Introverts can feel at a disadvantage when everybody else around them seems so comfortably extroverted. But Sunada feels that the world benefits from the influence of qualities that come naturally to introverts. She explores ways that quieter types can be more “out there” without having to compromise who they really are.
Are you an introvert? When you’re feeling tired or stressed out, do you prefer to be by yourself – and do things like curl up with a book, soak in a hot bath, or go for a walk alone? If you’re a meditator, chances are pretty good you’ve got introvert tendencies. I definitely do.
We pause and reflect before we speak … we’re conscientious and loyal … our friendships are strong and deep. In a world where many are feeling overwhelmed by busyness and disappointed by superficiality, how could these qualities not be valuable?
But the world out there is mostly extroverted. I’ve heard that 75% of Americans are extroverts (though it varies from culture to culture). I used to work in business, where that percentage is even higher. Our world tends to reward extrovert qualities, like the ability to chat easily with strangers, be outgoing, and constantly on the move. If you look up “introvert” in a thesaurus you get the following synonyms: brooder, egotist, loner, narcissist, and wallflower. Not very flattering, is it? But the truth is, whenever we’re at big, boisterous parties with lots of people, the whole scene can leave us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
My meditation practice has brought me to see things in a new light. Yes, we introverts may be fewer in numbers, and certainly less visible. But I now see that we naturally possess many qualities that the world could really use more of. We know how to slow down, take a deep breath, and smell the proverbial roses. We usually pause and reflect before we speak – so when we do have something to say, it tends to be meaningful. We’re conscientious and loyal. And though we may have small circles of friends, our friendships are strong and deep. In a world where many are feeling overwhelmed by busyness and disappointed by superficiality, how could these qualities not be valuable?
I’ve learned how essential it is to take time for myself … to keep my batteries charged up – and not be ashamed of having to do it!
So if you’re a fellow introvert, let’s stop seeing ourselves as outsiders or somehow “lesser” people. Let’s stop isolating ourselves because we’re “different”. The world has much to gain from us introverts bringing ourselves and our genuine strengths out there.
And how do we do this without having to fake being something we’re not? First and foremost, I’ve learned how essential it is to take time for myself, all alone, to keep my batteries charged up – and not be ashamed of having to do it! In the Myers-Briggs system of classifying personality types, the Extrovert-Introvert dimension is defined by where you draw your energy from. Extroverts prefer the outer world of people and things. They get energized by being active and engaged with others. Introverts prefer to focus on their inner world of thoughts and images. They regain energy through solitude. So it’s not about whether you like being with people or not. It’s a matter of energy, and where you get recharged. I know several people who seem quite social and outgoing, but would be considered introverts by this definition.
So it’s no wonder that we introverts can’t keep up with an extrovert lifestyle. We would burn ourselves out. To me, solitary time is as necessary to my well-being as food and water. I make sure I get some daily. My meditation time is of course part of this picture. If I’m traveling or attending a multi-day event with other people, I make sure to schedule some solitary time afterward to recharge. I’m now aware that any skimping I do is at my own risk!
It’s also very worthwhile to examine our own attitudes about our introversion. Being introverted isn’t a good or bad thing in itself. It’s the stories we’ve built around it that make it so. Do we see ourselves as inferior? Do we go to social events with a feeling of dread? Do we walk around with a self-image as someone who has difficulty talking with others? Are we constantly judging what we say? I have to admit I used to do all those things. And still catch myself doing them from time to time. But all these thoughts only serve to sabotage us even before we get out of the gate.
If we can step out of the trap of our negative stories, we’ll find infinite ways to engage with the world without having to fake anything.
If we can step out of the trap of our negative stories, we’ll find infinite ways to engage with the world without having to fake anything. When I worked in business in the past, I learned that some of my natural but less visible inclinations were really valued by my colleagues. In addition to being an introvert, I’m also very intuitive and able to relate to people easily (I’m an INFJ, for those of you who know Myers-Briggs). Sure, I wasn’t among the socially active and “popular” ones. But I was usually the one who quietly figured out what was really going on behind the scenes. I might pick up on people’s unspoken needs, notice someone who was afraid to come forward, or play diplomat to patch up simmering disagreements among team members. No, these things weren’t part of my job description. But over time they became my signature strengths – and I came to be respected for my ability to keep a team running smoothly and congenially because of them.
