Although I’ve known for a long time that I’m an introvert, I had no idea until recently what that fully entailed. I was aware of my quiet nature, difficulties conversing with people and discomfort socializing. I’ve found it challenging to maintain friendships because I usually pull away when I feel the social commitment is too much for me to handle. But there were other traits about myself that frustrated me that I wasn’t aware were due to my introversion. I’ve gone the majority of my life believing there was something wrong with the way I interacted with people, processed information and spent a lot of time in my head.
In commemoration of World Introvert Day, which occurs annually on January 2nd, I’ve decided to open up about my experience with being an introvert and the invaluable resources I’ve discovered on the topic only a few months ago. I’m 34 years old and if before this point I felt incompetent because I’m not more outgoing, expressive, talkative, quick-thinking or social, how many other introverts feel the same? How many individuals out there don’t even know that they’re an introvert and instead, think they’re broken because society is tailored to favor a more extroverted demeanor?
Now, I’m not trying to pit introverts against extroverts or imply one is better than the other. Both are equally favorable and needed to balance the world. Some people are a combination of both, called ambiverts. My hope is that sharing my experience and what I’ve learned will shed light and provide some comfort to introverts who think they’re pariahs.
On the Road to Self-Discovery
It all started as I was scrolling through Facebook a few months ago and came across a link someone shared to an article on Introvert, Dear—a blog for introverts. The feature was about INFJ personality traits (I’ll touch upon this a bit later). Both the topic of the write-up and the website were unfamiliar to me. I read it and was stunned by the contents. I related to so many of the behaviors listed. From that point, I explored other articles on the site and discovered its creator Jenn Granneman, author of “The Secret Lives of Introverts.”
Before reading her work though, I came across “The Introvert Advantage” by Marti Olsen Laney while browsing at a thrift bookshop my husband and I frequent. This happened a short while after finding out about Laney’s text on Introvert, Dear. Whether it was a strange coincidence or fate, here was one of the most impactful studies written on introversion for only a dollar. After reading it, I was amazed by how much I didn’t know about my own introverted nature.
From the information I gained from Granneman and Laney, so many questions I had were answered. There wasn’t anything about me mentally, psychologically or emotionally that needed to be fixed; I just functioned differently.
I also found out after taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that I’m an INFJ, which is considered a rarer personality type. Discussing INFJs would take an entire blog post, so I’m just going to summarize what it is here. Each letter stands for introverted, intuitive, feeling and judging. We experience emotions intensely, are sensitive to other people’s emotional states and are empathetic.
Since we rely greatly on intuition, we often have hunches that turn out correct. This can be perceived as a psychic ability because intuition works on a subconscious level and not many tap into it. On the downside and as with many introverts, all of this can lead to overwhelming pressure and a need to withdraw.
Divided opinions exist about the personality test, but I found it helpful in understanding more about my behaviors. I don’t think the results are intended to pigeon-hole or define anyone. Instead, they can provide much-needed clarity and ways to cope with the more challenging parts of yourself.
What is an Introvert?
Before continuing, let me share some essential information about what it means to be an introvert.
- Introversion and extroversion are temperaments determined by our genes, so it’s likely we are each born with one or the other. This also means an introvert cannot become an extrovert and vice versa.
- Introverts prefer solitude to socializing.
- When in a social situation, intimate gatherings are favored over large get-togethers.
- Small talk can be challenging, making it more difficult for introverts when meeting new people or networking.
- Introverts need alone time to recharge, whereas extroverts gain energy through social interactions. This is why introverts can become quickly pooped out at social functions.
- Introverts are quieter by nature, but this is often confused with being shy or having social anxiety.
- Introverts’ brains are wired differently. There’s a science behind this, but, in a nutshell, incoming information travels a longer pathway through the brain. This can make it difficult to come up with an answer or solution on the spot. Thinking on the fly isn’t second nature.
- Prefer writing to speaking.
- Favor listening to talking.
- Dislike being the center of attention.
- Possess a vivid inner world, whether it’s daydreaming or thinking deeply about a life situation.
This is a brief roundup of basic introvert characteristics to provide a foundation for those who may not be familiar with the term. Resources I will list at the conclusion go into greater depth on the topic.
