Happy in Solitude: The Joy of Being an Introvert

Silhouette of man sitting on a park bench at sunsetI am primarily an introvert. Growing up, I didn’t give it much thought. I just remember that I enjoyed my alone time and would get annoyed if my mother pressured me to go out and play with friends. I was having fun with my books, war toys, and train sets, and did not understand what the problem was. She seemed to think I was being antisocial, uninvolved, and perhaps depressed.

It was as if I was doing something unhealthy and it was going to be her fault if she could not find a way to change me.

The thing is, I always had a few good friends. We just got together when we felt like it. Not seeing much of each other for a week or two did not matter. We always had fun when we got together, and have remained friends across time.

There were other things we had in common:

  • We liked quiet. We could hang out for long periods of time and not talk much. When we did talk, we might talk a lot. But it was fine if no one had much to say.
  • We liked alone time. It was as if we had only so much being-with-others energy. Once tapped, we would head to our caves and not come out until we felt like being with others again.
  • We did not like study groups. Constant conversation seemed more disruptive than helpful when it was time to study.
  • We were ambivalent about extroverts. We liked that they were usually friendly; that they initiated conversations in social settings; and that they liked it when we listened to them. We did not like that they talked a lot, all the time; that they got anxious or annoyed if we did not, or could not, respond when and how they wanted us to; and that they stressed so much if we did not agree with them, like we were committing a crime or something.
  • We did not understand why so many people seemed to think we should be more sociable.

One time, an extroverted girlfriend told me that my need for downtime was unhealthy, that I had a serious problem. This bothered me, so I decided to find out what people who are supposed to know about these things had to say about my inclination to introspection. I did not like what I found.

Among the descriptive terms for introverts in both standard dictionaries and psychological glossaries were: self-centered, primarily concerned with their own thoughts and feelings; reticent; lacking in energy and positive emotion; difficulty adjusting to social situations; excessive daydreaming and introspection; and withdrawal under stress.

A particularly annoying comment was found in the American Psychological Association’s Glossary of Psychological Terms—the message being that these behaviors and processes were matters of choice and, when not, may point to an underlying pathology such as a social phobia or avoidant personality disorder.

Talk about sandbagged! I was not choosing to enjoy solitary activities, I just enjoyed them. I was not choosing to be drained at times by ongoing interactions with others, I was just drained. Furthermore, I like people. When I choose to connect, I do so at a deep level, with genuine empathy.

However, according to some “experts” on human behavior, I run the risk of being perceived as seriously disturbed. Needless to say, I did not mention this to my girlfriend.

Years passed before I happened upon information about introversion that actually made sense. This information came from Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types and is the basis for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, arguably the measure of personality most widely referenced over the past 30 years.

Jung noticed that human beings have a birth nature. This nature, or psychological type, is determined by an individual’s natural and normal degree of response orientation toward one pole or the other on four behavior and/or process opposite dichotomies. Introversion-extroversion is one of these dichotomies.

A solid base of empirical evidence regarding the introverted process has grown from over 40 years of experience using the MBTI in both counseling and employment settings. Natural and normal traits and characteristics associated with the introverted process include:

  • Primary source of life energy derived from introspective processes.
  • Have limited social interactive energy. Usually require downtime to recharge when depleted.
  • Come to conclusions through reflection. Conclusions are experienced as factual reality, as self-evident, and therefore may not be expressed.
  • May have difficulty accessing words required to adequately express what they are thinking or feeling.
  • Interruptions may disrupt their connection to what they are thinking, feeling, or saying.
  • Are inner focused and, consequently, may not be aware of their impact on others.

As a general rule, the stronger an individual’s introverted response orientation, the greater the likelihood that the characteristics and traits above will apply.

Conclusion

There is a reason introverts experience a deep sense of satisfaction, even joy, in solitary pursuits, and it is not because there is something wrong with them. It is because they are, by nature, designed to generate life energy in this manner.

