Aren’t all introverts the same? A roundtable discussion among my friends brought up three resounding traits: they’re socially awkward, they’re socially anxious and they’re wallflowers. But I don’t identify with any of those things and yet I know I’m an introvert. Being around people makes me physically tired, even exhausted, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test in high school labeled me just the same. So are there really introverts who like being around people? Of course there are.
Jonathan Cheek, a psychology professor at Wellesley College, recently told the blog Science of Us that there are four different types of introversion: social, thinking, anxious, and restrained. Every introvert, he says, has these traits to varying degrees.
Social introversion is that person who always says no to going to a party. They’d much rather be home doing some kind of solitary activity. When they do socialize, they keep to small groups. This probably ties into that feeling of exhaustion. Introverts derive energy from solitary time, whereas extroverts feel energized being with other people.
I’ve never understood how you can be energized by socializing, probably because it’s never happened to me. I might go full speed into a social activity, but you can bet I’m going to sleep well that night. Too much socializing — say staying in a house with a lot of family during a wedding weekend extravaganza — and I wouldn’t be able to string whole sentences together in 24 hours. My brain is slow, sleep alone can’t rejuvenate me, and it’s almost as if I’ve been drugged.
Anxious introversion includes staying home from the party but for a reason. The anxious introvert feels self-conscious and even when they’re alone they ruminate about their social interactions.
I’ve done my fair share of ruminating on every little awkward interaction I’ve had, but it got better. Seeking treatment for my generalized anxiety helped to swing the pendulum the other way. Now I actually enjoy being in social, public situations. I don’t feel like anyone is paying undue attention to me and when I go to a party I’m not a wallflower. The more I went out, the more practice I got socializing, and the more confident I became. I’m no longer tongue-tied. That’s why I recommend seeing a therapist for anxiety (click the Find Help tab at the top of this page to find someone in your area).
Thinking introversion means you’re pensive and introspective. You look inside yourself and self-reflect often. “People with high levels of thinking introversion don’t share the aversion to social events people usually associate with introversion,” writes Melissa Dahl. This rings true for me (and it’s where I score the highest on the quiz).
Restrained introversion means it takes you a while to get going. You don’t jump out of bed ready to embrace the day. I can imagine this translates to being quiet or standoffish in social situations but would later blossom into more participation in socialization. “It takes her a while to warm up,” my mother always said.
Science of Us created a quiz based on Cheek’s model. This is how I scored:
Nobody likes to be pigeon-holed and it’s a relief to me to see my introversion in a unique light. My combination of traits can’t be all that common.
It’s also interesting to think about how a chart like this might change over time. I’m sure before I sought treatment for anxiety the Anxious end of the spectrum would have loomed large on my chart.
What does it mean to you to be able to see shades of yourself in all these traits instead of being put under one blanket label?
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