Called either a psychological preference or a personality trait, introversion is a way to describe people who gain energy from quiet reflection and alone time. Introverts (people who are introverted) tend to stick to themselves or a few close friends, but on occasion hang out in large groups of people.
What Is Introversion?
The concept of introversion being an important personality feature dates back more than 100 years ago and the work of Carl Jung. In the early part of the 1900s, the psychologist viewed introverts as people who directed their energies inwardly and extroverts as people who directed their energies outwardly.1
Later, the mother-daughter team of Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers developed a widely-used personality screen called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which includes introversion and extroversion as one of the four personality traits measured.
Introverts stand in contrast to extroverts. Extroverts are people with opposite preferences and characteristics compared to introverts.1 An extrovert will gain energy from being around other people—therefore extroverts are often known to be very social, however they do appreciate their alone time, just much more sparingly than introverts. Extroverts are more likely to act quickly and decisively in a situation, where an introvert is more likely to think through the situation fully.
When thinking about the classifications of introverts and extroverts, it is important to know that these two personality patterns are on opposite ends of the same spectrum. There are people who are extremely introverted, people who are extremely extroverted, and plenty of people in the middle, but no one can be both simultaneously. Most people, though, can quickly identify themselves as either more introverted or more extroverted.
Although the world view of extroversion and introversion are quite different, it represents only a fraction of a person’s overall personality. Being an introvert does not need to define who the person is.
Other essential points about introversion include:
Introversion Can be a Positive Quality
Some people may view introverts in a negative way and assume that they are uncomfortable or nervous in social settings, or socially awkward, but this view is not very accurate. Introverts lead happy and fulfilling lives. Because introverts do not depend on other people to boost their mood or energy, they have an unmatched ability to regulate themselves.
Introversion Is Challenging to Change
Introverts and people who love introverts may try to encourage change to fit into an expectation of “normal.” This effort may be fruitless, though, because with introversion’s status as a personality trait, it is a foundational characteristic of the person. It is static and stable.
Introverts Can be Outgoing & Social
Introverts can be some of the most social, outgoing, and friendly people in a group. The issue is that they cannot maintain high levels of socialization for long periods without feeling drained and depleted – sometimes called an introvert hangover. Where extroverts can party all night, introverts will need to pace themselves and know their limits.
Is Introversion Bad?
Introversion as a personality characteristic is not a bad thing or a good thing, but any personality characteristic taken to an extreme will become more negative and less desirable. People should always aim to establish a level of balance and stability to their life.
When a person’s level of introversion is extreme, they will show no interest in other people or social activities of any kind and experience anxiety and discomfort when interacting with others. They may overthink every decision and find it impossible to make choices comfortably.
Extreme introversion is problematic in the same way that extreme extroversion is. If a person is on the far end of the extroversion spectrum, they will struggle to be alone and show poor decision-making skills.
Most introverts will explore their style to find comfort with their personality. They will engage with people who understand, accept, and balance their social preferences.
Are There Benefits to Being an Introvert?
The benefits of introversion far outweigh any potential for unwanted effects. Introverts can enjoy many pros of their personality differences that help to regulate their moods, energy levels, and decision-making abilities.
Most notably, introverts are people who put a lot of thought into their choices. They will not make spontaneous or reckless decisions, so they will be less likely to suffer from the negative outcomes of impulsivity.1
Also, rather than being dependent on others to feel fulfilled, introverts can turn towards books, TV, and themselves to feel content and satisfied. Certainly they can enjoy being with others, but they can exist comfortably during long stretches of solitude, which offers a great level of self-control.
Introverts are caring people and skilled listeners. They can offer love and understanding to those around them.
4 Signs You Might Be an Introvert
When you start to look at the characteristics of introverts and extroverts, it might be plain to see which side of the spectrum you fall on, especially for those on the ends of the spectrum. People in the middle may see the situation as less obvious, so they should focus on the effect socialization has on their energy. Introverts lose energy when socializing, and extroverts gain it.
Other deciding qualities of introversion include:1
1. Less Interest in Sociability
To be clear, introverts are interested in social, family, and romantic relationships, but they will not depend on it as extroverts do. Introverts tend to be more withdrawn and reserved in social settings.
If you enjoy parties and social gathers but quickly tired of the interactions and the environment, you might be introverted. You may be more interested in a quiet Saturday night at home compared to a raucous all-nighter.
