“We’ve known about the transcendent power of solitude for centuries; it’s only recently that we’ve forgotten it.” 

~Susan Cain

“The more space you can make for yourself, the more peace you can find within yourself.”  ~Ram Dass

“Solitude is happiness for one who is content, who has heard the Dhamma and clearly sees.”  ~The Buddha

“And He withdrew himself into the wilderness and prayed.” ~Luke 5:16

In our western culture, where extroversion is prized, it can be difficult for introverts to thrive. It turns out that one-third to one-half of the population is introverted. 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an introvert is a person who is “typically reserved or quiet and tends to be introspective and enjoys spending time alone.” Some additional characteristics of introversion are:

  • Preferring or needing quiet to concentrate
  • Taking more time to make decisions or needing time to internally process a question before answering
  • Often preferring to communicate in writing rather than talking
  • Often drained by crowds and excessive amounts of social stimulation
  • Generally listening more than speaking
  • Are often observant and may carefully analyze what is going on around them before they take action
  • Don’t generally feel the need to talk and are more comfortable with silence
  • Prefer one-on-one conversations that are deeper in nature and often find “small talk” draining and unfulfilling
  • Feel comfortable being alone

I think it’s important to distinguish here between introversion and shyness.  A person who is shy is quiet because they fear social judgment. A person who is introverted is quiet because they are observing and internally processing before they interact.  

Introverts are also often quiet because they just don’t feel the need to speak and are, generally, more comfortable with silence. 

Thus, you do not need to ask an introvert “what is wrong” each time they are sitting quietly in the corner at a social gathering.  They are likely just observing the scene and taking it all in. Additionally, they may welcome a connected conversation with you in lieu of small talk with numerous others. 

Please keep in mind that introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum, and a person can fall anywhere on this spectrum.  The ambivert is a person who falls pretty much in the middle of this spectrum and has balanced qualities of both introversion and extroversion. These people are the most flexible and can thrive in both solitude and crowds. Lucky!

If you have a child who is introverted, please know that their school is likely not set up for their specific needs. Instead, current schools favor the extroverted with typical classrooms having “pods” where kids face each other and interact often with their schoolwork. 

Currently in primary schools, group work is more common than individual work. In the worst cases, children who prefer to work alone are seen as “odd” or “anti-social.”  Additionally, introverted adults you know may be struggling to make it through the day in corporations that are, most often, designed for extroverts and their need for extra stimulation.  Unfortunately, this is often overwhelming and draining for the introverts in these corporations. 

Although the extroverts among us bring great strengths to our families, social scenes and workplaces; introverts also bring strengths to these places with creativity, introspection, thoughtful decision making, excellent listening skills, exceptional writing skills, high levels of empathy, keen observation and an eye for detail. Additionally, introverted leaders often have greater success with their teams due to their ability to invest time and effort into listening and understanding their team members’ unique strengths and making room for others to thrive. 

Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” reminds us in her TedTalk that

“There is no correlation between the best talkers and the best ideas.” 

Thus, to create a healthy environment for the introverts among us, we need to stop asking them to “pass” as extroverts, and we need to stop pathologizing them just because they are not extroverted. There is nothing inherently wrong with preferring quiet, preferring listening or preferring solitude. We need both extroverts and introverts to make things work; to create harmony and balance in our world.

The following is a list of situations I have regularly seen cause misunderstanding for  introverts:

  • An introverted teen gets home from school and prefers to go to their room. Their parents assume the teen is upset or depressed. In truth, the teen is finding a place of solitude to help them recover after being with people all day.
  • A woman who is introverted begins to be excluded from plans with her girlfriends because they have misunderstood her style of observation and listening in group settings as lack of interest.
  • A family member who prefers to do a quite, solitary activity in the evening after school or work is told they are a problem for not participating with the family, when they are merely choosing an activity that is self-care and attractive to them and has nothing to do with rejecting the family.
  • An introverted child who is overstimulated in their classroom is mislabeled as “lazy” or a “problem” when they have difficulty focusing, are irritable or tired. What this child needs is a less stimulating environment where they can concentrate, regulate and perform at their best.

“If you’re an introvert like me, especially a female introvert, or a person who is expected to give away your energy to everyone on the reg, I want to encourage you to find time to be alone. Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself. Recharge for as long as you need. Lean up against a tree and take a break from the other bears. I’ll be there too, but I promise not to bother you.” ~Amy Schumer