During my twenties, I became desperate to pinpoint a specific cause for behaviors that carried on from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. I mentioned that I had always been on the quieter side. This started to become an issue as I entered my teenage years, watching classmates effortlessly chit-chat and feeling pressured to fit in with a clique. I had no desire to hang out with friends on weekends. I didn’t go to school to socialize. I went to learn and receive good grades to prepare myself for college.
In all honesty, my Saturdays and Sundays were spent isolating myself in my room, lights off, curtains drawn with Marilyn Manson spinning on the cd player as I wrote, and wrote and wrote. To some, it may sound depressing, but I looked forward to that solitary time as the end of the school week neared.
I should also mention that it was during high school that I discovered the goth scene. Since I didn’t really know that I was an introvert, let alone that there were resources on the topic, this macabre subculture was the closest explanation for my strange and unusual personality. Being a goth introvert, though, placed me further on the margins of society because I didn’t meet people like me. Of course, it didn’t help that I wasn’t putting myself out there to interact with others.
Fast forward to my freshmen year in college when a student called me out on my so-called anti-social behavior. It was intermission during a choir concert. Everyone stepped outside to wait until we had to return to the stage. I went off to sit alone not thinking that I was doing anything out of the ordinary.
A fellow choral member approached me and asked why I was by myself, not talking to anyone. I remember becoming immediately annoyed because my personal space was being invaded. I can’t recall my exact response, but I know my irritation was apparent. He then commented that it came across that I was “stuck-up.” That really upset me, and I shut down. I gave a curt response and made it obvious I had no intention of carrying on the conversation. He walked away.
Reflecting back on this incident, I realize now how I was acting in defense instead of seeing that this person was only trying to be friendly and include me. But during that time, I didn’t comprehend why I was uneasy around others. I just knew that I wasn’t very enthusiastic in social settings; it was challenging for me to initiate and carry-on conversations, especially with people I didn’t know; and my quietness made others uncomfortable, which made me feel all the more peculiar and at fault.
Other challenges have been in the workspace. Not understanding directions given to me the first time because I take longer to process what’s been told to me is one. And, not having ideas to contribute quickly enough during meetings frustrated me. Why were others able to bounce suggestions off each other like it was a ping pong match?
I’ve had bosses demean and humiliate me because they were upset that I wasn’t fast enough and on their level. Want to know something interesting? These superiors were extroverts. I’m not implying that their extroversion is to blame for their reactions. I’ve worked for some very compassionate extroverts. What’s to blame is the lack of awareness that one, introverts and extroverts exist, and two, that they work at a different pace.
I googled my personality traits as if they were symptoms.
These situations took a toll on me on many levels and I had developed toxic habits due to them. Was I incompetent? Ignorant? What was wrong with me? I googled my personality traits as if they were symptoms. The closest diagnosis I found was schizoid personality disorder. A few of the signs resonated, such as being detached, preferring solitude, avoiding social situations, appearing indifferent, trouble relating to others and inability to enjoy activities. Seem like bullet points I gave on introversion earlier, no? Many sources I came across used terms like odd, strange and loner to describe people with the disorder. What introvert hasn’t felt all of these things?
So, when I stumbled upon that Facebook post and followed the yellow brick road that taught me about my introverted nature, I was elated. Although I pushed myself to improve my social skills over the past few years, I sensed there was still something missing. The research I’ve read has been so enriching and restored self-confidence.
Starting this blog has been another avenue that’s plucked me out of my comfort zone and motivated me to put myself out there, network, and connect with others. I’ll admit there have been times when I’ve tried to talk myself out of going to an event because I’ll think of the crowd or becoming awkward while introducing myself to someone. But that’s when I realize I have to get out of my head, and I’m glad I do because I’ve met so many amazing people at these functions; individuals I wouldn’t have crossed paths with if I wasn’t on this journey. I’ve also had wonderful opportunities spring up because of the work I do on my site.
After soaking up so much information on introverts, it was important for me to open up and be transparent about this part of myself. I hope that some out there may find comfort and reassurance from my experiences. Although it may appear that I’m outgoing because of places I go or people I meet, I’m actually quite the opposite. But introversion is not a limitation; it’s simply a different way of interacting with our surroundings and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
As always, I’d love to hear any comments or questions about this post or on the introvert/extrovert topic.
Following is a list of resources on introversion that I found, but this is not exhaustive, so definitely look at what else is out there. And, please let me know if there are other books, websites, etc. I should check out.