Introversion. It doesn’t mean books, cute glasses, winter, hot chocolate, shyness, cats. Well, maybe a few cats.
When people meet me for the first time, their assumptions about me usually go like, “You are antisocial.” “You are so shy; I don’t think you’ll be up for this job.” “How can you be alone this much?” “You always want to go home at the end of the day.” Whereas, when I tell my close friends that I am an introvert, they say, “Oh, but you are not shy at all,” “But you have friends,” “But, you are confident of yourself.”
Both types of assumptions are wrong in their own way, and they demonstrate the typical lack of knowledge on introversion. Introversion doesn’t mean being shy or being antisocial. It is actually far from it. The term simply describes one’s inner state, under what conditions one feels calm, happy, and secure. These conditions might include going out with your friends after a long and busy workday, or they might involve coming home at the end of the day to rest, read, and be alone with your thoughts. To an introvert, home doesn’t just mean a shelter or a place to sleep. It means having a place where you can relax after an overwhelming day, a place to feel safe, a place where you can be with yourself.
The most basic distinction between extraversion and introversion is how one reacts to stimuli. Extraverts are re-charged and re-energized mostly by other people: by being with a large group of friends where a loud song plays in the background, or by talking to hundreds of people a day. This is how they get re-charged, how they feel good. They need an outsider source to get stimulated.
The energy of the introverts, on the other hand, comes from within. Introverts are renewed mostly by being by themselves: by finding a place where they can think long and hard about something that’s on their mind; finding a place where they don’t have to talk and receive an answer, would be their way of relaxing. For an introverted person, too much interaction with other people might be emotionally draining. They might need some solitude to focus on their thoughts and feelings to get re-charged. There is nothing wrong with either of these personality traits. One can thrive in a team working with a bunch of people, and others can work best alone with their own ideas. While an extravert might feel as good as new after a long and busy day, an introvert might need some alone time to energize and relax.
The terms antisocial and shy seem to be much confused with introversion. An introvert who likes spending alone time might feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained after too much human interaction. A shy person, on the other hand, might forsake to interact with people as opposed to interacting with people but needing some time alone afterward. The same distinction goes for antisocial traits versus introversion. While antisocial people don’t necessarily have to be introverts, they may also withdraw themselves from people, not seek human contact, and be happy with their situation. Assuming that an extraverted antisocial person can have a large group of friends, it would be wrong to say that all antisocial individuals are introverts. An antisocial behavior may be an indicator of a personality disorder. In contrast, an introverted behavior may involve a preference for communicating with other people and establishing meaningful relationships but needing some time alone at the end of the day.
One other common misconception about introverted people is that they cannot be leaders since they don’t possess enough assertiveness to earn respectable business positions. The answer I can give to this argument is the names of Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and Charles Darwin, the discoverer of evolution. These three people are all great minds that changed their time. They are the proof that introverts don’t lack any of the skills that make a human being complete. They are just wired to like being alone with themselves and are often more efficient that way.
The terms introversion and extraversion are very popular among psychologists, too. We need to keep in mind that these terms are used to help describe people’s general characteristics. When describing human beings, it is tough to give a precise definition as people are very hard to categorize. That is why introversion and extraversion are considered on a spectrum. So, it is not a matter of being one or the other completely. One can be an introvert but also possess some skills that fall under the extraversion spectrum. One can be in between, even.
No one is knowledgeable enough to say that one trait is better than the other. In the end, what we’re trying to explain is still human behavior, and we are still humans. Our actions may change according to the situation and the conditions at hand. An introverted individual might enjoy spending time with friends so much that he or she might choose to stay out a little longer rather than going home. An extraverted individual might just want to go straight home after a long and busy week. This doesn’t make someone who wants to spend some alone time antisocial, shy, or incapable of fulfilling professional responsibilities. And it certainly doesn’t make someone who wants to spend time outside in a stimulating environment an attention seeker or deep-down unhappy. It is a matter of seeking our happy place. Somewhere that feels right.
As Virginia Wolf once said, “How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.”
About the Author: Asude Ucal is a third-year psychology student and a freelance writer. She writes on her personal blog, https://medium.com/@asudeucal, covering mental health, psychology, and neuroscience, where she makes use of her education. In her free time, she likes to watch Great British Bake Off and hang out with her cat.
Bainbridge, C. (2020, July 18). The Difference Between Being Shy and Being Introverted.
Houston, E. (2020, January 01). Introvert vs. Extrovert: A Look at the Spectrum and
Psychology. PositivePsychology. https://positivepsychology.com/introversion-extroversion-spectrum/
Lee, S. Y., Min, J., & Kim, J. (2020). Personality: Introversion. In Pritzker, S., & Runco, M.
(Eds.), Encyclopedia of Creativity (3rd ed., 332-337). Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809324-5.23727-9
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