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An introverts guide to increasing energy (ashleyjanssen.com)
315 points by sysadm1n on Nov 21, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 143 comments

For over 25 years I wondered why social events drained me and what neurological phenomenon the metaphor "energy" stood for (which this article and many others like it don't seem to bother investigating). I've recently come to realize that it's the extent to which you see other human beings as a threat, which causes your brain to keep its "shields up", which can feel exhausting. After a observing myself a lot during social interactions, I've noticed that I feel drained to the extent I think the people around me can potentially judge me: I feel highly drained during extended family events, class reunions or ceremonies, but I feel perfectly fine amongst a small group of friends who have a don't-give a-sh*t attitude toward social propriety. I've also noticed that alcohol (a disinhibitor) can dramatically reduce the drain. It's also significantly reduced if I find a table with a few people I like, and get engrossed in a deep discussion and end up forgetting that I'm surrounded by other tables.

Perhaps this energy we speak of is the energy the brain expends to continuously compute the requirements of the social contract in members of our species who don't have it sufficiently hardwired.

I recently had a similar epiphany, but for me, the judgement I found was internal. Essentially, when in social situations where I do not understand all of the expectations (my SO, long-standing friends, familiar work settings), I'm not able to be in the moment, and have what I have described as a "monitor process" running, analyzing the situation, my interactions, peoples reactions to them, etc. Running that "monitor process" (yes, I'm a computer nerd, how did you know) is _exhausting,_ but effective.

For example, people say I'm good with kids, but it is definitely not natural. I'm redlining that process to evaluate the situation and react appropriately. I know friends who just "recharge" when hanging out with kids. I'd say _they're_ good with kids, I can just fake it for an afternoon (and then I need a nap).

I've also noticed it with D&D. I enjoy getting out and playing it with friends, but also, it becomes a group of new people, kinda, and you're a new person, kinda, so again that "monitor process" comes into play, and by the time we're done a session and I get home, I just kind of need to crawl into a chair and read a book in silence for an hour.

But definitely, absolutely, it's that judgement you mention that's a primary factor, I guess I just see that judgement (personally) coming as more of an internal force.

That might well match me better than the person above, in that it fits well with the fact I don't have a problem with people I can keep at a distance and where I understand the expectations just fine (e.g. holding a speech happens within a very narrow set of parameters; I don't need to interact much with people) draining me, but even my son is exhausting (I still love spending time with him, but need time to "recover").

I just made this account to say that this really resonated with me. I also have a decent size of group of friends who I can relax and feel energized afterwards. We also drink and generally don't have a lot of social formalities.

But nothing drains my energy like my family and in-laws. We are from developing country with a lot of social and religious rules. And whenever I am with them I am not being myself. I have to keep my shield up.

Also I disagree with another sibling commenter said that the most of judging is only in our own mind. In my case when I turned 40, I decided enough is enough, I will just be myself with my family. I slowly lowered my guards, talked about movies that I really like, how I really treat my kids, what I really do on weekends, stopped eating obscene amount of food with them, etc.

And immediately, there was onslaught of judgemental comments, comments about accepting our new countries culture and forgetting our better culture (\s). But what really bothered me was the comments about my parenting style and how I was ruining my kids' life.

It's only paranoia if they aren't judging you.

There is this phenomenon called “the mere exposure effect“:

Merely exposing yourself to a situation again and again will lessen your anxiety and put the kinds of automations in place, in terms of perception and behavior, that will make you feel “comfortable“ (i.e. allow you to handle the baseline situation on autopilot, so your energy is free for higher level functions, such as strategy or simply enjoyment).

This means that, being an introvert, you can make yourself tremendously more comfortable in extraverted [1] situations simply by going to a bar or a coffee shop twice a week and spending time there. Simply being there slowly gets you used to the environment. (It’s very similar to desensitizing a dog to fireworks, for example. Sorry! :))

Also, I suspect this is what actually creates these differences in personality types in the first place. Some people get really comfortable being by themselves, and others get really comfortable being around others. It starts in early childhood, and becomes a self reinforcing cycle. In many ways, it makes sense to do more of that which you’re already good at. Changing your environment is often more profitable than trying to change yourself.

I think the exposure effect only works well if your exposure was neutral or positive, or how you weight negative vs. neutral or positive experiences. For people who ingrain negative experiences more strongly than the others, one bad experience could outweigh 10 neutral or positive ones.

So if introversion is some strong social anxiety, and you have one bad social experience at a bar, it could just reinforce that anxiety out of proportion to the actual reality. The brain isn't always rational unfortunately.

To this, I actually kept a log for a while, on the basis that some people do tend to remember negative experiences more than positive. And indeed, it was interesting to see how I remembered events after a few weeks vs. what I had written down on the day, and it was useful to try to be more aware of this. As a learning experience everyone ought to try this for a short period.

But I don't think introversion and social anxiety is the same thing, though I absolutely buy that they probably often co-occur. To the extent I have any social anxieties, they are very specific and limited, and don't really affect me much, but the energy drain of interacting with people does.

This deals with two different things, I feel.

I tried this - I forced myself into social situations daily for years, and kept a log to make sure I could guarantee that I actually did. It did make me far more comfortable, but it did not at all affect my energy levels.

I think comfort is probably necessary to maintain your energy, but not sufficient.

In the end I stopped because it made me miserable and tired. I don't regret having spent some time doing it, and I learned a lot, but it certainly did not change my introverted nature.

I'm sure to some people it's about comfort levels, and so I'm not suggesting it can't work, and it's probably worth trying for people who feel socially awkward. But for me the main thing it taught me was that I don't want to be a social person.

Public speaking seemed impossible to me until I actually had something I wanted to say to a given group of people. Then it felt natural. The same applies to parties or events. I enjoy them if I have something I want to discuss with the people present

Of course either case is fairly rare for me

This is actually my case, some people saw me present a topic I love to talk about would say I'm an extrovert. But in reality I rarely speak a thing in a debate about a problem I don't really care about, so people call me an introvert. I gradually don't care about the opinions anymore and just want to preserve my energy for the things I really care about.

