Many intelligent people are introverted. In fact, it is estimated that introversion increases with intelligence. Some sources suggest that introverts make up the majority of gifted people, despite being a minority within our society. 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”.
Gifted children and teens who are introverted may become alienated in the classroom due to being quiet, preferring to work alone, and being advanced in one or more areas. They may also feel exceptionally exhausted after school, be irritable, and have emotional outbursts at the end of the school day. A day of school can cause even the most social introverts to become overstimulated by the constant demands of interacting with others during the day, as well being attuned the actions of others around them. They may often feel bored and frustrated by the classroom tasks, and expectations to work in groups as well, which can contribute to boredom, frustration and disengagement in class. It is not uncommon to see gifted children reading on the playground or spending lunch in the library. You may also see gifted adults doing adult versions of these behaviors during their lunch hours at work. This isn't necessarily because they are shy or have no friends. Quiet or alone time is an important resource for self regulation, and introspection.
Having a more extroverted personality is so valued in our culture, people of a more introverted nature are often led to believe there is something wrong with them, and may be expected to pretend they are more outgoing than they actually are to help others to feel more comfortable.
There are many misunderstandings about introverted people. Some people believe introverts have poor social skills, are depressed, hate people or are terrified of people. While someone may struggle with these problems, it isn’t guaranteed or even the norm. 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.
Great Qualities of Introverted People
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
Enjoy thinking more deeply
May be more introspective
In addition to recognizing some of the strengths of introverts, I would also like to clear up some common misconceptions 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 health 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. These people also experience intense feelings of fear 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 waste of time.
Introverted people are not antisocial. When people keep to themselves, are quiet or avoid robust social interactions they are often 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.
Helpful Tips For Yourself or if You Are Supporting an Introverted Person
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. This is especially important for children and teens. Make sure they have their own private, safe space for quiet time and reflection, and make sure they can access it as needed every day.
Have an exist strategy before participating in social events. While you may 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. This applies to kids too. Help them to have an out when needed, which may include calling you to come and get them.
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. This can also help gifted children and teens find peers they can relate to, which can sometimes be difficult at school.
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 a trained professional in your area a call. Having support when you need it, can make a huge difference!
About the Author: Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has over a decade of experience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.