By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor’s in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
All of us have some degree of introversion–but some, in particular, are true introverts through and through. If you suspect you might be an introvert, here are the defining introvert characteristics to look out for, according to psychology experts.
What is an introvert?
An introvert is a person who is high in introversion, a personality trait characterized by a tendency to be energized by alone time rather than socializing.
“Extroverts gain energy from social interaction, while introverts expend energy in social situations,” explains relationship therapist Ken Page, LCSW. “After attending a party or spending time in a large group of people, they often feel a need to ‘recharge’ by spending time alone.”
Introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum, with some people falling toward the middle (aka “ambiverts“) and others being true introverts or extroverts. Preferences toward introversion and extroversion were first popularized in the 1900s by famed psychiatrist Carl Jung, who considered this spectrum to be one of the foundational traits that influence our overall personality. Today the scale is part of many popular personality assessments, such as the “Big 5” and the MBTI.
According to Page, introverts’ own inner world helps them ground themselves. He adds that these folks tend to be more quiet, reserved, and introspective, though it’s worth noting that “introvert” doesn’t necessarily equate to “shy.” Sure, some introverts can be shy, but as Page explains, shyness is more of an emotion than a trait, and many introverts’ preference toward introversion isn’t coming from a place of social anxiety, for example.
How common are introverts?
Some research suggests that up to half of the population are introverts, though it’s important to remember that it is a spectrum. Many of us have the capacity to be introverted and extroverted at different moments, and thus would qualify as ambiverts, falling somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
As communication expert Celeste Headlee previously explained to mbg, “Introversion and extroversion–the terms that Carl Jung came up with–describe the absolute ends of the spectrum.”
What causes introversion?
Set yourself up for success with a good night’s sleep.*
According to Page, genetics plays a significant role in one’s preference toward introversion versus extroversion. “In fact, of all the different personality traits,” he says, “introversion and extroversion are one of the ones that are most strongly hereditary,” he tells mbg, adding that environmental factors, such as how you were raised, will also come into play.
Our DNA also even determines the degree to which we can be flexible in these traits, he says. “Introversion and extroversion is really connected to a whole bunch of issues around our neurotransmitters, and the most important one is dopamine,” he says.
Dopamine fuels our reward center in the brain, and Page explains that extroverts tend to appreciate or be motivated by those dopamine hits. “But introvert,” he notes, “their brains are less driven by that need for dopamine and that excitement over dopamine.”
Key introvert characteristics:
Preferring solitude to company
One telltale sign of an introvert is someone who prefers alone time, or at least the company of a small, close-knit circle, over a large group activity. They may also prefer to hang out with people one-on-one than in groups in general, and they need ample alone time to feel “recharged.”
Feeling drained by a lot of socialization
You can start to get a sense of whether you could be introverted if spending a lot of time socializing really wears you out. Of course, we all have a “social battery” to an extent, but if yours seems to drain particularly quickly, you’re probably introverted.
Sensitivity to external stimuli
Introverts tend to prefer quiet, “chill” environments, and they may be averse to a lot of external stimuli, according to Page. Things like busy markets, crowded streets, and noisy groups of people may all feel pretty overwhelming to you if you’re an introvert.
Preferring to work alone
Many introverts prefer to work alone over working on a team, and this is especially true if you’re a “thinking introvert” (which we’ll get into shortly). Extroverts thrive on solid teamwork, brainstorming with others, etc., while introverts tend to think (and execute tasks) more clearly on their own.
Retreating into your own mind
Last but not least, introverts have a great capacity to go within their own mind, often retreating to their inner solitude when they need a break. Page tells mbg they prefer to rely on this inner solitude for peace, as opposed to external sources like other people, which would be the case for extroverts.
Types of introverts.
There are a handful of different types of introverts, with one being social introverts, who prefer to spend time alone. As licensed psychotherapist Anthony Freire, LMHC, NCC, CCMHC, previously told mbg, “Social introverts are less interested in large gatherings or parties,” adding that they don’t avoid crowds because of anxiety but rather “where they feel the most comfortable and happy is either in complete solitude or in small groups in more subdued places.”
There are also thinking introverts, characterized by a propensity to spend a lot of time thinking up in their own heads (and not necessarily voicing much). “The thinking introvert is very cognitive by nature. Often intellectual, this type of introvert is often at peace when studying, reading, learning, researching, and investigating,” clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., previously explained to mbg. She adds that it wouldn’t be uncommon for a thinking introvert to pause before speaking, as well, saying things like, “Let me think about that.”
You may easily recognize an anxious introvert when you see one. According to Manly, they’re often particularly quiet and can even seem on edge or nervous. For these folks, socializing may further stimulate the anxiety they feel, so they can tend toward an avoidant attachment style. She notes that this tendency to go inward may come across as rude or withdrawn, but it’s really just a defense mechanism for protection.
Lastly, we have the restrained introvert, which is also sometimes called the “inhibited introvert.” These people are most introverted around new people until they get to know them, and they have a grounded, thoughtful demeanor. As Manly explains, “The restrained introvert tends to be reflective and even plodding in nature. [They’re] often steadfast and very rocklike in nature,” adding that this type of introvert is often the “quiet, dutiful person others tend to rely on.”
How to thrive as an introvert:
Honor what you’re experiencing.
Life is one big balancing act, and the same can be said for finding a balance of introversion and extroversion that works for you. Page says there will be times when you need to lean into more extroverted qualities, but ultimately, “When you feel the pull to go back into your inner world, try to follow that pull and respect it if you can.”
He adds that your introverted self is a portal to a deep and rich understanding of the world that is uniquely yours, so take advantage of that. “There’s a root level of reflection and depth that introverts hold that often can make them feel self-conscious, but those are some of the richest parts of them–what I call their ‘core gifts,'” Page says.
And as psychologist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, puts it, “There’s a line between victimhood and doing something about it. When you can leverage introversion and let it empower you, that means you mutate a potential ‘weakness’ into a superpower.”
Hold your boundaries.
While extroverts likely won’t need as many boundaries in place in terms of socializing (because they want to socialize), introverts need to know how to hold firm boundaries with what they need. Page explains that thriving as an introvert means not second-guessing yourself. For example, if you’re really not feeling those dinner plans you made last week, the right people will understand that you need the alone time.
And speaking of relationships, Page tells mbg that introverts can often have a more difficult time with dating–unless they know how to express their need for space in the context of a relationship. “If they don’t,” he says, “they’ll unconsciously protect themselves by avoiding intimacy because they’ll be afraid that they will be overwhelmed and overstimulated and not have the tools or the capacity to set boundaries.”
Protect yourself from overstimulation and burnout.
And last but not least (and somewhat related to the above point about boundaries), know your limits in terms of what you find draining. “People who were introverted also need to be very much aware of protecting themselves against overstimulation and burnout,” Page says.
You may need space from friends, family, even your partner–and that’s OK. Introverts need to keep coming back to themselves, and while it’s important to be able to flex some extroversion at times when it’s needed, he says, you will feel more at peace when you honor your need for space.
Introverts are people who tend to focus on their inner world rather than the external. For these reserved and thoughtful individuals, understanding their own personality and inclination toward introversion can help them approach everything from work to relationships in a way that works for them.