The world is made up of introverts, extroverts and people that fall someplace in between. For some, being one or another doesn’t make a big difference in their lives. However, for introverts like me, it explains a lot.
I grew up in a family with a lot of kids, and was labeled sensitive because I was often overwhelmed by the chaos and commotion of living with so many people. As an adult married to a strong extrovert, I compared my handful of close friendships to my husband’s vast army of friends and acquaintances and wondered if I was lacking in some way. It wasn’t until I was in my late 30s that I realized that there was a word for how I interacted with the world—introvert.
So what does it mean to be an introvert? The simplest explanation is that social interactions can take a great deal of my energy, and to restore that energy, I may need time alone. In contrast, extroverts are often energized by social events and large gatherings.
This means that when I go to a large social event like a party or a wedding, I have an expiration date; a time when I’m done, depleted, and ready to go home. If I’m not able to leave, I begin to lose my ability for social niceties and become irritable or simply shut down. To make matters worse, my husband can take a good 45 minutes just saying goodbye. It’s not pretty and it has nothing to do with the people at the event. It’s just that my social bank account has become overdrawn.
When my husband is out of town, I look forward to having a night or two to myself. However, when I’m gone, he fills his time socializing with friends and relatives. And I gravitate toward people with whom I have a strong connection. They are my close friends with whom I can share life’s highs and lows and can go deep. We may not get together every week, or even every month, but when we do our time is spent catching up on what’s important in each other’s lives.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I’m shy, in fact, most introverts aren’t. I freely speak to strangers, am comfortable starting conversations, and can address an auditorium full of people. However, I feel out of place at big events because there’s little opportunity for connecting deeply. I can make small talk for a while, but it’s not my strong suit, so after a while I become exhausted.
Do introverts have less energy than extroverts? In Chinese medicine, your energy (called Qi) comes from Heaven and Earth. It comes from Heaven in the air you breathe and from Earth in the food that provides your body with the nutrients necessary to sustain life.
Breathing deeply increases your circulation and oxygenates your blood. Breath work also ramps up the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows your heart rate, decreases the circulation of stress hormones, and allows your body to recover from stress.
Movement, digestion, metabolism, immunity, and every other function in your body use up energy. For introverts, however, there are many more things in the world that deplete our energy; things such as sensory overload, social media, advertising, news, crowds, and any kind of conflict. We introverts choose—or are hardwired—not to expend energy in events where we can’t connect in a meaningful way. This isn’t a judgment, but just how we roll. Socializing in large groups is difficult and energy-sapping.
So do introverts have less energy? Not necessarily; but they likely have less social energy for large groups. I think of being an introvert as a form of energetic self-preservation. And clearly, introverts replenish their energy in ways that are different from extroverts. While we all make energy through the air we breathe and the food we eat, we introverts gather energy from quiet time and solitary pursuits, while extroverts draw energy from being around other people.