Introverts aren’t “antisocial” when they turn down invitations or leave the party early — they’re protecting their needs.
I’ve felt “antisocial” for as long as I can remember.
When I was a kid, I dreaded family gatherings. I come from a big family, but I’m an only child, so when I was young, hanging out with my cousins intimidated me. Instead, I chose to sit quietly with the adults and listen.
Several years ago, my now-husband and I went on a camping trip with another couple. We all got to our shared campsite on a Friday evening, and by midday Saturday, I’d had no time to recharge and my social battery was dangerously low. When I finally went for a walk by myself, with no explanation, I could tell that our friends found my disappearance strange from the looks they gave me when I got back.
Then, two years ago, when we moved to Georgia and started hanging out with some of my husband’s childhood friends, we discovered that 8-hour-long social marathons seem to be the norm here. I can’t handle that with even one close friend, never mind friends I barely know!
Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I began to feel “normal” for the first time, possibly ever. Suddenly, everyone had to be at home, and we had a beautifully empty calendar and the slower pace of life we’d always wanted.
But now that the world is opening up again, I’m finding myself wishing that I was “normal,” the way society defines it, at least. Life would be so much easier that way… wouldn’t it?
Defining — and Redefining — ‘Antisocial’
The top search result on Google for the definition of antisocial is “contrary to the laws and customs of society; devoid of or antagonistic to sociable instincts or practices.” Merriam-Webster defines antisocial as “being or marked by behavior deviating sharply from the social norm.” (To be clear, I am not talking about “antisocial personality disorder,” a sociopathic condition that makes a person violent and impulsive.)
This is the reason introverts are called antisocial when we disappear during social situations because we need to recharge, say no to invites because we prefer quiet evenings at home, and turn down virtual happy hour invites because this is the last thing we want (or need) to do at the end of an exhausting work day.
And it raises the question: Is it possible for introverts to protect our energy while keeping our friends and building relationships with our coworkers?
I believe it is, but this requires honesty, accepting the possibility of being misunderstood, and setting firm boundaries. And the first step is understanding why, as an introvert, you’re actually not antisocial in the first place — you’re just wired differently.
Why Protecting Your Energy Is a Top Priority
The primary wiring difference between introverts and extroverts is the way we recharge. Introverts need quiet and alone time to recharge, and our social batteries drain fast when we’re around large groups of people. We prefer spending time with people we know well one-on-one, or in small-group settings, so we can make meaningful connections and have more meaningful conversations. On the contrary, extroverts are energized by being around people and tend to enjoy being in social situations with larger groups.
Yes, introverts are often quieter than extroverts, but this doesn’t mean we’re shy or antisocial. Most of us simply keep more of our thoughts inside and take more time to listen and think before we speak.
I’ve often wondered if introverts have less energy than extroverts, and recently realized that this isn’t really the issue. The way our world is set up naturally energizes extroverts and drains introverts with its open-concept office environments, large networking opportunities, and endless stream of social events.
This makes protecting our energy a top priority for introverts, because we simply aren’t built to thrive in these kinds of environments. What we need is unapologetic honesty when it comes to communicating our introvert needs.
Honesty Really Is the Best Policy
During the past few years, I’ve started looking for opportunities to be honest and educate my extroverted friends about my needs as an introvert. It’s not their job to know what I need; it’s my job to communicate this, even though they may not always understand.
For example, when the pandemic started, my boss sent out an invite for a virtual happy hour every single Friday. I declined and let him know that what I needed most by the end of the work week was to completely unplug and recharge.
Shortly after, he updated the calendar invite, making attendance optional — which gave the other introverts on my team the permission they needed to decline when they wanted to, as well.
I’m sure that many of my coworkers wondered why I was never at happy hour, and possibly thought I was being antisocial. But I knew that protecting my energy had to take priority.
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Setting Boundaries Is Essential
Setting clear boundaries is necessary. Boundaries communicate what is okay and not okay, and once again, it’s our job to communicate this — it’s not up to the people in our lives to figure it out.
Last night, my husband and I had made plans to meet another couple to watch fireworks. They’re very laid-back and chill, and we’d been looking forward to a relaxing evening with them.
We were running late, so I texted them to let them know… only to find out that they were also running late because six other people were coming with them, four of whom we’d never met.
Now, this couple has lots of friends and operates with a “the more the merrier” mentality. They’re very inclusive, which I respect, and we’ve run into so many scenarios like this (after it was too late) over the years as a result.
But we’d never communicated our preference, and I saw this situation as an opportunity. So I sent a text back, letting her know that we’re super introverted, find groups of people we don’t know exhausting, and always prefer a one-on-one situation — meaning, us and one other couple.
And we decided not to meet up with them after all, and to go watch the fireworks, just the two of us.
That took courage. I’m not sure how my text was received, but it felt good to finally set boundaries. This also gives us permission, going forward, to be clear that when we’re inviting them to hang out, we’re inviting just the two of them.
Our Needs as Introverts Are Legitimate
Setting boundaries, at work and in our personal lives, begins with our beliefs. We first have to believe that our needs are legitimate, and to go even deeper, that we’re worthy of asking for what we need.
Next, we have to get very clear on the areas in our lives where we need to create more boundaries, why we feel the need to create them, and what values are being violated in these areas. This will give us the determination and commitment we need to begin setting new boundaries, sticking to them, and protecting our energy.
The next time you feel antisocial — or are accused of being antisocial — take a minute to analyze the situation. Are you making a decision that goes against societal norms to protect your energy?
If so, stand your ground. This could be an opportunity for you to be honest and educate your extroverted friend or coworker, and set a new boundary that makes protecting your energy a priority, which is what it’s all about.