What Does It Mean To Be An Introvert? – Everything You Should Now About Introverts

What does it mean to be an introvert?

If you’re an introvert, find your flow by using your gifts. You have the power of persistence, the tenacity to solve complex problems, and the clear-sightedness to avoid pitfalls that trip others up. You enjoy relative freedom from the temptations of superficial prizes like money and status. Indeed, your biggest challenge may be to fully harness your strengths. You may be so busy trying to appear like a zestful, reward-sensitive extrovert that you undervalue your own talents, or feel underestimated by those around you. But when you’re focused on a project that you care about, you probably find that your energy is boundless. – Susan Cain, Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

extraversion introversion scale

ExtrovertIntrovertSpectrum

Am I introvert? If you are looking for the meaning of “introvert” this article will tell you everything you want to know. Introversion is a complex topic that brings a lot of confusion. In this article I will answer questions like:

  • Can introverts become extroverts?
  • Does introversion mean shyness?
  • Why are introverts quiet?
  • What is the power of introverts?
  • Why introverts need to spend time alone?

It’s no secret that I am an introvert. However though I’m getting closed to 30, and despite my curiosity, I had never read any books about introversion prior to my preparation for this article. Sometimes, people ask me why I am not talking, or call me “Mr Silent”, or just don’t really notice me. For many years, as many other introverts I’m sure, I dreamt to be an extrovert, I dreamt to have this extra energy to talk to people and have more fun during parties. I dreamt to be more popular, to show more of who I am, but I never got the energy to talk longer and louder enough to get the attention of the audience.

Till this day I still wonder how come some people have so much energy to talk all the time, to go from a party to another, to chitchat with so many people and enjoy it. No matter how tired they are, they keep talking, no matter how sick they are, they keep talking. Amazing!

Sometimes I would wear the extrovert hat, approach people and start a conversation. However, after a while I would lose motivation or energy to keep contributing to the conversation and people would gradually stop noticing me. I would feel bad which would give me even less motivation to make an attempt to come back into the conversation. I would just give up. I would go home and feel frustrated. No matter how hard I was working on myself, no matter how hard I was trying to be the best that I could, I was never the life of the party.

I thought that the major problem what that I was lacking confidence, assertiveness or leadership. It was partly true but it was only half of the story. I hadn’t fully understood yet what it meant to be introverted. In a world where extroversion is the norm, I was trying hard to become an extrovert. What I didn’t understand is that it wasn’t possible.

Introvert definition

I believe that most extroverts don’t really understand what it means to be an introvert. Similarly, it is not easy for introvert to put themselves in the shoes of extroverts. But the worse thing is that many introverts don’t understand themselves and think something is wrong with them. No wonder when you look at the definition of “introversion” in a dictionary. I was truly shocked by how negative some definitions were.

  • Dictionary of Psychology: … orientation inward toward the self. The introvert is preoccupied with his own thoughts, avoids social contact and tends to turn away from reality.
  • Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, introversion is described as: “… the state or tendency toward being wholly or predominately concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.”
  • And the worst: Webster’s New World Thesaurus: … a brooder, self-observer, egoist, narcissist, solitary, lone wolf and loner.

It doesn’t seem like a lot of fun to be an introvert! Why are introverts so different from extroverts? And can introverts become extroverts?

Introvert vs. extrovert – the genetic factor

Whether we are introverted or extroverted seems to be greatly determined by our genes, which means that we cannot change it. It is a part of who we are. However, when needed, we are perfectly capable of acting as introverts or extroverts but only for a limited period of time before we need to recharge our batteries.

Introvert/extrovert definition

The major factor that distinguishes introverts from extroverts it’s the way they create/consume energy. Extroverts need a lot of stimulation from the outer world or they start losing their energy and feel bored, lonely or tired. Introverts need less stimulation from the outer world and time spent in social gathering will deplete their energy more or less quickly depending on their level of introversion, forcing them to withdraw and spend time alone in order to recharge their battery.

It is very important for introverts to understand that introversion doesn’t equal shyness. Those are two different things, even though there is some correlation between then. You might be introvert and not being shy at all. Conversely, you might be extrovert and shy which is the worse case, because you want to talk but you just can’t!

The key difference between introverts and extroverts: stimulation

One reason why extroverts need more stimulation is because they are less sensitive to dopamine than introverts. Indeed, introverts and extroverts are using different neurotransmitters as their dominant neurotransmitters. Introverts are relying more on a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine while extroverts are relying more on dopamine. Acetylcholine can be created through feeling or thinking; more acetylcholine will increase attention, memory and a sense of well-being. In a sense, we could say that introverts auto-stimulate themselves by spending time thinking, observing or contemplating.

