Do you feel exhausted after a party, loathe small talk and charge your batteries by spending time alone? Do you love books? You may be an introvert. Many intelligent people are introverted. Chances are, this is not news to you. Unfortunately, there are certain challenges introverts face including the misunderstanding, judgment and scrutiny of others for being “different”, “quiet” and even mislabeled as “anti-social”. Sometimes introverts are bullied because they’re quiet, and pushed by others to “come out of [their] shells”.
Having a more extroverted personality is so valued in our culture, people of a more introverted nature are led to believe there is something wrong with them, and are often expected to pretend they are more outgoing than they actually are to help others to feel more comfortable. Some try to suggest introverts have poor social skills, are depressed, hate people or are terrified of people. While someone may have these issues, it isn’t guaranteed. If a person is intellectually or creatively gifted and introverted, socializing may be even more difficult because they are likely to have unusual interests and may seem more “quirky” than the average person, which can make it difficult for people who hate having small talk to find common ground with just anyone.
I’m not here to convince you to change who you are, or to suggest there is anything pathological about being introverted. In fact, I would like to suggest the opposite. Like extroversion, introversion has some excellent qualities and is valued in many cultures throughout the world. For example, introverts often:
Think before they speak, giving careful and meaningful responses to people
Are great at having meaningful conversations, and are often quite interesting
Form deep friendships
Are good listeners
Are more independent
Read a lot
In addition to recognizing some of the strengths of introverts, I would also like to clear up some common misunderstandings about being introverted.
People are not introverted because they are depressed. When people are depressed they often isolate from others, become irritable and withdrawn and these are symptoms of a disorder. Most introverted people will tell you they are private. They like to spend time alone, and value the close relationships they have, rather than having many superficial relationships. This is different than a person who spends time alone due to a mood disorder.
People are not introverted because they are afraid of people. Social anxiety is another disorder people might mislabel as introversion. A person who has social anxiety often avoids social interactions because they have uncomfortable physical symptoms, such as stomach upset, nausea, shakiness, sweating and racing heart when anticipating and participating in social activities. They also experience intense feelings of fear that they will do something humiliating in front of others, they aren’t good enough in a variety of ways, or people don’t like them. While an introverted person may have social anxiety, it is not guaranteed. Introverts typically choose to limit their social contact because it is exhausting, and less meaningful interactions seem like a pointless wast of time.
Introverted people are not antisocial. When people keep to themselves, are quiet or avoid robust social interactions they are labeled “antisocial”. Antisocial is a psychological term that describes people who are essentially without conscience, who have little regard for the rules of society, the concept of right and wrong, and do not care if they harm others. While an introverted person may have an antisocial personality disorder, they are no more likely to than an extrovert, as it has nothing to do with a person’s socializing preferences.
If you or a loved one is an introvert struggling in an extroverted world, here are some tips to help you feel more connected, less pressured and more confident with who you are:
Embrace who you are. While some people may pressure you to smile more, talk more, or be more outgoing, true friends will accept you for who you are. There is nothing wrong with you.
Give yourself space as needed. Introverted people typically need more quiet and personal space to process and recover from day to day pressure. Take alone time to regroup.
Have an exist strategy before participating in social events. While you have the desire to attend a party, you may not want to stay there, or talk to everyone. Have a strategy ahead of time that enables you to leave early, exit to a quiet/less populated room or outdoors for a break, talk to at least one familiar person, and allows you to call a trusted friend or relative if you cannot leave on your own.
Try to find common ground with others. While you may not have the desire to befriend everyone, you may feel like less of an outsider if you can discover what you have in common with others, even if it’s something simple.
Have empathy. Recognizing others may also feel ill at ease, be awkward or struggle to make connections can help us to be less judgmental of ourselves.
Participate in small group activities centered around common interests. This is a great way to meet people who enjoy the same things, whom you might find interesting.
Just say "hi". You never know where it could lead.
Whether you are an introvert or not, it’s important to keep in mind that some people need time alone to recharge, and are more comfortable in small, intimate groups. If you are an introvert, or have friends or family who have introverted traits, try to schedule activities in advance to allow for prior planning, and do some activities that are centered around small groups instead of large crowds. This may be more enjoyable and will allow yourself or others to feel more comfortable and shine.
If you or a loved one are feeling anxiety, having trouble in social situations, or simply can’t relate to other people and want to, give me or another trained professional in your area a call. Having support when you need it, can make a huge difference!