An Introvert Asks: How to explain introversion to others

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An introvert sent me a message asking, “How do you explain being introvert to people? I’d like to try explain why I tend to be different in a large group of people compared to when its just me and him.

What a great question. I told her that when I was in college I was actually dumped by a guy who had seemed quite crazy about me for a couple of weeks, until we’d gone on an outing with his huge group of friends. His explanation? “You were so quiet around my friends, but when it was just you and me you were so funny and vivacious!”

At the time, I had no idea about introvert-extrovert, so I felt like a big loser, like I had done something wrong. Why did I not “bring my A game” when going out with him and his friends? I’d actually originally thought I did just fine, talking to those of his friends who were approachable, but somehow it just wasn’t enough. If he’d known what an introvert was, would that have helped? Maybe not, in our case, but the introvert who asked the question would like to explain it to others.

How do you explain introversion to others in your life – coworkers, friends, family, partners?

Photo credit: Dawn Huczek

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54 Comments

  1. Erica@From the kitchen table on

    I think the best article written along the lines of trying to explain introversion to extroverts is the one by Jonathan Rauch from The Atlantic (http://bit.ly/c2waSI). I find it helpful to show people this article, because it is very comprehensive and well written, and it dismantles a few myths about introverts.

    In my experience, I find it very difficult to be fully accepted as an introvert, even by people that understand what introversion is. It seems like a desirable, almost mandatory, quality to be outgoing and sociable. In my relationships, I often have to hear (quite nice and understanding) boyfriends lamenting the fact that “people can’t see how amazing and fun I am”, “if only I could let myself go in front of other people”. I totally understand CB. They think they are just trying to help, by encouraging me to “loosen up”, but they are actually making me feel like a big loser. They wish I could be outgoing all the time – and then I wonder, doesn’t he like the rest of me? I mean, being quiet and introverted is a major part of myself, the biggest, I would say.

    I think explaining the facts helps a lot. So instead of focusing on the negative feelings, such as, “I don’t like being around large groups”, you could try to explain how it actually makes you feel. In my case, I get extremely tired very fast – no matter how excited I am to meet all those people. I can socialize for a while, but then I’m drained. And if I don’t get some space, that tiredness tends to make me anxious and edgy.

    I think it’s important to show that you are trying – otherwise your partner will think that you’re scared to face the world, or that you don’t like his friends, and he will either want to fix you or resent you. Both sides have to compromise – you need to try and be a little like other people, outgoing and stuff, but when you get to your limit, your partner needs to understand and support you.

  2. Growing up an introvert myself, I bristle at the notion that you have to explain why you’re introverted (because people would always ask me why I was so quiet and they tried to make me feel ashamed of myself). It’s not like you committed a crime, and you have to disclose your motive. And no one seems to ask an extrovert why he talks so much, or feels the incessant need to be the “life of the party,” or why he can’t just sit still for a couple of minutes and be quiet.

    Through the years, I’ve found that people who are closest to you, care about you, and love you for who you are will accept you no matter what. And your personality will be revealed to them over the course of time if they stick around in your life long enough. Then no explanation for your character will be necessary…
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    • Oh, my goodness. Why bother? It’s like trying to explain why water is wet. My husband is an extrovert and he knows I’m not, but it doesn’t matter when it comes to me socializing with him and his friends or enduring weekends where it rounds of social activity. He just doesn’t care in the end. He just wants me to be there and to perform, so that’s what I do. Instead of explaining something that a) people find is weird, and b) they will never fully understand anyway, I just give them what they want.

      I am always allowed to go home and be my introverted self. Extroverts rule and all we can do short of moving somewhere that is less extroverted is play the game.

      What I love is being alone in public. I am not obligated to talk to anyone or interact if I don’t want to. And when my husband travels for his job I get a wonderful extended rest from everyone. At work I can hide away in my cubicle or sneak off somewhere. I do interact, but only when I have to. So my advice is no explanations required, because nobody cares. You will simply have to learn to bring your A game. It sucks, but that’s the world we live in.

    • I totally agree with your comment. I just think that people in general discriminate over the introverts. Is it really necessary to be so talkative? silence is not a sin! the society just praises the behaviour of the extroverts as a “norm”, and believes that everyone should follow them and do what their (introverts) instinct doesn’t suppose them to do spontaneously. I believe the society to often magnify the “merit” of an extrovert and the “defect” of an introvert.
      I just think that talking about the right thing for the right time is what we should do, and I don’t really like to have chat about trivial matters with strangers especially……sometimes I just don’t want to think and don’t want to talk.

