What Does It Mean to Be an Introvert?

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An introvert person wearing headphones listening to music while on their phone

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Introversion is a personality trait that involves being more interested in the inner world of one’s own thoughts and emotions than the external world of people, places, and things. 

First introduced by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, the concepts of introversion and extroversion have been adopted by several popular theories about personality. Unlike extroverts, who tend to be more outgoing and expressive, introverts are typically more reserved and introspective.

Here's everything you need to know about introversion, including types of introverts, the benefits and disadvantages of being introverted, and how being an introvert differs from being shy.

Types of Introverts

Introversion can manifest in many different ways, depending on your individual personality and motivations. Researchers have identified the following four types of introverts: 

  • Social: Social introverts prefer small-group interactions or flying solo to being part of a team. They often prefer to fly under the radar or blend in with the crowd and don’t typically enjoy large gatherings.
  • Thinking: Thinking introverts are absorbed by their own thoughts and fantasies. They may spend hours poring through books or thinking deeply about “big ideas” and fictional worlds. 
  • Anxious: Anxious introverts worry often and may be afraid to speak their mind in a group setting. Their anxiety may make it difficult to stay grounded in the present rather than worrying about the past or the future.
  • Restrained: Restrained introverts are reserved, guarded, cautious, and slow to act. They don’t jump into anything right away, preferring to dip their toe into the pool before taking the plunge.

Benefits of Being Introverted

Contrary to popular belief, there are a number of benefits associated with being introverted. Here are some of the positive traits linked to introversion:

  • Self-sufficiency: Introverts often march to the beat of their own drum. Being highly independent and self-sufficient can help introverts be more resilient, especially during times of crisis. For example, research suggests that introverts were more able to withstand the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic without resorting to self-destructive coping methods, such as excessive drinking and drug use.
  • High-quality relationships: Introverts may take a longer time to open up to others. However, when they do, they tend to have high-quality relationships with a few trusted people. Introversion can help you be a more patient listener, start deeper conversations, and have greater empathy for the people you care about. 
  • Self-awareness: Introverts are often deeply immersed in their own inner “world” of sensory experiences, thoughts, and feelings. This can help them develop greater self-awareness, allowing introverts to reflect on how they can grow and improve in the future.
  • Lower impulsivity: Some studies indicate that introverts tend to be less impulsive than extroverts. In turn, this may make you less prone to reckless behavior and addiction. For example, extroverts are more likely to be addicted to gambling and social media.
  • Sharper focus: Introverts are often more able to focus all their efforts on the task at hand without getting distracted. This may be because they tend to think more deeply before acting or speaking.

Disadvantages of Being Introverted

Being introverted also comes with some unique struggles. Here are some of the challenges you may face as an introvert: 

  • Loneliness: Research shows that introverts experience significantly more loneliness than extroverts. Loneliness can have a number of negative effects on both your mental and physical health. While it’s fine to enjoy your time alone, try not to isolate yourself from the outside world. Don’t forget to spend quality time with family and friends on a regular basis. 
  • Negative emotions: Studies have found that introversion is linked to more negative emotions in general, including sadness, pessimism, and less emotional control. Reach out to a healthcare provider if your sadness or worries aren’t going away. You may have depression or anxiety–and effective treatment is available.
  • Lack of assertiveness: Some introverts don’t feel comfortable being assertive. This can lead them to feel taken advantage of or underestimated. Remember that you have the right to stand up for yourself when necessary.
  • Misconceptions: Introverts often feel misunderstood by others, both at work and in social situations. Some people mistake introversion for unfriendliness, snobbery, lower intelligence, or less competency. You can’t control others’ misconceptions entirely. However, you can make an effort to get out of your comfort zone and reach out to others more often to show them who you really are. 
  • Less risk-taking: In comparison to extroverts, introverts often tend to be more cautious and take fewer risks. Staying on the safe side is a good idea in certain situations. In others, it may make you miss out on valuable opportunities. Try to challenge yourself to take calculated risks so you can fulfill your true potential.

Being Introverted vs. Being Shy

Many people mistake introversion for being shy or socially anxious. While introversion and shyness have some similarities, they also have several distinct differences. You may be shy without being introverted and vice versa. 

Both shy people and introverts are often relatively quiet and reserved. They both tend to express themselves less openly, especially in social situations. Both often spend a lot of time alone.

However, introverts and people who are shy may have different motivations for similar behavior. 

Many introverts are highly confident and independent. They may simply prefer to work independently rather than in groups. Some introverts enjoy spending time in solitude but are capable of interacting well with others when the occasion calls for it. Introverts might like to write down their ideas or think before speaking, but they aren’t necessarily afraid of sharing their thoughts.

By contrast, shyness involves avoiding social settings out of fear, self-consciousness, and social anxiety. Shy people may want to express themselves and interact with others more but are afraid to do so. Shyness is also often associated with timidity and a lack of self-esteem.

A Quick Review

Introversion refers to the tendency to focus more on inner experiences–such as your own feelings and thoughts–than outer ones. Introverts are typically more intrinsically motivated, self-reliant, guarded, and introspective than extroverts. Some may be shy and socially anxious. Others simply prefer spending time alone. 

Some of the benefits of introversion include greater self-sufficiency, self-awareness, and focus, as well as lower impulsivity and a tendency to build high-quality, trusting relationships. The disadvantages of introversion may include loneliness, stigma, less emotional stability, difficulty standing up for oneself, and risk avoidance.

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