What exactly is introversion?

It really surprises me how I’ve managed to work for so long as a developer in an industry supposedly so full of introverts, without really knowing or understanding what introversion is. The reality is though, I really don’t think many developers do truly understand what it is. I’ll often see people refer to introversion as meaning “shy” or “reclusive”, something you can “get over” or ignore and power through but the truth is much more in depth.

First of all, it’s important to state that no one person is a complete introvert or extrovert. Introversion is a scale, and we all sit at different points on that scale. When learning about introversion, you’ll likely find some traits that you completely agree with and others that don’t seem to apply to you at all. In the most part though you’ll tend to lean more towards one end than the other and this is generally how people will determine whether they are an introvert or extrovert.

One of the key things to understand about introversion is that it forms part of a person’s underlying temperament. It’s a physical feature of how that person is wired and how their brain works. Being an introvert is not something you can change about yourself. All you can do is work with it, learn to understand it, and take care of it.

That might make introversion sound like some kind of terminal illness, but the truth is, it’s really not, and being an introvert does have many positive advantages, but like most things, if you don’t understand it and learn to fulfil its needs, you can run the risk of causing yourself some serious harm.

Introvert traits

Probably the most recognisable trait of introverts will be our need for solitude on a regular basis. This can often come across as being reclusive or not getting involved, but for introverts it’s extremely important to our mental health.

Solitude is where we go to process the events of the day, but more importantly, it’s where we go to recharge. Where extroverts need human interaction to bring themselves up, for introverts the opposite is true, and in fact, too much human interaction can burn through our energy stores and leave us wiped out.

The common analogy used is that of a solar powered battery versus one that needs be plugged in to recharge. For extroverts, human interaction is their solar power, and the more they interact with people, the more energy they get. For introverts however, too much interaction drains our energy and the only way we can recharge is by heading to a quiet room and being left to ourselves.

Our introspection skills can be a real force to be reckoned with

Along with our need for solitude comes a strong sense of introspection. For introverts, introspection comes as natural as breathing. We love nothing more than to be left to wonder our thoughts and ideas, and we’ll often get called out for day dreaming or not being present in the here and now if the here and now is not something we are inherently interested in. Our introspection skills can be a real force to be reckoned with though, as we will often spend far more time contemplating and researching a topic than our extroverted counterparts and often think of issues or flaws that others might not see.The downside though is that it does take us longer to process all of that information so we can struggle to make quick decisions.

For introverts, the way we access memory is another key influencer in how we are perceived. For us, we use far more long term memory stores compared to our extrovert counterparts. How this manifests itself is that it takes us a lot longer to find and access information stored away, and so we often get left behind in fast moving conversations as by the time we think of something to add to the conversation, it has likely moved on to something completely different.

This may also be the reason why introverts prefer more deep and meaningful conversations with a few close friends than shallow small talk with whole groups of people. For us, it’s about quality over quantity as if we are going to spend the energy, we want to make sure it’s worth it.

The difference between “shy” and “introverted”

As mentioned at the start, you’ll often find people using the word “introvert” interchangeably with the word “shy”, and whilst they may share some of the same traits, such as avoiding social situations, they do so for completely different reasons.

Shyness can affect both introverts and extroverts causing them to avoid social interactions out of a fear of being judged, whereas with introversion, it’s about avoiding “crashing out”. Indeed, for some introverts the thought of standing up on a stage and presenting, or going to a christmas party is no problem at all, but don’t be surprised if they need to chill out afterwards or head off early if they feel their energy levels bottoming out.

The importance of understanding introversion

For me personally, the importance of understanding introversion, is to understand myself and to learn how to handle different situations. In the past I’d likely avoid certain situations entirely if I thought there was a risk of burning out, but now I know it’s about learning my levels and being comfortable in making decisions such as leaving a social event early if I’m feeling tired.

For extroverts and for businesses (which are usually geared towards an extrovert mentality) I think it’s really important to understand how to work well with introverts and that just because we may be the quiet types doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice worth hearing and that we should be excluded from your fun activities.

Further reading

The reality of this article is that it’s really just scratching the surface, but I hope it at least sets the groundwork for further understanding. If you’d like to learn more about introversion I can highly recommend the following books on the subject:

Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash

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Matt Brailsford

Matt is a web developer from the Umbraco community and has recently started his journey of introversion discovery.