Yes, a realization I came to awfully belatedly. As a kid, all those speeches and essays where I struggled anxiously with topics I didn’t know much about or care much about, and bullshitting is not one my strengths or preferences. Decades later, I’m rather more aware and more opinionated, but my days of addressing groups of people seem to be long over.

What got me as a kid was both not having strong opinions and worrying about whether my weak opinions would be acceptable to the other kids. Music for example was a bit of a minefield as I worried whether what I would suggest would be something others would approve of. Eventually developed much stronger tastes where I would be happy to stand by it if others didn’t like it.

I actually find large groups distracting and disorienting to the point that I have a hard time decoding conversations and that extra churn is what exhausts me in the first place. Also, trying to keep the mask on is also a bit exhausting so the moment I tell everyone that Im introverted and no longer have to pretend Im not things start to improve a bit.

Having said that, I think you have a point with the threat perception part. I do enjoy social contexts where I feel like I fit in and can be myself. The problem seems to be more with social contexts I am obligated to participate in, where I have to put on a mask of interest; probably the threat is to be found that you’re really not interested into that interaction.

> I have a hard time decoding conversations and that extra churn is what exhausts me in the first place

Yes. The more you shy away from big gatherings, the harder it becomes to decode audio signals in noisy environments. It also doesn't help if you're much smaller or taller than other people.

At some events like weddings people insist on having very loud music on making it very hard to hold any kind of conversation at the same time as not really being socially acceptable not to try and have them.

Wow, maybe this explains why I can't hear anything in large groups of people.

Just curious, have you checked your hearing recently?

For a long time I believed that I can't hear anything in large groups because I'm introvert (which I am) and large groups exhaust me. Turned out to be hearing problem.

And the thing is that I never had a feeling that my hearing is poor. But some day I got tinnitus that did not go away over time, and after some tests I learnt that I'm almost deaf for high-frequency tones. It impairs speech understanding, especially when there is a lot of background noise like on busy street... or family gatherings.

My hearing isn’t too bad, I tested it and I can hear okay. My problem is decoding speech in noisy environments, it is somewhat delayed and iffy at times. I am more inclined to think theres an audio processing issue. Haven’t tested for CAPD - central audio processing syndrome and am not sure it would help me any if I have it. Im at the stage of accepting my weaknesses, I used to be hard on myself before.

Never heard of it, but I have almost all of its symptoms. Interesting. Thank you for mentioning CAPD.

If you have CAPD, you can get a small ear filter which will actually help. (I have it and was diagnosed.)

What is that? Can you provide more info? Very curious...

The filter fits into my left ear based on a mold. It’s flesh-colored and visible when my head is viewed directly from the side. Otherwise, it can’t really be seen. It has holes in it but I don’t know its internal design. It was made almost 20 years ago, so I’m sure the state of the art has changed.

The filter limits unhelpful input into my left ear, which for me is conflicting input in voice range and high-pitched loud noises.

I was instructed to wear it for classes and meetings and to sit to the left of the main speaker when possible.

I haven’t worn it in years, but I credit it with a higher GPA and a few friendships that might have struggled to form if I hadn’t been able to hear well enough to converse.

This gives me an idea. Next time I'm going to see how much drainage I experience when I'm socializing with people I don't mind offending!

It could be also symptom of ADHD.

For me the draining part is small talk. I don't really feel confident in my ability to small talk and I also really don't like to do it. But I feel it is a kind of bonding ritual between strangers that I don't understand. I feel that most people don't even think about it and can just do it naturally, like riding a bike. But for me it is like juggling ten balls. Even checking out groceries with a cashier is really draining.

I used to feel this way until I heard an explanation that made it click ever since. Small talk is a channel with a single bit of information, which is "I am not your enemy." This is different from "I am your friend." It's the same reason monkeys pull bugs out of each other's fur.

All people want from you when making small talk is for you to talk about the inane things in your life with a positive energy. The inane chatter shows you're normal and relatable (you're someone who's going to enjoy the latest TV show and get burgers for lunch, instead of shooting up a school), and the positive energy shows you're not harboring ill will towards them.

Similar: I think of it as the "I'm not crazy and/or dangerous" indicator. It also allows you to assess how compatible you'll be conversationally.

It's the handshake portion of the Human Data Exchange Protocol (HDEP). I'm fine with that, but similarly to the previous poster, I'm lost when small talk goes beyond the first few transactions. I usually don't know what to say and/or don't usually care about what they are saying.

> The inane chatter shows you're normal and relatable (you're someone who's going to enjoy the latest TV show and get burgers for lunch, instead of shooting up a school)

"Relatable" carries a lot of water here. If you're a woman in a roomful of men, somebody who grew up rich in a room full of people who grew up poor, or maybe don't enjoy watching the latest TV shows or eating burgers, this doesn't reduce the stress of small talk.

I totally agree with what you're saying about the goal of small talk, but that the goal is simple authentication doesn't make the implementation simple or hacking it trivial. People are sniffing around for in-group stuff, and its a test you can fail quickly.

Also, if you fail, now you've fallen into the "shooting up a school" category.

So my answer: talk about the weather today, in the recent past, and projected into the future. Discuss how you both arrived at the place you are at (traffic, routes...) If you were both around when someone else said something interesting earlier, talk about that. Seize upon any answers that hint at something the person you're talking to is passionate about but that you are not passionate about. Ask questions about those. If they start to bore you to death, act like it's all too complicated for you, and either GOTO 10 or drift away. If they don't, then you're having a good time and learning something you didn't know before.

So you are suggesting I should be making small talk to reassure people?

The interesting thing, and I tested this extensively years ago in an attempt to be more social, is that it takes very little. Most people don't care about you talking, as much as being given the right signals. And most people love to be the ones talking.

Here's an "exercise": Next time you're in a shop, get your wallet ready before you get to the cashier. At the cashiers most people look down at their wallet or at their shopping, and so giving cashiers eye contact is like a super-power. Look them in the eye and say "how are you?" as you pay. And rather than hurry, pause at that point for a second.