    • Why should we deny people the opportunity to learn? People discriminate against introverts not because (on the whole) they’re a lot of uncaring, rude, selfish blockheads but because (on the whole) they simply don’t understand the many ways others can be different from themselves. It is automatic for us to assume others are just like we are. If an extravert is quiet, something is wrong, so it is natural for them to assume that if we’re quiet something is wrong. A simple explanation, couched in terms an extravert will understand, will go a long way to getting us to the point where explanations are no longer needed.
      No, it’s not like you committed a crime. It’s like you did something that is incomprehensible, and it’s pure kindness, both to you and to your extravert, to help them understand the reasonableness behind what to them is incomprehensible. If they choose to reject it, then is the time to get huffy.

  3. Talk about the characteristics of introversion. That introverts get worn out by a lot of social interaction and stimulation. How crowds make you feel overwhelmed. And a crowd could be 5 people. I can feel myself withdrawing from a group when it gets over 4. I can’t follow multiple conversations and can’t block out others. Then mention that it is a perfectly NORMAL characteristic. After all, we are almost 50% of the population.

    • even just walking in a crowded street or shopping centre can already make me feel overwhelmed.
      i prefer an one-to-one conversation much more than a multiple conversation.

  4. I think it is too difficult to explain to others how introvert a person can be, his or her friends and family or coworkers will definitely have the idea even if they are not told about it. But explaining yourself that you are introvert, it is kinda difficult.

  5. That was so cruel of him. I don’t think it was enough reason for him to dump her. Well, I guess she should have warned him beforehand about her introversion. Like telling him that she might not be comfortable with a group of people. I know its not that easy but she has to do it if she wants to explain her introversion to other people.

    • The article said she didn’t know about introversion/extroversion back then… There was nothing for her to explain at the time.

  6. I don’t think he deserves you. In the first place, he knows how bubbly you are when it’s just the two of you. He should have understood that you are not yet comfortable with his friends. But he should have let time tell if you can get along with his friends well. Not just the first time that you got yourself acquainted with them then you will show your bubbly personality. It might give negative impression to others who don’t know you yet. Better off observe first before doing your thing. He is such a jerk for losing you.

  7. I agree with others sentiment that you really should not have to explain or justify who you are. While I think there are a lot of benefits to being extroverted, I don’t think there is something inherently wrong with being introverted. Certainly the former is more socially acceptable, but I know a lot of extroverts who shine in a crowd, but can’t have a real conversation one-on-one. I think it is more important to examine, understand, and accept yourself. If you can, I think the explanation of your introversion would spring authentically from your own understanding of yourself.
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  8. Well, it is a fact that more people loves to to judge first rather than to understand. Being an introvert is not a sin, we can never change our personalities in a snap for the sake of other’s opinion. We are created with differences and those people who expect us to be what they like does not deserve us. I think there is no sense explaining yourself to others. For acceptance? Not a good reason…A real friend understands, believes, and defends. They are those who tries to see what’s behind despite the unclear wall infront.

  9. He is really a jerk for leaving you. He doesn’t really love you if that is the case. Sigh! My only comment is that try to make some changes with your life. Try to make some time to socialize. I used to be on an introversion circle but I fought and made myself sociable and visible to others.

  10. Introversion often gets confused with being anti-social or having social phobia.
    Which is incredibly annoying.
    I try to explain it this way. We all, as humans, need a public life and a private life.
    Extroverts need a public life more than a private life.
    Introverts need a private life more than a public life.
    We all need both to survive, but some just need one more than the other.
    Introverts don’t hate people, or are anti-social or anything like that.
    I try to convey that as concisely as I can. If they don’t understand then its on them.

    • “Extroverts need a public life more than a private life.
      Introverts need a private life more than a public life.”
      I think this is a good illustration of the differences between the two types~!
      Being an introvert doesn’t mean that we don’t need any social interaction. As a human being, we also need to have interactions with others. It’s just a matter of quantity, I guess… We aim at “quality” rather than “quantity”, that’s it!

  11. I guess every individual should know introversion. I know it is not a great personality but we should sometimes be considerate if we encounter a likely behavior. But supporting and guiding could somehow destroy the negative character of introverts.

