Firstly, some definitions: An extrovert, in my opinion, is best described as someone who feels recharged after spending time in the company of others; an introvert is someone who feels recharged after spending time alone. This is not to say that introverts don’t like people (and vice versa), but just to say that some prefer quieter activities more than socialising. This said, humans are mammals. And one of the defining features of mammalian brains is that they strive to be in the herd. If you’re not in the herd, you’re vulnerable (think Lion King). This can bring about cognitive dissonance in some people – how can an introvert simultaneously have an in-built need to be accepted/ liked by others, yet find being around them draining? In this blog, I hope to answer a few questions about what it means to be an introvert, the challenges being an introvert can bring, and how we can still remain close to our friends (our herd) without burning out.
So, how to know if you’re an introvert? Well, you’ll probably enjoy things like a weekend to yourself, last minute cancelled plans, and sports that require just you (e.g. running). An extrovert may typically enjoy phoning friends of an evening, meeting new people, and team-based sports. As you can see, neither of these two personality types are better or worse than the other: they both have strengths and their place in society. Introverts just tend to be overly-stimulated by socialising more than extroverts, leaving them feeling drained and needing time alone to recharge. This is why some people stay out dancing until 04.00am with their friends, and others (guiltily) slink off back to bed as soon as its acceptable to do so (no judgement from me).
So, how do we keep our friendships going despite our desire for solitude? Well, the first step is simple: find people of your ilk. Personally, I find some people charge me whereas others drain me. I’m not saying I would wish to change this as I love both camps equally, but socialising is definitely a richer experience when you’re with people who leave you feeling energised. Fellow introverts tend to do this for one another quite well. Invest in seeking them out.
Secondly, become aware of your social battery. It’s no good saying ‘yes’ to every plan, going out of your way to see people, and spending your evenings chatting on the phone if these activities leave you feeling depleted. If this is you, you have to respect the fact you need time to recharge away from people every now and again, so afford yourself this. Try saying ‘no’ once in a while, and spending time doing what you really want to be doing. I’d also suggest planning the day after your social events as well – if you’ve been seeing friends all of Saturday, it might be wise to have some alone/ recharging time on Sunday. Else Monday you still might not be ready for people and could make going back to work that much harder(!).
A third tip I’ve found to be particularly useful is technology. Social media and texting is literally at our finger tips and it is the introverts’ dream! If it’s a choice between texting and a call from a withheld number, it’s texting every time. The key to socialising in a meaningful way is feeling a part of your herd and having meaningful connections from other people. This can still be easily achieved with the power of the internet and I suggest using this to your advantage as often as you need. It can be just as satisfying and also means you’ll recover faster for the next face-to-face gathering.
Fourthly, remember to own being an introvert – there is nothing shameful about wanting to be alone at home if that’s what you need to recharge. I wanted to end this blog on a high. I am, of course, massively biased, but it is true that many of my favourite people from history are introverts. Extroverts have done so many great things (see ‘the Rolling Stones’) but when you consider some of great story writers, poets, designers and authors of our time, I feel confident that many of these feats would not have been achieved had the creators not been afforded the time to be alone with their thoughts.