It's absolutely remarkable how much of a difference it made, to the point where I dialled it back because it led to too much extra social contact for me. E.g. I also started greeting the bus drivers at my local bus route, and within a week one of them recognised me at the gym and started talking to me regularly. I'd lived there and taken the same bus for a decade prior to that and never gotten recognised. At the shop near where I worked, cashiers who had never said a word to me in the previous years, suddenly started telling me their life stories, and I'd observe them rush to open new lanes when I approached and there was a queue, sometimes even specifically telling me. And I made no effort to actually hold a conversation beyond that "how are you?" or occasionally "how was your weekend?" once I'd talked to them a couple of times.

The point being that you can learn a handful of little "magic" incantations that basically hand all the job of the chatting over to the other person, and leave you basically doing simple "followups" like asking "really?" or agreeing.

The irony is that doing that, you can let people learn absolutely nothing about you, and they'll still go away with a positive impression of you because you gave them an opportunity to talk about the things they care about.

If you're interested in that approach, Leil Lowndes has books that are quite useful in offering advice that are relatively pragmatic in this way of how to "be social" without necessarily being a chatterbox. I think "Goodbye to shy" is one of them.

The biggest problem for me is I hate wasting time listening to people prattle on. I am aware that I can befriend people, most of the time I don't want to because I don't expect more than endless boring information about their drive to work or the weather or whatever.

Usually I'd rather be neutral and anonymous and not have to stand and listen. Of course this isn't ideal in a work environment, but honestly there's very few people that I actually enjoy listening to, and even less that I enjoy talking about myself to. I'm a private person and at work that becomes difficult.

I get that. I feel much the same myself. It's a tradeoff between what you're willing to sacrifice for the sake of building a relationship with someone. For me, experimenting with it was helpful in that it taught me that on one hand I didn't want to be social most of the time - I at one point thought that if I just got better at it I'd learn to like it, but I don't. On the other hand, being better at it did make it easier to put up with selectively doing it when it feels like it's worth it - e.g. with people whom I want to be able to work more effectively with for example. It can also help in being able to at least lessen the pain to get better at redirecting the conversation to be the least annoying possible.

100% agree with all that.

Knowing how to appear sociable is an important skill, I can do it but find it quite mentally draining.

I suspect that I just don't think like most people, I prefer deep one-on-one conversations to superficial stuff.

Having said that, I do understand the paradox that I will never get to the deep conversations without having to get through the small talk with someone I don't know well, but at that stage I don't even know if they're the kind of person who is capable of or even wants to have a deep conversation at all... I haven't worked that one out yet.

I think it's because of time pressure. I don't ever seem to be able to find enough time for myself as it is. I have much more "free" time than most people, but my hobbies seem to automatically and seamlessly fill whatever time I have! Most people don't seem to be ever become so focused on their hobbies, except people on the internet with their super-detailed sites on niche topics, but I never seem to meet them, or perhaps I just never elicit their obsession out of them.

If I had unlimited time with no responsibilities, maybe I would feel like I have more time to chat with others, but that's not reality, and at least up until now I have not once ever felt like I have as much free time as I'd want.

Just rambling now, but it boggles my mind how anyone could ever get a chance to feel bored with so much interesting stuff in this world.

>It can also help in being able to at least lessen the pain to get better at redirecting the conversation to be the least annoying possible.

Haha, this resonated with me.

I will try to focus on redirection rather than avoidance strategies. Thanks for that.

I read a quote recently, "Be curious, not judgemental", and I will try to do that.

> But I feel it is a kind of bonding ritual between strangers that I don't understand.

I see it as exploratory. You're just trying to find some common ground with someone you don't know. Eventually you'll find something you both like/dislike and can bond over that a little.

You can usually skip a lot of it and just ask about/mention something that interests you and if they've ever done/seen/heard/read about anything like that. If you open up about something personal, people usually respond in kind.

For instance, I've always wanted to go hang gliding and after being cooped up during the pandemic, I took the opportunity to go when restrictions relaxed a bit. Did you anything as soon as things opened up again? The pandemic is a shared misery we can all bond over.

I must add that this feeling "people judging you" is mostly YOU. That is we THINK what other people are thinking, as we don't have direct link to their brains. The intensity of this feeling is related to your personal feeling of your self worth, which again doesn't have much to do with any realistic criteria. From my personal experience people love you, find you interesting, miss you when you are not there, etc. much more that you think.

> The intensity of this feeling is related to your personal feeling of your self worth

Calling none sense. IT'S NOT IN YOUR HEAD!

There are objective levels to it.

Say I work in film making and specialize on actors wardrobes , I can make a good living, perhaps even reach a 7 figures net worth.

Fast forward award seasons comes around, during the afterparties everybody wants to talk and interact with the stars. Even if in my head my self-confidence is sky high and I am super social, approaching everybody, these people would avoid me and judge me as a weirdo, both during the party (to my face) and afterwards.

In that moment I am an obstacle to their real social goal of the night: interacting with Jennifer Lawrance, taking a picture with her, or even getting any reaction from her (including negative ones and extremely negative ones such as flipping the bird or telling people off).

This is an extreme example , of course, but generally people go to social gatherings and have a pretty clear idea of the person or even the profile of people they want to interact with.

This means that people do , in fact, judge or pre-classify or create standings in their minds, and if you aren't one of those sought after people then an interaction with you will most likely received as a disappointment compared to an ideal scenario that they had built in their own minds.

This means that you'd be judged.

I think people just not think about people that don't matter to them.

Well it's not that much better.

Being irrelevant and being hated/laughed at are the same thing essentially.

Meaning they are both something else compared to the desired outcome: being loved and respected.

It's not and context matters. Passerby are generally irrelevant to other passerby.

> Passerby are generally irrelevant to other passerby

When you are in a super-optimal and franly desirable situation you are never just a passerby and thus you are never irrelevant.

Jennifer Lawrance, for example is never classified as a passerby and thus she's never irrelevant.

In response to your earlier comment, say the orfer of preference is the follwing:

1) Being loved and cheered by a crowd

2) Being ignored by a crowd

3) Being hated and actively threatened by a crowd.