  12. The recent(ish) scientific research that discovered that introverts run on calming acetylcholine and extraverts run on energizing dopamine is very useful. You don’t have to go into a long-winded scientific explanation, but you can tell people it’s been proven that introverts get energy from being alone or one-on-one and extraverts get energy from being in groups. You can explain that it’s just as unreasonable to expect an introvert to be the life of the party as it is to expect an extravert to become a hermit. You can say, “I concentrate on one person at a time better than I concentrate on a group.”

  13. I responding to the title of the article: I get tired of explaining myself to people because I feel like a tape recorder. One of my favorite teachers jokes around with me when I give my little self-awareness speech. Additionally, I presuppose that people don’t care.

  14. Wife to an Extrovert on

    I have explained this to my friends and family like so:

    I simply need to be alone in order to think. I’m a girl! I have thousands of thoughts going through my mind every day and I need to be left alone sometimes so I can go through those thoughts! I really can’t move forward until I do.

    I am an introvert and introverts get energy from being alone. People can wear us out. You (extrovert) get energy from being around people. My husband gets really depressed whenever he goes a couple of days without getting out and being social. I LOOOOOVE being alone. It’s not that I don’t enjoy people, it’s that I get depressed if I don’t have time alone. I have literally cried because I haven’t had time alone. Just broke down in tears in front of a whole bunch of people. It’s just how I work. I need it to function.

    Yes, I can ACT extroverted in public sometimes, but that does not mean I am not going to crash the minute I get home, turning off my cell phone and locking the doors.

    Lots of social interaction wears me out. I can’t always handle it. That’s just how I am.

    • That is a great explanation. I am the exact same way. I get grumpy and testy if I’m out with people too long and that includes work. I am married to an extrovert too, and he has gotten better about asking me if there’s too much going on or if I need time alone. Having people in your life who are supportive is so important.

  15. It’s a shame that we introverts have to learn to act extroverted in order to gain acceptance. I agree absolutely that introverts are drained by too much social interaction. Extraverts seem to be energized by it. I have had people get angry and verbally attack me for not “contributing” verbally to a discussion. They didn’t seem to get that I was happy just to listen. As an introvert, I really don’t get the extravert’s needs to continually talk about what seems like nothing to me. I like to talk when I have something intelligent to say, not just to hear the sound of my own voice. I don’t know about other introverts, but I know I am more sensitive to sound in general than a lot of people so constant talking bothers me. I prefer to talk to one person at a time, or at least not more than 3 others. I like quiet activities the most – listening to music, watching a play, reading, doing things on the computer. I don’t like being around crowds – extraverts seem to think the more the merrier but to me, the more people, the more the experience is degraded for me. I learn by watching or reading (very visual) and not by participating in group activities or discussions.

  16. Introverts take time to reflect on ideas that explain the outer world. With their orientation to the inner world, introverts truly like the idea of something, often better than the something itself, and ideas are almost solid things for them.

  17. Explain Introversion to your Extroverted friends to save hurt feelings. Explain that you may need to call or e-mail them when you feel energized, and ask them to not take it personally if they don`t hear from you for several weeks.

  18. As it was said in an above comment, silence is not a sin. In some scenarios it is preferred. I find that most people fall between the introvert and extrovert line. So, I would never pigeon hole myself as one of the other. On a completely different note, I worked as an accountant for many years and my friend always joked around that the extrovert accountant is the one who stares at the other person’s shoes.

  19. I explain that I need to meet people one-on-one first until I am comfortable. In groups I need to be with several people I am comfortable with in order to make it through the evening. When with groups of people wherein I have personal relationships with each individual, I act “extroverted” – or naturally social. That’s how I usually explain it, but yes- people do tell me they think it’s weird and I somehow never attributed this characteristic to introversion, but I’m so grateful that I now can because that somehow legitimizes my feelings.

    • That’s a good way to explain it. I am exactly the same, but it’s hard to get my extroverted husband to understand that I don’t feel an instant connection to people, even his friends that I have met once or twice typically in a group setting. He always says why are you nervous? They’re NICE and easy to talk to. For me, it wouldn’t matter if they were the Dalai Lama, unless I have spent considerable one-on-one time with them, I don’t know them and therefore aren’t entirely comfortable with them. Thanks for sharing how you feel.

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  22. because an extrovert will just talk as they are thinking, and we, as an introvert, often think a lot before saying it out. so extroverts often misunderstand the introverts as being too silent and untalkative. i think the extroverts should read more about how the introverts think and act.

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