As with extremes in general, there is a point where one’s drive for solitude may become problematic. However, I have been working with introverted people in individual, couples, and family counseling settings for over 14 years now and, with rare exception, have found a person’s drive for solitary pursuits to be in balance with his or her degree of introverted response orientation.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Mike Jackson, MFT, therapist in South Pasadena, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Joan

    Joan

    September 24th, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    I used to be made to feel that being introverted was such a bad thing. It never felt woring to me but it seemed to offend others that I really liked spending so much time alone. I think that there were actually those people who thought that I was a sociopath because I preferred my own company to theirs!

    Over time I have become a little more comfortable with who I am and the choices that I have made and I no longer feel sorry for them. I like me and I like being with me, sometimes more than I like being with other people. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I have friends, I just don’t choose to spend all of my time with them all the time. I am okay with that and they are too.

  • Caroline

    Caroline

    September 25th, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    And see, I am the opposite. I am the person who thrives from being around and near other people all the time. I know that this makes the introverted person cringe, just the though of being around others all the time. But when I am by myself I get so lonely! I just want to be able to have someone to talk to! How do you not miss that?

  • Andrew

    Andrew

    September 25th, 2014 at 3:12 PM

    Being an introvert and a little more shy really helps you avoid the drama that others are so intent on creating. I know that not everyone is into this, but you have to admit that there is a whole lot of drama that is sometimes being played out and honestly I don’t have time for all of that. Maybe it is just my way of coping with all of that, but that sort of drama in no way appeals to me so I would rather just hang out by myself than to have to get involved in all of that mess.

  • Mike Jackson

    Mike Jackson

    September 25th, 2014 at 8:48 PM

    Response to Caroline’s comment:
    Your self description fits with the natural and normal experiential reality of extraverts. The flip side of this article would be,’The Joy of being an Extravert.’ Hopefully as individuals come to realize that these differences are natural and normal we can all move away from having to justify and defend the way we naturally are.

  • Sally A.

    Sally A.

    September 26th, 2014 at 5:29 AM

    We are all different
    have our own likes and dislikes
    why should it be up to someone else to tell us if this is right or wrong?
    If it feels good to me then what do I care?
    I know I am not weird, I might just like to do things differently than you

  • Chris

    Chris

    January 11th, 2015 at 5:57 PM

    Amen 🙏👍

  • Dave

    Dave

    September 26th, 2014 at 2:03 PM

    We all have our personal preferences, yes, but I do think that it is also important to interact with ones around you and not shut yourself off to all of the good people who may want to be a part of your life. I don’t think that people intend to smother or to not honor who you are, they may just simply wish to be a part of your life and for some introverted people they have a very hard time letting people in even when there are those who again, simply want to be around you. I suppose that this is your decision, I just hate to think that you could be missing out on something pretty wonderful.

  • KDT

    KDT

    September 26th, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    At the end of the day we all need each other, extrovert or introvert! We should learn to respect each other as we are.

  • Raewyn Court

    Raewyn Court

    September 26th, 2014 at 11:58 PM

    I like my own company heaps. I sometimes think extroverts want my company because they can’t enjoy their own. I can only take so much of them. I find them lightweight and draining but they are good and fun in small doses! I have a deep, inner, enjoyable world going on and do not envy what seems like superficiality in extroverts.

  • Mike Jackson, MFT

    Mike Jackson, MFT

    September 28th, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    To Raewyn:
    You express a common misperception of what drives the extraverted process. It is the natural and normal opposite of introverts. For an explanation, take a look at;
    https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/understanding-yourself-is-key-to-understanding-others-0710144, Mike

  • Campbell

    Campbell

    October 1st, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    I am not too sure where we all get this idea that people who are shy are unhappy and that the social butterflies are the ones who are just always happy as a lark, carefree.

    It is not always like that, there are some very extroverted people who are hiding a whole lot of pain with all of that seemingly bubbly personality and there are people who hold it on the inside who are perfectly contebt with their personality.

