Everyone, at some point in their lives, call themselves an introvert. If you’re at home on a Friday night, tucked into bed with a book, the introvert label comes out like a speeding bullet. But what does it truly mean to be an introvert? Despite what pop culture would want you to believe, introversion is often a package deal that comes with frustrating obstacles to navigate. With that, here are a list of 12 such obstacles for introverts to navigate on a daily basis (though I am confident that there are many more than these).
#1 Finding time in a busy day to just be by yourself
Whether it’s work, school, errands, prior engagements, or some combination of them, suffice it to say that life is a constant pain in the neck when it comes to filling up your daily routine. With all this going on, it can be actually quite difficult to schedule some time just for you and you alone. Add on other parameters such as children, spouses, pets, or roommates and that little anthill of a problem starts to become a mountain. And with society’s expectation of an individual being highly socially active combined with the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding social withdrawal, the difficulty of finding and having alone time becomes an external problem that (at least, in the experience of this writer) often leads to accusations of antisocial behavior, laziness, and rudeness.
#2 The “You’re not an introvert. You’re just shy” line.
This is an all-too-common occurrence for introverts everywhere, and it goes back to the expectations from society to be socially active and engaged. For the majority of people, the concept is black and white: if you talk to many people and have friends, you are very social and friendly; if you spend a lot of time alone and/or have little or no friends, you are shy and afraid of being in contact with other people. The possibility of willfully choosing to withdraw oneself from the larger crowd does not enter into the picture and constitutes the gray area in social relations and communication. While indeed, humans are social creatures and have a biological need to have social contact with others, spending a few hours each day or a whole day by yourself will not break any biological or cosmic laws. (It is important here to note that introversion does NOT equal being completely locked up alone without ever going out. That’s agoraphobia and is very different from introversion).
#3 Turning down invites and saying “no”
Once again, this one connects to the stereotypes surrounding being outgoing versus preferring solitude. It’s a point of humor that appears in dozens of movies, TV shows, and books–you’re inside by yourself while everyone else is out partying. “I can’t believe she’s not here! This party is fantastic and she’s up there with candles and a book. What’s wrong with her?” Maybe she desires time to herself to unwind from the stresses of the week or maybe she wants to enjoy a new book or a new movie in the comfort and solitude of her own home. Or maybe she has anxiety and feels uncomfortable around large crowds, especially when they’re filled with strangers. Yes, anxiety certainly can be a component of introversion. Whatever your reasons for turning down that invite to the opening of that hot new club, or having to say “no” to a friend’s double date suggestion, or any other situation, the fact that the idea of some temporary social withdrawal immediately raises red flags is a constant thorn in the sides of introverts.
#4 Coming up with a reason why you’re turning down an invite
Continuing on from #3, the next hurdle to leap over is giving a convincing reason for why you’re not interested in going out on the weekend with everyone. I say “convincing” because there’s a certain amount of acting involved on the part of the person turning down the invite. A straightforward answer of, “I just prefer to be by myself tonight” is very likely to be answered with a barrage of questions regarding the person’s mental and emotional states. Yes, these issues can be involved in an individual’s introversion but generally speaking, this rush to judgment is not only a headache, it’s also hilarious. That the idea of choosing not to be part of a social gathering in favor of quiet time alone is a sign of brokenness and sickness reveals the face of the status quo and proves the wise, old axiom that people fear what they do not understand. Introverts, here’s a simple tip: when stuck in this situation, just say the truth rather than tire yourself out with trying to lie and look “normal.” If your friends or the people questioning you are understanding, compassionate, and human in any way, they’ll accept your response without criticism or further pestering. And if they don’t, then you know all you need to know about them already. Forget them and keep being you.
#5 Outwardly expressing your intangible thoughts and feelings
For introverts, time spent in solitude is not time wasted. Even when a book is being read or music is being listened to or a movie is being watched, an introvert is off in their own thoughts and mental world. This is not necessarily daydreaming. It can be meditation on a certain idea or thinking of ways to bring about a solution to a perplexing problem. It can be fixating on a certain past event and feeling guilty or embarrassed (we’ve all been there). It can even be just wondering how one can improve themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or some combination of them. The point is, an introvert’s mind is a palace of mental exercise and there are many times when the resulting feelings and emotions brought about by thinking in solitude are too difficult to describe in words and spoken language. Music or painting, for example, may suffice in conveying some speck of it into the external and physical world, but there are just as many times when they can only exist in the mind of the thinker/dreamer. This can cause frustration, anger, sadness, and anxiety because of not being able to adequately air your feelings or discuss certain experiences and memories.
#6 Balancing time with friends and time alone
Like #1, this difficulty is rooted in the busy and chaotic routine which life introduces into everyone’s day. This one becomes more personal, however, because it has to do with people close to you and people whom you care about. As being a friend to them, the last thing you want to do (hopefully), is hurt them by not being there for them or allowing them to be pulled out of your life. For the introverted individual, an almost-tightrope walk must be done to maintain the level of close friendship and relationship while also allowing time to spend alone and away from the chaos of the world. Some friends, no matter how much they may care about and enjoy the introvert’s company, may struggle to understand why they feel the need to withdraw themselves from everyone, resulting in tension which could lead to broken friendships or relationships.
