Understanding What It Feels Like To Be An Introvert
8 min read

Understanding What It Feels Like To Be An Introvert

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Introverts aren't anti-social, we just prefer alone time. What most people don't understand is that it's not that we dislike being outdoors, at social events or at parties it's just that we really would prefer either smaller social things with really close friends or if we do go outside, we just need extra recharge time. But we're also frustrated with the way people see us and the huge misconceptions of introverts.

Understanding What It Feels Like To Be An Introvert

Being an introvert means liking quiet time. Many of us would prefer a small cozy, private and quiet office to work in instead of a large rowdy open floor setup. Some of us might get social anxiety, but that's because big social things just aren't are thing.

Ellen Vrana explains it extremely well on an answer on Quora. This answer, by the way, is something you should print out and give to all your extrovert friends who don't understand you as an introvert. Read it! Because it will really help you (and them) understand introverts more.

I feel frustrated when I explain to someone that I need alone time and she responds, “yes, I need that every once in a while.” No you don't get it, that is my preferred mode, almost all the time I would prefer to be alone. I was just making it sound casual so I wouldn't offend you or make you think I'm weird.

I feel sad when people take it personally that I don't want to spend time with them, or start to drift out of the conversation because my emotional battery is winding down and needs recharging. It's not personal. Unless our conversation cannot get past painful small talk and then yes, it is personal.

I feel pained when people joke that I'm anti-social and hate humans just because they cannot imagine a world where everyone is not as extroverted as they are.

I feel claustrophobic when people ask me on Monday AM what I did that weekend, because:

  1. I hate small talk and feel trapped by this inane question, and

  2. Whatever I did, usually something alone, it won't make sense and I'll be pitied for having no friends.

I feel depressed when the sun comes out and I know that everyone will be outside playing volleyball or baseball or doing something social, together. I love rain, and I love winter.

I feel fake when I am doing small-talk. I am very interested in you as a person, why do I have to pretend I'm not?

I feel lonely when I'm with a group of people and talking about nothing.

I feel nervous when my phone rings or when I have to make a phone call.

I feel discouraged to read articles about “jobs for introverts” and it's all stay-at-home work on your computer type things. I'm not a shut-in, I'm an introvert. (I’m not saying that people who do those jobs are shut-ins, just noting the implications).

I feel satisfied when I have a really good conversation with a small group of people about something meaningful that matters to us.

I feel guilty because I often confuse people about being introverted. I am outgoing and friendly in person. People do not realize I'm introverted and therefore, at some point, I have to let them down by not wanting to spend as much time together as they want. It makes me think that I should not be so outgoing, but I cannot change that either.

I feel happy when my friends get to the place where they understand that although I'm not the hangout type, I won't do dinner and drinks or Sunday brunch, I can be relied on for anything big, any time, anywhere. I'll also remember things that matter to you and anticipate how you might be feeling before you tell me.

I feel inspiration in nature, reading, thinking, or watching my favorite films.

I feel disappointed, apparently introverts are supposed to be smarter, better thinkers? Damn, I missed that boat!

I feel excited by the increasing number of books, lectures, postings about being introverted, and just how many people have commented that they no longer think they are the only ones who feel like this. Introverts unite!

EDIT: A few comments have pointed out the high number of negative feelings. Let me be clear, the negativity comes from people not understanding my feelings or preferences, NOT from being introverted. Introversion is not a negative thing and I don't regret being introverted nor do I want to change. I just want to be understood. I wrote this to help people understand what it is like for me (and just me, not all introverts), not to bemoan introversion. I'm sorry that wasn't clear.

Zach Kirkhorn had a great follow-up to that along with clearing up a few misconceptions about introverts:

How does it feel? I feel frustrated for always having to apologize to people for wanting to take time to myself on occasion or feeling awkward defending my need for alone time. I'm tired of trying to convince others that I'm normal and that introversion is widely misunderstood – even among those who call themselves introverts! I'm an introvert, that how I am, and I'm fine with it. And I shouldn't have to apologize.

I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about this, especially in the last year an a half. I'm a very strong introvert who's attending business school, which is one of the most socially active environments I've ever experienced. The term “introvert” has an unnecessarily bad reputation, for reasons I don't entirely understand, and would like to address a few misconceptions. My thoughts below are of course generalizations, and come with the same risks that any kind of generalization bears.

