a blog by J.M. Cottle
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In defense of introverts

I’m an introvert. And I’m proud of it. My introversion makes me who I am; when I deny it or ignore it, I deny one of the most fundamental aspects of myself, and it leaves me tense and depressed.

Some people don’t understand introversion very well, so here’s a definition from a book I love called Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe:

Introversion is an inward orientation to life, and extroversion (alternatively spelled extraversion) is an outward orientation. Though you probably use both introversion and extroversion, one of these orientations usually feels more like home — more comfortable, more interesting and more energizing — than the other. Introverts prefer introversion; we tend to gain energy by reflecting and expend energy when interacting. Extroverts have the opposite preference; they tend to gain energy by interacting and expend energy while reflecting.

If you’re an introvert, go read Laurie’s book. It will open your eyes. About half of humanity is extroverted, and half is introverted. Not sure which one fits you better? Let’s take an example.

When there’s a party and a bunch of my friends and other cool people are going to be there, I’m excited to go, but after a little while of talking to people I get really overwhelmed and exhausted and I go off and sit in the corner, staring out the window, or I go into another room to be alone. Sometimes I will stay on the sidelines and watch everyone else from afar. I let my mind wander. If someone comes up to talk to me, I don’t mind much, especially if they’re not asking “Are you okay?” But if they try to drag me back into the noise and confusion before I’m ready, I might get irritable.

Does this sound like you? If so, maybe you’re an introvert.

There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable alone, or with being exhausted by too much time with too many people. Where we get our energy — from solitude or from socializing — is central to who we are. It’s not a good idea for an extrovert to try to spend too much time alone, and it’s not a good idea for an introvert to try to spend too much time with people. The only difference is that extrovert-centric American society thinks seeking alone time means you’re depressed.

Sometimes introversion can lead to atrophied social skills, which is the case with me. Due to lack of practice interacting, I am so awkward in person that I don’t know what to do with myself. Many other people don’t seem to know what to do with me either. I consider this to be a limit I’d like to conquer, and I’ve been putting myself into more social situations, talking to friendly strangers, practicing speaking up instead of letting my opinion get eaten in the frenzy of group conversation.

But when the frenzy is over, I am still going to go home and sit alone in my room for a while, maybe reading or listening to music, until my inner world has calmed down and I feel prepared to venture out into the social world once more. There is nothing wrong with that.

It’s admirable to work on your social skills. Social skills can make life better. (Niall and Benny wrote posts about this, which include great information but don’t seem to understand introversion very well. That’s okay, you can follow their tips anyway if you substitute “shyness” whenever it says “introversion”.)

It’s also admirable to carve a space for yourself in a crowded room. My sister said that one time she went to a club and saw someone who looked like me: the person was sitting alone in the corner with a laptop, looking content, while everyone else drank and flailed wildly (club dancing is really just wild flailing). Sometimes it’s nice to be near people while not having to interact with them. Cafes and coffee shops are pretty much built for this, but clubs? I say, why not?

So please, if you see me staring off into space, don’t wave your hand in front of my face. I’m not lost in thought; I could find my way back if I chose. It’s just that my mind is such an interesting place to be.

7 Responses to In defense of introverts

  1. Nicely said, Jillian. Someone pointed out in the comments of my post (thanks for the linkage, btw) that introversion and shyness are not the same thing. Until then I’d never really thought about the difference, but I totally get it now. Rock on with your introverted self :-)

    • Oh yes, I saw that people in your comments were eager to point out the difference. Your ideas were still helpful for me, anyway, and I’m getting better and better with each awkward conversation!

  2. Wow, that resonates with me so, so much!
    I’m very introverted and my social skills aren’t developed enough: practice makes perfection and I don’t practice so much :D However I’m trying to solve this awkwardness since I am aware it’s a obstacle for me to get what I want from life.
    So, thank you very much for this post, it feels good to see people like one

    • It’s always great to hear from people who understand. Thanks for the kind words, María, and good luck with your own practicing.

  3. See, I used to be a definite introvert, and took great pride in this. I grew up being alone and in my own thought world, and crowds scared the hell out of me.

    But slowly I realized that I do enjoy the company of people, I do enjoy being outgoing and talking to others, I’m good at it and also very comfortable doing it (once I got the hang of it of course).

    That’s when I had to come out to myself, admit that being an extrovert isn’t anything to be ashamed of, that I might be that too.

    At this point, if I had to choose I couldn’t, because I’m both. So I guess I’m a bi-vert.

    • I’ve heard someone call that ‘ambivert’. :) I love words.

      I enjoy people’s company too, just in small doses, and then I need to recharge afterward. I’m kind of like a laptop with a battery that doesn’t last long, haha! Anyway, it must have taken a lot to admit that you weren’t exactly the way you’d always thought. It’s always hard when I discover a new fact about me and have to re-orient myself.

  4. I know exactly what your talking about. Been an introvert all my life. Went through phases thinking something was wrong with me. Had wives that just would not, or could not understand. So, much heartbreak. There are social consequences for us that the extro’s never ever have to deal with. I hope that I can find that one wonderful lady that also understands solitude. But, being who we are, it is difficult.

    Michael

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