Irrlevancy might be at no.2 , but it's notorious that second place is the last place

The world is a mirror and you are looking into it.

I don't fully disagree, but I am constantly judging others (much to my dismay). And, then I also see articles like "Research indicates that only about half of perceived friendships are mutual" (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12246819).

I don't think this is completely true, because I'm fairly sure I have an accurate idea about how people feel about me, and am rarely surprised. I do think it is more true for some than others.

Like you, I blame it on the Illusion of Transparency: when we try to guess what other people are thinking about us, we do so with complete awareness of ourselves, so that model we make of other people is unnaturally good at seeing our flaws, especially the ones we're making an effort to conceal. Not only are people generally great at lying (they're not going to see through you), but they're likely also not paying that much attention to you.

I very much disagree. Near every single person I talk to on any regular basis talks about other people "behind their back", whether it is to say good thing or bad things. Those are judgements.

For every comment I have ever read about how "that person working at X store doesn't care about what you do / buy", I know a handful of people who are that person working at that store who talk to no end about the various kinds of customers who enter their store. It's great feel good motivator to those who are oblivious to the lie, but it is a lie none the less.

I had an upbringing where I was very much judged. And even in adulthood, my experience is that I like myself fairly well, but I am well aware that other people do not normally take to me, are not capable of grasping what I’m about or seeing any value in it, etc.

I concur with what you say, but rather than social threat, I think of it as over-stimulation and sensory overload. Rather than being socially introverted, to me the challenge is dealing with the sounds, visuals, distractions and general chaos of most social situations. It feels more like having a tennis ball cannon aimed at ones head rather than having to keep ones guard up and shield oneself against others.

Sounds like there are different ways to define or come across as introverted. I attribute my disposition more to sensory sensitivity reminiscent of autistic or ADHD-like traits rather than social anxiety.

Very Similar here.

I have recently discovered I get a lot of energy from Teaching kids or even just watching Kids play. Playing around with them may drain my physical energy, but mentally I feel so much better every time. Whenever I see them I see infinite possibilities. The world is so much better it is now than it ever was, despite I know all the shit that is happening in real world. And I have no problem speaking with Groups of parents in any social settings. And in a social event where our interest aligned like some technology forum.

But as you said I do get burnout in my previous settings with Business Meetings, I have to shield up, and after been through a lot of shit I know it is basically war zone. Not just outside but often a lot of in-flighting within companies. It is tiring. Especially when I am almost 100% correct in predicting outcome, while often tasked with fixing it. And the people judging on you because you are XYZ. I still remember the day I got promoted everybody's faces changed. And then later you know they all want a piece of you.

And an unpopular opinion, I really like Peter Thiel's take on it, most extrovert are low conviction people. And they are also the ones that tends to suffer from herd mentality. While also offering their herd views to the others since extrovert tends to run the world. And that is how you get herd mentality from top to bottom.

not sure if this is backed up by scientific data or not but this is an interesting perspective ive never considered.

Anecdotally: I notice as my confidence grows I enjoy social gatherings more and am less tired afterwards, whereas 5 years ago almost every social event would be tiring, now some are actually energizing.

I've noticed the same. I think self-confidence grows with age and we become more and more comfortable in our own skin. But then at some point (perhaps in our fifties) we pass a threshold and enter the witty curmudgeon territory.

Edit: on the science bit. Yes, this is merely what I tell myself. But if we were to test this, perhaps we can do so by monitoring the glucose consumption of brains of introverts in different types of social situations?

> I've recently come to realize that it's the extent to which you see other human beings as a threat, which causes your brain to keep its "shields up"

Thanks for this insight. It says clearly something I've been feeling, but haven't articulated.

I've thought about taking some martial arts classes, perhaps jiu-jitsu because I know they "roll" from the first class onwards. I think it would help me get over part of my anxiety. However, I'm 40 and in mediocre shape, and I'm worried that the risk of getting injured outweighs the benefits.

I did BJJ and Pankration for a number of years, rolled a lot. There are plenty of benefits but, at least for me, it didn't change my general dislike/discomfort with small talk, people, crowds, etc. It got me used to large heavy sweaty guys being really close, sometimes smothering me, but that just doesn't translate to those other situations for me. Ironically, I'm usually more comfortable rolling with a stranger than talking with them.

Some BJJ groups will be great places to learn at your age. Look for people who demonstrate care that you are new, teach you how to defend yourself, and are generally devoid of ego/machoism. Especially the senior people leading the training. Gracie BJJ will teach you technique for months before they let you roll. That's probably not a bad thing because you'll learn how to do things and will be less likely to hurt yourself and will have time to build conditioning.

I am just a random somebody around your age in previously mediocre but now significantly improved shape since starting kickboxing. One of the most important things I learned is that all that most age related “injuries” and “soreness” etc is counterintuitively almost always caused by _lack_ of exercise rather than being too active. In fact it’s probably impossible to be so active as to outweigh the benefits you’d get, it’s basically entirely a positive feedback loop once you get started. (Note I am not talking about people who have suffered serious physical trauma and need to recover, that is something else entirely—-just more like an average couch potato).

This is interesting, but I don't think it is universal. Specifically I don't think it matches me. I find social contact even with e.g. my girlfriend or my son tiring. Even though e.g. my girlfriend is amazed at just how relaxed I seem to be. And in a sense it's true - around people I am comfortable with nothing will faze me. I can sit in a meditative state with total chaos around me with ease. But whenever I participate in any way, it drains me. Doesn't mean I don't like spending time with people, but if I participate in conversation or engage in any kind of way, no matter how enjoyable or chilled out the situation might be, I need alone time afterwards. Lockdown was so relaxing for me. Though it seems to be predominantly in-person contact (though I don't really know where e.g. video calls fall), sometimes even online interactions drain me and I just totally shut down and ignore the outside world to relax.

As an interesting addendum: To me the type of social events that are most draining are opposite of yours. When I can set myself apart (such as holding speeches, even in front of huge crowds) or by "drowning in the crowd" like in large events where I can just ignore everyone most of the time, I'm fine. It's like being alone. I held the commencement speech for my university in front of thousands of students, faculty and a TV crew. Piece of cake. Small groups where people expect interactions, on the other hand, even if they are people I'd totally trust and where I can let my guard down totally, are brutal on my energy levels and far more stressful as well.

