The man at the party who stays on the outskirts of the commotion, usually in a deep conversation with one… maybe two other people.

The woman at the office who pretends to have headphones in all day long, even when you know there is no music playing.

The friend you invite out with you every weekend but always seems to have other plans.

The co-worker who always eats alone and seems to really enjoy it.

The public speaker that just blew your mind with his motivational speech but seems to be nervous and a little awkward at the meet and greet.

We have all experienced introverts. Either because we personally are introverted or someone close to us is an introvert. But not all introverts fit into the nice boxes we create for them in our minds.

Think you have a good understanding of what an introvert is? Odds are the picture you have in your head isn’t quite accurate. People often wrongly assume that introverts are simply shy and don’t like people, but that just isn’t the case. Susan Cain (Harvard Law graduate, Published Author) paints a very different picture of a true introvert in her book, Quiet: The Power of introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  According to Cain, introverts can be warm, interested in others, and powerful in their own right. Many view introverts and extroverts in terms of two opposite extremes but the reality is most people personalities fall somewhere in between.

What defines an Introvert?

The most generic definition of an introvert is a person who thrives and gains energy from solidarity and loses energy in stimulating environments, like large social events. There are some traits of introverts that seem to come very naturally, while other traits seem to be developed based on the current culture. For example, many introverts have adapted to the current over stimulation in their culture by simply not engaging at all. This sort of isolation leads people to perceive them as anti-social, uninterested,and even cold; however, this could not be further from the truth. For the most part, introverts feel very deeply and desire intimate connections with people. They crave for more purposeful communication, and prefer more intimate and emotional relationships.

Physiology of Introverts

Why are some people introverts and some extroverts? We can find some answers in our body’s basic physiology. The way the human body responds to the outside environment has a very large role in determining ones level of introversion or extroversion. 

According to Psychologist Hans Eysenck, there is a network of neurons found in the brain stem known as the reticular activating system or RAS, this network regulates the body’s arousal levels including sleeping and waking. The RAS also has a part in controlling how much information one consumes while awake, and with that the RAS will raise arousal levels in order to increase alertness when confronted with potential threats or stress in one’s environment. People have different starting points or set points in terms of their arousal level. Some tend to have a much higher set point while others are significantly lower.

In Eysenck’s theory, introverts are those that have naturally high levels of arousal; consequently, because they experience such high arousal levels consistently, they tend to be attracted to activities and settings where they can slow down and escape from over stimulation… hence the anti-social stigma.

7 Common Traits

Introversion and extroversion occur on a very wide spectrum.No single person is completely an introvert or completely an extrovert. There are certainly plenty of introverts which embrace the stereotypical behaviors of an introvert and prefer to stay home and watch Netflix rather than go to a large social event, but there are also plenty of introverts who transcended the norm and enjoy socializing and interacting with people.

Though every introvert is different, here are a few common signs that you, or someone you know, may be an introvert.

1. You Crave Solitude

When you have a free afternoon you would rather spend time alone reading a good book, going on a hike or listening to music. Rather than going to a crowded shopping mall with friends or playing pickup basketball with a group of strangers.

This does not mean you do not enjoy a nice social get together or that you want to be alone all the time, many introverts love spending time with close friends and family you will just find that after a social interaction you will need to make time and allow yourself the solitude you need to recharge.

A few hours alone fuels your body and your mind which provides the energy you need to meet the remainder of the day’s demands.That quiet time is important to your sense of well-being and allows you to reflect on your experiences and thoughts.

2. People Often Describe you as Quiet

Do you find yourself listening to the conversation rather than engaging in it? Do you think through the exact words to use for the best outcome before you speak? Does the idea of having to engage in small talk make you feel exhausted?

Introverts are known for being quiet and thoughtful. Often seen as shy and reserved, introverts think before they speak and can often get lost in their thoughts. Small talk is something that can be very draining for an introvert, but engaging in deep meaningful conversation is something that they crave.

While some introverts actually are shy, it is important to note that introversion does not automatically mean you are shy.In the Book, The Development of Shyness and Social Withdrawal, authors Schmidt and Buss write that shyness indicates a fear of people or social situations, Introverts on the other hand simply do not like to spend lots of time with other people.

Both introverts and shy people avoid socializing at times but they do so for different reasons. Introverts tend to stay on the sidelines at social gatherings because socializing drains their energy. They must be selective about how much they put themselves out there because they only have so much energy to give. Shy people usually avoid socializing out of fear of the unfamiliar.

3. You are Introspective

You often get lost in your own thoughts,reflecting on your day… reflecting on the conversations and experiences you had. You are constantly examining yourself and your motivations, thinking of ways you can be more productive, or get more out of your life. If you feel like you have a strong understanding and knowledge of yourself, your motivations and your feelings you might be more introverted.

In their search for continued self-awareness and self-discovery, introverts will sometimes explore new hobbies, read self-help books that they feel are applicable to their current situation.They may also seek insight from trusted friends or advisors.