2. Less Confident Communication Skills
Extroverts are easier to spot when they are in social situations due to their communication skills.
- Speak loudly
- Speak more often
- Start more conversations
- Use significant hand gestures
- Engage in more eye contact
For people who speak quietly and less often while limiting body movement, it could be a sign of introversion. Introverts’ communication style and skills will shift towards a more extroverted position when part of a small group of well-known friends, which might confuse one’s ability to label their personality style.
3. More Thoughtful Decisions
If making impulsive decisions or spontaneous behaviors is not common or comfortable for you, it could be a sign of introversion. Introverts usually plan and prepare for decisions and take their time to weigh the pros and cons of all options.
When in balance, this thoughtfulness results in better choices that create long-term benefits. Some introverts may take this quality too far and find it impossible to be decisive in almost all situations.
Extroverts also seek out more opinions from others, so if you feel confident in your choices and mostly count on yourself for guidance, you could be introverted.
4. More Introspective & Self-Aware
Introverts are drawn inward and spend considerable time thinking about themselves, their needs, and their situations. This focus does not mean that they are selfish or egotistical. It only means that they are on a quest to understand themselves in a more complete way.
Not only do they think about themselves, but they also spend time considering how their actions will affect others around them. Because of this trait, introverts will often seem more courteous and selfless as their choices will not trigger negative repercussions on others.
Types of Introverts
Not all introverts are the same, though. Depending on the type and intensity of introversion, people with the personality trait could present much differently. The types of introversion serves to break apart and fragment the overall view of the personality style.
Experts point to four forms of introversion:4
- Social introverts: The typical introverts, marked by having a low interest in large groups of people. Social introverts will prefer staying home and enjoying solitude.
- Thinking introverts: Introverts who tend to get lost in their own thoughts and enjoy quiet periods of self-reflection. These people may actually enjoy being more social.
- Anxious introverts: Introverts who prefer being alone because social situations make them anxious, awkward, and uncomfortable. Alone time may see continued anxiety as they tend to overthink and repeat negative opinions of themselves.
- Restrained introverts: Present as quiet and reserved. These people could do well in large groups, but they need time to consider all outcomes before deciding. They may be slow to engage, but when they “warm up” to the situation, they can thrive in the social situation.
People may display just one form of introversion, or they could combine several to create their personality type. Again, these types are not “good or bad.” They only mark different ways that introversion can emerge in a person’s life.
Causes of Introversion
The cause of introversion and other personality characteristics has no definite answer. Jung seemed to think that a person did not choose their personality, and instead, there was an interaction of biological and unconscious factors.
Current thinking points to brain differences between introverts and extroverts with blood flow and neurotransmitters in certain locations being the focus of study. The theory began in the mid-1900s with a psychologist proposing that extroverts rested at a lower level of arousal, which meant that they needed the influence of others to feel as well as possible. Introverts, on the other hand, have baseline arousal levels that are higher, so being in highly social situations can actually become overstimulating quickly.4
Brain scans show that the amygdala and nucleus accumbens play a role in introversion. These sections are involved in emotions and reinforcing behaviors with a brain chemical called dopamine.4 In extroverts, the brain’s response to adventures, action, and meeting new people releases large amounts of dopamine. In introverts, the release was less noteworthy, resulting in a less rewarding experience.
These differences of brain functioning illustrate how the personality style of introversion or extroversion is present since birth. It is not something formed by childhood trauma, family differences, or the individual’s preference.
Mental Health Conditions Confused With Introversion
In the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the term “introversion” is never mentioned, since it is not related to any specific mental health disorders.
The following psychological conditions may appear as introversion:5
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Selective mutism
- Social anxiety disorder
Only a mental health professional can accurately diagnose and treat these conditions and separate them from introversion. Proper treatment may show that introversion was never an issue, or it could find that introversion was an underlying issue to the condition. In either case, forming a better understanding of the total psychological profile is helpful.
Introversion vs. Shyness
Shyness and introversion will overlap quite a bit in the behavioral consequences, but the process and experience of shyness will vary greatly from introversion for the individual. The main variable involves the person’s desire and comfort level for socialization.
People who are shy commonly have a strong desire to engage in social situations, but they become too nervous or timid to follow through with the opportunity. Then, they may feel let down, disappointed, and self-conscious about their hesitation.
