This article is an excerpt from my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World. It’s available now on Amazon, and wherever books are sold.
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. Here are 21 signs that you are:
1. You enjoy spending time alone. You have no problem staying home on a Saturday night. In fact, you look forward to it. To you, Netflix and chill really means watching Netflix and relaxing. Or maybe your thing is reading, playing video games, drawing, cooking, writing, knitting tiny hats for cats, or just putzing around the house. Whatever your preferred solo activity is, you do it as much as your schedule allows. You feel good when you’re alone. In your alone time, you’re free.
2. You do your best thinking when you’re alone. Your alone time isn’t just about indulging in your favorite hobbies. It’s about giving your mind time to decompress. When you’re with other people, it may feel like your brain is too overloaded to really work the way it should. In solitude, you’re free to tune into your own inner monologue—rather than paying attention to what’s going on around you. You might be more creative and/or have deeper insights when you’re alone.
3. Your inner monologue never stops. You have a distinct inner voice that’s always running in the back of your mind. If people could hear the thoughts that ran through your head, they would, in turn, be surprised, amazed, and sometimes horrified. Whatever their reaction might be, your inner narrator is something that’s hard to shut off. Sometimes you can’t sleep at night because your mind is still going. Thoughts from your past haunt you. “I can’t believe I said that stupid thing… 5 years ago!”
4. You often feel lonelier in a crowd than when you’re alone. There’s something about being with a group that makes you feel disconnected from yourself. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to hear your inner voice when there’s so much noise around you. Whatever the reason, as an introvert, you crave intimate moments and deep connections—and those usually aren’t found in a crowd.
5. You feel like you’re faking it when you have to network. Walking up to strangers and introducing yourself? You’d rather stick tiny needles under your fingernails. But you know there’s value in it, so you might do it anyway—except that you feel like a phony the entire time. If you’re anything like me, you had to teach yourself how to do it. You might have read books with titles like The Charisma Myth or How to Talk to Anyone. In the moment, you have to activate your “public persona.” You say things to yourself like, “Smile, make eye contact, and use your loud-confident voice!” Then, when you’re finished, you feel beat, and you need downtime to recharge. You wonder, do other people have to try this hard when meeting new people?
6. You’re the last person to raise your hand when the teacher asks for volunteers—unless you feel really comfortable with your classmates. You just don’t need all that attention. Likewise, you’re probably not the student shooting your hand up every time the teacher asks a question. You’re content just knowing that you know the answer—you don’t have to prove it to anyone else. At work, this translates to not saying much during meetings. You’d rather pull your boss aside afterward and have a one-on-one conversation, or email your ideas, rather than explain them to a room full of people. The exception to this is when you feel truly passionate about something. On rare occasions, even shy introverts have been known to transform themselves into loud-mouthed extroverts when it really counts. It’s all about how much something matters to you—you’ll risk overstimulation when you think speaking up will truly make a difference.
7. You’re better at writing your thoughts than speaking them. You prefer texting to calling and emailing to face-to-face meetings. Writing gives you time to reflect on what to say and how to say it. It allows you to edit your thoughts and craft your message just so. Plus there’s less pressure when you’re typing your words into your phone alone than when you’re saying them to someone in real time face-to-face. But it isn’t just about texting and emailing. Many introverts enjoy journaling for self-expression and self-discovery. Others make a career out of writing, such as John Green, who is most well-known for penning The Fault in Our Stars. Green once said, “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.”
8. Likewise, talking on the phone does not sound like a fun way to pass the time. One of my extroverted friends is always calling me when she’s alone in her car. She figures that although her eyes, hands, and feet are currently occupied, her mouth is not. Plus, there are no people around—how boring! So she reaches for her phone. (Remember to practice safe driving, kids. Two hands on the wheel and two eyes on the road at all times.) However, this is not the case for me. When I have a few spare minutes of silence and solitude, I have no desire to fill that time with idle chitchat.
9. You avoid small talk whenever possible. When a coworker is walking down the hall toward you, have you ever turned into another room in order to avoid having a “Hey, what’s up?” conversation with them? Or have you ever waited a few minutes in your apartment when you heard your neighbors in the hallway so you didn’t have to chat? If so, you might be an introvert, because introverts avoid small talk whenever possible. We’d rather talk about something meaningful than fill the air with chatter just to hear ourselves make noise. We find small talk inauthentic, and frankly, many of us feel awkward doing it.
