The Misunderstood Introvert

Posted September 25, 2013 by Amanda Shofner in Musings. Disregard unless interesting. / 10 Comments


Amanda’s note: I wrote the following a few months ago after seeing someone say that introverts could “become” extroverts. The idea annoys me. So when I unearthed this last weekend, I decided it was worth sharing. Because quiet isn’t bad. And I know I am quiet—and that people don’t always know how to react to that.

I have a tendency to get riled up when people equate extraversion with being outgoing and assume that introverts are somehow deficient because we aren’t as social.

First, introversion and extraversion refer to what we need to recharge. An introvert needs solitude; being around people for extended periods of time is exhausting. Extroverts need to be around people because, for them, people energize them. It’s why extroverts make good teachers, for example. And it’s why I don’t.

With that definition of both introversion and extraversion, it’s possible to be outgoing whether you’re introverted or extroverted. An outgoing introvert is still going to need solitude after a long day of being around people. Introverts still need to be around people, but their preference to recharge is solitude.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with being introverted. No shame in saying, “Sorry, but I’d like some time to myself right now.”

Being outgoing, however, is something that the US culture holds up as ideal. Outgoing = good, quiet = bad. This means that if you’re not outgoing, you’ll eventually be judged negatively. If you’re quiet, you’re disinterested or stuck up or rude. Or you don’t like the people you’re with.

I’m not quiet because I’m any one of those things. I’m quiet because I have social anxiety, and social anxiety is like wearing a muzzle. I’m usually fully engaged in the group without saying a word, because that’s how my anxiety works.

Social anxiety can strike you whether you’re introverted or extroverted. It has nothing to do with recharging and everything to do with how you process interacting with people. As an introvert with social anxiety, I can spend long periods of time alone and be perfectly okay with it.

Being an introvert is not bad in and of itself. It’s not something that needs to be changed or “fixed”. I think many introverts struggle with being outgoing, however. Without the driving need to be around people, we perhaps spend less of our time honing our social skills.

As with everything, becoming outgoing—or, at least, being comfortable with dealing with people—is a habit one needs to develop. The idea that outgoing is good and quiet is bad, however, needs to die. It’s a cultural construct that often serves to negatively label people for simply being who they are.

Don’t we already have enough trouble learning to love and accept who we are?

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10 responses to “The Misunderstood Introvert

  1. :YES! I test introvert on everything and everyone is always questioning it. However I always ask them–how do I recharge? They tell that I go away and have alone days. EXACTLY–this means I am introvert. It has nothing to do with my social abilities. I can be social capable and still be an introvert! Great Article!

  2. Amanda – thank you for breaking it down like this. I thought I understood the difference between extrovert and introvert, but I didn’t realize it was all about how we recharge. Very enlightening. Explains why working from home all alone makes my kinda crazy sometimes!

    Even being an extrovert myself, I’ve sometimes experienced the backlash against being quiet. Yes, I have opinions and I’ll express them more often than not. But when I’m taking some time to simply observe, I’m not being “snobby” or “anti-social.”

    • I tend to do a lot of observing before I feel comfortable participating (even in something like our Thrive Hive hangouts), and you’re right—observation doesn’t mean snobby or anti-social.

      For many, silence is intimidating, so I’d guess they don’t know how to handle quiet people. It’s easier to slap a label on quiet than consider the possible reasons for it.

  3. I have a friend that’s an introvert and also a writer and you and she remind me of each other – and you both have the most awesome sense of humor! (good Lord that was a horribly structured sentence!) I think the quietness of the introvert world is what makes you so creative 🙂

  4. Amanda, you nailed it! I’m so sick of the spoken and unspoken implications that extroversion is what we should all be working towards! There seems to be a rash of introversion/extroversion pieces that have come out in the past few months and it’s abundantly obvious that both introversion and extroversion have their merits in every situation. (Which we already knew, right?)

    I totally get the introversion being misunderstood for snobby thing. Sometimes I feel like I just hit a wall when I’m in a group and I need to go in a room and read a book or read my phone or something where I’m not being engaged. It’s the strangest feeling but it is really like I just hit my quota of being “on” and I need to go somewhere else. It’s not that I dislike who I am around or I am being antisocial I just need to recharge and decompress. It would be really nice if we could all take the time to just really understand one another and appreciate each other for our differences and the strengths in all of our personality traits.

    Keep ‘em comin’, Amanda! xo

    • I’ve found that I can even hit my quota of being “on” when I’m online and not physically around people. It happens to me after running my week-long read-a-thon.

      I’m with you: it’d be nice if people didn’t make snap judgments or chose to look past quietness to find the real reason for it.

  5. Lubna

    Thank you for this Amanda. I got here sobbing after my siblings said they hoped their children would never turn out like me since I can’t seem to be able to remain in a crowd for too long. It was so hurtful and knowing I am not alone in wondering if there’s something wrong with me makes me feel much better. Thank you so much.

    • Lubna, I’m so sorry this happened to you, but I’m also glad you landed here, because it allows me to say: there’s nothing wrong with you. You are perfect the way you are. Some people don’t understand what it means to be an introvert, and that’s on them, not you. Don’t let them pull you down. <3 <3 <3

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