It's also possible that you might have social anxiety, btw. Regarding introversion and "energy" - https://www.quietrev.com/why-introverts-and-extroverts-are-d...

Would you say introversion and social anxiety are two distinct phenomena? I always viewed these as existing on the same spectrum.

Personally, I say they are related. For some years I thought I had social anxiety, meaning irrational feelings of anxiety triggered by social situations.

In retrospect, I think of myself as a gregarious introvert. I love people but they wear me the fuck out. For many years I just pushed past those feelings, specifically not listening to my body as the author recommends in step 4. So I was in effect gradually training my nervous system that "social situation = pain". An important function of animal nervous systems is learned aversion to painful situations. So my feelings of anxiety about social situations were not irrational, but correct and proportionate.

Once I started taking my own health and feelings seriously, what I saw as social anxiety gradually dissipated.

For those interested in the mechanisms here, I highly recommend "The Body Keeps the Score". It finally gave me an intellectual framework for a lot of my experiences around this.

I thought the consensus was that they're distinct. In my case, I never experience any social anxiety (aside from public speaking) but I consider myself extremely introverted. I strongly prefer to be by myself doing solo activities, and never feel the need to see other people. But when I do encounter others, it's a perfectly comfortable experience and I can be as friendly and charming as anybody.

In my case, funnily enough, I find public speaking much more enjoyable than attending, say, a wedding. I guess this is very multi-dimensional thing...

I have this mental model that introversion is something you are born with and social anxiety is something that you can get during you life (for example, because of how other people treated you)

tl;dr: Enjoying being alone for long periods of time makes me an introvert. Being actively anxious at the thought of interacting with someone I don't know is social anxiety.


I think they are definitely different things. This is something I've thought about for a long time. I've come to and changed my opinion on the distinction many times throughout my life, and I probably will change them again, but I currently like how I see them.

So, here's my journey, opinions, and why I think they are different:

I used to think I was just a little shy, at least that's what other people said when they described me. I eventually came to terms that I was shy. I was just another kid who was quiet at first but would warm up to people.

Then I came across the idea of being introverted, and I was self-labeled an introvert. Other people also seemed to think so and also called me this. Same thing, I was generally quiet, but it was now because "talking to people drained my energy, and isolation regenerated it".

But then I realized I did enjoy talking to certain people, but I was scared to. I came across the idea of the "shy extrovert". For a short while I thought this was me. After a while this labeled made less and less sense to me, but I kept it since I didn't really have a better label.

Finally, I realized I had social anxiety. I realized that my fear of asking questions, or going to the gym, or to schedule appointments on the phone, or to really do any uncertain human interaction was not introversion. It was social anxiety.

However, I still feel that my contentment with being alone for long periods of time is not due to social anxiety. I still eventually become lonely. When I'm lonely, my social anxiety hinders me from seeking human interaction, but it was the introversion in the first place that enjoyed the solitude.

Adding a bit to the other side of the equation, I think extraversion and introversion are independent spectrums. The 'introverts get energy from being alone, extraverts get energy from social interactions" explanation implies that introverts can function as hermits in total isolation and extraverts have no need for 'me time'; this is not my experience. Almost everyone has some baseline social needs that need to be met, and almost everyone needs some quantity of time alone.

As an alternative to alcohol, I found a low dose of cbd oil helps "drop the shields" without any side effects.

Yeah this is it. Once you stop thinking "all these people will probably judge me or dislike me" or "I need to be on the defensive" when you don't even know the people there, social events become much easier.

Describing the "energy" as the mental energy spent coping with the social environment is a very good insight. I found myself exhausted after a long conversation, especially one to one highly technical discussion. If it's a group and I can sit back to listen to others and to interject from time to time, I don't feel drained.

Yes, I sometimes wonder if I have "social impostor syndrome", and if this is what causes all the energy drainage.

Very insightful comment, thanks for sharing. I was thinking recently about how shame plays a big role in my relations with other people, but I hadn't connected that to social anxiety and introversion.

Energy probably = dopamine levels in this context. Also, what you describe exactly mirrors my experience.

As someone who typically gets their energy depleted around people, there are certain people that increase my energy. There are also times where I almost need to interact with people on a biological level.

Listening to my body is the thing that weirdly, used to take up a lot of energy because I wasn’t used to/ allowed to as a child. So I was constantly making difficult real-time decisions.

As an adult, I’ve learned how to listen to my body and crucially adhering to it’s signals. As someone who like to think, perhaps too much, its the best investment I’ve ever made.

My story is quite similar. I was always confused that I needed to be with people yet it drained me so much. The focus on observing my energy, as the article highlights, helped me figure things out. Somebody who figured this out about me before I did called me an "introverted people person". That seemed like an oxymoron to me, but it turns out it's exactly right!

I was in a very social role at work (managing managers) and decided I needed to be an engineer again, partly because the social nature of the job was so draining. The only thing that kept me going in management was one-on-ones with certain people who gave me energy. That helped me realize that I'm quite social when I'm with one other person that I know well and enjoy. It's groups and relative strangers that drain me. Since figuring this out, almost all my social engagements are with one friend at a time. It's so nice to consistently get energy from my social life now!

My experience is so close to yours, it's scary, thanks for writing this!

>As someone who typically gets their energy depleted around people, there are certain people that increase my energy. There are also times where I almost need to interact with people on a biological level.

I agree and think that the introvert/extrovert designation is totally relative to the specific players and the specifics of their connecting. At the end of the day, people really want to be heard and maybe these people we label as extroverts are just better at interjecting their story so that people listen to them. I wonder if any studies have been done that measure the amount of time a subject spends talking vs. listening against the their experience of being energy positive vs. negative.

I’ve noticed that there are some people who for me are a neutral. Mostly close family like my kids and wife. It’s not draining or regenerating. No person regenerates my introvert energy. I don’t really get any alone time anymore but I manage. I always thought I would die without big chunks of daily alone time but you get used to anything I guess

Could you elaborate a bit on how you weren't allowed to listen to your body as a child, and what kind of difficult real-time decisions that meant you had to make?

