert?*
*according to the experts.
I can’t be an introvert. Can I?
For a long time, I was aware of the word ‘introvert’ and yet believed that there was no way on Earth that I could be one.
Because my understanding was completely wrong, that’s why. When it came to being with people and in environments that I was comfortable with, I could be very sociable indeed (still the case). In some on my classes, I was even the class-clown.
Susan Cain’s 2012 TED Talk and “Quiet” book resonated with me hard when I came across them in my early 20s. Seriously hard. A lot suddenly started to make sense. I wasn’t weird, I was an introvert. And there were millions of others out there, silently in the wings, who were just like me. I wanted to tell anyone and everyone about my introversion.
More than 6 years on since she took to that TED stage, there is now a lot more information and research available on introversion, which is great. However, there continues to be much confusion and misunderstanding. For example, I am frequently told that there’s no way that I can be an introvert, as I apparently “love to talk”. Grr. They are not mutually exclusive, people!
This post will aim to clear that up, with the help of some of the most renowned experts on the topic.
So, what is an introvert?
Michaela Chung over at IntrovertSpring articulates it well:
“The most basic definition of an introvert is a person who gains energy from being alone and loses energy in stimulating environments, such as social events.”
Or in other words – an introvert is someone who has a preference for periods of alone-time, and indeed they require this down-time to recharge their batteries.
Susan Cain helps to paint a more colourful picture:
”Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”
Ah, I love pyjamas (we spell it differently here in the UK🙄). Warm, cosy evenings in surrounded by my loved ones. Maybe watching a film or reading a book. I think the Danes call that ‘hygge’. Anyway, I digress…
So, introversion & extroversion are all about energy, you see. Beth Buelow, of The Introvert Entrepreneur, even argues that these traits are more energetic traits, rather than personality:
”Introversion and extroversion are two traits among many that inform how we show up in the world. I prefer to think of them as energetic traits, rather than personality traits. They certainly influence our personality, but at their core, they are about where we gain and drain energy. Introverts gain energy from solitude and low-stimulation environments, and drain energy during social interaction or high-stimulation environments. Extroverts gain energy from social interaction and drain energy when left for too long on their own without people.”
Beth goes on to explain how all of us, introverts and introverts, need both social interaction and solitude:
”To be clear, introverts need people, and extroverts need solitude; it’s a matter of which one you prefer and gain the most energy from when you need it. Time in solitude is what gives an introvert energy to be social. Extroverts build up their energy reserves around people, and that sustains them during quieter periods.”
Introversion vs shyness
Beth also explains how introversion and shyness are not the same thing at all!
“One’s introversion or extroversion doesn’t define one’s social life, it only influences it. Introversion is not shyness. Shyness is social anxiety, and introversion is about energy gain and drain. The two might overlap in the same person, but they are not, by definition, the same thing. These terms were coined in 1921 by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung.”
Ahhhh, so all this introvert stuff is starting to become clearer now… kinda fascinating, isn’t it? It gets even more interesting though…
Introverts’ brains are wired differently. Yeah, seriously. Over to Jenn Grannman at Introvert Dear:
“Introverts tend to feel drained after socializing and regain their energy by spending time alone. This is largely because introverts’ brains respond to dopamine differently than extroverts’ brains. In other words, if you’re an introvert, you were likely born that way.“
Studies by psychologist Hans Eysenck show that introverts require less stimulation from the world in order to be awake and alert than extroverts do – i.e. introverts are more easily over-stimulated.
Speaking of psychologists… Marti Olsen Laney, a Doctor of Psychology and also a qualified Marriage & Family Therapist, goes even further with the science:
“Introverts have a longer neural pathway for processing stimuli. Information runs through a pathway that is associated with long-term memory and planning. In other words, it’s more complicated for introverts to process interactions and events. As they process information, introverts are carefully attending to their internal thoughts and feelings at the same time.”
Okay, so you’re still with me aren’t you? Now I have to warn you, this is where it gets a little less clear-cut.
So, what about ambiverts?
You see, arguably, no one is a total introvert nor a total extrovert, rather somewhere on an introvert-extrovert spectrum (continuum). So technically we are all ambiverts, to some extent. BUT, each of us favours one more than the other, even if we might be towards the middle of the spectrum. I, for example, define myself as a sociable introvert. I’m particularly sociable – in small groups and with folks I am familiar and comfortable with; i.e. very introvert-typical.
Michaela Chung: “No one is entirely an introvert or entirely an extrovert. Each person falls on a different point in the spectrum. A person who lands in the middle of the spectrum is called an ambivert.”
So, we have learnt all about introverts. Because we don’t want the extroverts feeling too left out (we like them, really… well, in small doses). Whilst introverts are all of the above, an extrovert will typically resonate with all or most of the following statements:
Numerous, broad interests
Likes to communicate by talking
Enjoys being at the centre of attention
Tends to act first before thinking
Enjoys group work
Feels isolated by too much time spent alone
Looks to others and outside sources for ideas and inspiration
Likes to talk about thoughts and feelings
So, to wrap it all up, the main difference between introverts and extroverts? Again, eloquently summed-up by our innie friend Michaela @ IntrovertSpring:
“While introverts gain energy from being alone, extroverts need lots of human interaction and outward stimulation to recharge. Extroverts tend to think as they speak, allowing them to have fast-paced conversations that flit from topic to topic. (Conversely, introverts prefer slower paced conversations that allow them to think before they speak).”
So, there you have it. Phew. That was a lot to take in. I’m definitely an introvert, if there was even a smidgen of doubt. Can you imagine how awkward that could’ve been…
Basically… I wouldn’t say I am the most introverted person in the world by any means, however I am most certainly an introvert. Pretty much all of the statements Y findings in this article resonate with me. In my early-mid twenties, I working in sales in an open-plan office which was “fun” (aka, challenging).
A final, personal note from me…
I’m no introvert expert, but I wanted to finish on a more personal note.
For me, it has been both enlightening and empowering to discover my being an introvert, and knowing that there was nothing inherently wrong with me and millions of others out there just like me. Pretty much every statement I have read about introversion, I can relate to in one way or another. That said, sometimes I enjoy going to a big party.
And I know extroverts who also don’t particularly enjoy small-talk, for example. Who does?!
The point I’m trying to make here, is that us human beings are so wonderfully unique and complex and inter-changeable that nothing is absolute. The extent of our introversion (or extroversion) can vary depending on our environment and state of mind. It also fluctuates throughout our life. Any “test” should be taken with a pinch of salt. That said, the introvert/extrovert and MBTI tests are the 2 tests I have come across that I can most relate to, and have found both most useful and most accurate, vs the many other personality tests/groupings I have come across out there.
Psst. Before you go.…
Here’s something else you’ll love… QuietRev’s 6 Illustrations That Show What It’s Like in an Introvert’s Head
With thanks to the wisdom of:
Michaela Chung @ Introvert Spring
Susan Cain @ QuietRev
Beth Buelow @ The Introvert Entrepreneur
Jenn Granneman @ Introvert, Dear
Marti Olsen Laney @ Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child
Jas, creator @ the INFP club
👉🏽 This article originally appeared on the IntrovertJedi blog on 24.10.2018. You can read it in its original form on Medium.