Anxiety has been mentioned already in this list, but here specifically it is in reference to the feeling of “missing out” on potentially memorable events and life moments. This fear of missing out, or “FOMO” as it’s sometimes referred to, can mushroom into depression if the introvert is not careful (I speak from experience). Anxiety can also lead to feelings of loneliness (remember, introverts are still human) and an introvert may therefore desire friendship or romance in order to experience happiness and reduce their anxiety. But this contrasts with their preference for remaining with themselves and away from others. The dilemma is an archetypal catch-22: they feel most comfortable alone but can develop loneliness. So to combat the feeling of being lonely, they should seek out more social situations, which they don’t favor. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
The feeling and fear of losing the opportunities to experience joyful moments and fun times can cascade into feelings of failure and hopelessness. Life, as we all know, is a constant roll of the dice and any moment, any second, could be our last. With that existential hurdle in mind, it’s easy to see why the feeling to just stop swimming against the current can bloom into outright shutdown and withdrawal. Depression can also arise as a response to the anxiety experienced through feeling like missed opportunities and happy times were not taken advantage of. For many, this depression and anxiety act together as a one-two punch to the heart, leaving a mind trapped between an emotional rock and a hard place.
#9 Total withdrawal from the world
Introversion is a preference for solitude over chaotic environments. As such, it is not a retreat from the wider world nor a disorder founded on severe isolation. However, if an introvert is going through the cycle explained in the past few paragraphs, it is possible that it can coalesce into emotional and physical withdrawal from friends, family, work, school–any or all environments applicable. The beauty of experiencing an internal world all your own is twisted and hideously transformed into a prison of pain and suffering. Where before was a fountain of dreams, imagination, and creativity is now a pit of despair, sadness and hopelessness.
#10 Being skeptical of nearly everyone you come into contact with
This is not necessarily a de facto aspect of introversion nor is it a required “symptom” of being an introvert. However (at least, in my personal case), it is an obstacle that blocks the achievement of happiness as an introvert. In today’s world, more and more emphasis seems to be placed on maintaining the status quo–in education, philosophical thinking, cultural attributes and behavior, and social conditions. The introvert dares to stand against the tide as a rebel against this tyrannical system, and very possibly suffers for it. It is a long and hard fight filled with frustration and setbacks, but victories are possible; a life of introversion is still a beautiful thing worth celebrating and embracing in light of this struggle. There is always hope, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.
#11 Who to express yourself to
This one is especially difficult for introverts and relates in many ways to #5 and #10. For one thing, feelings, thoughts, and discoveries are so fluid, intense, exciting, and irresistible to conceal. The need to share these outwardly with someone becomes almost mandatory. But this presents a problem: just who can be enlisted to receive these outpourings? Who is able to comprehend them, to listen without criticism, without judgment, to take the time to offer their own insight and opinions? Ask an introvert and the likely answer to these questions is either a very small amount of people, one single individual, or no one at all. The world at large is taught to go with the flow, an attitude that often stifles creativity, innovation, individuality, and abstract and diverse thought and feeling. The introvert, being naturally inclined to retreat from this space and enter into a whole separate world of their own, is neglected and cast aside; or worse, becomes a target for ridicule and cheap laughs.
Reading this list, you may think that being an introvert is not worth it and more of a route to unhappiness rather than a journey of enlightenment and improvement as a human being. You may also find that it is much more than just a decision to stay inside on the weekends. It is not, but it IS something worth embracing and experiencing. Many of the things on this list are not set in stone. The great thing about life is that you never know what can happen a minute, an hour, or a day from now. Life as an introvert is filled with laughs and happiness, memories waiting to be created, and events waiting to be experienced. With that, the final thing on this list is a little something we introverts find a pet peeve to deal with but still something to laugh about and enjoy every bit of.
#12 Choosing which book to read, movie to watch, game to play, or music to listen to
Some are stimulated by visual objects and activities. Others prefer physical stimulation, and still others prefer auditory stimulation. Whatever the case, finding a source of entertainment or motivation can be a sticky situation. Do I read that new J. K. Rowling novel or finish this Cussler thriller? Do I play the new Mass Effect game or stick with League of Legends for now? Does Beyoncé or Ed Sheeran fit better with a rainy day? They may seem like petty questions, but for introverts they serve to create an ideal and perfectly-suited environment in which to think, play, listen, watch, or get the creative juices flowing. If there is one thing to take away from this article, it is that introverts can often be picky people with picky tastes and picky preferences. But we are just as human as everyone else. We are not freaks, or weirdos, we are just different. And difference is what makes the world greater and happier.
(Author’s note: If you are experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety, or withdrawal from the world, please seek help. Whether it be a friend, a colleague, a teacher, a family member, etc.— remember that you matter as a person. You are loved and appreciated, and this pain is something you don’t have to go through alone.)