Also, how did you work on improving that as an adult?

Not the poster, but it's very familiar to me. I grew up in the midwest, and a friend from there says, "In the midwest we don't have bodies or feelings."

As a kid, I clearly remember having an epiphany: when people asked my how I was doing, they did not actually want to know how I was doing. There were a number of appropriate answers, "fine" first among them. If you watch the first 20 seconds of "How to Speak Minnesotan", it's this dynamic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-wx11l3nr4

The best way to convincingly say you're fine is to not know otherwise. So by my late teens I was very good at not knowing how I was feeling. After 20 years in California, I have unlearned a lot of this. Yoga especially helped, as at least with my instructor it was basically 90 minutes of learning to pay attention to the subtle feelings in my body. Unsurprisingly, paying attention to my emotional and physical health has a lot of benefits, so I am a much happier person and would never go back.

> After 20 years in California, I have unlearned a lot of this.

Hmm, I’m curious which part. If anything, I seem to notice even more of this tendency in much of Southern California compared to the upper Midwest where I also grew up. The opposite is probably the case in the SF area, however, and possibly the Bay Area in general.

Fair point. I'm in SF. Here there's a lot of focus on personal experience as primary.

@wpietri sums up what I meant very well.

I’ll just add, a concrete method of improving my ability to “listen to my body” is shifting my attention to a specific part of my body especially when I feel vague discomfort. I tend to focus on my torso or chest. This really helps center my experience around noticing instead of judging.

As a bonus, this shift in perspective also allows me to connect with others more authentically.

Parties also generally drain my energy. But I've found out something interesting. If people start playing games at a party (like card games), or if there is a discussion of a topic that really interests me, then my energy is magically replenished. Weird.

This is me exactly. I hate parties, love game nights. As long as there's something everyone is doing I can participate in, I have no problem being part of the conversation, even if the subject has nothing to do with the actual game we're playing. But as soon as there's nothing to do and I just have to talk to people and that's the only thing that's going on, I can immediately feel my energy just draining away.

This is like me in a nutshell. If there's something to do then I can join in pretty naturally. Trying to find topics to talk about with strangers on the other hand can be quite difficult depending on my state and energy level. On some days I'm tired and just dgaf and the end result is extremely awkward interactions

It helps me when there is a common focus on an activity rather than just on people. Parties can be not so great; playing music with people, which is very similar, I'm totally fine with.

I'm the opposite. Break out a structured game in a party setting, and I'll need a nap ASAP. Let everyone amorphously mingle, and I can last for hours.

Technically introversion refers to people whose dominant cognitive function[1] has an “internal model” of the world, vs. extraversion where the world is the model.

Introverts need down time because it takes processing time to update the internal model in response to stimuli.

Extraverts don’t like being alone because when the world around them is empty “nothing is happening”.

It’s not the enjoyment of company or solitude that makes us introverted or extraverted.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_Types

The definitions given in the article are the ones I would give; see e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraversion_and_introversion#...

I'm not familiar with the theory that only introverts have an "internal model" that needs updating. I would think we all run on models at various levels of cognition (given that the brain doesn't contain any actual "external world" in it, only models), which we update both in real-time and in later processing (such as while sleeping).

The "the world is the model" is a contradiction in terms. Please define what a "model" means in this context.

It bothers me when people just say "you are introverted" or "you are extroverted". Labelling people like this (i.e. a binary one or the other choice) is not helpful. Don't 100% match the definition for X? Then you are Y!

I think in reality it is better to acknowledge that - like many things - introversion/extroversion is a broad scale with many shades of grey, and your personal position on the scale can and does change from situation to situation.

You will ebb and flow over time - don't let over people tell you how to think and behave! :)

>It bothers me when people just say "you are introverted" or "you are extroverted". Labelling people like this [...] is not helpful [...] and does change from situation to situation.

I like to label myself as "introverted" because it matches my stable trait regardless of changing activities. Similar to labeling myself as "right-handed" because it's an underlying stable trait even though I press Ctrl+C on the keyboard with my left hand. Using my left hand in many circumstances that change from situation to situation still does not change my "right-handedness". Likewise, being at a social event still does not change my "introversion".

But since the word "introvert" bugs some people, I've previously asked what an alternative label could be to describe a stable preference but nobody suggested one yet: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27794741

If you're renting golf clubs, knowing you're right handed is useful. I struggle to find the equivalent use for introvert/extrovert label. Maybe you have a good example?

Maybe I, not OP, can chime in with an example. Since labeling myself an introvert I was better able to know what attending bigger social come togethers (like team events, family reunions, conferences and the like meant to my "energy" level.

I liked how in another thread a commenter described this "energy" as maybe the energy necessary for our brains to keep the shields up.

Attending a social event to me means I know it will deplete me. It will require me to find a way of refueling afterwards. I now know better when and why to make this trade off. Because there are benefits to attending certain situations/events - I just need to balance them for my mind and body with taking care of myself.

It is like doing a grueling but necessary work. I know it needs to be done and I know how to take care for me afterwards.

And on the other hand it also helped me to understand, why certain situations (like being with a few select friends and talking all night) left me invigorated and provided said "energy".

So labeling myself that way provided a heuristic for managing my mental state and energy level better than before.

As someone who would call themselves introverted as well, the most useful function of that label is, that it gives people the chance to classify my reactions to them more easily.

Me not being in contact with you every day of the week means nothing about me liking or disliking you.

Of course "introvert" is a broad label and no single individual fits that definition squarely — however so are most ofher words we made up to describe the inner life of people.

While I would welcome a more differenciated vocabular to describe how we are inside, at some point you will have to over-generalize if you want to use it in daily communications.

For me, it's very similar to your golf clubs example: knowing that I'm right handed allows me to make an informed decision about what clubs to purchase. Knowing that I'm introverted allows me to make an informed decision about how to plan my free time.

I agree with you, but the article explicitly covers this, and isn't making a binary argument for introversion vs extroversion.

