Being introverted has to do with how you gather energy. You might be introverted if you’re energized by solo time and feel drained after prolonged social interactions. This isn’t necessarily the same as shyness.
When someone asks you to describe an introvert, your thoughts might go to the most reserved and thoughtful person you know. Maybe you think of the friend who mostly avoids special attention and social engagements, or the sibling who prefers to occupy a quiet corner with a book or the family dog.
But what if you’re the one who prefers a quiet night at home to a crowded party? Maybe you feel exhausted and drained after interacting with anyone other than a close friend or two. If so, you might have started to wonder whether you’re an introvert yourself.
Introversion itself isn’t a measurable personality trait, as such. Rather, introversion refers to low levels of extroversion (originally referred to as extraversion; a person with extraversion traits was referred to as an extravert).
Extroversion is one of the Big Five personality traits. People with higher levels of extroversion tend to:
- seek out social interaction and conversations
- thrive in busy environments
- have a more outgoing nature
- express themselves easily
- enjoy being in a crowd
- act more impulsively
- avoid spending time alone
Since introversion lies on the other end of the spectrum, it tends to have the opposite characteristics. Introverts generally:
- do better in quiet environments
- enjoy spending time alone
- show more reservation than enthusiasm in social settings
Most commonly acknowledged signs of introversion don’t come from the actual definition of introversion — which is, basically, a lack of extroversion.
In a 2011 study, researchers outlined four domains of introversion that align with the characteristics people often link to this personality trait:
- Social describes the tendency to prefer spending time in smaller groups of people or alone.
- Thinking describes the tendency to spend a lot of time absorbed in your imagination and the inner landscape of your thoughts.
- Anxious reflects the need to spend time alone because the company of other people prompts feelings of shyness, social awkwardness, or lack of confidence. Alone, you might ruminate on past experiences or worry about future ones.
- Inhibited simply means you’re more likely to act with restraint than impulse. You tend to keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself, and you generally won’t pursue thrills and new sensations until you’ve taking plenty of time to consider your choices.
Your particular flavor of introversion might blend any of these four elements.
A number of factors help shape the unique characteristics that make you who you are, and these factors can also affect the ways introversion shows up in your personality. To put it another way, no two introverts are exactly alike.
That said, you might recognize introversion in yourself by some of the following traits and behaviors.
You need plenty of time for yourself
Do you consider periods of solitude essential for optimal health and well-being? Maybe you find the thought of a quiet night at home positively delightful, whether you plan to spend that time simply resting or enjoying a quiet hobby on your own.
If time alone prompts feelings of peace and relief, not disappointment and stress, you’re likely more introverted than extroverted.
Too much socializing drains you
It’s not true that introverts hate social interaction and avoid it entirely. All the same, you might find yourself needing more time to recharge between events than a more extroverted person.
Hanging out with friends on Friday might max out your energy, leaving you craving solitude on Saturday to rest and refuel.
You have a hard time with conflict
Everyday interactions can be draining enough on their own, but what about situations that involve the possibility of conflict?
Some evidence suggests introverted people tend to have a greater sensitivity to negative evaluation and criticism. You might find it tough to share your thoughts when you believe others might disagree with you or disapprove of your opinion. As a result, you might find yourself avoiding conflict whenever possible.
You work better on your own
The mere words “group project” might spark fear in anyone’s heart, but if you find working in groups particularly loathsome, you could certainly be more of an introvert.
Working at your own pace gives you time to reflect and consider your approach before focusing your energy on the task, without having to navigate group dynamics or tune out the chatter.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have trouble getting along with others. You may just find it easier to concentrate when working alone. That goes for your hobbies, too — introverted people often choose solitary pastimes, like reading, crafting, gaming, or gardening.
The spotlight doesn’t tempt you
Maybe you don’t mind working in smaller groups, but you always choose behind-the-scenes roles.
That might mean you’d rather do the research and write up the report than present it, or you volunteer for tasks that keep you away from the crowd. Far from being the center of attention, you’d rather hover on the fringes where you escape notice.
You prefer a close circle of friends
Many introverts have just a small circle of friends, but it’s not because they can’t make friends or dislike people.
If you’re an introvert, you might simply prefer to have a few close, intimate friendships rather than a large circle of casual acquaintances. After all, you need more time to yourself than an extroverted person might, so you probably have less time to spend connecting and catching up with a crowd.
You get to know people on a deeper level
If you tend to keep to yourself, you might find it perfectly natural to listen and observe from the sidelines. Watching what goes on around you can give you more insight into others and offer clues to their personality and preferences.
Expressing yourself not your strong point? You might become a good listener instead, perhaps even develop a knack for picking up on body language and less obvious cues and emotions in someone’s words, behavior, or tone of voice.
The end result? You learn more about others, which can boost empathy and your ability to offer emotional support.
You spend a lot of time absorbed in your own thoughts
- find yourself daydreaming or running through scenarios in your mind before you settle on a plan of action
- need more time to process information and weigh options carefully when making decisions
- do extensive research before making a big purchase or accepting a job offer
- brainstorm a plan of action ahead of major events to prepare for every possibility
Introverts often have an active inner thought process, so these traits can all suggest introversion.
