Mental health / The world

An introvert in an extrovert world

I feel like I don’t fit in. I struggle to be with people, I feel totally exhausted all the time, just existing. There are many reasons but one is that I’m an extreme introvert struggling to function in a world build for extroverts.

Some people would call me painfully quiet, shy or anti-social, but I find their loud approach to life over the top, overwhelming and exhausting.

Others may fear being on their own and struggle with loneliness; for me, solitary time is vital for my health and it’s a relief to shut the door at the end of the day.

The difference between introverts and extroverts is from where they recharge their energy. Extroverts gain their energy from other people, introverts recharge on their own.

The world sees extroversion as a gift because they mistakenly connect loudness with confidence and happiness; people don’t understand quietness because no one sees what goes on behind the scenes, they think it’s a flaw. Listening is a dying art. Being thoughtful, respectful and taking the time to understand each other seem to be happening less and less.

Everyone has something to say, extroverts easily get their voices heard, introverts naturally listen. When someone does finally listen to me, I’m so taken aback, my heart races, I get tongue tied and struggle to even put a sentence together (but that’s not just introversion, that’s social anxiety too – not all introverts have social anxiety!).

While extroverts feel connection when they fill space with small talk, it does nothing for me except sap my energy.

As the world moves towards open plan offices, hot desking and networking parties the only way to progress is to be “out there”, to have a “big personality” and to give your energy to the world. Where in the world do I fit if my energy is sapped by my chronic illness and when faced with people my battery runs to empty?

For those who speak softly it’s easy to blend into the background, people may assume you don’t have anything to say or that you don’t like them but introverts work better one on one. If you don’t know that about yourself, an introvert can feel broken in rooms full of people who just seem to know what to do.

Introverts can enjoy a party, just like extroverts but not everyone has to be “the life a soul”. If, as an introvert, you leave a few parties early because you’re tired and this is misunderstood and people stop inviting you – is that ok?

The science

Some science that supports the introvert/extrovert feelings involves 2 chemicals in the brain, dopamine and acetylcholine. Dopamine is like a hit of energy when we take risks or meet new people; extroverts feel great when this peaks in the brain, introverts are more sensitive to the effects of dopamine and easily feel overstimulated. Introverts prefer the slow burn from acetylcholine that is released when we concentrate or do things that focus our minds; we feel relaxed, alert, content. The release of acetylcholine during these activities barely registers with extroverts.

female reading

Are you an ambivert?

I’ve recently been listening to a series of podcasts where ever guest has been asked if they consider themselves an extrovert or an introvert and people have said things like “I used to be an extrovert but I think I’m an introvert” or “I try to be an extrovert” or “sometimes I’m a bit of both”, these people are probably ambiverts. It’s a shame that the majority of people feel the need to behave as an extrovert and gives weight to the argument that the world is built for extroverts. If all people were valued equally and given paces to be themselves we could feel more comfortable. An ambivert is someone in the middle of the spectrum, someone who can gain energy from being by themselves or with people.

Most people are probably ambiverts but it’s ok to have slight or extreme tendencies to introversion of extroversion!

We just have to find coping strategies

Introverts and extroverts can manage a busy chaotic work life and enjoy a buzzing party late into the night, we just have to find ways to cope. I, for example, take a break, away from my colleagues in the middle of the day. While others may want to connect more over lunch and have FOMO, I value time on my own. I have to fight the fear of being seen as anti-social, people makes comments such as “where do you go?” in a tone that says “why would you do anything other than socialise with us?!”. Unfortunately, because introverts are seen as aloof or maybe sanctimonious, I hide my reason with “I need some fresh air” – which is also true! I have no idea how anyone can spend all day inside!

It takes longer to get to know me, I have fewer friends with deep connections, I think inside my head, my brain sifts information before I talk about it but does this mean I cannot be a valued member of society?

While I’m proud to be an introvert and I’m content with my coping strategies, it saddens me that because I don’t fit into the extrovert world it’s assumed I’m the one that’s wrong. We’re not all the same, so, next time you come across someone who’s a bit “odd”, a bit “different”, a bit “weird”, don’t label them, give them space, listen to them, don’t rush them, value them.


Toby Wallis
01/02/2020 at 23:53

(a) It’s extravert, not extrovert.
(b) You’ve missed the point about intro- / extraversion. Like many people you confuse introversion with introspection. An introvert is not interested in/aware of their social and physical environment. An extravert is (sometimes hyper-) aware of their surroundings, both physical and social.

Also, it’s a spectrum. You make it sound like a binary polarity. Life (and the human psyche) is more comples and nuanced than that.

    02/02/2020 at 08:18

    Thank you for your comment.

    A) Extravert is historically accurate, however extrovert is now widely accepted.

    B) I made no reference to introspection because it is not relevant. Nor is awareness of physical/social environment. Both introverts and extroverts can be equally aware of their environments. All people on the spectrum can be introspective and can be highly sociable. It is a common mistake for people to think introverts aren’t sociably aware etc.

    C) I make the point it is a spectrum. “An ambivert is someone in the middle of the spectrum” people have slight or extreme tendencies to either end of the spectrum.

04/08/2020 at 02:14

Thanks for writing this. I’m figuring out coping strategies for being an introvert surrounded by extroverts at work, and this gave me a lot to think about. It made me feel less alone too. 💜

    04/08/2020 at 07:02

    You’re welcome. I find, recognising traits in myself and then accepting myself without judgment goes a long way to coping with it! You’re definitely not alone, there are far more introverts out there than we can see, we tend to mask it because it’s not a particular desirable quality within society – I’d love to see them try without us though!

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