Introverts may appear shy by being quiet, withdrawn, and isolative, but they will be very comfortable with solitude. They will not judge themselves harshly. Plus, they realize that social situations zap their energy, so avoiding them makes sense. Shy people can learn to be less shy and more social, but turning an introvert into an extrovert is not usually possible.
Common Misconceptions About Introverts
As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of misunderstandings about introverts, how they feel, and what they want.
The most common misconceptions about introverts include:
Introverts Want to be Extroverts
Although extroversion has many positive qualities, not every introvert will wish to switch personality types. Introverts see plenty of benefits linked to their personality trait.
Introverts are Unhappy
This misconception may be connected to the confusion that shy people are introverts. In reality, there is no evidence to show that introverts are more likely to have depression or anxiety than extroverts.
Introverts Cannot be Successful
Depending on how one measures success, introverts can be as or more successful than extroverts. Introverts may not be the person in high school who is voted most popular, but they will be thoughtful, good decision makers, and form strong bonds with a select few trusted friends.
Again, this misconception is based on the flawed perspective that introverts don’t care about or thrive in relationships. Introverts may not have numerous relationships in their lifetime, but they are prone to being considerate and faithful.
5 Ways to Thrive as an Introvert
Like so many other characteristics, being an introvert is only a problem if you see it that way. For those who embrace their personality style and focus on the benefits, thriving with introversion is very possible.
Some of the best ways to thrive as an introvert include:
1. Acknowledge Your Introversion
Knowing yourself is always a worthwhile endeavor. When you understand your temperament and disposition, you are better able to prepare for the way it influences your life.
Take a brief inventory of your past social relationships and analyze the impact these situations have had on you. Do you yearn for solitude and alone time, or do you long for the times where people are never far from your side? Being an introvert isn’t bad, but being unwilling to accept or appreciate your introversion definitely is.
2. Check in With the Outside World
Part of any personality style involves appreciating who you are while being aware of the dangers of being an extreme version of that style. Being selfless is seen as a very positive quality to have, but when people are overly generous, they will have nothing left for themselves.
Enjoy your introspection and time to yourself, but make efforts to stay balanced and connected. Almost everyone needs some level of contact with other people, so take some time during the day, week, or month to check in with the outside world.
How are your friends and family members doing? What changes are happening in the local community? Staying connected to a degree will make you a happier and healthier person.
3. Find Jobs & Leisure Activities That Match
Part of your ability to appreciate your introverted tendencies involves setting yourself up for success. If you try to make money as a party planner and spend your leisure time performing stand up comedy, you will end up feeling uncomfortable and fatigued.
Your career, hobbies, and leisure time activities need to match your personality style. Playing chess is going to be much more fulfilling than being a cheerleader. Working in a profession built for extroverts can result in high stress and low satisfaction. This factor could explain why about two-thirds of librarians are introverts.1
More than half of lawyers are introverts, but the introverts choose areas of the law focused on real estate and tax law, which could result in more time researching and less time presenting information in front of others.1
4. Seek Out Balanced Relationships
Just as you need a career that plays into your strengths, you will need social and romantic relationships that balance your style. Being introverted does not guarantee the idea that you will have a successful relationship with another introvert. Instead, being connected with too many introverts could cut you off from the outside world.
To find happiness and fulfillment, strive to have relationships with those who can accept your introversion while encouraging periodic movement outside of your comfort zone. Ideally, the relationship can engage in some activities that are more comfortable for introverts and some that are more comfortable for extroverts.
It may seem like introvert/extrovert relationships could be impractical, but extroverts like to talk and introverts like to listen. These relationships help meet each person’s needs as they complement the other.
5. Identify the Role of Anxiety
Introverted people are not always anxious, but anxiety can masquerade as introversion. If you question the overlap between your introversion and anxiety, you may want to consider seeking mental health treatment.
A therapist can help you identify the interaction between anxiety and introversion and offer helpful interventions to shrink the effects of anxiety. It could turn out that anxiety was the problem all along.
For Further Reading
Several organizations and groups focus their resources on understanding and assisting introverts lead happier lives. Some noteworthy groups and resources include:
- American Psychiatric Association: Before committing to yourself as an introvert, check into the interaction of mental health conditions
- Introvert, Dear: A community providing insights for introverted people
- The Myers & Briggs Foundation: Offering testing and information for introverts
- 15 Best Books for Introverts