Teen Asks: Am I an Introvert?

Mom says I'm not an introvert, but I'm not so sure.

Posted Feb 11, 2016

J.K. Califf via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Source: J.K. Califf via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Welcome to a new feature of The Introvert’s Corner, which right now I’m calling I’ll Tell You What. (I reserve the right to change that when I think of something better. In fact, if you have an idea for a name, post it on my Facebook page.)

Send your questions about being or being with an introvert to professionalintrovert@gmail.com, and I’ll Tell You What I think. I don’t promise to get to each and every question but I’ll hit a wide range of topics.

First up: A question from a young woman trying to figure herself out.

I'm a 16 year old girl. I recently started reading your book because I've been researching introverts. From the research and few pages of reading, I have concluded that I am an introvert.

I told my mother and she thinks I'm wrong and that I'm just putting those types of thoughts into my head. Since she is an extrovert and loves to talk to people, she thinks there is something wrong with me and I should more be social. I tell her that I'm naturally like this, I like being alone at times and I like a small group of friends, but she uses my childhood to prove me wrong. She mentions how I used to be an outgoing girl who talked all the time and had lots of friends. And, yes, I was that type of girl but I changed when I entered middle school. I feel like I slowly changed to be quieter and more reserved in middle school and then BAM, became full-on introvert in high school.

Is my mom right? Are you born an introvert or is it something you develop? I wasn't always like this, I used to be an extrovert. Sometimes I believe the bullying from middle school damaged my personality and now I am completely confused. Not sure if it’s my mom who’s putting those thoughts into my head, but she's making me rethink if this is something serious or not.

                                                                                                 —Is Mom Always Right?

Ah, parents. They want so much for us to be happy. But the older we get, the more complicated that is. And adolescence is a time of so much flux, teasing apart what is your “real” personality and what you are just trying on for size isn’t easy.

From what we know about introversion, it does appear to be inborn. It’s what we call a trait, and it’s part of who we are. At the same time (and to confuse matters), there is also a “state” of introversion, which is when we behave introverted. We might behave more or less introverted at different times—including through different periods of our lives. Sometimes behaving introverted doesn’t get us what we want and so we behave more extroverted for the rewards it can bring us. (A date, a job, the lead in the school play. Yeah, some introverts like performing.)

Also, there are degrees of introversion. Some people are very introverted, some people are just a little more introverted than they are extroverted. If you draw a line with introversion on one end and extroversion on the other, personality can fall anywhere between the two extremes.

And then there’s shyness, which can look a lot like introversion. The difference, though, is that shyness is about being scared. An introverted person doesn’t care about being around a lot of people all the time. A shy person might want to be more social, but is frightened. You’re right that being bullied might have made you cautious about putting yourself out there with people, and this would be a kind of shyness.

So yes, it’s possible that you are an extrovert who has been bullied into being shy. And if this is the case and you want to change that, there are ways to overcome shyness.

But it’s also possible that you are an introvert who was rewarded (with attention? praise?) for behaving extroverted as a little girl, but now find you don’t care as much about those rewards and are more comfortable relaxing into the introvert you are. If that's the case, you can’t really change your bottom-line introversion but that’s OK because there’s not a single thing wrong with it. You can accept it, embrace it, and live happily ever after with it.

Which one is it? Only you can figure that out. And to do that, the bottom-line question you have to ask yourself is: Is the way you are living your life making you unhappy?

If you are behaving as an introvert against your nature, then you will not be comfortable with spending time alone, or with having just a few friends. You might feel lonely a lot of the time. You might envy—painfully, not casually—people with a lot of friends. You might feel isolated.

If you’re shy, you might want terribly to accept invitations, but turn them down out of fear. (And, by the way, it might take some work to figure out whether you are afraid or just plain not interested.) You might yearn for conversation but panic and shut down when someone tries to talk to you.

On the other hand, if you’re a genuine introvert, you enjoy time with the people you enjoy, and you enjoy time alone. You might get lonely sometimes (most of us do and that’s our cue to connect with someone we care about), but you also relish solitude. You can behave more extroverted when you want to (I call it putting on my dog-and-pony show), but you’re also fine with laying back and letting real extroverts do the work.

Your mother wants nothing more in the world than for you to be happy, and it’s a lot easier to recognize extroverted happiness. It’s louder and bubblier and puts out electric energy. Introverted happiness is a lot more subtle, a lot less obvious. It’s waking up Saturday morning and realizing you have nothing to do. It’s an afternoon hanging out with one person who knows you almost as well as you know yourself. It’s a rainy evening and a good book. For extroverts, who thrive on the energy of other people, it can look a lot like moping. So they worry.

You are wise to weigh your mom’s concerns against your own feelings. She’s known you a long time and is looking out for you. Ultimately, though, only you can decide if you are a contented introvert or a depressed or fearful extrovert. And then decide what, if anything, you want to do about that.

And Mom—perhaps you’ll take a peek at my book or this blog and see if anything I've written resonates with your understanding of your daughter. I’ve heard from many adult introverts over the years who have told me how difficult it was to be misunderstood by well-meaning parents, and the effect it had on their self image. Maybe you do or maybe you don’t misunderstand your daughter’s nature, but it can’t hurt to entertain the idea that she might actually be an introvert. And I promise you, introversion is not incompatible with happiness.  

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Check out my books, Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever AfterThe Introverts Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World; 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Goand The Yankee Chick’s Survival Guide to Texas.

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