Introvert Versus Shy
People confuse introverts with being shy. However, there is a difference.
The introvert needs to be alone to recharge, to think, to create; we enjoy parties and other social events on our own terms; we are apparently more sensitive and attentive to detail than the average person and can get easily bored with small talk, and quickly overwhelmed by stimuli. We cannot take too much noise, people’s rowdy children, flashing lights, arrogant displays of ignorance, “joining in” with the other kids in some stupid activity or sport, meaningless chatter, and emotional dramas.
We prefer short but sincere interactions with people, and meaningful discussions. Liars, boasters, gossipers and chatterboxes, puritanical finger-wavers, people who engage in irrational thinking, and the unimaginative will get the cold shoulder because, no offense, introverts like people but these kinds of people are a living hell for the introvert to be around.
Previous MRI studies have shown that during social situations, specific areas in the brains of loners experience especially lively blood flow, indicating a sort of overstimulation, which explains why they find parties so wearying. But Guyer's results suggest that introverts may be more attuned to all sorts of positive experiences as well. This added sensitivity, she speculates, could mean that people who are reserved have an ability to respond quickly to situations—such as coming to your aid in a moment of need—or show unusual empathy to a friend, due to their strong emotional antennae.
Research by psychotherapist Elaine Aron bears out Guyer's hunch, demonstrating that withdrawn people typically have very high sensory acuity. Because loners are good at noticing subtleties that other people miss, Aron says, they are well-suited for careers that require close observation, like writing and scientific research. It's no surprise that famous historical loners include Emily Dickinson, Stanley Kubrick, and Isaac Newton.
From Psychology Today: Field Guide to the Loner
Shy people, on the other hand, long to reach out to other people but are prevented from doing so by their fear.
Those who remain "enforced loners" long to spend time with people, but shyness and anxiety inhibit them from doing so. "Introverts are people who like to be alone," says Paula Montgomery, an accountant from St. Louis. "I prefer to be around other people, but because of my shyness, it's difficult for me to join groups and make friends."
Such loners have several stress-inducing strikes against them: They may get butterflies whenever they have to face in-person encounters, and they are subject to outside pressure to be sociable. When major life problems crop up, loners are also less likely to seek out social support.
Being shy has nothing to do with how quiet or talkative one is – I have discovered that jovial chatterboxes are often quite shy. But being shy also depends on the situation. There are times when I am more quiet than others, particularly when the conversation is superficial.
Usually in these circumstances, when I am finally asked what I do and what I enjoy, I dread letting this out because I know that after the litany of women bragging about their children, their church, their knitting, craft fairs, shopping, and various other activities that I don’t care for, what I have to say about myself will cause the room to fall silent. This has happened over and over to me.
There is immense pressure on introverts, particularly those who are women, to be more outgoing in a shallow way, when in fact we seem to be better able to handle the unknown than the conventional person who chats easily, but doesn’t really stray beyond the confines of family, church, community, work, or nation. I have no idea if these people are frustrated by their lives; I know I would be.
Introverts are frequently alone but rarely lonely. More often than not we are lonely in a crowd. I have mixed feelings about the usefulness of Carl Jung’s work, but one of the best things he ever said was, when one is an introvert, in order to be well-balanced and happy one must become more, not less, of an introvert.
UPDATED: A reader writes to Dr. Joyce Brothers that she feels is upset by the morning news because 1) there is so much less news being reported (morning television is just a wasteland), and 2) she can't identify with the people who scream and yell outside the station windows, and in her own words feels "like a fool."
I don’t know why she feels so bad, because certainly I think these people are the fools, but Dr. Brothers says something interesting. She assures the writer that, of course, there is nothing “wrong” with her, and remarks, “One of the reasons you might feel a bit lonely is because our country is considered one of the more extroverted nations.” She also states that introverts tend to be “early birds” whereas extraverts are “night owls.” I agree with the former, but disagree with the latter. I am most definitely a “night owl.”
As for America being one of the more extraverted nations, I do believe this is true. However, that does not mean that an introvert does not suffer in other cultures. My experience with other cultures is that in cultures that are more “introverted,” e.g. Muslim societies, women are still expected to be chatty with each other. Middle Eastern societies tend to center social life around the dinner party – more sitting around and talking – and particularly in a group segregated by gender the stifling, chit-chatty, passive sitting around is as much torture for the independent introvert as is a football game or the church coffee klatch.
I have experienced many different religious rituals and to put it bluntly, after the novelty wears off, they are just as boring as one’s own religious tradition. I am glad that I got to know diverse types of people, but in the end, most of the world is bourgeois, concerned with conformity and conventionality.