There is a lot of confusion around the term “introversion”.
I’ve had more people than I can remember come up to me asking: “how do I know if I’m an introvert?”
With dictionaries linking the word “introvert” to being shy or reserved, there are multiple introvert misconceptions.
Add to the mix that even experts can’t agree on the definition of an introvert, and researchers realising that the way introverts think of themselves is different than standard definitions, no wonder there is so much confusion.
How do I know if I’m an introvert?
You prefer writing over speaking
Introverts tend to be very open and chatty over text or email, and private in person. We take a while to warm up to new people, and writing speeds this process up.
Writing is an introvert strength. Many of us feel like we express ourselves better in writing than speaking spontaneously.
Writing gives us longer to think, prepare, and be really thorough with what we can offer.
It is also not as overwhelming as speaking face to face. There is less stimuli in the environment to be aware of and take in.
Introverts like to be aware of the context and as much information about the situation as we can before voicing our thoughts and opinions. This becomes more challenging in-person and can take lots of intentional practise before we feel like we’re confident.
The need to think before speaking often results in some of us being slow to respond to questions or comments. Sometimes we find the conversation has moved on before we can add to it!
The need to mentally rehearse what we want to say before saying it is a common one for introverts!
You dislike small talk
Introverts prefer speaking when they have something of value to say. This is often why we may take a longer time to think about what we want to share, because we want to make sure it is useful. Small talk, then, is something a lot of introverts really dislike.
You’re unlikely to be the person in front of you in the line at the supermarket, chatting happily to the cashier about the weather. You find networking events to be tedious and exhausting because chit-chat is kept fairly superficial.
Learning how to move a conversation from small talk to deep talk, naturally and at the appropriate time, helps many introverts deal with these social situations much better.
You crave deep relationships
You have a longing to connect deeply with other people.
You want to really really know what is going on in someone’s head—not just what that person is showing in public. You don’t have much time for small talk and instead want to tackle the big questions of life.
Problem is, you don’t always know how to make those meaningful conversations happen (check out 7 strategies that you can use here).
And because our energy depletes rapidly with the wrong person, you may often ask yourself the question: “Is this person worth the effort and energy?”
Spending our resources on something that just leaves us feeling drained and exhausted is a horrible feeling. We like to make sure that we’re aligned with the other person from the start.
One of the gifts of introversion is that we have to be discriminating about our relationships. We know we only have so much energy for reaching out; if we’re going to invest, we want it to be good.Laurie Helgoe, Introvert Power
You hate being the centre of attention
The feeling of nerves when all eyes are on you can be overwhelming.
This introvert characteristic is often why people confuse shyness and introversion.
What often happens is that people who are struggling with social anxiety confuse the two.
Introverts prefer to be alone, while shy people feel anxious in social situations. Introverts can be shy, but they don’t have to be. It all depends on the individual.
Both shy people and introverts might hate being the centre of attention, but for different reasons.
Shyness is to do with fear, whereas introversion has to do with being more sensitive to information in the external environment. An introvert may feel overwhelmed at talking in a group because they find it overstimulating and start to withdraw.
This is heightened by the two parts of the brain associated with thinking being very active in introverts: the frontal cortex and Broca’s area.
The frontal cortex is associated with decisions, decision-making, planning, and organising. Broca’s area is associated with self-talk (what you say to yourself).
With these two areas on high alert more than extroverts, it’s another reason why you may have spent last night worrying and overthinking about the time you called your boss “mum”.
You keep private matters… private
Introverts are fairly private people. We tend to hold our cards to our chest and keep personal matters under wrap.
When we do share information, it’s usually only with a select few people. And even then, only after we know those people well and feel a level of comfort with them.
This can be a similar case in the workplace, which can put us at a disadvantage if we are working in a space where we need to vocalise our successes in order for them to be noticed.
Sometimes introverts are told they are not team players because we stay quiet about our ideas and alliances. Knowing the ways to communicate them that work best for you can really help dispel this myth. This may be in writing a regular email update to your boss, or by asking your colleague to share first so it’s easier for you to add to it.
You zone out in a very busy place
High stimulating environments (noise, crowds, lots of energy) can cause an “introvert hangover“.
Our brains are more sensitive to dopamine compared to the brains of extrovert, so our energy gets used up quickly when socialising.
Extroverts might walk into a crowded party and dive into action, seeing opportunities everywhere as they experience a positive rush. Introverts may walk into the same party and experience a sense of overwhelm and anxiety.