    I think that it is wise to not confuse extrovert with happy, because I think that we have seen in the recet past (Robin Williams) that sometimes those who seem to have it all and who can light up a room just by entering can sometimes be the ones who are feeling the most excruciating pain on the inside./

  • Destiny

    Destiny

    November 10th, 2014 at 5:38 PM

    I agree these two can be confused easily :)

  • hdavid5

    hdavid5

    March 13th, 2015 at 9:20 AM

    Why do we even have to use self-limiting words like introverts or extroverts? We spend too much time in so-called self-discovery and not enough time creating in ourselves the person we want to be.

  • Kim W

    Kim W

    March 5th, 2016 at 5:01 PM

    I think of myself as having a lot of these traits. In more recent years, I still have these tendencies but also want to connect more to others than I used to. I think introversion is fine and good but to those who want to connect and get to know another person like when I have, it really, really hurts when what may be introversion comes across as cold, and not interested. It may not be an introverts intent or they even realize they may be making others feel bad who truly want to connect and get to know them. I wouldn’t expect them to change their personality or who they or get together a bunch if they would rather do their own thing but in the very least, introverts would do well to at least smile and give a short friendly, connected-type greeting to others who are trying to connect rather than come across closed off and hurt others especially empaths like me who feel that as cold. I have noticed when some introverts open up, they will talk one’s ear off. Perhaps many just want people to show some interest before they bother. But again, in the very least, introverts could learn to at least smile or say hello, when greeted or others try to connect and leave it at that. It’s better than just closing oneself off completely. There’s people on my facebook page who will never like or comment on anything and I think a large part of it is that they are introverts! But that comes across uncaring and hurtful. I read an interesting article a while back when introverts and extroverts work together as in companies, that’s when the best ideas are made reality. Introverts have the great ideas, extroverts take the idea and sell it.

  • Mike Jackson, LMFT

    Mike Jackson, LMFT

    March 6th, 2016 at 1:41 PM

    Hi Kim: Empathic individuals are naturally vulnerable to feeling hurt & rejected by responses that seem to lack warmth (think caring or interest). Add introversion to the mix and initiating interaction with someone of interest can be quite daunting. This is particularly true if the person of interest has a natural thinking response orientation and no way of knowing that their neutral manner of showing interest can lead to a conclusion in the introverted empath that they do not like them, when they do. Since introverts tend to experience their conclusions as reality, the introverted empath may withdraw feeling hurt and rejected when no such message was intended. The only way to find out is to ask. However the level of vulnerability that an introverted empath may be experiencing at this point may be such that asking (directly anyway) may not be an option. I might add that I am an introverted empath and am sharing from my personal experience as much as my professional experience and may be overstating the difficulty.

  • pawan s

    pawan s

    March 29th, 2017 at 10:30 PM

    Being a introvert , I find every solution of my life without any suggestions of other ,,, I passed my max. Time alone with my lappy . I am happy that I m a introvert , but it doesn’t mean that I afraid from outside world ,, I just don’t like them

  • Jordan

    Jordan

    February 1st, 2019 at 9:03 PM

    I’ve had people in school talk about me like I was shy, but I just didn’t want to say anything. There wasn’t much for me to say. I’ve always been a deep thinker to I can have fun talking with myself. I’m not sure if this is unusual. To me, I am an individual from myself in a way. I don’t need people when I can learn so much from my own mind. And when I do, I like them as simple, quiet company at most times. People are always breathing down my neck and grabbing me into their situations as if I want to be in them. That’s when the title of this article comes in. My intellectual disability does not cause any of this, it is not depression either. Just here to say I’m glad there are people understanding that.

  • Mike Jackson

    Mike Jackson

    June 4th, 2019 at 12:20 PM

    Hi Jordan. Sorry to be so slow to respond. GT sent me notice of your copy months ago and I just missed it! I am glad that you found my article of some value. A natural challenge arises for many introverts when dealing with an extravert; that being that extraverts are energized by, and feel connected to self & others,
    through interaction with others while many introverts, when interacting with others passes a certain point, feel increasingly drained and disconnected from themselves. Extraverted feeling oriented are particularly stressed when and introverted friend starts to check out, assuming a lack of caring or interest which may be the case but is more often driven by a significant depletion of interactive energy. Cheers, Mike

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