The Real Difference Between an Introvert and an Extrovert Explained

People fling words like introvert and extrovert around, using them to describe people’s behavior in various social settings. 

He’s shy, so he must be an introvert. She’s so social; she’s definitely an extrovert.

But those familiar tropes get a lot wrong about introversion and extroversion.

Introvert vs. Extrovert: What’s the Difference?

Introverts don’t have to be shy, and extroverts don’t have to be social.

The difference between the two personality types is how they view the world and how they draw energy.

What’s an Introvert?

Two characteristics define introversion, and neither relates to shyness. Introverts focus on their inner thoughts more than what’s happening externally and feel more energized when they spend time alone.

Focus on Inner Thoughts

Introverts have complex internal lives. Their minds are constantly developing new ideas, and they love living in their heads where they can explore these thoughts.

Though a common trope places introverts in a creative box, they all don’t fit in it. Although their minds might create a bounty of new fantastical ideas, they might also have ideas about science, politics, history, or technology.

Introversion isn’t about the type of idea (creative or realistic); it’s about where and how the idea gets processed and focused. For introverts, it all happens internally.

Feeling Energized Alone

Introverts have limited energy for social events. They’ll go out and talk to people, but they find it draining. They need time and space to recharge after parties and events.

Not Shy

The most common misunderstanding about introverts is that they’re shy or experience social anxiety.

Though some introverts may struggle with social anxiety, it’s not a defining characteristic. Introverts can be charming and charismatic, exceptional speakers, and great teachers.

Social Introverts

Introverts can enjoy social interactions; sometimes, you can’t even tell they’re introverted. However, it’s exhausting for them. They must go home and recharge alone to feel refreshed.

Signs You’re an Introvert

Though each individual is different, here are some common signs you might be an introvert:

  •       Social events are exhausting
  •       You need to find a quiet corner to recharge
  •       It’s easier to work through problems in your head
  •       You understand the concept of “social battery”
  •       You get lost in your thoughts
  •       Ideas constantly flow through your mind
  •       You need quiet to concentrate
  •       Small talk bores you

What’s an Extrovert?

Extroverts experience the world in the opposite way. They process ideas externally and gain energy from social situations.

Processing Ideas Externally

Extroverts can’t quietly sit and ponder a problem in their head. They need to sense the ideas in some way to process them.

You’ll most commonly find them processing their ideas auditorily by talking them out with whoever will listen. However, any sense will do. Some may use journals to see their thoughts take form on paper or use touch to build the concepts they have in their heads.  

Feeling Energized With People

Extroverts draw energy from those around them. Their social battery is always full, and they need social interactions to recharge in preparation for being alone.

Shy Extroverts

People commonly associate extroverts with the life of the party, but that’s not always the case. Some experience social anxiety, and although they need social interactions to feel like themselves, they struggle to initiate them.

They may go to public places like coffee shops to work so they can be around people without interacting.

Signs You’re an Extrovert

All extroverts are different, just like all introverts are different. However, many extroverts have these traits in common:

  •       Social situations give you energy
  •       You process ideas by talking them out
  •       Music, noise, and activity around you help you concentrate
  •       You speak your thoughts
  •       Small talk engages you
  •       You dislike spending time alone

Useful Generalizations

Extrovert and introvert are useful generalizations that allow us to understand how people relate to the world.

Of course, it’s far more complicated than the definitions would lead you to believe. Introversion and extroversion aren’t absolutes. They’re more of sliding scales.

Some folks can lean so far toward introversion that they hate being around people, while others are nearly in the center and might not even be able to tell whether they’re introverted or extroverted.

Some people feel energized by people like extroverts but process ideas internally like an introvert (and others do the opposite!).

Adapting Language

People commonly use “introvert” to describe shyness and social anxiety. Though that’s not the current definition, it’s crucial to remember that language evolves with usage.

As people continue to misuse the word, the definition may adapt to fit usage. If that happens, we’ll have to identify a different way to describe people who recharge alone and process ideas internally.

Introvert or Extrovert, We’re All Just People

Though using words like introvert and extrovert to describe character traits is helpful, it’s essential to understand that regardless of where someone falls on the scale, they’re human beings.

We should treat everyone, whether they’re introverts, extroverts, or smack dab in the middle of the scale, with dignity and respect. Beyond that, we must respect their boundaries and provide them with the space they need to thrive as they are.  

It’s difficult for an extrovert to give an introvert time alone, and challenging for an introvert to engage extroverts in conversation. But we all must make compromises to thrive together. 

Author: Melanie Allen

Title: Journalist

Expertise: Pursuing Your Passions, Travel, Wellness, Hobbies, Finance, Gaming, Happiness

Melanie Allen is an American journalist and happiness expert. She has bylines on MSN, the AP News Wire, Wealth of Geeks, Media Decision, and numerous media outlets across the nation and is a certified happiness life coach. She covers a wide range of topics centered around self-actualization and the quest for a fulfilling life.