I’m not an extrovert, but I play one in real life.
Most people would probably be shocked to discover than I am a true introvert – that social situations and crowds exhaust me and I seek balance by being alone. After all, I have chosen to be a teacher. I am outspoken in meetings and not shy to speak in front of a group. I have intentionally cultivated a large group of friends and I enjoy spending time with them and having them in my space. I have developed countless online relationships and enjoy time with my online family. I can be loud. I rarely slow down. And I rocked a shirt that said, “Sweet Talker in Action” as a kid because I never shut up.
But behind all of that is a woman who feels most at home in her office, a “safe” space of solitude. A woman who would be more comfortable in solitary confinement than in a cell with multiple roommates (not that I ever intend to try out either!). I need my alone time in order to be the public me. In a way, I put on an act every day. It’s still me, but it’s the “on” me. It’s the real me with a booster rocket of extroversion. And if I play the role too long, the tank runs dry.
I was looking for a concise article that would explain characteristics of introverts for my very extroverted husband after feeling overwhelmed by the demands of the beginning of the school year.
I drew a blank.
So I decided to write it instead.
Not all of these characteristics will apply to every introvert. After all, that is simply one label and we are all represented by more than a single word. But I think many introverts will recognize themselves here and I hope that extroverts will find some compassion and understanding for their more reserved brethren.
I envy you sometimes. The way you seem at ease in a crowd. How you seem to know how to initiate and carry on a conversation with no apparent effort. When I’m at the periphery of a crowd, I see you in its center, pulling energy from those around you, like some kind of emotional fusion reactor. And I’m jealous as I feel my own energy waning as the event progresses.
But then, when I’m tucked away in a quiet nook or nose-deep in my latest book, I’m at ease with myself and pleased with my nature. You see, it’s not always easy living as an introvert in an extrovert’s world. We must learn to adapt. To play-act. Or run the risk of being overlooked.
There are more of us out here then you may imagine (usually thought to be somewhere between 25-33% of the population). Some, at the extreme, are obvious – they rarely talk, have a few select friends and work at jobs where the interactions are minimal. But the rest of us? We can be found anywhere – in classrooms and boardrooms, in media and marketing and even in your own home. You see, we’re good at blending in. But sometimes we pay a price.
The following characteristics can help you identify and support the introverts in your life:
1) Shyness and Introversion Are Not the Same
I used to be shy. Painfully so. But that’s a learned response and can be changed. Introversion is a character trait found in shy and more outgoing people. You can learn to work with it but it is a fundamental piece of who you are. Many introverts have no problem approaching new people. And then they will retreat to recharge.
2) Introverts Are Not Always Quiet
The stereotypical introvert is quiet. Bookish. Reserved. Yes, that person is probably an introvert but they are not the only ones. Although I prefer to express my ideas in writing, I frequently find I am the leader and spokesperson for groups. I talk fast and often. I gravitate towards heavy metal and intensity in my activities. Only those close to me know about my need for quiet and solitude. Introversion isn’t worn on my sleeve; it’s carried inside.
3) Feeling Drained is No Joke
We live in an extrovert’s world. And many introverts (myself included) put on the role of extrovert as part of our work wardrobe each day. And it can be exhausting. When we don’t have the time to recharge, we feel fragile. Fragmented. Raw. My whole nervous system feels fried and jerky and I feel utterly depleted. We can be irritable and snappy. It can manifest as anxiety, depression or “burn out” but, in reality, it’s just too much time being “on” without an opportunity to replenish.
4) We All Have Our Favorite Ways to Recharge
I recharge through my workouts, reading and yoga. When the need is especially pressing, I try to escape to the woods. Others may gravitate towards music, quiet time alone or knitting. Those activities are not mere hobbies; they are critical for our mental health and well-being. When time or illness encroaches on our preferred activity, we can be prone to panic as we struggle to find balance again. We usually have a safe place, a sanctuary, where we can retreat.
