You’re Not Broken Because You’re an Introvert

A woman reflects on how she's not broken because she's an introvert.

Growing up, I had always felt different. Like something was not quite right with me. My teachers said, “She’s so quiet!” My parents prodded, “Why don’t you talk more?” My friends, surprised and a little hurt, asked,  “You don’t want to hang out again today?”

In so many little ways, I was the weird one.

As an adult, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being “different.” I worked as a journalist for a few years, then went back to school to become a teacher. My graduate program was full of outgoing would-be teachers who always had something to say. They sat in little groups on breaks, bursting with energetic chatter, even after we’d just spent hours doing collaborative learning or having a group discussion. I, on the other hand, bolted for the door as quickly as possible — my head was spinning from all the noise and activity, and my energy level was at zero.

At age 22, I got married. My husband (now ex-husband) was a confident, life-of-the-party guy who could talk to anyone. His large family was the same way. They loved spending time together in a loud gaggle of kids, siblings, and friends of the family. Often, they’d drop by our small apartment, letting me know they were coming only when they were already on their way. They’d pass hours crammed into the living room, telling stories, cracking jokes, and volleying sarcastic remarks back and forth with the professional finesse of Venus and Serena Williams.

I, once again, sat quietly on the edges, never knowing how to wedge myself into these fast-moving conversations or what to say. As the night wore on, I often found myself slipping into an exhausted brain fog, which made it even harder to participate. Most nights, what I really wanted was to read a book alone, play a video game, or just be with my husband.

When comparing myself to my extroverted in-laws and classmates, I never seemed to measure up. Why couldn’t I just loosen up and go with the flow? Why did I never have much to say when I was in a big group but had plenty to talk about during a one-on-one? Why was my idea of a good time so different from what other people wanted to do?

I was broken. I had to be.

One Magic Word: Introvert

One afternoon, in the psychology/self-help section of a used bookstore, I came across a book called The Introvert Advantage by Dr. Marti Olsen Laney. I bought it and read it cover to cover. When I finished, I cried. I had never felt so understood in my life.

That beautiful book told me there was a word for what I was: introvert. It was a magic word, because it explained many of the things I had struggled with my entire life — things that had made me feel bad about myself. Best of all, the word meant I wasn’t alone. There were other people out there like me. Other introverts.

Say what you will about labeling. That little label changed my life.

I went on to read everything about introversion I could get my hands on. I joined Facebook groups for introverts and poured over blogs. My friends got sick of me constantly talking about introversion: “Did you know it’s an introvert thing to need time to think before responding?” I’d say, or, “I can’t go out tonight, it’s introvert time.”

I couldn’t shut up about being an introvert. It was like I had been reading the wrong script my entire life, trying to play the role of the person I thought I should be — not the person I truly was.

Don’t get me wrong. Learning about my introversion didn’t fix all my problems. But for me, embracing my introversion was the first step.

I was no longer an other. I was something else: an introvert.

Are You an Introvert?

What about you? Have you always felt different? Were you the quiet one in school? Did people ask you, “Why don’t you talk more?” Do they still ask you that today?

If so, you might be an introvert like me. Introverts make up 30 to 50 percent of the population, and we help shape the world we live in. We might be your parent, friend, spouse, significant other, child, or coworker. We lead, create, educate, innovate, do business, solve problems, charm, heal, and love.

Introversion is a temperament, which is different from your personality; temperament refers to your inborn traits that organize how you approach the world, while personality can be defined as the pattern of behavior, thoughts, and emotions that make you an individual. It can take years to build a personality, but your temperament is something you’re born with.

But the most important thing to know about being an introvert is that there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not broken because you’re quiet. It’s okay to stay home on a Friday night instead of going to a party. Being an introvert is a perfectly normal “thing” to be.

A Quick Test

Not sure if you’re more introverted or more extroverted? Here’s a quick test:

1. If you had to choose between two options for a dream vacation, which one would you pick?

A) A relaxing vacation by yourself or with just one other person, a good book, and a secluded cabin.

B) A group vacation with your friends or family, doing exciting things, like gambling in Las Vegas or partying on a cruise ship.

Which one would you pick if you didn’t care what anyone else thought about you? As you probably guessed, if you chose the secluded cabin, you’re more of an introvert. If you picked the second option, you’re probably more extroverted.

2. Imagine your dream day. What activities would you do? Who would you want to hang out with?

If your perfect day consists of doing something low-key with just one or two people — or alone — you’re probably an introvert. If you imagine yourself surrounded by lots of people doing something active, you’re probably more of an extrovert.

This article contains excerpts from my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World.

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