If you’re an introvert like me, you may have always felt a sense of “otherness.” Even from a young age, you felt different from other people. You were an outsider who didn’t quite fit in, no matter how much you wanted to.
Feeling like an outsider is a common problem introverts face. So I asked seven introversion experts why introverts tend to feel this way and if there’s anything we can do about it. Here’s what they said:
1. Society is biased toward extroverts.
Introverts live in a world that is heavily biased toward extroverts. We celebrate fast-talkers and busybodies. We also live in a culture of more — more stuff, more money, more activities. All of this is overwhelming for introverts who prefer a slower, more gentle approach to life.
Contrary to what we’ve been told, the answer is not to twist and contort ourselves to squeeze into the narrow definition of normal. Instead, we look for others who are like us. The Internet is great for this. We drink up the knowledge that we are not alone in our love of solitude. We are not the only ones who despise small talk. We let this knowledge soak into our soul and flush out any lingering belief that the extrovert’s way is the only way.
— Michaela Chung, introvert author, coach, and creator of Introvert Spring
2. We don’t recognize other introverts when we meet them.
We’ve been trained to believe that most people are extroverts, and to do our best to act like extroverts. With the spotlight on extroverted behaviors, we lose sight of the fact that every other one of us is an introvert.
How do we fix this? Simple. Start seeing introverts. Remember that half the people in the room/workplace/on the street are introverts. They inhabit every role you can think of — leaders, actors, you name it. And introverts share a preference for processing things internally, so we really are the insiders.
— Dr. Laurie Helgoe, psychologist and author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength
3. We feel like “tourists” in the outer world.
For the introvert, the world inside themselves is generally more “real” than the outside world. Just like when one visits a foreign country, it may be fascinating, exciting, and even cathartic. But that country will never feel like home, and while visiting, there will always be a sense of being an outsider. Even if the visit is pleasant and everyone echoes the sentiment, you fit in here!, the tourist will always know they’re a tourist.
Introverts only “visit” the outer world. There is often a sense of being a tourist, and tourists are defined by being an outsider.
The more one visits a particular country the more familiar it becomes. Eventually, even if it’s just for vacation, one can get a sense of that vacation spot as “coming home.” They call these places “home away from home.” You start to know the guy who runs the fruit stand down the street by name. You’re not lost when traveling the streets because you know all the landmarks. You’re no longer an outsider — you’re at your home away from home.
If an introvert makes a concerted effort to “visit” the outside world, there can be a growing feeling of home away from home. There’s less of a sense of being an alien there, but rather a welcomed visitor.
Just like we choose our home away from home based on our preferences, the best way to develop this healthy relationship with the outside world is to rely on one’s natural preferences. According to personality typology, every introvert has an extroverted mental process that serves as their auxiliary, or what we call the Co-Pilot (for example, the extroverted feeling function of the INFJ personality type). Exercising that specific extroverted aspect will help the introvert feel more natural to themselves and more at home.
— Antonia Dodge, personality profiler and co-owner of Personality Hacker
4. We wait for others to come to us.
A lot of the introverts I spoke to for Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After admitted that they tend to be pretty passive when it comes to relationships — they wait for people to pursue them. I think that may be true in many aspects of social life for introverts; we tend to wait quietly for invitations to come to us and then feel left out when we see people doing things without us. We feel like everyone else has some sort of inside track to connection that we can’t get on.
I think it’s really important for introverts to be proactive in connecting with people who interest us, and in extending invitations for the kinds of low-key activities we enjoy. In other words, we need to become the center of our own quiet lives rather than feeling like we’re on the outside looking in on other people’s noisier doings.
5. Making new friends can be draining.
Introverts may feel like outsiders because it’s the initial phase of forming a relationship (becoming an insider) that is the most tiring. Finding common ground with others, especially multiple others, can take a lot of probing small talk, which is exhausting and often anxiety-inducing for introverts. Feeling included means feeling safe and like you belong, and it is very difficult to get to this place if initiating conversation drains your energy. This is why introverts are commonly found just on the outside of groups, building up energy and waiting for a chance to get in. I have spent a lot of my social time in this position and it has made me (and I assume others) feel like the consummate outsider.
Try going to places where there is already a common interest. Find groups where you can skip the small talk because common ground has already been established. Also, sticking with somebody who will stay with you until you get past that initial awkward introduction stage is helpful. It’s easier to become an insider if you can get a little help traversing the moat of introduction.
— Al Motter, M.A., Developmental Psychologist and co-host of the Introvert/Extrovert podcast
6. We’d rather lose ourselves in our inner world.
We are told from birth that life should be a fun, outwardly engaging experience that, if we are normal, we share happily with many others. Introverts often don’t have the energy or inclination to be so socially engaged. Many of us get lost in our work, our inner world, and a few close relationships/friendships. We feel lonely or wrong because we don’t embody that blueprint.
My first reaction is to say, “Embrace it!” Being an outsider can feel lonely or wrong. I don’t mean to downplay the effect being outside the “normal” club brings, but I feel there is an incredible and comfortable world to explore and enjoy away from whatever everyone else is doing. One thing that has helped me is to join forces with other outsiders in work and play. They’re the best!
— Brenda Knowles, personal coach for introverts and creator of Space2Live
7. Society can make introverts feel inadequate.
Our culture tends to champion extroverted characteristics, like being outgoing, thinking quickly on one’s feet, and verbalizing off the top of one’s head — especially when it comes to being a “success” in life. This can make introverts feel inadequate.
Also, because of our nature, introverts are less likely to spend a lot of time with others, which may minimize the chance or slow down the process of being accepted, appreciated, and understood. Everyone falls somewhere different on the introvert/extrovert continuum. The more introverted you are, the more alone time you’ll need to re-energize and the less outside stimulation you’ll be able to regularly handle. The bigger the introvert you are, the more you may feel like you don’t fit in.
First, accept, understand, and appreciate yourself, the way you were made, the way you were designed to function. That’s what it’s really about. Introverts have many amazing qualities, including being observant, insightful, trustworthy, and independent.
Also, be assured that you’re not alone. There are plenty of others out there like you. Seek them out, connect with them, and share your experiences. Introverts need only a few deeply meaningful connections, because we prefer depth to breadth.
— Aaron Caycedo-Kimura, creator of the INFJoe cartoon series for introverts
Are you an introvert? What’s your personality type? Take the free personality test from our partner Personality Hacker.
Read this: 10 signs you’re an outgoing introvert