Ask ten people on the street for a definition of introversion and you will likely get ten different answers. One person may say that introverts are introspective and dreamy, another may claim they are socially anxious and lack confidence, yet another that they are up in their heads rather than out in the world, the next that just love and require their alone time, another that they are quiet and shy, another that they are reserved and slow to act, another that they prefer one on one interactions rather than larger groups, and so on.
Some may claim that this is because introversion remains poorly defined even in the psychological community, let alone in the popular conception of society at large. Beyond simply having a muddy definition at the present time, the truth is likely that there are actually multiple types of introverts with different introverted tendencies AND different root causes for these different tendencies!
Add to that the fact that introversion as a single characteristic and the different sub-types within introversion fall along a continuum rather than being black/white, either/or categories, and the picture becomes even richer! This is an exciting area of study that will continue to provide us with more insight into the shades and hues of introversion as it progresses.
Let’s take a look at the main conception of the different types of introverts as it stands at present. This four-type system was developed at Wellesley University by then-graduate student Jennifer Odessa Grimes under the supervision of the psychologist Jonathan Cheek using large-sample survey research. Some introverts will rank very strongly for one type over all the others, but many of us will be a mixture of the types. According to Cheek, all introverts embody each of the traits to some degree; some characteristics of each trait may be miniscule except in certain situations or many may be true of you a good deal of the time.
The four types of introverts are Social introverts, Thinking introverts, Anxious introverts, and Restrained introverts. The names of the four types form the handy (and perhaps slightly surprising) acronym “STAR”. It is more helpful to think of these four types as aspects of introversion more than hard and fast “types”, since each introverted person will embody each aspect to varying degrees.
In this article we’ll boil each type down to its essence to help your get the gist of these concepts.
Each type, or aspect, of introversion – social, thinking, anxious, and restrained – also has its own article on Introvert’s Circle. In the individual articles, we will dig into each type in more detail in hopes of making this information more useful to you as you seek to understand yourself and those around you.
If you’re primarily a social introvert, your introversion will be most apparent in situations requiring – unsurprisingly – interactions with other people. After spending a lot of time in the company of others, you don’t only want rest and alone time, you NEED it to continue functioning.
You can’t imagine what it must be like to be an extrovert who is energized by lots of socializing! The complete opposite is true for you. You must recharge your batteries by retreating by yourself to your home, into serene nature settings, perhaps spending time with a pet, reading a good book, binge-watching Netflix, or maybe just getting extra sleep when you don’t have to deal with any external stimuli at all.
Being a social introvert does not necessarily mean that you feel especially anxious about socializing or that you are a wallflower in public settings; you may go willingly into social situations but find yourself needing to bow out earlier than others due to feeling tired or overwhelmed. You may very much enjoy the company of friends and family but not be able to handle large doses.
After a lot of social time, a social introvert will often fall into bed exhausted, asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. You will need to go off by yourself to recuperate from the demands socializing places on your nervous system. You may find that your productivity, happiness, and even ability to string together full, coherent sentences begins to erode if you’re not getting the solo downtime you require.
Social introverts may be viewed from the outside as “loners” due to the sheer amount of time they need to spend alone in order to function well. However, social introverts often do enjoy socializing, they just need to do so on their own terms and in measured doses.
Thinking introverts are the introspective, “silent” types. Carl Jung described introversion as an inward direction of psychic energy. This is especially apparent when looking at the thinking aspect of introversion. Rather than blooming outward every day for the rest of the world to see, the richness of the thinking introvert’s mind is directed internally.
If you are a thinking introvert, you have a deep and rich inner life. You may be a fantasy-prone daydreamer who is often accused of having your “head in the clouds”. Or you may be the type always churning away at internal calculations or situational analysis before sharing your perspective with others.
Thinking introverts reflect and analyze before speaking and acting. They may be overlooked in fast-paced group conversations because they are not one to go off half-cocked before their thoughts are fully formed. Extroverted people often have a conversational style of “throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks”; thinking introverts will sample and resample their mental “spaghetti” in private before presenting the dish for public scrutiny (to carry a metaphor perhaps further than absolutely necessary).
From the outside, thinking introverts may seem to be “overthinkers” who ruminate over every little thing when it would be more fruitful to just ACT already. However, give the thinking introvert enough time and space and they will come up with creative, novel, and often ingenious solutions.
Let’s consider anxious introversion more as an aspect of introversion rather than as a type of introvert. There is a line in the sand between social anxiety and introversion. Not all introverts have social anxiety and not all people with social anxiety are introverts. Being socially anxious is something many introverts have to deal with, either as a constant battle or just from time to time, but we need to be careful about stereotyping all introverts as having social anxiety. It’s an unfair and often untrue stereotype.
