It’s common to experience a “light bulb” moment when you realise that you’re an introvert, while also feeling unsure about what to do with that information. Does this sound familiar? It certainly was for me. Maybe you found out you were an introvert as part of a personality profiling exercise at work or school, or possibly you’ve been watching, reading or listening to something that has suddenly started to make sense.
There is no official “diagnosis” of introversion, so it is really something that you need to decide for yourself, maybe with some external help. You can have a look at my quiz or try a personality profiling tool such as 16 Personalities. I’m an INFJ, if you’re interested, and the observations were pretty spot on for me.
Many people think that labels, such as introvert, are unhelpful and only serve to pigeon-hole people. I disagree. For me and for many of the people who I have spoken to, finding out we were introverted was like having a weight lifted. I certainly went through way too many years thinking that there was something wrong with me. Understanding that I am an introvert made me realise that there were other people like me out there and that I am not broken.
Of course, if you use introversion as something to hide behind such as “oh no, I can’t do that, I’m an introvert”, the label is damaging rather than helpful. However, for most introverts, finding out about introversion means they can make sense of the way that they react and behave in many situations. Understanding their temperament has also helped them to identify ways they can help themselves in more challenging situations. It can take years to fully grow into and embrace your introversion, though. Here I want to share some of the things that have helped me and other introverts I work with move from “introvert” to “proud introvert”:
1. Educate yourself
I’m an introvert, now what? This is a common reaction and one that I certainly experienced. I was relieved to have a name that explained why I was the way that I was, but I still wasn’t convinced being an introvert was a good thing. I had spent my whole life being measured against an extrovert yardstick and found to be lacking. Being an introvert wasn’t going to change any of that, right? Well, yes and no. The extrovert ideal is still alive and well, but it is starting to be questioned. People are realising that there is more than one way to show up in the world and you can be successful while being your introverted self.
What helped me most was learning more about introversion in depth: what it is and what it isn’t. And no, introversion is not the same as shyness. I’m a typical introvert in that I like to have time to research and to think about a topic before I form an opinion about something. And I applied this approach to introversion.
So, what can you do? Well, I would suggest finding out more about introversion, what is really is rather than the damaging myths that abound. Find inspirational introverts to follow on social media or to listen to on podcasts. There are also some great books about introversion, which I suggest you read (although not nearly enough of them!). If you’re short of time watch Susan Cain’s Ted talk as a great starting point. I learnt so much from her (and I highly recommend her book Quiet too). I hope that learning more about introversion will help you understand that introversion is a gift and not something to wish away or change.
2. Connect with other introverts
Talking to other people who are also introverted can make all the difference. I have found a wonderful community of people who have helped me understand myself better and I hope I also help them. I now realise that so many things I experienced while growing up were felt by other people too. There is power and reassurance in realising that you are not the only one to feel a certain way.
Just when I think I’ve got a handle on introversion, something else will crop up, which reminds me that there is still so much more to learn. However, this feels exciting rather than overwhelming because I know that I have others who relate to what I’m talking about.
3. Allow yourself time
Be kind to yourself. Give yourself the chance to process your thoughts around introversion. Remember that introverts are deeply reflective with a strong inner world. Time spent thinking deeply will help you accept and assimilate introversion into your real world. Understanding what an introvert truly is can be challenging because you are having to question stories that you have been told about yourself throughout your entire life. There are so many damaging introvert myths that will likely have made you feel “less than” or defective. Hopefully your new found knowledge of introversion can help you begin to question them.
My one tip however would be watch out for when thinking becomes overthinking. This is something that us introverts can be prone to. If you find yourself starting to spiral, remember that overthinking doesn’t serve you, it simply stops you from moving forward.
4. Make a list of introvert strengths
Introverts have many strengths: they are super observant, thoughtful contributors and wonderful listeners for starters. They make deep connections with others and are brilliant at identifying not only what is said, but what isn’t. Introverts are skilled at solving complex problems because of the way that they like to see any scenario from multiple angles. They are good at working independently and will likely have great solitude skills. Now solitude skills may not be something that is taught, but it’s probably something that is instinctive for you and of great value. Being able to be alone and to enjoy it can help in many areas of your life.
What are the biggest introvert strengths that you have?
5. Be prepared to question the extrovert ideal
Even if you may not have heard of the extrovert ideal, you will know what it is. In a nutshell, the extrovert ideal values and promotes extroversion over introversion. It appears in all areas of your life from birth onwards and you probably rarely question it because it is endemic.
The extrovert ideal is at play when you’re told your child doesn’t have a large enough circle of friends (maybe they’re happy with the small group that they have); it’s at play when achievement in school is measured in part by how much someone talks rather than the standard of their work; it’s at play every time someone says, “you’re very quiet, is everything okay?” when you’re perfectly happy with the amount you speak.
It is essential to be able to recognise the extrovert ideal and to start to question the assumptions that it makes. The more you are aware of it, the easier it will be to see the value of introversion and think of ways to challenge the status quo.
Learn to think of your introversion as the superpower that it is rather than something you need to apologise for or hide. Maybe you feel that you need to be more extroverted in a certain situation; networking for example. Help to reframe your thoughts by reminding yourself that meeting one or two interesting people is far more valuable than “working the room”.
Think of the value that you bring to situations: the world needs thoughtful, creative people who are super observant and great at solving complex problems. Considered contribution is needed and it’s something that introverts are great at. Rather than worrying about what you think you can’t do, think about all that you can.
7. Allow yourself to be who you are
Being introverted does not mean that you need to change. You are not broken and introversion most definitely does not need to be cured. The many introverts I’ve spoken to who burnt out while being an extroverted version of themselves will attest to that. Introversion offers many valuable benefits. Allow yourself to recognise them.
I have found that it is only since I have embraced my introversion that my confidence levels have grown and I have been able to “put myself out there”. However, and this is really important, I have learnt to do this on my own terms in a way that aligns with my introverted self, and that feels great. I hope that you too will be able to claim and embrace your introversion. It really is a gift.
And finally, remember that around 50% of the population is introverted. We are not the minority we can be made to feel. Extroversion works brilliantly for extroverts, but introverts need an introvert-friendly way of doing things. By working through the steps above you can learn to embrace your introversion and be proud of all that it offers you and in turn allows you to offer to those around you. Good luck!