If you ever needed an excuse to stay home and do nothing, today you have it, because Jan. 2 is World Introvert Day. Although not an official holiday, World Introvert Day has been celebrated by introverts around the world since 2011. It began when psychologist Felicitas Heyne wrote this post calling for a day to raise awareness about introversion, because introverts tend to feel marginalized and overlooked in a society that seems geared toward extroverts. It’s also supposed to be a day when introverts set aside time to relax and recharge after the busy holiday season.
So, on this day devoted to introverts, here are some things we introverts still wish other people understood about us. I can’t speak for all introverts, but I believe that these 13 things are generally true:
1. Just because we’re not talking doesn’t mean we’re upset or depressed. This happens to me all the time. When I’m deeply focused on something (or simply daydreaming), someone sees the look on my face and asks, “Are you okay?” with concern. “I’m perfectly okay,” I answer (although this isn’t entirely true, because now they’ve broken my concentration). Nevertheless, I’m not upset or sad. I am simply being quiet. Unlike some people who say every thought that crosses their mind, introverts usually only talk when we have something of value to say. Small talk can feel inauthentic, and you don’t really learn anything meaningful about the other person. If we introverts go quiet on you, we may simply be exploring our inner landscape. Don’t worry, we’ll come back to the real world soon.
2. We like people. We really do. The stereotype of an introvert being a reclusive hermit is just that — a stereotype. Many introverts have active social lives and deep, cherished relationships. Socializing is simply a matter of dosage for us. We don’t feel “high” off our surroundings like extroverts do, and socializing is less rewarding to us because we have a less active dopamine reward system than extroverts. This means we probably won’t party every weekend. But we may party every once in a while, for a few hours — as long as there is a quiet place for us to retreat to afterward to recharge our depleted energy.
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3. Sometimes we need to completely separate ourselves from others. This goes along with #2. Even when we have fun socializing, it drains us, so at times we need to be alone. No texting, no phone calls, no interruptions from loved ones. This behavior may seem odd to extroverts who gain energy from interacting with others. But solitude is crucial to an introvert’s well-being and sanity. When we’re alone, we relax and do things our way. We indulge in solo hobbies like reading, writing, gaming, etc. We tune into our own voice — not someone else’s. Being alone makes us feel like ourselves again.
4. It’s often easier to write our thoughts than say them out loud. Writing allows us to edit our words and express exactly what we mean, whereas coming up with the right words on the spot in a conversation can be hard. Think texting instead of a phone call and journaling instead of explaining. There’s a scientific explanation for this: introverts rely more on long-term memory than short-term memory (whereas extroverts generally favor short-term memory). It takes longer to retrieve words and information from long-term memory, which means we may speak slowly or “umm” and “ahh.” Don’t let this diminish what we say.
5. We’d rather have a few close relationships than a lot of shallow ones. It’s about quality vs. quantity. If we’re going to invest in a relationship, we want it to be good, because we have limited “people” energy.
6. We might be awkward at making small talk. Talking about the weather or our weekend plans doesn’t interest us, so we avoid small talk whenever possible (although savvy introverts recognize the utility of small talk and know they can use it as a gateway to more interesting conversation). We’d rather talk about ideas or deeper topics: What’s something you’ve learned lately? What are your hopes, dreams, and fears?
7. It makes us feel self-conscious when you point out how quiet we are. We already know we’re quiet, so when you bring it up, it’s another painful reminder of how we’ve tried our whole lives and often failed to be more social and fit in. Rather than telling us we’re quiet, ask us questions to draw us out. Introverts crave connections with others but we may need help getting there. Above all, accept our reserved nature as part of who we are.
8. We work best alone. Forget group projects. We’d rather work on our own in a quiet environment with few interruptions. Interestingly, research suggests that whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, simply being around another person sucks up a certain amount of the brain’s attention, making some tasks harder. To introverts, this comes as no surprise.
9. It may take a while for us to feel comfortable around new people. We may be quiet and reserved around people we don’t know well. Please don’t mistake this for rudeness — introverts tend to take a while to open up. When we’re comfortable around you, watch out! Our real personality, quirks and all, comes out in full force.
10. Parties can be sensory overload. The noise and activity level can be too much, especially for highly sensitive introverts, who are more easily stressed out by busy environments and intense stimuli. For shy or socially anxious introverts, just meeting new people and making small talk can be extremely nerve-wracking. If we leave the party early, please understand that it’s not about you. We probably just need to retreat to a quieter, less busy space.
11. Likewise, too much attention may overwhelm us. Even positive attention, like when our friends sing “Happy Birthday” to us in a crowded restaurant, can be too much. We’ll put on a brave face, but inside we might be cringing.
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12. We think. A lot. Many introverts have rich inner worlds and vivid imaginations. Our inner landscape fuels our creativity and incredible ability to problem-solve. Think J. K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Rosa Parks, and Mahatma Gandhi, all famous introverts. The downside is we may get stuck in our heads, overanalyzing and replaying events (both positive and negative) over and over in our minds.
13. We express our feelings sparingly. We may not gush with flowery words of love. And many introverts feel embarrassed by public displays of affection. We’d rather show that we care through our actions. Know that if you’re in our life, you matter to us. We don’t let just anyone in.
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