What It Really Means to be an Introvert

Many of the creators I work with as a coach are introverts. But some of them have a hard time owning this.

I get it. As I was growing up, I learned that there were these “social definitions” of introvert and extrovert. These definitions went something like this: An introvert is quiet, shy, and keeps to herself. She’s not very friendly. She needs to learn to be more outgoing and social. An extrovert is gregarious, charming, engaging. She has lots of friends. People really like her and she’s socially well-adjusted.

Naturally, most people wanted to feel they were the second thing, not the first. I know I absolutely hated being labeled “shy”, and my parents and most of my teachers wanted me to “combat my shyness.” I always felt they were not seeing me for who I was.

I think a lot of people nowadays (I hope, anyway) have a better understanding of what an introvert actually is. But I know here in the U.S. there’s still a cultural bias in favor of extroversion. Recently when I mentioned to someone that I work mostly from home, she said, “Oh, gosh, you don’t want to spend too much time at home. You might become an introvert!”

It hit me once again that the reason some of us struggle to accept ourselves as introverts — and try to live contrary to our nature — is because these old “social definitions” of introvert and extrovert are still intact.

Actually, the definitions of introvert and extrovert that I prefer may be even older. Jung defined introversion as “predominately inward-looking” and extroversion as “predominately outward-looking.” What this means is that introverts are naturally inclined toward delving into their inner worlds, whereas extroverts are more inclined toward interacting in the outer world. And everyone is at a different point on the introvert-extrovert spectrum — we’re all some of both, but to varying degrees.

I am probably not the most extreme of introverts, but I’m way up there on the scale. This DOESN’T mean that I am always quiet and that I dislike being around people. It means that because I take anything I experience in the outer world and turn it inward in order to process it, I need a certain amount of downtime in which to chew on things and recharge my battery.

So, my bandwidth for socializing and being in the “outer world” is finite, and if I don’t respect that and push myself beyond my limits, I’ll become overwhelmed and depleted. What overwhelmed and depleted looks like in me is spacey, irritated, tired, quiet, withdrawn, and yes, sometimes it may look “shy” or create shy behavior — in other words, I may become fearful in situations that normally wouldn’t cause me to be so because my battery isn’t charged and I know I don’t have the energy to deal with them at the moment.

This is why traditional school and work settings are often not ideal for introverts — we run out of steam and feel like we’re running on empty, try to retreat to our inner worlds to get recharged, and discover this isn’t acceptable in the company of (most) others. Then we start judging ourselves for not being able to act like extroverts, who recharge their batteries by being with people and engaging in activities.

Because I understand my introversion so well (though I’m always learning more about my needs) I love the fact that I’m an introvert and I fully embrace it. This hasn’t always been true for me, but now that it is, my life flows so much more smoothly. When I can accept the ebbs and flows of my own energy and give myself the downtime I need — and own that in the company of others — I can show up fully myself.

I’d love to see all introverts embrace their nature and see how it works for them as creators. I’ll talk more about this future posts.

Check out Marti Olsen Laney’s “The Introvert Advantage” or Susan Cain’s “Quiet” if you’d like to read more about embracing your introversion (or understanding a loved one who’s an introvert). And if you struggle with accepting and working with your introverted nature, check out my one-on-one coaching opportunities. I love working with introverts!

Image is FEATHER IN THE FOREST © Paige Foster | Dreamstime.com