What Is an Introvert?

The Complete Introvert Definition and Guide

The definition of an introvert is someone who prefers calm, minimally stimulating environments. Introverts tend to feel drained after socializing. They regain their energy by spending time alone.

But there’s much more to introverts than just that. Introverts are the quiet dreamers and deep thinkers of the world. We are widely misunderstood, and wrongly seen as “shy” or even antisocial—so much so that many introverts try to change who they are.

But being an introvert is a powerful gift, and it comes with a long list of advantages. Introverts tend to be thoughtful, creative, reflective, and conscientious. We make excellent friends, partners, and coworkers because we listen well, dive deep, and see things in a unique way.

No two introverts are the same, and some people are more (or less) introverted than others. But all introverts do best when they embrace their introverted nature. That’s the purpose of this guide, and of this entire website—to help introverts (and those who love them) better understand who they are.

What Does It Mean to Be an Introvert?

Everyone is born with an innate temperament—a way that you gain energy and prefer to interact with the world. Introversion and extroversion are temperaments. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert is largely determined by your genes and how your nervous system is wired, although it’s also shaped by early life experiences. About 30-50 percent of the population are thought to be introverts.

Not all introverts are the same. Some introverts will need only a little bit of alone time to recharge and can handle a fair amount of social time before they get tired. Others get worn out quickly and prefer to spend very long periods alone. It’s different for each person, and many introverts are somewhere in the middle.

Sooner or later, however, all introverts will experience the dreaded “introvert hangover,” which is the feeling of being completely wiped out from too many people or too much stimulation. This can mean feeling fatigued, unable to concentrate, or even grouchy. It’s as if your brain has used up all its mental energy and just doesn’t haven’t any left. (And, in fact, that’s exactly what happened.)

The result is that most introverts share certain characteristics:

  • We’d rather stay home most nights than go out to one social event after another.
  • We enjoy quiet, solitary activities like reading, writing, or drawing.
  • We prefer the company of a few close friends over a wild party.
  • We do our best work alone.
  • Many of us will avoid small talk or other unnecessary social interactions.

Are Introverts Shy?

Some introverts are and some aren’t. This is probably the single most misunderstood thing about being an introvert.

The truth is that being shy and being an introvert are two totally different personality traits:

  • Being shy means you get very nervous and self-conscious in social situations. Both introverts and extroverts can have this trait—not all natural-born extroverts run around chatting with strangers!
  • Being introverted means you get easily worn out by socializing. You might not be nervous or shy at all. In fact, many introverts enjoy socializing (as long as it’s meaningful). But since you’ll eventually get worn out, you probably avoid extra social time when you can.

Compare social stamina to running. If extroverts are marathon runners, introverts are sprinters. That doesn’t mean that introverts don’t like running (er, social time). It just means we have to conserve our energy.

5 Myths About Introverts

Unfortunately, many people don’t fully understand what it means to be an introvert. They equate introversion with shyness, depression, or social anxiety. When introverts go quiet, we are wrongly accused of being stuck up, angry, or disinterested. And when we spend time alone, we are often accused of being antisocial or selfish.

For most introverts, these misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s the truth behind the five worst stereotypes:

  1. Introverts are not necessarily socially awkward. Just like shyness, social awkwardness is a separate trait from introversion. Many introverts can actually be quite charismatic in social situations. (In fact, introverts account for 60 percent of all lawyers, a profession that requires quite a bit of confidence speaking in front of others.)
  2. Introverts don’t hate people. An introvert’s lack of chitchat is often taken as a sign that they don’t like others. The truth is the opposite. Introverts often avoid small talk because they consider it to be inauthentic, and they crave a more meaningful connection with the people they talk to.
  3. Introverts aren’t rude. Yes, if an introvert is completely out of social energy, they might start getting a little crabby or simply zone out. But they’re not trying to be rude—and they’ll be a lot more friendly if they’re given time to recharge alone.
  4. Introverts don’t need be “fixed.” Being an introvert is part of who you are, and it can be a source of brilliance. We are at our best when we embrace our nature and use it as a source of strength.
  5. Introverts don’t (usually) wish they were extroverted. Sure, sometimes introverts envy an extrovert’s ability to think quickly or fit naturally into a social situation. But introverts also take great delight in our inner world and our alone time. Introverts have many strengths that don’t come naturally to extroverts, and we wouldn’t trade them for the world.

