One third to one half of the population are introverts. Whether or not you are an introvert yourself, up to half the people you encounter in your day to day life are introverts (although that slice may be a bit smaller since many of us introverts prefer to hide away from the hustle and bustle when possible). It’s inevitable that you have introverted family members, friends, and coworkers.
If you’re an extrovert, the introvert may seem like quite a foreign species. You may simply have a hard time understanding introverts or problems relating well to them due to strong differences in natural temperament and preferences. Introvert-extrovert relationships can contain frustrations, but can also be immensely rewarding in that the types can complement and balance each other.
If you are an extrovert in any kind of close relationship with an introvert, it’s well worth your time and energy to get to know how they operate so that both of you can get the most out of the relationship by arriving at a mutual understanding. Thus, the justification for extroverts to learn to understand introverts is obvious (and vice versa!).
How to understand other introverts if you’re an introvert yourself may seem like a silly topic for discussion, but hear me out. There are a few issues that may come up even as a fellow introvert trying to understand another introvert. Part of the reason is that introversion runs on a continuum; not all introverts are equally introverted and other personality aspects will, of course, come into play. Another reason is that since we live in a very extroverted society, we may have internalized judgments and shame over introvert characteristics that cloud the waters.
In our efforts to better understanding of our introverted friends, lovers, family members, and colleagues, let’s go over introvert personality characteristics including benefits and challenges, tips for understanding introverts in different relationship contexts, as well as specific advice for understanding introverts based on whether you yourself are an introvert or an extrovert.
Put into the simplest terms, being an introvert means that you need to turn inward to restore your energy. You are happiest and operate best when your batteries have been recharged by solo time spent on quiet reflection alone, with pets, or in nature.
One common misconception to banish straightaway is that all introverts are alike. This is simply not true. Although there are often shared characteristics and challenges among introverted people, simply falling into the category of introversion versus extroversion does not tell you all you need to know to understand an introvert.
Not only do other personality characteristics interact with introversion; the introversion trait itself runs along a continuum rather than being a black and white distinction. At one end of the spectrum are extreme introverts that embody many introvert aspects to a T. Toward the middle headed toward the extrovert side are those introverts that embody introvert characteristics to a lesser degree. Remember to use your understanding of introverts as guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules that limit people’s individuality.
All that being said, let’s go over some positive characteristics and some challenges often associated with being an introvert in hopes of better understanding introverts and what makes them tick.
Here are several positive characteristics often possessed by introverted people. These are the wonderful qualities that make introverts such valuable friends, colleagues, romantic partners, as well as contributors to society as a whole.
Introverts think before they speak. They are not ones to go off half-cocked. Examining situations from multiple angles and perspectives, introverts tend to have a balanced and well-thought out contributions that are not based on knee-jerk reactions. Introverts will ask questions of others and of themselves rather than simply injecting their own thoughts and feelings into interactions through brute force. Through reflection on the self and on interactions and situations, introverts have accumulated a solid understanding of the different facets of their own inner workings as well as those of relationships, systems, and society.
By nature idealistic and/or dreamy, introverts are naturals at imagining better futures as well as the steps needed to get there. Many creative types such as artists, writers, and musicians are introverts, as are many scientists, analysts, and very spiritual people. The introvert’s facility with accessing their inner world of the mind, heart, and spirit allows for a richly creative inner life. Introverts tend to be more focused on the things that really matter in life rather than the materialistic trappings of the outer world. Introverts place value on beauty, fairness, justice, and authenticity rather than power, status, or physical goods.
Introverts prefer to work alone and uninterrupted rather than in noisy group settings to allow them to focus deeply on the task at hand. It’s not that they are antisocial, it’s simply that an introvert finds too much bouncing of ideas and noise to be overstimulating.
Introverts have a natural access to “flow” states. A state of “flow” involves focused high productivity and a sense of ease and contentment. Time passes by unnoticed while the flow state persists. Introverted people often have passions that run deep. They will generally have one or a small handful of deep passions that really drive them in life rather than many shallower pursuits. If an introvert is forced to focus shallowly on many things at once, unhappiness and low productivity tend to be the result. On the other hand, if the introvert is given time and space to do their thing, the results can be mind-blowing.
Instead of merely waiting for their turn to talk, introverts take in and integrate what is being said by others. If you have an intellectual or emotional problem, a one-on-one conversation with an introvert is often exactly what you need to tease apart the situation and also receive the emotional support you need. Introverts make excellent counselors due to this natural ability to feel other’s feelings. In conversations one-on-one and especially in a group setting, introverts may take longer to respond and are not likely to jump in in more aggressive brainstorming sessions, but you can rest assured there is a good deal of processing and idea-generating going on behind the scenes. Introverts often need conversational space to feel comfortable bringing their inner ideas to the light.
So far we have focused on the positive aspects of introversion that make them so awesome and amazing in any kind of relationship. Now, let’s discuss some of the challenges of introversion that may become points of frustration when trying to understand an introvert.