You zone out to get away
Do you catch yourself “escaping” from unpleasant or stressful situations by letting your mind wander or drift to something more relaxing?
Anyone can zone out, but turning inward may offer introverts a way to leave situations that feel chaotic or uncomfortable. In short, it can serve as a survival mechanism, of sorts.
This tendency to get lost in your thoughts may leave others with the impression that you’re shy, distracted, or disinterested. In reality, though, it can help you cope in tense or overwhelming environments, from a loud holiday party to a long meeting with several short-tempered colleagues.
You prefer writing over talking
Maybe the thought of small talk makes you shudder, but writing out your thoughts comes naturally, especially when you’re dealing with complex or difficult emotions.
Many introverts take time to think carefully before speaking, so you might have a hard time offering a quick opinion about anything. Writing, on the other hand, allows you to consider your position thoroughly and choose just the right words to express yourself with confidence and care.
You feel emotions deeply
Some evidence suggests introverted people might experience emotions more intensely and have trouble managing those emotions. This greater sensitivity could help explain why many introverts develop depression.
Learn more about the complex link between introversion and depression.
A heightened sensitivity to emotions and other stimuli can factor into your preference for spending your time with loved ones who recognize and understand your need for space and solitude. You want to share your energy with people you can trust not to overwhelm you, in other words.
Introversion, like other aspects of personality, develops as a combination of two main factors: genes and environment.
Your genetic makeup, or traits inherited from your biological parents, plays a key role in determining where you fall on the personality continuum.
There’s a good chance someone born into a family of introverts will go on to develop an introverted personality themselves — but only in part because of the genes that contribute to personality.
The environment you grow up in also has an important impact. In short, observing how family members behave and respond in social settings can help shape your personality.
Other environmental factors might include:
- parenting style
- the type of education you receive
- experiences with peers
- life experiences, especially in childhood
Some evidence suggests brain chemistry may also play a part.
A 2007 study of 130 Russian participants suggests people with higher levels of extroversion may respond differently to dopamine, a neurotransmitter essential for your brain’s reward system.
In short, extroverts get a jolt of satisfaction or energy from social interactions because of dopamine. Introverts, by contrast, might simply feel overstimulated.
Researchers theorized this may have something to do with risk avoidance. People with a high-functioning dopamine system might pursue the reward of connection regardless of the risk involved.
Those with a less functioning dopamine system, on the other hand, might feel more inclined to avoid others to increase their personal sense of safety.
You can certainly be both shy and introverted. That said, shyness and introversion represent two distinct traits.
Unlike introversion, shyness doesn’t have anything to do with how you expend and regain energy. (So yes, you can be a shy extrovert.)
Shyness often fades as you adjust to a new situation and become comfortable in your surroundings. For example, you might not feel much like striking up a conversation on the first day of school, but by the second week, you might feel relaxed enough to chat with classmates.
Consistent acceptance from others can also help ease feelings of shyness going forward. Introversion, however, remains more of a fixed part of your personality.
We’ve established that introversion isn’t just another way to describe shyness, but plenty of other myths about introversion exist. A few common ones include:
- Introverts don’t like people. In reality, introverted people do benefit from close relationships with others, just like most other humans. They typically just prefer to save their social energy for people who understand and support their needs.
- Introverts have social anxiety. Sure, some introverted people could also have social anxiety. But that’s thanks to a combination of personality traits, like conscientiousness and neuroticism, rather than introversion alone.
- Introverts are more imaginative and creative. Creativity stems from openness, another Big Five trait. Introverted people with high levels of openness might easily be more creative, but this won’t apply to every introvert.
- Introverts just need to try harder to be social. If you’re happy with yourself as you are and don’t feel the need to change any of your social habits, draining your energy by trying to force yourself to interact with others when you need time alone will probably only leave you miserable and stressed.
Psychologist Carl Jung, who first described extroversion and introversion in the 1920s, noted that introverts and extraverts could be separated based on how they regain energy. Introverts, his basic definition said, prefer minimally stimulating environments, and they need time alone to recharge. Extraverts refuel by being with others.
Today, we know most people aren’t purely introverted or purely extroverted. People generally fall somewhere along the spectrum, with elements of both traits.
You could also be an ambivert.
Some mostly introverted people might enjoy acting on stage or throwing parties, while people who identify as extroverts could still seek solitude from time to time, perhaps when they need to focus on a challenging project.
Introversion is simply part of your personality. It’s not a flaw or anything you need to change or alter.
There’s nothing wrong with needing a lot of time alone, preferring your own company, or having just a few friends. What really matters is that you feel comfortable with your personality and accept yourself as you are.
Keep in mind, too, that while personality does remain fairly stable over your life, it’s not entirely set in stone. If you’d like to explore new ways to connect with others and expand your circle, try these 10 tips for making friends as an introvert.