Do you feel drained after spending time in large groups? … Are you easily overstimulated by certain environments? … Does spending time alone recharge your energy? If so, you’re probably an introvert.
Introversion is often confused with shyness. But they’re not the same. The truth is, you can be an outgoing introvert who relishes meeting new people. You can also be a shy extrovert who experiences social anxiety.
Popularized by Carl Jung in describing personality traits, introversion and extroversion refer to how individuals interact with external stimuli — and how they recharge their energy. Jung claimed that while no one is a pure introvert or extrovert, everyone falls somewhere along the spectrum.
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What does it mean to be an introvert?
For introverts, being alone is as restorative as sleeping and as nourishing as eating. Introverts savor time to reflect. To contemplate. To plan. To just “be.”
But that doesn’t mean that introverts should always avoid people, parties or concerts. To the contrary! If you’re an introvert, you might enjoy social activities as much as your extroverted friends do.
The difference is in how much, how loud and how long you can tolerate the same environment — and in how you recharge your energy. Whereas your extroverted friend might want to stay at the bar until closing time, you’ll probably be ready to head home after an hour or two. Or, while they might be ready to hang out again the next day, you might need some time to yourself to recharge before another night out.
How to respect the emotional needs of an introvert
Is your child, partner, friend or colleague an introvert? It’s important to recognize that their ways of interacting with the world are likely different from yours, especially if you’re more of an extrovert.
Here are a few ways to respect the emotional needs of an introvert:
- Resist the urge to interrupt an introvert. It sometimes takes longer for introverts to articulate their thoughts.
- Respect an introvert’s need for one-on-one time. Never shame or pressure an introvert for preferring to have one or two close friends. If you make dinner plans with an introverted friend, check with them before inviting other friends to join you.
- Whenever possible, give an introvert advance notice. (For example, “We’re leaving in 15 minutes.” or “The new guidelines will be in effect on February 1.”) Introverts can find it more difficult to switch gears or experience change than extroverts.
- Never reprimand or embarrass an introverted child in public. This is extremely important for parents, especially if you’re an extrovert. While you might be able to easily brush off an admonishment, your introverted child is more likely to experience it as a personal attack — even if their behavior warrants it.
Honoring your own introversion
Individuals have the capacity to learn how to act outside of our natural tendencies. This ability is a survival skill. As an introvert, you can spend time in large groups. You can answer on-the-spot questions when circumstances deem it necessary.
But because your brain is wired differently than an extrovert’s, you have a different tolerance level. Taking time to recharge your energy isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.
If you’re an introvert, these strategies can help you maintain your emotional equilibrium:
- Create and maintain boundaries — even if your more extroverted friends or family members balk at them. Your sister might not understand why you don’t want to talk on the phone after 7 pm; that’s OK. What works for her may not work for you — and that’s okay!
- Respect your need for privacy. Protect is by not caving in to pressures to overshare. If learning new skills in a group setting is uncomfortable, find ways to learn on your own or with a private coach or tutor.
- Allow yourself to be comfortable with having a few close friends rather than a large group of acquaintances. Our culture often overemphasizes quality over quantity, especially when it comes to friendships (and how they’re portrayed on social media). Popularity can feel lonely to an introvert, who craves authentic connection.
- Give yourself time and space to adjust to new situations. While an extrovert might be comfortable diving in (headfirst!), you might be more comfortable observing — and then dipping one toe in the water at a time.
- Respond to questions and requests with intention. Introverts often need time to ponder a decision. It’s perfectly okay to say, “Let me think about that and get back to you” if you want time to think through your response.
- Most importantly, respect your introversion. Don’t try to force yourself to become more extroverted. It won’t work; you are who you are! Introversion and extroversion are inborn personality traits. Neither is inherently better than the other.
It’s time to live the life you deserve.
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