Through the eyes of an extrovert, introverts may seem to get overly flustered and overwhelmed in seemingly routine situations. Crowded events, group projects, loud bars, and large parties might feel completely hospitable to a more extroverted person, while they might feel overwhelming and even hostile to someone who is introverted. This can create tension, the extrovert feeling like they are pulling teeth to get the introvert to participate in “normal” social settings or work obligations.
The ease with which an introvert can become overwhelmed by interactions with other people or high-energy settings can cause introverts to avoid such situations. Although this is not true for all, some introverts may develop intense social anxiety that goes way beyond the transient “butterflies in the stomach” feeling that almost everyone experiences from time to time. It’s important to remember that even positive social interactions will drain energy from an introvert, even if they are enjoying themselves. Even healthy introverts will need more recovery time between social situations than an extrovert will.
Our society is geared toward the temperaments and preferences of extroverts, whose nervous systems easily handle lots of stimulation that is overwhelming for an introvert. Schools and workplaces are becoming more and more extrovert-oriented and less friendly toward introverts. There is a strong trend toward collaboration and teamwork rather than quiet focused time. Sadly, these trends exhaust and alienate introverts, who may shut down in the face of excessive stimulation.
Introverts often have strong convictions, active minds, and a lot to say when given time and space to express themselves. However, introverts may go with the flow or simply shut down in competitive settings when they are feeling boxed out. This is exhausting and frustrating for the introvert themselves, and can also cause problems in relationships. The more extroverted person can feel as if the introvert is not participating or is withholding. The introvert can feel shut down, left out, and undervalued. The introvert may also accumulate grievances against the extrovert from feeling this way for too long in too many scenarios. It’s important for neither party to hold blame and for each to respect the other’s temperament.
Perhaps surprisingly, introvert-introvert relationships can be a sticky wicket. Recall that introversion runs on a continuum; thus an introvert is not an introvert is not an introvert. Also due to our society’s extrovert-worship, introverts themselves may have inward-turned judgments and shame over introvert characteristics.
As with any relationship, the key is respecting the other person as an individual. Listen to what they are saying and respect their individuality; don’t assume that you know everything that makes them tick or that you know what is best for them based on your own experience.
For example, say your friend is a more extreme introvert than yourself. They require even more downtime to feel energized and psychologically healthy, while you require less, and often find that pushing yourself a little to go out more socially actually helps you feel more alive. In this sort of situation, don’t push them into the same strategy that has worked for you. Listen to what they are saying and watch their non-verbal cues. Allow them the space they need.
If you’re an extrovert in any kind of relationship with an introvert, the most important thing to keep in mind is that introverts process the world differently than you do. Their nervous system works a bit differently, as may their cognitive interpretation of events. Situations that seem normal and no big deal to you might feel overwhelming and exhausting to an introvert. Check out the following sections for tips on better relations with introvert family members and romantic partners.
Perhaps you are a parent with an introverted child or even an extroverted child of an introverted parent. Again, they key to harmonious introvert-extrovert relations is the realization that you can’t make a tiger change their stripes. You need to respect who they are and show them that you value their introverted characteristics rather than judging and shaming them for it.
For example, I was raised by an extroverted father who didn’t understand my innate temperament and always pushed me to be more like him. Then, I would push myself hard to be more extroverted as well, to my detriment. Luckily, I had a few teachers along the way that validated who I was and helped me realize that it’s OK to be introverted. It still took me a long time to be truly comfortable with my introverted nature. As a parent, you have a huge impact on your child’s self-concept. Help them see and develop the good in themselves, rather than pushing them to be more like you.
Since opposites attract, it’s common to find an extrovert and an introvert in a romantic relationship with each other. While harmony of opposites can indeed be a beautiful thing, dealing with fundamentally different temperaments can also introduce challenges.
The first thing to keep in mind is that introverts don’t have control over their introverted tendencies any more than extroverts can control their extroverted tendencies. As an extrovert, you may find it totally normal and in fact invigorating to meet lots of new people, chat it up with strangers, attend noisy parties, etc. The introvert’s system will be exhausted by too much of this, and you need to respect that.
Never sling blame at them if they need a night in. Find other friends that can satisfy your need to be more “out in the world”. And encourage them to take the time and space they need for their solitary pursuits.
Listen when the introvert has something to say. Realize that they need more time to process and more conversational space to really get their thoughts and feelings out there. Let them know that you love and value them for who they are.
If you’re an extrovert trying to understand and introvert, remember that introverts have amazing gifts and capacities that are different than yours. They need more downtime to restore their powers than you do.
Never shame the introvert for this; it’s not within their control. They simply require more rest and inward time to recharge their batteries than you do. Perhaps encourage them to be more social if they’re being a total hermit, but respect their boundaries if they tell you they’re simply not up to a noisy social event.
Don’t get huffy if the introvert would rather read a book or take a walk alone from time to time. It’s not personal! Taking space and downtime is how they take care of themselves and replenish their energy stores at the most fundamental level. It takes both types to make the world go ‘round, so seek harmony rather than homogeneity.
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…