It says as much in the friendly article:

Introversion and extroversion are also a spectrum rather than binary.

(They even bolded it.)

That's because it's a "team sorter" that internet discussion boards respond to like catnip. It is about as relevant as Meyers-Briggs or horoscopes.

> I think in reality it is better to acknowledge that - like many things - introversion/extroversion is a broad scale with many shades of grey, and your personal position on the scale can and does change from situation to situation.

"Everything is shades of grey" seems a lot less helpful than a nice binary option that actually renders a judgement.

It was however very useful for me when I learned the labels ~10 years ago. Before that, one was either outgoing or shy. I felt like neither.

Suddenly there was a new axis as well, explaining what I felt. And news articles started popping up, people talking about the concept etc. Made it much easier being an introvert.

You are obviously an NF temperament, most probably the ENFP personality type.

Extraversion/Introversion is the first distinction of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I find it remarkable that exactly the people who get incensed at the MBTI "because everything is shades of gray and you can't sort people into neat 16 bins", are those who are at the very very end of at least two of the four scales.

> don't let over people tell you how to think and behave!

Ironic, isn't it?

INTJ last time I did it.

But then it varies depending on what mood I am in the day I do it.

That is my point - don't label people with "oh typical ENFP response!"/"You are ENFP - this is why you think what you think" It is unhelpful at best, and at worst a slippery-slope way of dismissing people's views and opinions - without extreme care and self-monitoring you risk (consciously or not) making the same snap judgements based on other aspects of people "Oh typical gender/race/religion/age response! This person is X so they alway do/think Y". Dangerous.

I will never understand the idea of "type". There are like billions people on earth and for some some reason all of them can be described as one of 16 types. Just that. There so many reasons that people do what they do and behave like they behave that you can't just simplify that to 16.

It might bother you, but extroversion and introversion are both ends of a rigorously documented personality trait, one of the Big Five.

Everyone, (literally) is in one camp or another. Particularly stable people will sit around the median boundary, but will ultimately conform, even if slightly, to one camp or another.

Yes, well documented in psychology, a field whose professionals even acknowledge as a psuedoscience, if a useful one.

>Particularly stable people will sit around the median boundary.

Ok, so you're saying it is more than just a boolean then?

It's scientifically observable and proven, far more rigourously so than the "feeling" of the original comment, (a heuristic we all use), so what are you getting at?

Are you suggesting that all of psychology, its documented research and phenomena is best dismissed because you decree it a pseudoscience? This is fallacious at best.

>> "Listen to your body and learn your limits"

This was the most important lesson one for me, while it was applicable. The 'Listen to your body' part, anyway. I used to get drained around others, especially big crowds. I was always watching others, and 'becoming' them by putting all my attention outside myself.

I heard of the technique of maintaining attention/focus inside the body. So I picked the belly, which turns out to work very well because there is so much sensation in that area for me. I began to focus on my belly as much as possible when I was out in public. Eventually you can begin to rapidly focus attention between yourself and others, say if you need to converse or pay attention to whatever external thing. This enabled me to become 'bored' when out in public, instead of the formerly usual mild state of panic/anxiety. It was completely life changing. Doing this made the other bullet points entirely secondary for me.

> I heard of the technique of maintaining attention/focus inside the body

meditation helped me a ton with social anxiety too. It allowed me to be OK with not knowing the right things to say.

I had been meditating (zazen) for about 10 years prior to beginning this practice.

I've read 'Personality Types' (the book where Jung define introversion and extraversion) many times by now. It is hard to understand at first, by now I am amazed about how his concepts are interpreted differently than what he intended. Introversion is a kind of filtering mechanism where your self concept (ego) overweight the importance of internal stimulis over external one (and vice versa for an extrovert).

If a subject feels 'obligated' to respond to an external stimulus (such as a party) and to expend energy in that direction, that is extraversion. If you need to learn how to monitor internal stimulus such as fatigue levels or who makes you feel good, that sound like an extravert learning how to do introversion in order to manage himself. This process of learning how to get out of your usual favored way is part of what Jung called 'individuation', psychological development which starts in adulthood.

When trying to understand the intro-extra spectrum, its not the behavior that matters the most, it is the cognition of the subject. Why did you stay alone last friday night? Is it because you had a hard week and you are tired (internal stimulus)? Do you avoid parties because you do not care that much about the feeling of the music (internal stimulus), and would rather to clearly hear others people stories and opinions (external stimulus)? How does the subject narrates his story?

I think it's better just to see the modern uses of the terms as distinct from Jung's. Term drift away from intent happens a lot. New York is now old, and St Francis of Assisi would not see much familiar in today's San Francisco.

Well if my sister tells me that her last date was 'such of a introvert' I am not going to start a lecture of Jung. However if we discuss adaptation from one way of being into another, discussing the process on self transformation in the terms of the guys who described it first might be helpful. I personally think that the modern use of introversion and extraversion are very narrow, and limit the scope of personal growth.

Sure. And I'm saying that you're probably better off finding other terms for the parts you value. As much as I love, say, Shakespearean English, I'm only going to use it in a context where other people are already familiar with what I'm quoting. If I want to communicate a point with a general audience, I'll recast whatever insight I'm borrowing into something that makes sense to them without extra effort.

I don't think extraverts need any feeling of obligation to go to a party, that's just their version of curling up alone with a book.

In my experience, the most striking difference between extraverts and introverts is that extraverts enjoy the stimulation of being around people (whether it's a party, a small group, or one on one), potentially from the moment they get up to the moment they go to sleep. They might live with three housemates, meet someone for breakfast, have a phone call with a friend just to chat, and on and on, and they don't feel drained, they feel energized. It's as natural as being alone all day is for an introvert.

I've spent many years of my life fighting against my introverted nature. I've now embraced who I am, and I respect my need to isolate & recharge. Some people (my wife included ;p) don't always get it, but I don't care. I know what I need to feel better.