Let's first ground ourselves in what it means to be an introvert. In short, we reenergize by being alone. As copied from Wikipedia: some popular writers have characterized introverts as people whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction.

Misconception #1: “Introversion is a fancy name that we give for lacking social skills.”

This is a common misconception of introverts. We're thought of as the social outcasts. We're taught as kids that we're supposed to go make friends with the other kids playing in the sandbox. And if we don't, we're weird and our parents have to apologize to the other parents for our behavior.

We have to relearn what introvert really means. Introverts can be perfectly social and most are. We have many friends, are quite well adjusted, and fit a broad range of societal definitions of normal. Its just that when everyone else is running out for the 5th consecutive night out at a bar, we'd prefer to take a night to ourselves on occasion.

Misconception #2: “Introverts are quiet and don't like to talk.”

Wrong again. I like to talk. I have a lot to say! After spending an above average amount of time thinking and reading, I want to share what I've learned. I want to know what others think about what I'm now thinking.

But I don't like to talk in front of a group of people I don't know. I don't like to talk in environments that are loud. And I don't like to talk about silly things, or what some would call “small talk.” I'd much rather talk about the important issues in my life and hear what issues you're working through. And if we hit upon a mutually interesting topic, I can talk with others for hours.

Misconception #3: “Given a choice, introverts would always prefer to be alone rather than in a group.”

This too is not necessarily true. There are only so many episodes of Downton Abbey I can watch in a row before I have to get out of my apartment and interact with another human being. Some of my best memories include trips with friends or projects with big groups.

As mentioned in another post, I can turn on my group socializing skills without much difficulty. But, as an introvert, I just have to balance my socializing time with my quiet time. If I know I have a number of social events coming up, I need to plan in advance to get in my alone time to recharge. I also need to make sure I don't schedule social events after work too many days in a row. I'll be drained by the time the end of the week comes around. But as long as I'm honest with myself on how much group time I can take and plan accordingly, I have a great time interacting with others.

Misconception #4: “Introverts are not good leaders”

We see exceptionally charismatic leaders, such as President Clinton or Jack Welch (famous long time CEO of General Electric) and begin to believe that being an extrovert is a prerequisite to inspiring others and gaining a following.

Au contraire you naysayer. Albert Einstein was an introvert, as are BIll Gates and Warren Buffett, just to name a few.

As we learn in management class, there are two types of leaders – those who inspire others through their personality (Oprah), and those who inspire others through their knowledge (Einstein). Introverts tend to do well with the latter and have made amazing contributions to the world. They've also built huge organizations that have lasted over time.

Misconception #5: “Introverts are only a small portion of the population”

According to the MBTI people, about half of the population identifies as introverted. Other studies suggest it's around a third of the population. Regardless, there are a lot of introverts of varying degrees out there!

I often think that introverts suffer from some of the same misfortunes of “invisible minorities,” such as those with a religious affiliation or those who identify as LGBT. If we can't see what someone is by looking at them, we tend to underestimate how many people identify with that subgroup. This is especially true with those who are introverted, as we recharge alone. Others won't necessarily know we're introverts unless we tell them. And that's exactly what I've been trying to do recently. Its amazing how many people respond saying that they're an introvert as well. It's an instant bond!

In conclusion…

Introversion is just another aspect of the complexity that makes up the human race. It should neither be celebrated nor lamented. Rather, it should simply beunderstood. Those of us who are introverts need to learn how to live in a world that seems to be full of extroverts. This mainly includes striking the right balance between social time and alone time, so we can be truly “on” when we're socializing. And those who are extroverts have an opportunity to better understand where introverts are coming from. Almost half of the population identifies as introverted to some degree, so we're not abnormal outcasts!

For those who are interested, I found this Ted Talk by Susan Cain to be fascinating and I highly recommend it. Susan Cain: The power of introverts | Video on TED.com. I also recommend her book Quiet.

So there you have it. Being an introvert isn't about being anti-social or anything like that. It's most that we just really REALLY value our alone time and need it more so than others. We have lots to say (my wife sometimes says I say too much, but that's another story), we just prefer more intimate/small gatherings and events. Live and learn my friends.