All humans are made to live in some sort of community, although “community” looks different for introverts.
This past semester in college, I decided to step outside my comfort zone a bit and do something most introverts would find abhorrent: willingly join a sorority-type group at my college, called a “household,” and live in community with them. While it was certainly not an easy decision, and I was so nervous beforehand that I almost threw up, I knew that the women in the group would help me grow as a person.
Then, after I officially became part of the household, a friend of mine told me, “You know, I’m surprised you joined a household. I didn’t think it was something that you were capable of doing.”
Those words bothered me for a long time, and I didn’t know why. Why would he assume that I couldn’t handle living in a community? Because I’m introverted?
I realized that my friend was placing me in a box that defines many introverts: that we’re incapable of successfully living in community.
Just Because Introverts Recharge From Being Alone, They Still Like Connecting With Others
I know, nothing about the word “community” sparks joy inside for introverts. However, that feeling of anxiety about it does not mean that introverts are always uncomfortable and incapable of being a part of one.
“The misconception is that introverts are really extroverts who don’t know how to socialize,” said Matthew Breuninger, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and counsels people struggling with mental health issues. This misconception feeds the idea that introverts can never fully assimilate into any type of community; that we are incapable of socializing.
However, it is not good to fall victim to a stigma because that prevents growth. As human beings, we are constantly called to grow and mature. To combat the stigma around introverts, it’s important to dispel some myths that surround introverts about living in community.
6 Common Myths About the Way Introverts Socialize
1. Introverts want to be alone. Always.
All humans are made to live in some sort of community. Introverts are human beings; therefore, community is going to have a role to play in our lives. It’s just going to be different from the role it plays in an extrovert’s life.
“Successful living is virtually impossible alone,” Breuninger said. “Even if you do survive … you wouldn’t call it thriving.”
Instead of finding joy in interacting with just about anyone, introverts find joy in spending time with those people that understand them on a deeper level. We can be picky in choosing which people to spend time with, but once we find them, the desire for connection deepens. It is quality, not quantity, that matters to introverts.
The reality is that most introverts who find a community that they connect with — among people who “get” and understand each other — will grow to feel comfortable in that community. It’s the reason why I felt comfortable enough to join a household on my campus. Once I began to really get to know the girls in the household and have deeper discussions with them, I knew that I would feel comfortable spending time in that community.
2. Introverts can never be comfortable in a community setting.
Unlike what most people tend to think, introverts enjoy being around people, just not all people.
It is not necessarily wrong to think that being loud and animated in a group means being comfortable; however, many times introverts do not fall into that category. That mindset feeds the stigma that introverts are simply extroverts that do not know how to be social because typically extroverts are the loud, animated ones while introverts are content to sit quietly with each other or watch others from afar.
What people do not realize is that introverts prefer deep conversation as opposed to small talk. We are perfectly fine with talking at lower volumes and being with others in low-activity environments. However, if you’ve ever seen an introvert talking about something he or she is passionate about, you know that the “quiet” person in the group suddenly becomes the most animated… for a while anyway. If we’re around a group of people that we really trust, it’s easier for us to “break out of our shells.” We just need time to recharge afterwards.
3. Introverts are afraid of people, which is why they avoid human interaction.
Part of the stigma is that introverts are afraid to even try to socialize because they do not know how. The truth is, introverts are not afraid of people. Instead, they might be afraid to join a community because they fear not being accepted for who they are due to existing stigmas, like how some people may find us “weird” for wanting to stay in on a Friday night versus go to the party everyone’s going to.
As a college student, it’s impossible to avoid people. For example, my freshman year, I wanted to get involved with the Outdoors Club. I signed up for the first organized trip while holding my breath and praying for rain to cancel it. The morning of, I was so nervous walking to where we were meeting that I almost turned around and went back to my dorm. Getting thrown into a car with total strangers for 40 minutes was not on my list of things I wanted to do in college.
However, that trip helped break down some barriers that I had put up when it came to being with others. I met some amazing people, had some great conversations, and had loads of fun. If I had never gone on that trip, I would not have opened myself up to more fun opportunities in the future, such as trying out a ropes course and going on ski trips.
Now, as a senior in college, while the butterflies before an outing or community event still occur, I feel better about diving headfirst into them, knowing that I’m not actually weird for being an introvert.
4. Introverts only want to be friends with other introverts.
In high school, I was primarily friends with introverts. We spent our lunches quietly chatting about deep themes in literature and homework in our shared honors and AP classes. I loved being friends with them, and I am still in contact with them.
When I got to college, I quickly realized that different personalities mixed much more easily than they did in high school. I made friends with extroverts rather quickly, feeling like they adopted me and sucked me into their louder, more boisterous world. I enjoyed it, too; it felt like I was being challenged to step outside myself and encounter an entirely new world.
It helped that they understood my need to retreat every once and a while, and they knew not to be too loud around me. In the beginning, it felt uncomfortable and awkward, but now, I realize that it was the best thing that I could have done for myself as an introvert. Extroverts, you can really help an introvert out if you’re open to it!
While introverts certainly understand more about each other, being friends with extroverts is also an important way to grow. Don’t avoid being friends with an extrovert!
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5. Introverts struggle to be leaders of a group.
This is a misconception that I personally struggle with a lot. I was president of the biggest club in my high school, but I constantly felt overrun by my more extroverted partners. I also co-founded a club in college, only to have a more extroverted friend lead it. I began to wonder, “Am I capable of being a leader despite my introversion?”
Some people are leaders more naturally than others, and in my experience, those more suited to lead a group are extroverts. However, some of today’s leaders, such as Bill Gates and Oprah, are introverts. How do they do it?
I think that introverts are really good at leading others when it is regarding something they’re passionate about. Then, it’s something to which we will devote time and energy. We will want to succeed, which is just one of our many introvert strengths.
For example, some of my introverted friends lead a club at college dedicated to G.K. Chesterton. They all love different aspects of his writing, and their combined knowledge of his works revived a dying club on campus. Now, it is thriving. It’s hard to stop us when we are passionate about something!
6. Introverts are difficult to connect with.
Get us talking about something that we are passionate about, like I mentioned earlier, and we will not shut up about it. If you happen to like that same thing, we will love you and want to connect on a deeper level.
With the general misconception that all introverts are shy and socially awkward, some people might think that making friends with the quieter person in the corner will be difficult. However, introverts are people, too. We aren’t as easy to connect to if the conversation stays on a surface level, so move past small talk and ask us what we like. We have things we enjoy, and we enjoy talking about those things.
The hardest thing I struggle with when making connections with people is that initial conversation. When I first met some of my college friends, I was terrified that I would be unable to connect with them. However, over time, as our conversations turned away from small talk toward topics that piqued my interest, I felt a part of me come alive that rarely comes alive around people outside my family. We became friends over common interests, and now my relationships with them have developed to where I feel comfortable talking to them about anything.
The more time I spend in community with my household and my friends, the more I step outside myself and become more confident in my abilities to interact with others. And, in turn, I think this helps break the stereotype that introverts always like to be alone and don’t like spending time with others. These social skills become invaluable in a world that is deemed to be run by extroverts, and they can help to fight the stigmas that surround introverts.