The Hard Facts: Are You An Introvert?

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“While extraverts spend more time overall in social activities than introverts do, the two groups do not differ significantly on time spent with family members, romantic partners, or coworkers. Moreover, extraverts and introverts both report a mood boost from the company of others.” (“Revenge of the Introverts,” Psychology Today, Oct. 2010)

I am not an introvert. Officially, I know this because I took that Meyers-Briggs test recently and was deemed extroverted. But unofficially, I’ve always known—I like socializing too much.

For years I’ve misunderstood introversion. I thought being an introvert and being shy was the same thing. Introverts wouldn’t understand my search, I figured, because they didn’t understand the big deal about friendship in the first place.

I was wrong.

There’s a significant difference between being shy and being introverted. As Psychology Today explains, introverts spend time alone because they want to while shy folks would love to be social but don’t know how. “An introvert and a shy person might be standing against the wall at a party, but the introvert prefers to be there, while the shy individual has no choice.”

Also, introverts benefit from close friendship as much as extraverts do. Everyone gets the same jolt of energy from hanging with people we connect with on a deep level.

It’s a vital tidbit. When I started this quest I thought my friendship frustration was the curse of extroversion. If only I didn’t crave the company of others, I thought, I’d be so much happier. Turns out there’s no escaping it. Introverts need friendship too, they’d just rather have a thoughtful one-on-one than a dinner with a million people talking at once.

This should also serve as a reminder that introversion is not an excuse for giving up on friendship. A reader once left a comment saying she always bails on plans with her friends—specifically female friends—because she is an introvert and finds being a part of the female group dynamic draining. She didn’t understand the “high” of spending time with pals.

Being that I don’t identify as an introvert, I can’t purport to know what’s going on inside this reader’s head. But I would venture to guess that it’s not friendship that exhausts her, it’s the large groups. All the research I’ve read, and the majority of the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard, says introverts do feel a “high” from socializing. It’s just that an introvert’s idea of fun “socializing” is different from an extravert’s.

If you’re an introvert, don’t hide behind your preference for intimate activity and quiet time. That doesn’t mean you don’t need strong relationships. We all do.

Are you extraverted or introverted? Does that trait define what you want out of friendship?

15 Comments

Filed under The Hard Facts

15 responses to “The Hard Facts: Are You An Introvert?

  1. Ana

    Great job explaining this! It seems there are 2 different traits here: intro/extro-version and then shyness/outgoing-ness. You can have any combination of those—so you can be shy AND introverted (me me me!) but still crave friendship & enjoy the company of close friends, its just harder to put yourself out there to make those friends. Bottom line—everyone needs friendship in their life! But the amount and type of social interactions may vary. I like a party once in a while, but after an evening “mingling” (ugh) with near-strangers, I am exhausted! A dinner out with good friends, however, is invigorating.

  2. 100% Introvert. I’d rather have one good friend than a bunch of them. Alas, at the moment I have neither, but I’m hoping that will change!

  3. Thanks, Rachel, for clarifying this distinction. I consider myself an introvert because while I do enjoy socializing in more intimate settings with a few friends, I find a huge party draining. When I facilitate workshops, I am energized teaching a smaller group of 30 or less, but find the idea of attracting thousands of participants un-nerving. I’m glad you pointed out that introverts are not quiet, shy and anti-social and that we do DO enjoy the company of friends, just in smaller groups.

  4. san

    I consider myself an introvert, too. I do like to socialize, but I’d prefer a one-on-one dinner with a close friend over big group dinners with too many people. I also find large groups of just women very draining, even though it can be fun every once in a while.

  5. Great post! I am 100% introvert and I struggle with how to make my friends understand that sometimes I’m going to turn down plans with them because I’m in desperate need of alone time — not because I don’t want to spend time with them specifically.

    And if we’re talking about potential friends, I don’t even try to have the conversation — I just force myself to be social so that people don’t think I’m not a fun person, and then go home exhausted.

  6. Lindsey

    It’s funny to me how sometimes I feel like the lone introvert in a world of extroverts, but then reading these comments reminds me of how introverts just aren’t as “out there” or highly visible, which can make us feel more alone. It’s a vicious cycle :) I too am a shy-ish introvert, although not as shy as I used to be. Having done a little reading on the subject of being introverted , one other defining characteristic I’ve heard about the difference between the two types is that extroverts find being around groups of people recharges their batteries and give them energy. On the other hand, introverts tend to recharge and draw their energy from alone time. As you said, we all crave friendship and social interaction – some more than others – but it’s a matter of how you energize yourself. And to answer your question, to some degree being introverted does define what I want out of a friendship…. I look for someone who can understand my need for alone time or, even better, can enjoy the kinds of activities that aren’t as draining to me. Like meeting up for lunch or a walk instead of going to a movie with a large group of people. Thanks for your insight from an extroverted angle! Very interesting.