In my current line of work, I need to be out networking and meeting people to promote my business. Sales and marketing are probably the things introverts hate doing the most! But this is doable in introvert-style too. I never do any “cold calling” or selling to total strangers (even extroverts have a hard time with that!). If I’m meeting somebody new, I usually establish contact first by email. The next step might be a phone call. For a face-to-face meeting, I go with an agenda in mind, with specific items I want to talk about, rather than leaving it open and freeform. I’ve also learned that if I talk from the perspective of what’s meaningful to me personally, my enthusiasm catches on – and my self-consciousness doesn’t have room to creep in. In fact, I think that it’s my low-key style that brings people to believe in me and what I have to say. I’m not pushing anything on them, so they feel free to decide for themselves.
So if you were born an introvert like me, I would urge you to make the conscious choice to live as an introvert, and be proud of it. On the one hand, it means respecting some very real limits we face. We need to preserve our energy through lots of solitude, and know how not to put ourselves into situations that make us feel tongue-tied or overwhelmed! But at the same time we can bring out our natural strengths in our own quiet way. I’ve learned that when I allow what’s authentic in me to shine through, people notice and really appreciate it.
Thank you for the essay.
Thankyou for addressing this issue. I am such an introvert and have become even more so since my husbands sudden death by murder 4 years ago. I have been so very stuck there with him and not able to move on. and part of me thats the introvert I guess does not care but the other part the part of pictures and images sees my life being okay someday and with maybe some other person or in a place of my own. I find the hardest thing is to think about anything when others are around but I can honestly say that my practice has saved me every time and the teachings I have had have reminded me that I am better off out of the samsara of life when I can go there which I tend to do a lot I mean just go off in my head a lot because I mainly don’t want to be around those I am around orthere is too much for me to do so I go away for a while, some people may call this disa ssociation but I had a therapest tell me once it was my unique tool and my way I being in the moment, so I thankyou for the reassurance that I am not a weido because I am not out there in the world like most people I know I have my practice and I am so grateful for that because that is where I find just me and I am okay with that. Thankyou again
Thank you, Steve and Khandro.
Khandro, you certainly are NOT a weirdo! I would think your time by yourself is an important place for you to be right now, as you try to heal from the loss of your husband. That makes perfect sense to me. I hope it helps you to find some peace in your heart.
I recently find this site, and every day read a little of it, really thankyou very much, I find myself better after reading this article. I consider I’m a shy person, and everything you say describe exactly how I am and feel. Is there any difference between shyness and introversion? The way Iam haas always been a big problem for me, now Iam 45, but feel I have lost many years only for my fear. I’ve never been able to have a job, althiugh I studied in University, I take care of my children and home, but I feel unfullfilled. Now I am trying meditation everyday, and have great hope that I’ll feel better . Thanks again.
Thank you for your comments. You asked if there’s a difference between shyness and introversion. There probably is, but I’m thinking that the more important distinction is the difference between traits that we’re born with vs. judgments and views we hold about them. From what I understand, introversion is a trait that we’re born with and doesn’t change much over the course of a lifetime. But thinking that there’s something wrong with our introversion is a self-view that can change. Our world is full of introverts who have had a significant impact on our world, including Albert Einsten, Warren Buffet, Christina Aguilera, Johnny Carson, Al Gore, to name just a random few. They each found their own inner strengths and didn’t let their quiet natures hold them back. Everyone has something of value to contribute, including you! I encourage you to keep up your meditation practice. I’m sure it will help you to gain confidence and find your own “voice” to bring out into the world.
Since writing this, I found another article from the Atlantic that addresses the same topic. Interesting reading: “Caring for Your Introvert” by Jonathan Rauch (https://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200303/rauch).
Thank you Sunada, your words are a great help for me.
Thanks for the article Sunada.
I like many others have struggled with my introversion. I’m now 44 and still work in a very extroverted IT environment – the culture is very brash and over-bearing. As you have said in your experience, my colleagues seem now to appreciate my hidden talents – tenacity, attention to detail and finding innovative solutions to problems. Unfortunately this takes time and I have had to put with a lot of negativity because I find my usual silence is so misunderstood – the typical extrovert is so shallow and crass. When I was much younger I took a personality test at work which showed me to be exceptionally introverted which at that time was coupled with very low confidence levels.
I have been practising meditation since I was about 25 which helps reduce anxiety and promotes tranquility. I was brought up Catholic and still nominally am but my recent experiences and current reading (especially the Dalai Lama) is really showing me that I’m more Buddhist in my attitudes.
First of all, thank you for deciding to revisit your old struggles as a way of helping others. That is truely a selfless act and I sincerely respect you for that.
