The personality spectrum has been defined in many ways throughout history, but people have increasingly gravitated toward classifying themselves in terms of their capacity for social interaction and how important a person’s internal or external world was. It was later refined to understand that introverts are depleted by social interaction, while extroverts are recharged by it. This leads to opposite types of lifestyles, as you might suspect. There are a variety of misunderstandings associated with these labels, but keep in mind that this scale solely judges what makes people feel recharged—solitude or company.
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I have always been labeled as an introvert.
It’s not a proud proclamation or confession; it’s just reality.
During childhood, I used to go straight home after school instead of staying at the playground to socialize with friends.
When I was a teenager, I would spend my weekends alone in my room, playing the guitar or simply watching television by myself.
It wasn’t because I didn’t have friends to hang out with.
I just seemed to have a better time by myself, especially after long days of being around other people.
This pattern continued well into adulthood.
Because of this, I have heard the word “introvert” used to describe me roughly one million times.
The first few times, I shrugged it off and ignored it.
But then I got to wondering what people really meant by it and if I should be worried.
What is an introvert, really?
That’s an answer that requires some background information.
Introversion is one of the major personality traits studied in many psychological theories.
The word introvert was used for the very first time, along with the word extrovert, during the 1920s when renowned psychologist Carl Jung published Psychologische Typen (or Psychological Types, as it’s known in English).
It was further developed and refined by Hans Eysenck, and it entered mainstream lexicon with Isabel Meyers and Katharine Briggs in 1943 when it became a part of the MBTI—Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, a test for helping people find careers well suited for their individual personalities.
Today, the introvert-extrovert typology is even more relevant.
According to Jung, introversion is a psychological mode wherein an individual considers his or her inner reality of utmost importance.
If you’ve done much reading on this topic, this first chapter might be somewhat of a review and confirmation for you. This means introverts tend to be more inward-focused, and they often retreat from the outside world to be able to focus their energy inwards.
Extroversion, on the other hand, pushes people to be more outgoing and to rely on external sources (people, circumstances, and environment) for stimulation.
The differences between the two personality types boil down to how these individuals allocate their energy.
While extroverts find social interactions energizing, introverts find this activity draining, so they avoid it as much as they can.
This simple difference creates a domino effect of differing lifestyles and preferences.
Introverts are people who tend to be more focused on their internal thoughts and emotions rather than being engrossed in trying to find stimulation from the external environment.
These individuals normally keep things to themselves and are defensive of the demands of the outside world.
They are contemplative, cautious, and similar to a cat—sometimes the cat wants to play, and other times you can’t get them out from their hiding spot under the bed.
In reality, extroversion and introversion exist on a continuum—there are people who fall on the far ends of the spectrum as well as people in between who exhibit tendencies from both sides.
How do we know if a person is an introvert?
There are a number of traits introverts possess that can distinguish them.
For one, introverts don’t mind being alone—often, they prefer it.
But it’s not because they hate people.
Don’t confuse it with social anxiety or even shyness.
They are just easily exhausted by social interaction, which includes simply talking to another person or being in public.
They are comfortable spending time by themselves and see it as a reprieve from the noisy world outside.
Many people find this trait undesirable because Western society holds an internalized extrovert ideal, meaning they have higher regard for people who invest more time socializing than those who prefer not to.
For a better understanding, we can view introversion and extroversion by looking at an imaginary social battery.
For the introvert, their battery drains quickly when they are in a setting that demands a lot of interaction.
Their social battery regains power only when they spend adequate time without the company of others, in the confines of their private space, and doing things that require no contact with the outside world.
For example, an introvert who spent an entire night at a social gathering is more likely to isolate himself from people the following day.
This person cannot handle so many interactions, so they need to retreat to the comfort of solitude.
Sometimes it takes hours or even days for them to recharge their battery and prepare themselves for another social affair, depending on how introverted they are and how intense the interaction was.
They can easily entertain themselves by reading a book, watching a movie, or killing time with one-player games.
Introverts also find small talk a waste of time and energy.
It exhausts their social battery faster than any other activity, and it seems to be all for nothing.
Because of this, introverts are more likely to participate in purposeful conversations that have a clear direction.