Extroverts, to create more dopamine, need adrenaline, which can be created by being more active and seeking more stimulation. That’s also why extroverts tend to take more risk than introverts in order to get this extra stimulation boost they need. Extroverts are more reward-sensitive and feel more easily bored when they are alone and it is harder for them to focus for a long period of time because they feel understimulated.

Introversion and extroversion are located on the same continuum. You can be ambivert if you are on the middle, you can a little bit extrovert, a little bit introvert etc. Where would you put yourself on the continuum?

Some characteristics of introverts

  • Recharge their battery by spending time alone
  • Hate small talks but enjoy deep conversations
  • Prefer small groups to big groups
  • Think before they speak, don’t talk unless they think what they have to say is very important
  • Listen more than they talk, but can talk a lot when the topic is something they are passionate about
  • Prefer depth to breadth, prefer to know a few people or a few topic very well than knowing a little bit about everything
  • Need to be alone to think
  • Hate interruption
  • Hate conflict
  • Need a lot of preparation before a speech and have difficulties speaking extemporaneously

Introversion vs. shyness

We tend to link introversion to shyness, but it is not the same thing. Being introvert just means that the way we are creating and consuming energy is different from extroverts. It doesn’t mean that we are scared to talk to people or not confident. Introverts like to have deep conversations but chitchatting is exhausting for them. They don’t want to talk unless they have something valuable to say. Forcing themselves to talk when they don’t want to requires them an important effort and will quickly deplete their energy. Any other kind of stimulations like noisy places, lights or unfamiliar situations will also drain their energy.

As I gained more confidence in the past months I really realized that introversion and shyness were two different things. I don’t necessary feel shy anymore in situations where I would have been shy in the past, but I still don’t want to talk and feel drained in certain situations that require me to use a lot of energy. I progressively learnt to differentiate introversion from shyness.

Quick questions for extroverts: Imagine that every time you chitchat with everyone at a party you deplete your energy, would you talk to everyone without any distinction or would you choose carefully who you are going to talk to. What would you be talking about? It might give you an idea of how introverts feel.

Often, when I go to a party, I don’t know who I should talk to. There is not enough time to get to know many people and I’m not interested in small-talks. I generally end up either having a one-on-one conversation with a few people (the best for me, providing those people are interesting!) or wandering awkwardly from groups to groups not knowing what to do and getting tired (the worse situation). Introverts don’t get energized through chitchatting, but can be greatly energized and get quite intense when the topic of conversation is something they are passionate about.

What introverts are not – Debunk The Myths

  • Introversion is not something that has to be fixed
    • Introversion is not a mental disorder. Did you know that in 2010 a proposal was made to include introversion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, considered the bible of mental health diagnoses! As long as you are not extremely introverted there is nothing to be worried about (Introversion could be one of the factors contributing to a diagnosis of schizotypal personality disorder).
  • Being introvert doesn’t mean we like social skills
    • Social skills can be learned and introverts, if they are not shy, can be as good as extroverts in communicating with people or even better. One advantage that introverts have over extroverts is that they are generally good listeners.
  • Being introvert doesn’t mean we are not interested in people
    • Introverts are more interested in connecting with people than chitchatting. They want to know people.
  • Being introvert doesn’t mean we don’t like to talk
    • During one-on-one conversations or in small groups, introverts can talk a lot, especially if they are passionate about the topic. Believe it or not, when I am with one or two friends I can talk a lot! I often say to myself that I should make some effort to talk less. Or sometimes my friends say I’m talking a lot and genuinely unaware of it I would react very surprised “really? Do you seriously think so?”. However, though it also depends on how well I know the people, when groups exceed 6 people I’m likely to start speaking less and less. What I usually enjoy the most is one-on-one conversations, because I can learn more about the person: who is he/she? What is he/she passionate about? What are his/her values? What is he/her worried about? What are his/her dreams…

A few tips for introverts

Learn how to manage your energy

As an introvert, it is important that you learn how to use your energy wisely. You should not let people deplete your energy against your will. Your friends might say to you that you should join the party because it is going to be fun” or might tell you: “Are you leaving now?”, but eventually you are the only one who knows how do you feel, and whether you want to join a social event or not. I understand that people have good intentions most of the time, but I hate when someone tell me what I should do based on what they want to do. Saying to an introvert who wants to go home because he needs to recharge his battery that he should join the party because it’s going to be fun, is like saying to an extrovert who join social events to get some energy that he should go home and read a book. “Come on man, you are so boring, go home and read a book” :-p

