There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be an introvert. When people think of introversion, they often assume it is a synonym for shyness, and that introverts do not like to be around others. Extroverts, on the other hand, are seen as loud, attention-seeking social butterflies. This isn’t always the case. The real difference between the two is that extroverts recharge when they are in social situations, whereas introverts tend to regain energy by being alone, and are drained by too much stimulation. So, as an introvert, if you feel down and tired, you might choose to take a walk alone to gather your thoughts. As an extrovert, you would probably call up your friends to hang out. It isn’t a simple matter of being shy versus outgoing.
The reason I am writing about this is because I often feel pressure to be more extroverted. For a long time, I felt like there was something wrong with me. I felt pressure from other people to “come out of my shell”, as they put it. Be loud! Talk more! Stop being so shy! There have been times when I have tried to do that by attending loud, crowded events. I have to say, I really, truly do not enjoy being around a ton of people milling around in a hot room talking loudly. That is not a fun experience for me. I get really overwhelmed if there is too much noise. It’s kind of like I am experiencing sensory overload and at a certain point I need to leave and go somewhere silent, otherwise, it is too much for my brain to handle.
As an introvert, I prefer shopping by myself and taking walks alone. I can sit in a car in silence with other people and feel totally fine – sometimes people ask me to talk because they start to feel uncomfortable. I spend a lot of time lost in my head and don’t normally say everything I am feeling out loud. It can be challenging for me to verbalize how I am really feeling which is why I really like writing for this blog. It gives me an opportunity to say what I feel in a way that is easiest for me.
Actress Emma Watson identifies as an introvert. She summed up how I feel perfectly:
“It’s interesting, because people say things to me like, ‘It’s really cool that you don’t go out and get drunk all the time and go to clubs,’ and I’m just like, I mean, I appreciate that, but I’m kind of an introverted kind of person just by nature, it’s not like a conscious choice that I’m making necessarily. It’s genuinely who I am. Have you seen Quiet by Susan Cain? … It discusses how [extroverts] in our society are bigged up so much, and if you’re anything other than an [extrovert] you’re made to think there’s something wrong with you. That’s like the story of my life. Coming to realize that about myself was very empowering, because I had felt like Oh my god, there must be something wrong with me, because I don’t want to go out and do what all my friends want to do.”
That is one major struggle I had throughout university. Whether I like it or not, partying and going to events is a big part of university culture. I think that is part of the reason why I have had a difficult time making friends, because a lot of people meet and socialize in the environments that I tend to avoid. There are other challenges as well – I once had someone tell me that they thought I didn’t like them because I was really quiet around them. Overthinking can cause me to be anxious, and sometimes I forget just to live in the moment. So while there are upsides to introversion, I need to remember to try to be more engaged with people around me so I don’t miss out on meaningful interactions.
But introverts have a lot of amazing qualities. We’re good listeners, focused, deep thinkers, creative, and reflective – qualities that may not necessarily be apparent right when you meet us, but are important nonetheless.
So when people tell me to be more outgoing and more extroverted, essentially what I am being asked to do is change who I am as a person. But I can’t. I can participate in more social activities, but these experiences need to be meaningful to me. I don’t want to attend a party just because I feel like I have to, or because it is the popular thing to do. It’s just not my thing.
I like having time to myself. I enjoy those moments in the morning when I meditate to start my day. When I feel overwhelmed, I often head to my room for a break. Or if I am in a crowded restaurant I will step outside or go to the bathroom for a few minutes, just to take a breath. I have a chance to reflect on my day, and to take a break from all the noise. As I also happen to have social anxiety (not everyone who is introverted is socially anxious), I sometimes have to check in with myself to see if I am staying at home because I really need a break or if I am avoiding something because I am just anxious.
If you are an introvert, don’t give in to pressure to be someone you are not. There is nothing wrong with it – in fact, it can be a great asset! We have a lot to contribute. J.K. Rowling, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates, Audrey Hepburn, Albert Einstein, and Eleanor Roosevelt are all introverts who have made a positive impact on society. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
Ayesha is a fourth year student at the University of Toronto, majoring in Psychology and completing a double minor in Cinema Studies and Sociology. She enjoys watercolor painting, fantasy fiction, and crime dramas. She was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression and Social Anxiety.