5) We Can Appear Aloof
I can be in a crowded gym without headphones on and still feel alone; I have an impressive ability to shut out all of the noise and activity around me and focus on my own workout. I often don’t notice when someone approaches or speaks to me. At work, I frequently forget to preface a question with small talk platitudes. It’s not that I don’t care about the person; I’m just focused on the task. In meetings, I often sit alone intentionally. Sometimes even on the floor. Introverts may appear to be anti-social at times. We’re not. We do care. It just takes energy that we may not have in the moment.
6) We Have the Deep Conversations
Conversation for us takes energy. And we don’t waste it. We may not be the masters of cocktail chatter, but we will quickly identify issues and dig into a deeper conversation. Our time spent observing others often gives us insight. I remember when I was dating, many of the guys expressed surprise that we ended up having such involved conversations on the first date. I wasn’t surprised.
7) We Don’t Like the Telephone
Phone conversations often require more energy for me than face-to-face conversations. I can’t rely on body language and I have to actively work to connect when I’m physically alone. I have to reach deeper to summon the extrovert guise and be more cognizant throughout. It’s tiring. Whenever possible, I prefer to communicate in writing, where I have the solitude and space to think without using up energy on the social interaction.
8) We Can Struggle With Names and Faces
You know those paintings where the defined faces in the foreground turn into a blur as the subjects move further back in the composition? Well, that’s pretty much how I see the world. There are the defined faces of everyone I know and the others blur. Not because I don’t care, but because I become overwhelmed. I struggle with remembering faces and names of people as they move from the undefined “stranger” into acquaintance.
9) Some People Require More Energy Than Others
I have a few people that I can be around with very little energy required. Although it’s not my preference, I can see them even when I’m depleted. Others need a little more and I try to see them when I have at least a little something left. And then some people need a full tank. Please don’t take it personally when I decline an invitation or retreat to the periphery. I’m just plugging in.
10) We Can Be Sensitive to Intrusions
I don’t mind when my work is interrupted, but I can be quite irritated when my solitude is broken. When I retreat, I find I become hypersensitive to noises and lights that come from outside my space. It’s as though the shield is down and I am more vulnerable and sensitive to the outside world. While at other times, I can easily enjoy the same sounds and activities. In other words, introverts want to go to the party rather than have the party come to us.
11) We Are Prone to Isolation
The solitude that introverts seek can become unbalanced during times of stress or trauma as we can easily put ourselves in quarantine. I was very aware of this trait during my divorce when I chose to live with a friend instead of living alone. Even though the constant noise of a busy family was stressful sometimes, being alone would have led to complete isolation. Even though we are drained by social contact, we still need it.
12) We Are Thinkers
For every sentence an introvert speaks, they have thought a full page (or more!). We are comfortable in our own minds and spend quite a bit of time thinking, analyzing and problem solving before we ever share our conclusions. This trait can also lead to depression when the introvert ruminates without any outside correction or perspective.
13) We Can Thrive in Intimate Relationships
Introverts need time alone. They need safe spaces. And when those needs are met, they can make great partners and can connect on a deep and intimate level. One of the most critical undertakings in a relationship between an extrovert and an introvert is the negotiation for solitary time and the understanding that it is not a reflection on the extrovert or the partnership.
14) We Plan Our Downtime
I love my social time with my friends. But not every day. I carefully plan quiet interludes between more communal events – a resupply run between outings. I can be thrown by even small changes in plans when they intrude upon the expected downtime. Even something as minute as a friend in the car when I planned to do the drive solo can agitate me.
15) We Provide Balance in a Noisy World
Because of our nature, we can be overlooked. Minimized. Perceived as lacking in social skills or confidence. But really we provide a welcome counterpoint to the always-on chatter of the extrovert majority. So give the introverts in your life a hug and let them know they’re appreciated as they are. But you may want to ask permission first:)
Lisa the Introvert
If you want more information on introversion, I highly recommend the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.