10. You’ve been told you’re “too intense.” This stems from your dislike of small talk. If it were up to you, mindless chitchat would be banished and philosophical discussions would be the norm. You’d much rather sit down with someone, and, over a few fingers of whiskey, discuss the meaning of life—or, at the very least, exchange some real, honest thoughts. Have you ever had a deep conversation and walked away feeling energized, not drained? That’s what I’m talking about. Meaningful interactions are the introvert’s antidote to social burnout.
11. You don’t go to parties to meet new people. Birthday parties, wedding receptions, staff holiday parties, or whatever—you party every once in a while. But when you go to an event, you probably don’t go with the goal of making new friends; you’d rather hang out with the people you already know. That’s because, like a pair of well-worn sneakers, your current friends feel good on you. They know your quirks and you feel comfortable around them. Plus, making new friends would mean making small talk.
12. You shut down after too much socializing. Recent research shows that socializing is tiring to both introverts and extroverts. That’s because socializing expends energy. Not only do you have to talk, but you also have to listen and process what’s being said. Plus, you’re taking in all kinds of sensory information, such as someone’s tone of voice and body language—along with filtering out any background noises or visual distractions. It’s no wonder people get pooped out. But introverts likely tire faster than extroverts. In fact, after hanging out for several hours, you might experience something called the “introvert” hangover. Like a hangover induced by one too many giant fishbowl margaritas, you feel sluggish and icky. Your brain seems to stop working, and in your exhaustion, you cease to be able to hold a conversation or say words that make sense. You just want to lie down in a quiet, dark room and not move or talk for a while. That’s because introverts can become overstimulated by socializing and shut down.
13. You notice details that others miss. It’s true that introverts (especially highly sensitive introverts) can get overwhelmed by too much stimuli. But there’s an upside to our sensitivity—we notice details that others might miss. For example, you might notice a subtle change in your friend’s demeanor that signals that she’s upset (but oddly, no one else in the room sees it). Or, you might be highly tuned in to color, space, and texture, making you an incredible visual artist.
14. You can concentrate for long periods of time on things that matter to you. I can write for hours. I get in the zone, and I just keep going. I don’t need anyone or anything else to entertain me—as I write, I often enter a state of flow. I block out distractions and hone in on what I need to accomplish. If you’re an introvert, you likely have your own hobby or pet project that you can work on for practically forever. That’s because introverts are great at focusing alone for long periods of time. If it weren’t for introverts and our amazing ability to focus, we wouldn’t have the theory of gravity, Google, or Harry Potter. Dear society, where would you be without us? You’re welcome. Love, introverts.
15. You live in your head. In fact, you may daydream so much that people have told you to “get out of your head” or “come down to earth.” That’s because your inner world is just as alive and vivid as the outer one.
16. You like to people watch. Actually, you just like to observe in general, whether it’s people, nature, etc. Introverts are natural observers. You may find us hanging out along the edges of a party, just watching, rather than in the thick of things.
17. You’ve been told you’re a good listener. You don’t mind giving the stage to someone else for a bit and listening. You’re not clamoring to get every thought out there—you don’t need to “talk to think” or vocalize everything that crosses your mind the way some extroverts do. Listening means you get to learn something new or better understand what makes someone tick.
18. You have a small circle of friends. You’re close with just one, two, or three people, and you consider everyone else to be an acquaintance. That’s because introverts only have so much “people” energy to spend, so we choose our relationships carefully. It’s about budgeting.
19. You don’t get “high” off your environment. There’s a reason why big parties aren’t your thing: introverts and extroverts differ significantly in how their brains process experiences through “reward” centers. Researchers Yu Fu and Richard Depue, neurobiologists at Cornell University in New York, demonstrated this phenomenon by giving Ritalin to introverted and extroverted college students (Ritalin is a drug used to treat ADHD that stimulates the production of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain). They found that extroverts were more likely to associate their feelings of euphoria with the environment they were in. However, introverts did not connect the feeling of reward to their surroundings. This suggests that introverts have a fundamental difference in how strongly they process rewards from their environment. The brains of introverts weigh internal cues more strongly than external cues. In other words, introverts don’t feel a “high” from their surroundings.
20. You’re an old soul. Introverts tend to observe, take in a lot of information, and think before they speak. We’re analytical and reflective, and we’re often interested in discovering the deeper meaning or underlying pattern behind events. Because of this, introverts can seem wise, even from a young age.
21. You alternate between being social and being alone. Introverts relish being alone. In our solitude, we have the freedom to tune into our inner voice and tune out the noise of the world; as we do this, we literally gain energy and life itself. But introverts don’t always want to be alone. As human beings, we’re wired to connect with others, and as introverts, we long to interact meaningfully. So introverts live in two worlds: we visit the world of people, but solitude and the inner world will always be our home.
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