Anxious introversion refers to the aspect of introversion in which one avoids social situations due to fear, nervousness, and apprehension of possible judgement. An anxious introvert may simply avoid socializing because they feel fearful and overwhelmed when confronted with another person or group of people. The anxiety may revolve specifically around a fear and expectation of negative judgement, or it may just be generalized.
In other words, an anxious introvert may know the exact triggers for their anxiety: small talk, parties, public speaking, and more could all be possible triggers. Or, they may not even be able to put their finger on exactly WHY they are anxious socially or specific instances that make them feel anxious. They just know that they feel anxiety when interacting with people.
When you’re embodying the anxious aspect of introversion, you may feel the need to cancel plans last minute, cross the street to avoid interactions, and simply steer clear of any situations requiring small talk. For example, you may put off and put off getting your checkup at the doctor or even getting a haircut because even imagining the shallow interaction provokes feelings of anxiety.
Sadly, an anxious introvert may long for more social contact, feeling lonely and isolated but powerless to reach out. While it’s normal for introverts to feel anxiety from time to time as we navigate the extrovert world, if anxiety is controlling our lives or causing us undue distress, this is not a normal and healthy aspect of introversion. Counseling, therapy, and/or medication are all options for getting help with social anxiety.
“Restrained” introversion begs the question if they were trying to handily finish the STAR acronym for the types of introverts. What restrained introversion really means is that you’re a bit of a slow starter. You’re not one to jump out of bed full of energy and ready to tackle the day. You need a little time (or a lot of time) to get in gear.
Restrained introverts may like to start the day by laying in bed to soak up the last bits of warmth, waking up slowly and at their own pace. Next up is a leisurely hot beverage and the paper, or perhaps a podcast. Maybe then a little stretching, meditation, etc…a walk…time with a favorite pet…DO NOT ask them to spring into action or answer emails/voicemails/check Facebook first thing in the day!
Socially, a restrained introvert may be “slow to warm up”. Like Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, they do not possess the ability to converse easily with people to whom they are unaccustomed. However, once they get to know you, they may open up and become warm and cheerful companions.
A restrained introvert may appear aloof and standoffish at first glance. They may be mistaken for snobs. While introverts may indeed have refined palates for culture, company, and wine, we are usually kind, warm, and empathetic people that just take a little time and space to show these aspects of ourselves to new people.
Hybrid Types of Introverts
As mentioned before, an introverted person will embody each type or aspect of introversion to a certain degree. Some people will find their introverted traits evenly distributed across all four types, but most will have one or two dominant types.
A common hybrid type of introvert is someone who is a mixed social/anxious type. This person will generally be pretty avoidant of social situations due to feeling both anxious leading up and throughout the duration, and then feeling exhausted afterward. They will tend to gravitate toward activities that don’t provoke this anxiety, overwhelm, and exhaustion. During their free time, you can often find social/anxious type introverts out exploring nature, hanging out with animal friends or one or two trusted human confidants, haunting the stacks of the local library, or maybe curled up under the covers at home.
Another often-encountered hybrid type is a restrained/thinking introvert. This type of introvert doesn’t socialize much, but not necessarily because it makes them anxious or especially tired. Instead, they are often much more interested in other pursuits and may find that their personality just doesn’t really fit into the social scheme at large. They may give up trying to contribute to group discussions because they find themselves getting talked over. A restrained/thinking introvert often expresses themselves much better in writing than when speaking.
After reading the overview of each the four types and some examples of hybrid types, would you like to look more deeply into how your personality fits into Cheek’s four types of introverts conceptual scheme? Use the link below to access a simple self-inventory you can take to find out your ranking for each type. Perhaps a clearly dominant introvert type will emerge for you, or maybe you’re an even mixture of two, three, or even all four types. Each introvert is unique and most of us will be a mixture. This inventory is based on the survey research Cheek conducted to develop the four-type system.
Introvert Type Self-Test: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/what-kind-of-introvert-are-you/
Further delineating the trait of introversion into the four subtypes or aspects offers a richer picture and better insight into who we are and what makes us tick as individuals. Know that although this is the most widely embraced model at present, further conceptions may continue to develop with time. For more exploration of each of the four subtypes in Cheek’s model, including practical tips for self-care for each aspect, check out each type’s dedicated article using the links within this article.
Craig is the founder of LifeGuider, he is dedicated to improving not only himself but also others in being more physically fit and mentally capable of handling life’s challenges. He is not your regular life coach, no fancy clothes or fast cars, just a regular “Ole Joe” who has experienced the ups and downs of life like everyone else.
Introverts everywhere, get ready to shudder your way through this article. If you fall anywhere…