I didn’t understand why I felt happiest alone or why I didn’t fit in with my extroverted peers.
In retrospect, I had a great childhood. My parents were (and still are) loving and supportive. I grew up in South Florida where it was summertime all year round. I enjoyed school and did well in my classes, and had a handful of nice friends who I’m still close to today.
But life wasn’t always peachy, and I struggled to find a true sense of belonging, particularly during my teenage years. For as much as I liked learning and received top grades, I hated participating in group activities and refused to speak up in front of my classmates. “Popcorn reading” was torture, and I often became flustered and dizzy when my teachers forced me to read aloud. “It’s part of your participation grade,” they’d enforce as I sunk into my chair.
Having attended one of the largest, most populated high schools in South Florida, I literally watched thousands of my peers’ involvement in clubs, sports, and school musicals. But instead of joining the fun, I became increasingly overwhelmed and hypersensitive to the hustle-bustle and retreated to the far side of the courtyard…or the back corner of the classroom, or the last stall of the bathroom in the academic building where anyone rarely visited.
Back then, no one explained to me what an introvert was. I just knew I was different and didn’t fit the mold of the traditionally involved and sociable high school kid. I didn’t understand why I felt happiest alone or why I could only bring myself to hang out with one or two friends at a time. I couldn’t figure out my constant need to recharge and reflect. What was wrong with me?
A decade later, I now realize I am simply an introvert, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that in the least. However, there are a few things I wish I could tell my sixteen-year-old self — and today’s introverted teenagers.
What Introverted Teenagers Should Know
1. Just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you’re a loner.
As a teenager, I went through a period of feeling like I was missing out. During Spirit Week in tenth grade, I actually did try to become a true member of my high school community. I wore the school colors and attempted to add some extra pep in my gait, but as students filled the campus throughout the day with their laughter, gossip, and a wave of blue and gold, I only felt as though my energy had been zapped while trying to keep up.
I chalked up my so-called invisibility and loner-ness to simply not belonging. There weren’t many people I could talk to on a deep level. Maybe I was too mature, or perhaps my peers were too superficial. The larger the crowd, the more I felt like I was suffocating. In my point of view, they were carelessly enjoying life and making memories while I was an old soul — or just a dud.
However, just because I wasn’t surrounding myself with thirty people at a time or attending pop concerts and house parties didn’t mean I wasn’t watching a movie or listening to music with my two best friends, having philosophical conversations about Candide with my English teacher (I was an advanced reader), or working on a colorful poster with a classmate to hang in the halls of the foreign language department.
My little clique consisted of about five awesome people. Sometimes we ate lunch together or hung out at the bus stop, other times we’d take walks around the block at night. Even though we were a smaller group, looking back at old photos, I definitely was not a loner, and my friends genuinely enjoyed spending time with me. No Spirit Week extravaganza or prom can compare to the simple memories we made or the friendships we still maintain.
So, my first piece of advice to introverted teenagers… take a closer look at your situation right now. Who are your one or two closest friends and what happy memories are you making together? You may not be as much of a “loner” as you think you are.
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2. Your quiet tendencies are not wrong or weird, they’re just misunderstood.
If you haven’t gathered yet, I was a pretty quiet teenager, especially in the classroom. I’m sure there were classmates who saw me on a daily basis and didn’t know my name or feared I’d rub my “boring” off on them if we brushed shoulders. On the other hand, my special kind of quiet was like a flashing neon sign that attracted bullies.
The truth is, I wasn’t empty or devoid of intelligence at all. In fact, I was brimming with philosophical ideas and a big, creative imagination. It wasn’t until I took my first Creative Writing class that I finally found a way to express myself. (Shoutout to Mrs. Cavicchia who showed me acceptance and fostered my natural ability to write.)
Yes, I was different from my vibrant and extroverted peers, but it wasn’t vibrancy that I lacked, nor was I cold-hearted and as standoffish as I seemed. As an introvert, I was colorful on the inside, not feeling the need to verbalize my every thought and emotion.
And while I had just as much to say as anyone else, I found unique and artistic ways of doing so. I wrote poems and stories and took up scrapbooking. I believe my instinct to hold in my opinions taught me to listen better, to focus on small details, and to gain a better sense of who I am, other people’s authenticity, and the world I lived in.
You, an introverted teenager, have something important to share with the world. Maybe you don’t want to actually talk about it, but there are other ways you can express yourself — through writing, art, or music. Your opinion, perspectives, and experiences matter.
3. You will find your way without compromising who you are (because you’re awesome).
My parents didn’t always understand why I preferred solitude over going out with kids my own age, and even now that I’m 30, they still don’t always understand. But that’s okay, because pretending to be an extrovert to fit in or hoping their energy will magically rub off on you does not equal happiness or mean you’ll have better luck finding success in life.
You are who you are, and if that’s an introvert, then that’s great! You’re going to realize soon enough that you’re awesome and don’t need to change. When you’re younger, you’re faced with different kinds of pressures and tons of firsts. It’s hard to navigate your environment and figure out yourself at the same time.
As you get older, though, I promise you’ll find ways to use your introverted superpowers to enrich your career, relationships, friendships, and hobbies. You’ll know when you’ve had enough socializing, and when to say, “I’d rather stay in tonight,” or, “I’d rather skip the party, but maybe we can grab coffee together over the weekend.”
Basically, things will work out fine in the end, and they will do so because feeling different from others and being an introvert is actually normal.
As a 30-year-old, I’ve had plenty of time to learn about myself, what I’m good at, and what isn’t a great fit. I wish someone had told me when I was a teenager that all my personal struggles and disconnect from my extroverted peers were simply part of my growth.
We all change as we get older, but many aspects of myself have remained the same. I’ve grown to like who I am as an introverted adult, and looking back on my teenage years, I like who I was then, too.
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