Is Defining An Introvert Really This Hard?

It’s time someone stood up and said “I’m an introvert – and I want my voice heard.”

Oh right.

Introverts aren’t the kind of people who do that sort of thing. But maybe they – or we? – should. Extroverts are shaping the world in their image. An introvert with self-esteem issues could believe that everyone likes to go places and do things all the time. They could even get the idea that there’s something wrong with staying home by choice to enjoy a TV show, a book, a cat or a cuddle.

For me, two questions come to mind at this point in a so-far-pointless essay: What is an introvert? And am I really one? Maybe I’m not – and this is none of my business.

What Is An Introvert?

As it happens, the term “introvert” isn’t easy to accurately define. One dictionary says an introvert is a “reserved and shy person who enjoys spending time alone”. But that’s several definitions rolled into one. A shy person, according to the way most people use the term, is someone who is hesitant in front of people. A reserved person may or may not be shy and may choose to hold back to avoid confrontation – or simply because of apathy. But there are reserved and even shy people who enjoy being around others – just not necessarily to the same level as an extrovert.

An extrovert, we’re told, is someone who is gregarious and unreserved.

But aren’t there many people who are a bit reserved, a little shy and not much interested in parties or socializing but still interested in getting out there and participating in life?

One bit of research found that the definition of an introvert varies depending on who’s doing the defining. Those who identify as introverts tend to offer a more positive definition than those who prefer a more aggressive lifestyle.

One well-thought-out explanation of introverts comes from researcher Jonathan Cheek at Wellesley College, who developed a STAR model for identifying different types:

  • S for social, those who prefer only small gatherings or none at all
  • T for thinking, those who don’t necessarily avoid socializing but prefer their own little fantasy worlds
  • A for anxious, those who are self-conscious or apprehensive in public and play over in their minds repeatedly past and potential future experiences
  • R for restrained, those who are reserved and tend to think everything through carefully before they take any action.

Writer Susan Cain wrote a book about the role of introverts in society called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – available from Amazon. I haven’t read it, but the subtitle is enough to get you thinking about how powerful a little quietness could be in our world right now.

So how do I define the term? The top definition of an introvert on Urban Dictionary is perfect, I think. Here’s what it says:

An introvert prefers to spend time alone in order to recharge their inner being. An introvert may appear to be shy to others, but that is not necessarily an accurate label. Being among groups of friends, family and even strangers can be wonderfully stimulating and joyous occasions. Interacting with people and attention to multiple sources of stimuli tends to draw down an introvert’s energy causing them to eventually withdraw to spend time alone to re-energize. Small talk and pointless conversations tend to draw down an introvert’s energy rapidly.

Urban Dictionary user ‘Home is my sanctuary’

But Am I An Introvert?

Please don’t skip reading the quote above. It’s the definition of me, even if I didn’t write it. If an introvert is what’s described in the paragraph above from Urban Dictionary, then I’m whole-heartedly on board.

I’ve known for years that my body enjoyed stirring around to keep my back, legs and shoulders working well. My eyes like seeing new things. But recently, my brain isn’t as interested in going out and doing things as it once was. The world itself gives me energy, but much of the nonsense associated with experiencing it drains me.

I suffer from FOMO – the fear of missing out – but usually find when I get somewhere and look things over that I wish I hadn’t gone. Also, I’ve never been one to suffer fools gladly, as the saying goes – that is, tolerate the stupidity of others – and fools are easier to tolerate when they stay in their homes and I stay in mine.

That’s a good line to end on. Except for this: It turns out that I fit the definition of an introvert, but I’m not a very good one. I have something to say about what’s happening in the world, and I’ve never been afraid to say it. Introverts aren’t like that, are they? Of course, I have very few people in my life and even fewer willing to listen, so…

Now, leave me alone while I recharge my inner being.