If they are going to expend their precious social energy, it may as well be for something that is significant or intimate.
Nothing comes without a cost.
They like the idea of parties, family gatherings, and a night out with friends.
However, participating in these events is a real chore for them.
Sometimes they need a lot of convincing to say yes, and it could be difficult for them to gather the energy needed to socialize on days where all they want to do is have a relaxing soak in the bathtub.
Anticipation can be exciting, yet actual engagement is more typically exhausting.
For them, an ideal weekend night is as simple as having to stay at home, enjoying a movie marathon, and eating a bag of popcorn.
If you are interacting with someone who appears to be antisocial or unapproachable, it’s possible they are merely introverted with a social battery that’s fully drained at the moment.
For an introvert, an ideal party is one that is quiet, keeps people busy with their own business, has an agenda, and has a set ending time—and yet people still might leave early.
You probably wouldn’t even call it a party because it would involve people spending time together but not necessarily engaging with each other.
A book club is a good example of this.
They are more comfortable when they are familiar with how the program goes and when it will end, because that way they can pace themselves and their social batteries.
You might be able to guess that the extrovert’s social battery functions in the exact opposite way—charging up in the presence of others and slowly draining when spending time alone.
If the introvert is a hiding cat, the extrovert is a golden retriever who wants to play fetch all the time.
Introverts can appear fickle or complicated in the eyes of everyone else.
It’s important for the friends of introverts to gain an understanding of their nature so they don’t take things personally when their attempts at socialization are rejected.
Again, you just might be dealing with someone who needs to pay attention to their waning social battery.
Introversion is not always so obvious, especially to introverts.
Some people don’t even realize what they are seeking until they have behavior patterns pointed out to them, such as an aversion to large group settings or a tendency to leave events early.
While introverts make up a large portion of the population, one which seems to increase every day, there are still misconceptions about this personality type.
As mentioned previously, introverts are automatically categorized as shy and anxious people.
They might also be seen as rude or unapproachable.
This association is understandable, since it cannot be denied that many introverts do possess these traits.
However, it is not true that all introverts are nervous, antisocial wrecks.
Not all of them are timid and quiet.
Being shy and anxious can accompany introversion, but it does not define it.
With a charged social battery, an introvert is indistinguishable from an extrovert— it’s what they do afterward, when they are tired, that differentiates them.
If you see someone who appears to be shy or unapproachable, chances are they are simply socially tapped out.
Another misconception about introverts is that you can tell one based solely on observing them.
A person’s activity alone is not an accurate indicator of whether he or she is an introvert.
For instance, a party animal is not necessarily an extrovert.
Being a loner most of the time does not make you an introvert.
A person’s activity might just be indicative that they are constantly living life outside of their comfort zones.
The person you always see alone may not be necessarily an introvert; she might be forced into that situation.
It could be that the task is a requirement of her job, but the truth is that she is physically, emotionally, and psychologically exhausted from all the meetups.
People are adaptable and will rise to the occasion when necessary, but in the end, this leads to many unrealized introverts trying to put on a poor impression of an extrovert for years and years.
You might think you’re weird or that something is wrong with you if you hate going to bars while all your friends love it—you just have a different personality than them.
Remember, it’s what people prefer to do to relax and unwind that determines where they fall on the spectrum.
Introverts don’t need to be babied, but it’s important to keep a few things in mind so you don’t get your feelings hurt around them.
• Respect their need for alone time and don’t take it personally.
• Allow them to adapt and interact at their own pace, because chances are that they are already uncomfortable just by being there.
• Don’t jump to apathy or malice when a depleted social battery could be an explanation.
We meet introverts every day, and we have to learn how to create more harmonious relationships with them.
If you identify as an introvert, understanding yourself better will help you connect and coexist with others.
Acknowledging the fact that we are not all similar helps create a balance and also frees you from unfair expectations you may feel from society at large.
Being an introvert is not a bad thing.
If you love chocolate, can you judge someone for loving vanilla instead?
Introverts of the world unite (separately, for only a limited amount of time, and without having to commit ahead of time)!
Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/self-growth-home
Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.
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