As of now, I am a 19 years old male and in these past few years I have come to realize that I’m a huge introvert. After accepting this idea I’ve realized that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Being the intovert I am has given me a huge advantage in decision-making. Most all of my peers are learning lessons the hard way. They are getting involved in premarital sex, drugs, alcohol, and other easily avoidable temptations. The ability to look around at others and not repeat their mistakes is a blessing given to us introverts.
However, the reason I looked for your article was because of the negative externalities dealt by introversion. I love interacting with others. I feel like our purpose here on earth is to build relationships. Unfortunately, I almost always feel like I’m at a loss for words. This can depend on the situation (how comfortable I feel, the person’s personality whom I’m communicating with, my fluctuating confidence, etc) but even around my siblings and closest friends I may experience this. My main problem as an introvert is that I get lost in my own mind and struggle to get out. Many times when I enter a group conversation it is not pleasurable but instead work. I immediately feel that i must contribute to the conversation every 30 seconds or so otherwise people will start to wonder why i’m so quiet. Once I take longer than a few minutes to contribute to the conversation that’s usually when my racing mind consumes me. It starts making me feel inferior to those around me and searches for another who is quiet. I find comfort in being around others who are considered “quiet” or “shy” or at least appear that way in the moment. I’m actively pushing myself to overcome this problem of getting lost in my own thoughts but I almost feel like every step forward is two steps back. I always told myself that I will gain confidence with age but that is not doing the trick. The work starts now and I’m more than ready to push myself, put myself out there, and be in nervous situations to overcome my insecurities. But I’m not entirely sure how to go about that.
Sunada, I love your article and honesty. If you have any tips or suggestions I’m all ears!
Sorry for the delay in responding. I’ve been away on retreat.
I think the main thing I’ve learned about being an introvert is that there’s nothing wrong with us, and we don’t need to push ourselves to be like our extroverted peers. When we struggle to do something, it only reinforces our feelings of inadequacy and fuels the cycle of negative thoughts. Rather than pushing yourself to talk, what if you reflected on ways that you could accept and love yourself more as you are? And simply enjoying being with your friends when a group conversation is going on, whether or not you’re able to contribute? Doing practices like the Metta Bhavana are helpful for that. When you are genuinely enjoying being with people, they can tell. And then you don’t need to try to prove anything by forcing yourself to do anything. When you’re in the moment and enjoying it, I’ll bet your wish to talk will emerge more naturally, in your own introverted way.
[…] been for the last five-plus years. This ongoing goal is to find other avenues. I’m a textbook introvert, so this will be a […]
For the looooongest time I thought there was something wrong with me because I had never met anyone like me. Just knowing that it is not personal but just the way I am built gives me great peace of mind I am one step closer to understanding myself. But us introverts need to stick together 24 is too old to find out that you are not crazy hahaha :) thank you Sunada truly thank you what I’ve learned tonight has been invaluable not only this article but all the ones that led me to this article. All I can say is be proud to be so different from most people even though most times you may feel like you might fit in usually the relationships we have are stronger. JUST DON’T CLING YOURSELF TOO MUCH FROM YOUR PARTNER as introverts we may sometimes overwhelm those we love because we often lack love due to being a misunderstood minority. Wisdom is knowing what to say and when to say it. Thank you again Sunada, more introverted people should embrace themselves and go out of their way to meet like minded people there are so few of us. I don’t belong in America I want to live in Nepal or Madagascar or Northern Canada somewhere I could read, write and draw everyday in peace.
Hi Rokefeller, Yes! Be proud to be an introvert! And I would disagree that you don’t belong in America. There are plenty of introverts here, we’re just not as easy to find. There are plenty of quiet types who value solitude here, and the world has much to gain from our being here.
I guess you are right I was more referring to the culture of America as a whole. (Society) but you are right I will still face the same issues personally no matter where I am. I just felt so alienated, discriminated and misunderstood growing up that now that I am beginning to understand myself I feel a strong urge to turn away from everyone until I find the secret to happiness until I reach enlightenment much as the Buddha had done. I don’t hate anyone but I just feel that since they don’t understand my introverted nature they are always trying to change me or tell me what to do, and a lot of times, not properly understanding me, they were forcing me to be an extrovert which made me have low self esteem. Now I place my value on wisdom from unbiased truth and independence. Thank you for your quick response.