    • In this same article, it said that according to data from Meyers Briggs using a national sample, 50% of Americans are actually introverts. It’s just that, as you point out, extroverts are more visible and “out there.” You are not alone!

  7. Lorrie Paige

    I would disagree in some ways about defining an introvert. Loners are introverts too, but they hate being around anyone and do not get a high from it at all. I think the Internet has been a huge blessing for them as they can happily stay at home alone and only engage in chat with people via Internet only, because they want to. I’ve met many loner-type people like this online.

    I think I’m a combination of both. I’m shy and socially inept, but getting better on how to approach people in looking for friends. I also took the Meyers-Briggs test; I had to because it was required at a job I used to work at. I was defined as an Introvert, although I still feel I am both. I love one-on-one conversations but would love being a part of a group of friends too. I wish I had been a part of a sorority; I would have had many friends probably as a result!

  8. I’m a weird combination–I’m definitely an introvert, & I’m also kind of shy, but once I get over my shyness & have a group of friends, I can be extroverted around them.
    By and large though, big crowds aren’t my scene–but that doesn’t mean I don’t want friendship, or pals to hang out with. I’d just rather it be small groups than large parties.

  9. Allison

    I definitely agree with that reader — I usually can’t handle large groups (especially if it’s just girls) for long periods of time and greatly prefer some one-on-one time.

    My problem is that whether I identify myself as introverted or extraverted changes day to day. And it always seems like the times I want nothing more than to stay in and watch a movie or read are the times when friends are going out, and when I want to go out and be social, my friends are staying in. Wish I could schedule my moods better!

  10. Jen

    I’m an outgoing-introvert, if that’s possible! I need, no scratch that, crave alone time, but I also enjoy getting together with a small (emphasis on small) group of friends and having lunch/dinner or going to a movie or play. That way the pressure is off to find things to say!

    I actually connected with one of my best friends because we are both introverts. She was a co-worker at the time and I kind of noticed her introverted tendencies. I once thought about engaging her in a conversation on the subject, precisely by asking her if she’d ever heard of or taken the Myers-Briggs test (I had twice, so I was a confirmed introvert!). She was so surprised that I was one since I’m so talkative and friendly, but relieved that to know someone who admits to being introverted (many people assume that we’re ‘anti-social’ which actually has a COMPLETELY different meaning) and understands what it’s like.

    It’s also made our friendship easier, because we can plan to get together, but there isn’t that pressure to talk everyday or spend hours together. When we get tired, we each go home and make plans to do something another day! It’s perfect!

  11. I am also an outgoing introvert. I can be the life of the party but I get my energy from being alone. When I am tired and stress I want to be alone. When I have a problem I work it out in my head first and then maybe talk to my husband about it or write about it on my blog. It takes me a little while to get warmed up but then I can be loud and crack jokes.

  12. Sam

    Ah, I LOVE this post. I actually bought Psychology Today just for this article. I’m very much an introvert (not even liking to live with another person), but I’m also a very social person, mostly out of necessity.
    Many of my closest friends are extroverts who crave large groups and energy it creates. Luckily they all respect and understand that I love my personal time and will sometimes flake out on group activities. However, there have also been times when I’ve made plans with a friend thinking it’s going to be me and her, only to have her invite several other people. To them it’s no big deal- the more the merrier. But I’ve had to explain to them that I need one-on-one time with them to feel that we’re maintaining our friendship. I find it really interesting on how the two different personalities regard friendship and building the relationship.

  13. LizC

    I’m 100% introverted. I think I went to a total of 3 parties and one club the entire time I was in college because I hate large groups of people especially if I only know a few people. I’m not necessarily shy but if I don’t know you and it’s in a very large group situation I’m much less likely to be outgoing. I’ll talk to random strangers but I’m not the life of a party. But put me at a dinner or a lunch with just a few people and I’m much happier. I like being able to have one-on-one conversations rather than yelling over music.

    Then I need to come home alone and recharge. I can’t even live with people.

    • Lorrie Paige

      Liz, I think a lot of people are like you. Some things you said even sound like the average person in the US, like:

      “I’m not necessarily shy but if I don’t know you and it’s in a very large group situation I’m much less likely to be outgoing. I’ll talk to random strangers but I’m not the life of a party. But put me at a dinner or a lunch with just a few people and I’m much happier.”

      100% introverted would be a misanthropic/hermit. :)

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