I'm the same way. Even as a kid I never enjoyed parties with lots of people; 3-4 close friends is about the group size limit I can enjoy. I used to force myself to go to work functions because my wife would tell me I need to make more friends, but I just stopped going because it always felt like I was forcing myself to go so I'd seem "normal" to everyone else. Once I started doing what I want to do I felt much better, even though I can tell my co-workers think I'm depressed or something because I'd rather hang out at my desk working and listening to music than hanging out with 20+ people at the potluck in the conference room.

This article feels like something straight from Buzzfeed

I do hide in the bathroom (the sacred place where I'm guaranteed to be alone), I do the dishes as a meditation moment (don't talk to me).

I mean, I don't believe I'm an introvert. I just happen to see I have many measurable common points with that kind of "buzzfeed" definitions of introvert.

So this article feels quite accurate for me.

Oh and I have plenty of people who I like to talk to. It's just that it drains me.

If you just skim the words and look at the cartoons then yeah, feels pretty Buzzfeed-ish.

But if you give it a deep read there’s a lot of good advice in there. Maybe not so relevant to someone like myself, who’s 35 and well comfortable with his introverted habits. But if I’d read this article at 22 it would have been highly beneficial.

Have to agree.

But hopefully without the crowd of "I now identify as this, how dare you" following on.

If more people identify as introverts, maybe they'll stop hanging around the coffee pot near my desk and chatting all day.

tbh, coffee is usually more fun than work :P

I thought I was an introvert for a long time. Turned out I was actually a misanthrope. Weird.

Oh, that is interesting.

I always thought I'm a misfit, but I'm plain vanilla evil. Mostly harmless, getting the skeletons out of peoples closets and putting them in their fridge or arrange them on their sofas, so to speak.

Back then I thought I do it to help truth coming to light. Giving a hint to get better. But I realized, I do it to scare them and have fun watching them.


Nah, just kidding, really.

So, how did you learn about yourself being a misanthrope?

I don't think introversion/extroversion is a useful categorisation. Because I think it boil down just to what type of people or social situation one likes/dislikes. Introverts are uncomfortable with wider spectrum of people/situations, but they still do just fine/normally amongst people they like.

Hey! Author here. I was pleasantly surprised to see this posted! I registered an account to say thanks for sharing. If anyone has any questions or wants to chat further, feel free to hit me up. :)

> Being an introvert means, in broad terms, that you spend energy when you are with other people and you need alone time to recharge your energy. […] Be intentional about who you give your energy to

This in a way clarifies for me why I don’t like the word “introvert”. I have always wanted to be intentional about who I give my energy to, and being in groups can undermine that intention in proportion to group size.

Introversion tends to imply that someone is inside their head, concerned with self, and prefers no interaction to some. For me, the difference isn’t internal vs external, it’s more about small vs large, or maybe intimate conversation vs public conversation.

I actually seek and crave interaction, though, even though the word “introvert” fits me better than “extrovert” most of the time. I just prefer personal interaction over groups. I want one on one discussions, I want a deeper interaction than what happens at parties, I want to find people with crossover interests or people interested in making things. Or even if it’s making small-talk, I would rather engage a single person than several.

Maybe I’m overwhelmed with group dynamics; people at parties can be complicated trying to impress each other, and it makes giving and getting attention difficult and prone to superficial demonstrations. Is this why I prefer individual sports over team sports?

Everyone is introverted in a different way, and actually the best thing is let yourself be introverted for a while and let your mind figure out what’s going on. Note by my estimation this can take 12-24 months, which may be time you do not have. But oftentimes 12-24 months to sort out your psychological limits (permanently) is pretty cheap.

I love these types of articles. I have joined many FB introvert groups.

Seeing that there are others like me gives me a lot of comfort. I’m learning to adjust my expectations of myself more than trying to radically adjust myself.

You also may have joined yet another victim class echo chamber.

I don’t think so. I look at it like understanding any biological design. But I understand what you’re saying.

The graphic for "What introverts do to recharge at parties" really resonates with me. I'm going to expand on that by mentioning that one of the reasons I wanted to have children was as an accessory at social events (especially weddings - the most terrifying of all). It has worked out really well, thankfully. Especially at weddings.

Good article. I'm E/I neutral so I've had to learn many of these for my I-half.

Not so much a guide to increasing energy than a guide to draining it less (by identifying which social situations feel draining and having less of them). Not bad advice, per se, but not exactly earth shattering.

Constant judgement I experience in a social interaction is a big drain but I learning to overcome by ignoring this fact and focus on interesting aspects of theirs. You can’t build on weakness you see.

I am an extrovert which usually makes me stand out in a group of developers. I find being tuned into the needs of how introverts function has helped get along better with my peers.

This is all great.... except I have kids. I dont get to choose to have alone time. I can't tell my two year old that I just need an hour to relax.

An option: play the Q-tip game. Get any safe small object that fits in your hand. Show it to your kid and tell them the game is to get the object from your hand. Then lay down, put your hand under your body, relax, and say "go."

Rollover every little bit and let them "get it" from you every 5 mins or so. Kids usually love this, there is low energy physical engagement from you, but mostly you can just rest and enjoy the fun they are having. Can get hours of "rest" out of this with a two year old.

For the nth time the Myers-Briggs test is bogus, there's no scientific evidence that it works!

Literally in the article as soon as Myers-Briggs was brought up:

"Personality tests are full of broad generalities that should be taken with a grain of salt. Instead, personality tests should be treated as tools for self-reflection. They are indicators of tendencies, not hard and fast rules."

Just a thing to help you think about yourself, not a diagnosis.

Extraversion/Introversion is pretty deeply embedded in psychological theory, even if its not easily measured directly. FWIW

Introversion may also appear on Myers-Briggs, but it also one of the 'Big Five' personality factors, one of the most robust findings in psychology.

Some people feel better with simple labels, I get it. That's how our brain works. But still Myers-Briggs is only a toy and some people use it like a sophisticated tool.

I am introverted but identify as extraverted.

Not sure why I get downvoted. Maybe it's full of rainbow snowflakes.

I think the joke is just old, if the joke you were going for is the "I identify as an apache helicopter" type jokes.

It's just old and not interesting now, it's been 5+ years of those jokes and they don't have a bite anymore.

Well, it gets more relevant every day

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