Why We Need to Stop Treating Introversion as an Ailment

An introvert relaxes in a hammock

Introversion should not be seen as a disorder, but as a facet of the diverse human psyche.

One thing that irks me as an introvert is how often I’ve been told to “socialize more.” I have a small energy reserve that I want to use to do things that matter to me — and those things matter more to me than socializing does. Unless an interaction has a significant purpose, I’d rather skip it and do something more beneficial. I don’t want to exhaust myself from doing unnecessary things. I’ve tried to force myself to socialize more in the past, and instead of making me happy, it only stressed me out. 

I think being told to socialize more is due to a mistaken belief that introversion is an ailment that needs to be cured. Specifically, introversion and depression are often confused — when, in fact, they are not the same thing.

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The Difference Between Introversion and Depression

People who experience depression may withdraw from social life or isolate themselves, a common thing that introverts do. While the behavior may look the same from the outside, the motives of their social reclusion are different. 

Depressed people withdraw because they’re overwhelmed by negative emotions. Introverts, on the other hand, “hide” because they need to recharge their social battery; it may not have anything to do with sadness or mental health challenges. 

For introverts, social withdrawal is not weird; it’s normal. It’s not something out of character, and it appears consistently in their daily life. For depressed individuals, social withdrawal comes as the result of mental health issues. Depression can make an extrovert quiet, but the behavioral change only lasts as long as the depression stays. After they recover, they’ll return to their old self. Personality traits, like introversion, do not change after a depressive episode

While it’s true that depression is linked to introversionneuroticism has the most significant impact on depression. One of the Big Five personality traits, neuroticism is the problematic child, so to speak. It is a tendency to have a negative experience, such as anger, anxiety, and depression, and can also be defined as having “low emotional stability or negative emotionality.” Both extroverts and introverts are prone to depression if they mark high on neuroticism. 

Extroverts may escape depression faster than introverts because they’re more likely to ask for help and share their feelings with others. Introverts, on the other hand, may internalize the problem and independently look for a solution. Here, we can see that the health issue is not a direct product of one’s personality type. It’s a faulty problem-solving technique. Yet introverts can escape depression, too, if they know where to look for support.

The Importance of Social Skills

Socializing is important for all of us, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. Good social support will help you maintain your health and lessen the risk of alcohol use, depression, cardiovascular disease, and suicide.

It’s a good investment, though it can take time to build. You have to interact with others and selectively pick people who you can trust. This may sound simple to some, but for those of us who are socially awkward, asking for help can be a nightmare

Like any other skill, social skills require practice. Extroverts may have good social skills because they practice a lot, while introverts may practice less. As a result, some introverts are not as skilled in this aspect compared to naturally outgoing people. 

So introverts may fumble around social interactions. Some may find themselves in embarrassing situations, which only draws attention to them and makes them more anxious. It becomes a catch-22, because then this might discourage them from honing their social skills. Those who experience this never-ending cycle may get tired and end up retreating.

However, no matter your current skill level, it’s never too late to make friends and build a quality social circle. All we need to have is patience and persistence. Practice does make perfect.

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.

Teach Them While They’re Young

Most parents and schools don’t know how to encourage introverted kids to develop social skills in a way that works for them. This is partly because we live in an “extroverted” society, so we’re inclined to push kids into becoming more extroverted. This can be stressful for introverts, given they have their own way of interacting with people. 

Research published in 2020 showed how introverted kids in Finnish schools socially interacted with their classmates, and how it affected them. Instead of comparing introverts to extroverts as most studies did, the researchers compared two groups of introverts. This is what makes this study unique. It offers a fresh perspective, as it values the uniqueness of introversion, something that can only be made possible by Finland’s non-extrovert-centric culture. 

According to the study, introverted kids with high social engagement have higher self-esteem than those with lower social engagement. They may listen actively to friends’ stories or share their ideas with their friends, and this engagement had a positive effect on them. When they joined groups and worked with others, their self-esteem increased.

Although introverts generally have low social engagement, this study suggested that introverts can have high social engagement in schools, if given the chance. The researchers noted that schools have to give extra support to introverted kids and respect the unique way they interact with others. For instance, introverted kids may feel more comfortable sharing their ideas after reflecting upon them instead of being put on the spot. 

Just like these kids, adult introverts have their own ways of connecting with others. We prefer high-quality connection to shallow chit-chat. We also like to prepare and tend to dislike doing things spontaneously. Listening is an active process for us, so it should count as an active social interaction. (Am I right?)

If society takes its time to understand introversion, there will be fewer misconceptions about introverts. Introversion will not be considered an ailment, rather, an aspect of diversity in the human psyche. It will also be easier for introverts to build a quality support system if people are more accepting of the differences we have to offer. The most important thing, of course, is how introverts accept and understand each other — in addition to understanding themselves, of course.

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