You may start to zone out, get a blank look on your face, and even feel numb. It’s like a rising wave of overwhelm is threatening to drown you.
An “introvert hangover” is withdrawing into yourself because of the overstimulation. When we push past our energy reserves, we go from feeling “okay” to “overwhelm”. If you pack too much into your social calendar, you’re likely to experience a hangover due to not having enough time to recharge alone.
An “introvert hangover” can start during a social event and last up to a few days afterwards, especially if it’s been an intense period of socialising.
You prefer doing low-key activities on the weekend
A weekend of recharging, reading, walking in nature, being creative, and spending time on the activities you love is bliss for an introvert.
This doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy spending time with people—far from it. Part of a good weekend for us may be meeting a couple of close friends for food and having really rich conversation.
It means we don’t need to be going out partying every night to feel the same level of joy. Sometimes watching a movie with a friend while chatting over takeout is enough.
Some people assume you are closed off when meeting you for the first time
Due to how society has been created, unfortunately people tend to assume the worst about someone who is quiet. I’ve heard from introverts that they’ve been called:
… because they are not bubbly and share freely.
Research has found that it can even lead to introverts being passed over for promotions or leadership opportunities. This is particularly concerning as introverts are great leaders: we are motivated by high productivity and good quality work, we build meaningful connections, and solve problems with thoroughness.
Unlike extroverts who can bond incredibly quickly, a lot of introverts don’t feel comfortable sharing private and intimate information about themselves until they know someone well. And the key to developing a strong relationship with someone is being vulnerable and sharing about yourself. For introverts, it takes us longer to do this.
We’re definitely a “think first and talk later” group of people. We like to spend time observing and figuring out what makes the other person tick before we share openly.
Having some go-to conversation starters and knowing how to make a good first impression can take you a long way when meeting new people.
You prefer having a smaller group of friends
Introverts tend to be fiercely loyal. If we are friends, we will stick with you through thick and thin.
It also means we tend to take our time making friends. We go for depth, not breadth.
It makes introverts some great friends to have.
We will remember your birthday, enjoy finding out who you are as a person, and be there for you when you’ve had your heart broken.
If you are friends with an introvert, consider yourself lucky. We prefer a small inner circle and and are very picky when choosing.
You enjoy spending time alone
Being by yourself isn’t a scary notion for an introvert. We spend it doing activities we love and relishing the peace and quiet.
This looks different for different people. Some of us express ourselves creatively through painting or drawing. Others prefer to run or do yoga. Or spend time self-reflecting and really thinking about the type of person we are.
A few hours of being alone can help recharge our energy.
If we know we have a busy week coming up, scheduling this recovery time in advance can really help us deal with the exhaustion and feelings of being drained that may come with lots of socialising.
It’s why some introverts may find it difficult sharing a house with others. We need to have alone time to recharge our energy and show up to the world as our best selves.
You tend to avoid people who are angry or upset
You’re more likely to avoid people who seem like they are in a bad mood. Academic research by psychologist Marta Ponari found that those of us who are high in introversion avoid following the gaze of someone who looks angry.
Usually, if you were to see someone’s face on a computer screen looking to the left, you would also look to the left.
If there was a flashing light on the screen also on the left hand side of the screen, our gaze would shift there very quickly from these two prompts:
- The person on the screen looking left
- The flashing light to the left
If the person on the screen was looking to the right and the flashing light was on the left, our gaze would shift less quickly to the left. This is because of the effect of the person looking right.
Introverts, however, did not show this effect as quickly (called “gaze-cuing”) when the person’s face seemed angry. This suggests that introverts are less keen to look at someone who is mad. The researchers believe that is because we are more sensitive to possibly negative situations. If you think the person who is angry because of something to do with you, they immediately become more threatening.
You value listening deeply
A lovely introvert characteristic is that they tend to be great listeners. This comes from listening to understand rather than to respond.
In this world full of distractions and a million things trying to grab our attention, giving someone you full attention is one of the biggest compliments you can pay them.
We deeply appreciate people who make an effort to really hear us and our thoughts—and it’s such a lovely feeling when we receive this active listening too.
How many of these characteristics do you recognise in yourself?
Exploring the question “how do I know if I’m an introvert?” can lead to insightful self-discoveries.
Being an introvert is a wonderful quality.
We have so much to share with the world!