I loved this article which I came across. I have been researching introvert articles on the internet for the past month as I have began to realise just How introverted I am. I was working in an extroverted job where I had to communicate with people all day, by the end of the day I felt drained and after work I did not have the energy to interact with my family, friends or anyone else. I decided to make the conscious choice to be proud of being introverted as this is what I was given. Im now looking for work where I wont be drained from energy so that after work I can have the energy to see my friends and family. I grew up hating my introverted personality, thought there was something wrong with me (coming from an extroverted family) they use to constantly tease me for being quiet, potraying it as a bad thing “speak up” “dont you have anything to say” “why are you so quiet” were common phrases. I beileve that if we were meant to talk more than listen then we would have two mouths and one ear. I love that I am able to analyse everything, enjoy being on my own, appreciate solitude. one thing about introverts is that they do not fear solitude they embrace it.
introverts, really only need to find things thy are good at doing. then they find themselves extroverts.
I think you may be confusing introversion/extroversion with something else. Doing something you enjoy doesn’t change necessarily whether or not you find yourself recharged or drained by prolonged contact with other people. If the thing an introvert loves doing is a solitary activity it may well have the opposite effect. Playing alone does not change introverts into extroverts.
Thank you for the wonderful post, I finally have a better understanding of who I really am. My family is very extroverted, and for years I have always felt there was something wrong with me… this post however, has made me rethink this. Thanks again, great site!!
I am one of the introvert, i have completed my Bsc in IT and i find MBA Marketing interesting. But as i am not good at verbal communication, i doubt that i will enjoy the subject but not the professional work. Can we accelerate(better) on it?
Speaking as an introvert who has an MBA and at one time worked in marketing, I can say that there are plenty of jobs that an introvert could do in that world. Market research is one example that comes to mind. Marketing doesn’t mean you have to be at the center of attention, doing all the people-intensive activities. If the subject is honestly interesting to you, that is going to take you a lot farther than anything else. So don’t let your concerns about your introversion hold you back. Be confident about what you ARE good at doing. That’s what gets you noticed in the professional world.
Thanks for this interesting and reassuring article. I have recently realised I have been introvert all along. My therapist has said to me that my not realising has led to me even questioning my own sanity. I have been told I am mentally ill and wrong my whole life because I enjoy quiet, solitude and get overwhelmed by over stimulation. When I was a child had to pretend to be different to how I am for my parent’s sake. Now realising this is WHO I am is a revelation. I can now start again at 45 thinking I am not wrong or ill. Its hard trying to negotiate all of my existing relationships where I realise my needs for alone time etc…It is really painful and difficult. I have moved in with a partner and have very little time alone or space. He craves constant attention and connection. I love him so much ..its hard. I was a practicing Buddhist but the pressure for me to have parties for the sangha and use my home & private space turned something that was a refuge into something painful for me. I am wondering about reconnecting but at a centre a bit further away. I wonder how I can do this with Sangha being important to the spiritual life but my needing time to be alone. I am still wrestling with all of this….its new! ..the realisations I mean.
Congrats on reaching this big realization! Isn’t it a relief? As far as wanting to be part of a sangha but needing alone time, please know that nobody can make you do anything you don’t want to do. If you don’t want to host parties for your sangha, you are completely justified in saying no. If you need more space to be alone away from your partner, go out for a walk or find some place where you can be alone. Explain to him that it’s not anything personal, that as an introvert you need to recharge your batteries by being alone. You are entitled to be with other people in ways that work for you. That’s not selfish. Nobody can make you do anything without your consent. So I would ask you to consider what it is YOU really want out of these relationships, and then stick by them without shame or regret. You’re the only one who can take care of your own needs — and doing so can make all the difference.
yes it is a big relief…with tears that have come for the suffering for all the time I never realised. The memories of how I was as a child have come flooding back. A lightbulb moment. Of course everything you say is totally true and I do go out for walks to be alone and go to the library etc. It was also my fault for going along with things I felt uncomfortable with the sangha. I felt pressured and just caved in. I know I need to take care of my own needs. TBH i have spent so long in denial and repression of who I am I am still not as confident to trust my thoughts and feelings. Im in therapy as well so that can rock the boat emotionally. I guess I am just learning. I feel like a 45 year old baby…learning all over again. Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. Ironically, I never posted anywhere when I was pretending to be an extrovert. Now I realise I am introverted I seem to be communicating more…hey! go figure
You’re welcome. It’s actually doesn’t surprise me that you’re communicating more now that you realize you’re an introvert. I don’t think our amount of communication is necessarily related to where we are on the introvert-extrovert scale. When I feel more in my own integrity and accepting of who I am, I can feel more comfortable about speaking up. It’s a confidence booster.
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