For introverts, introspection comes very naturally. A quality that most extroverts struggle with is the ability to realistically examine ones emotions and motives. This is valuable quality and can lead to a very healthy outlook on life. For introverts the over stimulation all around them can sometimes be suffocating. Their ability to slow down and get lost in their own thoughts, allows them the reprieve they need to recharge.

4. Less is More When it Comes to Friendships

Most introverts prefer one on one interactions over large groups. At social events they are usually the ones deep in a one on one conversation totally oblivious to the party happening all around them. Although introverts do not usually enjoy a lot of social interaction, they do enjoy having a small group of close friends. Introverts prefer to have a smaller number of deep long lasting relationships opposed to a large number of friends they may only know on a superficial level.

 “Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while they prefer to devote their social energies to close friends,colleagues, and family”. Susan Cain

Even the most social introverts crave one on one connections with others verses small talk in large groups. If your group of friends tends to be smaller and more intimate, you might be more of an introvert.

5. Large Groups of People Drain Your Energy

No matter how great your social skills, do you still find yourself completely exhausted after large social events?Although many introverts have exceptional social skills and can even be the life of a party at times, the true introvert will be completely drained of energy after a social engagement in which they were forced to do a large amount of socializing. This is one of the polarizing differences between introverts and extroverts as extroverts actually feel energized after moments of being the center of attention.

One major characteristic of introverts is they have to expend energy in social situations where as extroverts gain energy from social interactions. This does not mean that introverts are not capable of strong social interactions, many introverts have superior social skills. They are confident, assertive and easy to talk to. They just usually will need to find time to recharge after doing so.

6. Overstimulating Environments Cause You to Feel Distracted and Overwhelmed

According to a famous Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung, characteristics of an introvert are most obvious and consequently,they are most vulnerable when he or she is in an overstimulating environment. Do you find yourself easily distracted in overstimulating environments such as large crowds or overly populated offices? If you need to collect your thoughts do you need a quite intimate setting… you may be an introvert.  

Because introverts are so sensitive to their inner thoughts and feelings as well as their surroundings, they are very easily distracted in hectic and busy environments.

To an introvert not being able to fully take in a situation can lead to a feeling of distraction and can be at times overwhelming. On the up side, you never have to worry about an introvert becoming bored.

In solidarity they retreat into their own self-reflection or easily fill their time with their favorite hobby.

7. You Are Naturally Drawn to more Individualized Careers

Would you prefer to simply do your work independently rather than have to work with a team or engage in forced socializing? Careers that require a great deal of social interaction can be very overstimulating for an introvert, and are not usually careers chosen by most introverts.

Because introverts prefer spending time alone, focusing on one task at a time, and taking their time when it comes to making decisions and working through problems, they work better in environments that cater to those desires.

Certain careers including accountants, tech programmers, writer, or artist, can allow introverts the intellectual and artistic stimulation they desire without the overstimulating environment they do not.

Thoughts from the author:

“Don’t’ think of introversion as something that needs to be cured… Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to” – Susan Cain

Introverts don’t need to be transformed or seek to become more like extroverts and vice versa. They are simply two different types of people, both with equal strengths and weaknesses. Being an introvert definitely has its advantages at times. You are much less likely to make a fool of yourself in social settings as you have no desire to pursue the coveted spot of “the life of the party”. Because you enjoy solidarity you are much less likely to become bored with your own life, and your strong sense of self-reflection allows you the awareness you need to navigate what is making you happy in life or what is causing you to be unhappy and make adjustments as needed.

As an introvert, you might face the challenge of not allowing people to get to know who you truly are. Although putting yourself out there can be challenging at times, in order to create those deep relationships which you desire, you might have to participate in a little bit of “meaningless small talk”. These engagements can allow others to get to know you a little better and lay the groundwork for deeper relationships to form.

Ina recent study of adult introverts between the ages of 18 and 80, those who had strong social relationships and emotional regulation skills were found to be happier than those who did not have those skills. Embrace your strengths by nurturing your close relationships and use your strong sense of self-reflection to develop solid emotional understanding.

Are you an introvert or know someone who is? Tell us your thoughts of the article through a comment below.

Sources:

  • Aron EN, Aron A. Sensory-processing sensitivity and its relation to introversion and emotionality. J PersSoc Psychol. 1997;73(2):345-368.
  • Cabello R, Fernandez-Berrocal P. Under which conditions can introverts achieve happiness? Mediation and moderation effects of the quality of social relationships and emotion regulation ability on happiness. PeerJ. 2015;3:e1300. doi:10.7717/peerj.1300.
  • Cain, S. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown Publishers; 2012.
  • Ponari, M., Trojano, L., Grossi, D., &Conson, M. (2013). “Avoiding or approaching eyes”? Introversion/extraversion affects the gaze-cueing effect. Cognitive Processing, 14(3), 293-299.doi:10.1007/s10339-013-0559-z