Differentiating introversion from shyness

I believe that it is crucial for introverts to understand how introversion is different from shyness. It gives them an opportunity to reassess their shyness and to stop feeling guilty. Working on becoming confident is probably one of the hardest things to do in life, so you definitely don’t want to make it harder by confusing introversion and shyness. You don’t want to spend all your energy trying to change something you cannot change and get discourage about that.  It is perfectly normal if you feel tired after spending a lot of time with people. It is not because you are shy and need to go out more to get used to talk to people. You are just introverted and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. It is okay if you suck at talking during a meeting unless you have a lot of time to prepare beforehand. It is okay if people around you appear so smart to you because they can speak extemporaneously like genius. They might not be smarter than you. It is okay if you cannot think when you are in a group. I notice that it is very hard for me to come up with really good ideas and to think deeply when I’m part of a group. I need to be alone to think. It is okay if you have a hard time chitchatting or if you don’t feel like talking. It’s okay if people find you boring or dull because you don’t talk much.

I believe the reason why introverts tend to be shy is because interacting with people and chitchatting drains their energy. As a result they have less experience than extroverts talking with people and thus experience more difficulties building social skills. In addition to that, in many countries like the United States, extroversion is the norm (even though, introverts account for 1/4 to half of the world population) and schools or offices are generally not design for introverts. Introverts might have spent most of their life being said they should talk more, go out more and as a result are likely to feel guilty and experience lower self-esteem than extroverts.

Now, you should also be careful not to use introversion as an excuse not to push yourself. You should make sure that you get out of your comfort zone on a regular basis. Differentiating introversion from shyness is tricky so what I want you to do each time you find yourself interacting with people in the coming two weeks is to notice how you feel. Are you feeling shy or awkward or are you just feeling like you don’t want to talk? Are you feeling drained or are you feeling shy? Are you feeling comfortable with strangers in small groups or are you feeling shy? Try to identify in each of your conversations how do you feel and if you are not talking, the reason why.

Know yourself

Introverts don’t mind staying home for a while. Depending on your level of introversion, stay home for one day, for a weekend or maybe for more might not bother you. I personally know that if I spend one day at home without talking to anyone I won’t feel good. I always make sure that I’m going out everyday, talk on skype with a friend or at least chat on facebook. when you feel that going out start becoming difficult, it means that you have been alone for too long.

How often do you interact with people in your private life and at your workplace? When do you feel the most energized? How many hours can you stay at a party before feeling drained or bored? How can you design your life in a way that don’t leave you drained all the time?

You think a lot so think well

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. – Albert Einstein

Introverts tend to think a lot. Sometimes they think so much that they might have a hard time to sleep. I believe that their ability to think is their great strength but also their great weakness at the same time if they are unable to control their thoughts properly. While extroverts will often take actions right away without giving it a thought, introvert will overthink all the process. If they want to do something they will go through all the steps they need to take in their head and will get tired just by thinking about how much energy will be required to accomplish the task. Since introverts deplete their energy in many social interactions, it might be a defensive mechanism used by their subconscious mind to protect them from using too much energy by undertaking new projects.

Their ability to think is also a great strength. If they can identify clearly what they want to do in their life and bring their entire focus on that goal, they will become valuable experts. As I mention in a previous article Myth #2 – I Have No Talent – Do You Need Talent To Be Successful? deliberate practice is what really differentiates average people from truly great achievers. Deliberate practice is a meticulous training that aims at focusing on the specific skills we need to work on in order to improve our performance. It is usually performed alone and it involves a lot a repetitive work, it is generally not fun and it requires a constant feedback and a great mental effort. Because introverts can spend more time alone, usually enjoy focusing on only a few things at the same time, and can stay longer on a specific task, they have a significant advantage over extroverts.

Final Advice to introverts

Make sure that you know where you are in term of introversion and shyness. Don’t deny your introversion but fully embrace it! Being introvert is part of who you are, if you try to act as an extrovert most of the time you are unlikely to feel fulfilled. You are an introvert and it is what gives you great power. You have the power to focus, to think, to persist, to create; you are truly passionate when you spend time doing what you like to do. Find what you are passionate about and leverage your strengths, think even harder, persist even more and create even more! The world needs you.

Are you an introvert? Do you recognize yourself in this article? Leave me a comment below and share with me your experience as an introvert. If you are an extrovert I would be curious to know what it feels to be an extrovert 🙂

Suggested readings:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World
The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World

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