Intro to introverts: a beginner’s guide

October 3rd, 2013


“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, then you’re in bad company,” French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said. I’m not going to pretend that I ever read any of Sartre’s work (except what I was assigned for class, of course). But, as baffling as philosophy is to me as a whole, I’ve got to admit that Sartre makes a very good point.

As an introvert, the idea of spending time by one’s self is normal, and even welcomed. Too much time spent with other people can become mentally exhausting for introverts, who need almost an equal amount of alone time to balance out social interaction. If you’re an introvert, this concept makes perfect sense to you. If you’re an extrovert, you might be turned off by the idea of spending extended periods of time alone.

There are typically two types of introverts – the insecure and the independent. Insecure introverts keep to themselves because they have low-self esteem and feel that they lack the social skills necessary to behave like an extrovert. Independent introverts have accepted themselves as they are, which is a quietly confident individual who does not rely heavily on others for their happiness or wellbeing.

Introverts are often told they are “old souls.” This is certainly true for a portion of introverts, who come off as more mature and experienced due to their reserved nature. Usually, though, this type of behavior is the result of the presence of a constant inner monologue running through their minds.

An important guideline for extroverts is to not mistake introverts’ quietness for rudeness. Part of being an introvert is being exceptionally thoughtful and observant, which can often lead to getting wrapped up in one’s own thoughts at times when others are socializing. It might seem like introverts are silently judging or wishing they were somewhere else but, more often than not, they just prefer to stay on the outskirts. Introverts might not talk a lot, but when they do, they make it count. Because of this, introverts don’t usually excel at small talk, which can seem phony or unnecessary.

If you’re an extrovert, you probably never feel more energized than when you are in the company of other people, and you thrive in the middle of a big group of people. While introverts can also enjoy themselves in these settings, they thrive in smaller groups of people and for shorter periods of time. A common misconception is that introversion equals shyness. While most shy people are introverts, introverts are not necessarily shy people. Introverts can be some of the most energetic, funniest, friendliest people, but these qualities might be stifled by overwhelming social situations.

I’m not equating introverts with hermits, by any means. Introverts need friendship and other social relationships just as much as extroverts; socializing is a natural human need. But while extroverts feed off the energy of other people, introverts need some time to recharge before socializing again. Too many social obligations can drain introverts and they won’t enjoy themselves as much.

To put this concept into perspective for extroverts, consider this: while introverts might become anxious in certain social situations, extroverts often grow anxious when left alone. While extroverts might cringe at the thought of seeing a movie or going out to eat alone, introverts welcome the idea. Just as much as introverts have an inherent need for alone time, extroverts typically feel the most comfortable around other people.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that people are not two-dimensional. Not everyone fits neatly into either category, and most people exist somewhere in between. The good news is that introverts and extroverts can and do develop strong, lasting friendships and relationships. After all, opposites attract. And a final piece of advice from an introvert: keep Sartre’s words in mind and spend some time by yourself. Hopefully, you’ll find that you’re in good company.