Recent research has found that instead of one introvert definition, there are in fact multiple shades of showing up as an introvert, with psychologist Jonathan Cheek stating there are 4 types of introverts.
The beginning of introversion
You may have come across the term introversion from The Big Five personality types (where the opposite of extroversion is introversion), or an MBTI test.
The concept of introversion and extroversion was developed by the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung in his 1921 book “Psychological Types” to help explain personality differences.
He thought of introverts as drawing energy from being alone. Extroverts draw it from their surroundings and relationships.
“Introversion” means turn inwards, while “extroversion” means turn outwards.
However, ask a bunch of experts what an introvert is, you’ll get different answers. Introversion is possibly one of the most misunderstood dimensions of personality. Scott Barry Kaufman looked at how introversion was spoken about in books and found the following definitions…
- “Preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments” — Quiet by Susan Cain
- “Preference for concentration and solitude” — The Introvert’s Way by Sophia Dembling
- “Rechargeable battery” — The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney
- “Thoughtful-introspective” — Solitude by A. Storr
Even in dictionaries, definitions range from “socially anxious” to “preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments”. For example, Merriam-Webster identifies it as:
This has led to lots of misconceptions about introverts: shy, boring, anti-social, reserved, and so on.
This is a bit of a problem. There’s been a huge massive increase in interest in personality types, including introversion-extroversion. People like you and me want to know more about this part of ourselves. The fuzzy wishy-washy ever-changing definition just isn’t working anymore. Add to the mix that humans are incredibly complex creatures and we don’t fit well into labels.
Jonathan Cheek found that “when you survey a person on the street, asking them to define introversion, what comes up… are things like thoughtful or introspective.” However, those traits are not part of the standard definitions.
There is also debate about the definition of introversion in relation to extroversion.
Extroversion is defined from two core traits: enthusiasm (reflecting sociability, positive emotions, and warmth) and assertiveness (reflecting the tendency to take charge, become a leader, and captivate attention).
Because extroversion is one of the Big Five, then introversion must just be the opposite of those traits, right?
We are much more complex than this. People who identify as introverts think very differently.
Some people may also be ambiverts. This is where you are moderately comfortable with groups and social interaction, but also enjoy time alone, away from a crowd. To put it simply, an ambivert is a person whose behaviour changes according to the situation they are in.
There are many many examples of successful introverts, including Marissa Mayer, Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates, and Barack Obama.
Interestingly introvert leaders and entrepreneurs also pair up well with extroverts. Think Steve Jobs (extrovert) and Steve Wozniak (introvert) of Apple, or Mark Zuckerburg (introvert) and Sheryl Sandberg (extrovert) of Facebook.
Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader and Quiet Influence calls these introvert-extrovert duos “Genius Opposites” as they can be so powerful.
The 4 types of introverts
Psychologist Jonathan Cheek found four qualities of introversion from his research: social, thinking, anxious, and restrained. They make the handy acronym of STAR.
Introverts can be more strongly one shade or a mix of all four (find out your shade here).
If you are a social introvert, you prefer to go out with a few close friends rather than large groups.
Or sometimes it’s a preference for staying home alone, nose in a book. You will do a lot to make sure you have the alone time you need. Knowing how to set boundaries is a key skill to develop if you are a Social Introvert.
This choice to be alone or with a tight-knit group of friends is a personal preference for quietness and intimacy. Sometimes however, it can be mistaken for arrogance or being aloof.
“Social introverts prefer a small group setting and alone time. This can be a strength, as the well-grounded social introvert is often a quiet ‘rock’ in gatherings.” —psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhDWell + Good
Importantly, being a Social Introvert is different than being shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval, rejection, and humiliation.
Social introverts enjoy their own company, and spending too long in the presence of others may emotionally drain them.
Do you find it easy to get lost in your head?
Could you spend hours daydreaming?
Do you love thinking deeply about life?
You may be a thinking introvert. Social situations don’t bother you, and you don’t mind the presence of other people.
Rather, you’re an introvert in the sense that you have a rich inner world. You tend to be thoughtful, introspective, and self-reflective.
You spend time thinking about how you feel and who you are as a person.
Thinking Introverts were of specific interest to the researchers, who even stated that “the status of thinking introversion would be a promising target for further research”.
It is such a unique type of introversion compared to the other three types. You could have a hugely introspective nature and also score high in extrovert traits of enthusiasm and assertiveness. In fact, there is an argument that Thinking Introverts are neither introverted or extroverted, and instead are people with a high intellect and imagination.
Anxious introverts are those of us who genuinely struggle around other people.
You may purposefully avoid anything social, but in contrast to the social introvert who chooses not to, it is because large groups make you feel anxious.
You may feel awkward, shy, and self-conscious because you’re not confident in your own social skills. Turning down social invitations is the norm.
This anxiety doesn’t fade when you are alone. You have a tendency to ruminate, overthink, and to lose yourself in a downward spiral of the anxiety of things that could go wrong.
Sometimes it may lead you to become stuck in a loop. You start to imagine you future experiences based on previous interactions, leading you into a cycle of low self-esteem.
Those of us who are Anxious Introverts feel like the world can be too much for us.
Restrained introverts, also called the inhibited introvert, tend to be reserved and have their guards up when meeting new people… until they get to know them.
You are someone who takes the time to think before speaking.
You may take a while to get going and are very deliberate in your intentions.
You find it difficult to immediately spring into action and need time to gather your thoughts before venturing out.
This type of introvert is not afraid of social situations (rather the opposite) but are very selective about who they open up to. If you’ve been called “mysterious” before, you may be a Restrained Introvert.
Once you have earned their trust, you’ve earned it for life.
Our powerful identities
Introversion is a wonderful way to discover more about your strengths. Knowing your shade of introversion (social, thinking, anxious, restrained) can help you have more self-awareness.
But. Imagine your identity came from one label that was attached to you as a child.
Quiet. Unsocial. Shy.
Now imagine that as you grew up, your life followed that path.
You believed you lacked social skills, so you didn’t attend networking events.
You felt bad for wanting to stay in rather than going out partying, so you created a habit of negative thought patterns.
You watched opportunities pass you by, so you became resentful.
This is the power labels have. Labels help us put people in boxes, which simplifies our view of human beings.
However, one size rarely fits all.
This is the case for introverts as well.
Your introversion is a part of your identity, and knowing it helps you understand how your mind works.
Your introversion can become your superpower.
- Researchers found that there was a difference between the “standard definition” of an introvert and what everyday introverts think of themselves.
- Further research found out there are in fact 4 types of introverts: Social, Thinking, Anxious, Restrained.
- Social Introverts prefer being alone or going out with a few close friends rather than a big group.
- Thinking Introverts have a rich inner world and tend to get lost in their imagination.
- Anxious Introverts are those of us who genuinely struggle with anxiety around other people.
- Restrained Introverts take their time to think before speaking or acting.
Not sure what type of introvert you are?
Find out via a quiz…