Characteristics of an Introvert

Introverts tend to:

  • Enjoy spending time alone
  • Get drained by certain types of socializing (the “introvert hangover”)
  • Do their best work alone
  • Would rather hang out with one or two close friends than a large group of people
  • Are often “in their heads”
  • May have a vivid, rich inner world
  • Prefer to stay out of the spotlight
  • Feel like they’re faking it when they have to network
  • May struggle with word retrieval (choosing exactly the right words on the fly)
  • Are better at writing their thoughts than speaking them
  • Dive deep, both in their relationships and interests
  • Seek meaning in their jobs and relationships
  • Feel out of place in an “extroverted” society

There’s No Such Thing as a Pure Introvert

No two introverts are exactly alike. What’s true for one introvert may be be quite different for another. Each introvert has a different level of tolerance for socializing and other types of stimulation.

Above all, there is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. “Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum,” the famous psychotherapist Carl Jung once noted. Introversion and extroversion are on a spectrum, meaning, they are not all-or-nothing traits. Everyone acts introverted at times and extroverted at other times. It’s all about what your preference—in general—is.

Can Introverts Become Extroverts?

There are two answers to this:

  1. No, introverts cannot become extroverts.
  2. Why would we want to?

Why we can’t: The research is clear that introverts express their temperament from a young age. In fact, one study by psychologist Jerome Kagan found that it’s possible to predict which babies will grow up to be introverted based on their reaction to stimuli at just four months old. In other words, if you have an introverted nature, you’re likely to be that way from birth and remain that way throughout your life.

Why we don’t want to: This speaks to a deeper truth about introverts. There are plenty of introverts out there who wish they could be more outgoing, but this isn’t the same thing as becoming an extrovert. Introverts, like everyone, can practice their social skills and become more and more capable in social situations. But it won’t change the fact that those interactions drain us.

And the reality is, it’s better that way. Introverts who embrace their nature tend to flourish. They are happier, have better relationships, do better work, and enjoy life because their minds are well-rested and their energy level is high. The best thing you can do if you’re an introvert is not try to change it, but to take the alone time you need and let your vast inner world work for you.

The Gift of Being an Introvert

Many introverts grow up feeling out of place. We live in a fast, noisy world that sees chattiness as a virtue. Many introverts worry from a young age that something is wrong with them.

But being an introvert is a gift.

The world has a need for people who go deeper, think before they act, and look at things in new ways.

The world has a need for people who value meaningful relationships over meaningless small talk.

And the world has a place for thoughtful, contemplative people who bring calm and wisdom to a room.

These are traits that introverts offer. And, precisely because the world has so many extroverts, when you step into these traits and own them, you will find that you are appreciated and valued by the people around you.

In general, here are some of the strengths that we introverts bring to ourselves and others:

  • We are deep thinkers.
  • We are creative.
  • We’re thoughtful and considerate of others.
  • We listen to those who are speaking.
  • We take the time to think about what we say before we say it.
  • We communicate well in writing—we are the world’s natural novelists, authors, and poets.
  • We can be a calming influence on those around us.
  • We work well on our own.
  • We rarely get bored and can entertain ourselves for days.
  • We devour books and knowledge.
  • We are natural problem-solvers who see issues from many angles.
  • We are careful and thoughtful about what we do.

There is an old saying that the person who says the least is also the wisest. Introverts aren’t born any wiser than anyone else, but we do have an advantage. We are built to do the kind of contemplation that turns into great insight over time.

How to Thrive as an Introvert

Introverts can be successful in any walk of life. There are introverts who are famous actors and politicians. There are introvert CEOs, pop stars, authors, and engineers. And introverts, like everyone, can find happiness in love, in family, in spirituality or in learning—or in whatever gives them purpose. What’s different about introverts is what we have to do to tap into our talents and thrive:

We have to embrace our introverted nature.

That might mean turning down social invites. It might mean focusing on the friends you value most instead of trying to be everything to everyone. It might mean finding a way to get more solitude at work—especially in an open office.

And, most important, it might mean trusting your instinct about what you really need to be happy. Once you do that, you will stop feeling worn out or uncertain—and you’ll start seeing your genius come through.

It’s a loud world out there. Maybe it could use a little more of what introverts have to offer.

Learn More About Being an Introvert

To learn more about being an introvert, we recommend the bestselling book, The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, by Introvert, Dear founder Jenn Granneman.

Also, we recommend starting with these articles:

Introverts Don’t Hate People, They Hate Shallow Socializing

12 Things Introverts Absolutely Need to Be Happy

The Science Behind Why It Can Be Hard for Introverts to Put Their Thoughts Into Words