Are You an Introvert? Shy? Or Both?


introvertWhile I never thought of myself as an extrovert, I have become pretty socially comfortable over the years. I wasn’t always that way. I used to think of myself as shy—not painfully so, but just naturally so. At gatherings where I didn’t know many people, I would hang around with familiar folks.

I always admired my wife, who without skipping a beat, could strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. I don’t think she has a shy bone in her body!

But many people are more introverted than shy. They are just naturally quiet and reserved. They’re good listeners. They definitely have a point of view, but they frequently keep their opinions to themselves. And before they open up, they might want to get to know you a bit. And then when they do feel more comfortable, they still share only a few, well-considered thoughts. They don’t enjoy being in the limelight.

Is there a difference between shyness and introversion? I think so. Shyness refers to social reticence or discomfort. Some people feel uncomfortable in a crowd, awkward in starting or sustaining a conversation with a new person, and tend to withdraw from initiating social intercourse. They may not feel major anxiety, just a little uncomfortable.

Shy individuals want to connect, but they feel awkward in new social situations. They find socializing difficult. They are much more comfortable if someone approaches them and starts a conversation. They may feel secretly lonely–reaching out to others is just plain hard. They just feel uncomfortable in many social circumstances.

Introverts, on the other hand, tend to be more inner-directed. They enjoy spending time with themselves, appreciate quiet, and have less social needs. They might prefer to spend an afternoon reading a book under a tree than participating in a noisy picnic. A quiet evening at home with their partner may be preferable to attending a dinner party with friends. They are not uncomfortable interacting with others. They just prefer their own company. They may have a small number of close friends rather than many acquaintances. They enjoy solitude.

Are some individuals both shy and introverted? You bet. Those two characteristics can occur together in some individuals.

Can you always tell if someone is an introvert or an extrovert? Not always. For example, those of us with very social jobs (that’s me!) often like to spend time alone during non-work hours. That doesn’t make me an introvert! Individuals with jobs that are solo (like computer folks) want to socialize on their days off. That makes sense to me. I love to spend time by myself on weekends because my weeks are filled with people every minute of every day. I enjoy the social aspect of my work—but on my days off I seek the pleasure of my own company.

Introverts may be under valued in work settings, which tend to regard extraverts more highly. Individuals who are quick to speak up at meetings or on teams seem to get extra attention. While the quiet, more thoughtful, introverted employee can be ignored. It’s not fair. Introverts are just more thoughtful, reserved, and contemplative. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have great ideas that are quietly shared without fanfare!

Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D. author of a blog in Psychology Today (7/17/2102) titled “The Revenge of the Introvert” calls out what not to say to your introverted friends:

  • Why don’t you like parties? Don’t you like people?
  • Surprise, we’ve decided to bring the family and stay with you for the weekend!
  • How come you’re not contributing in meetings?
  • Why aren’t you more outgoing?

It’s important to accept each other and ourselves are we are. Every personality type has both positives and negatives.

Are you an introvert? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of introversion?


  1. Anonymous

    I am extrovert and my husband is introvert. The main disadvantage of introvert is being unsocial and not outgoing. This makes our relationship very hard since we like to do two different things. What do you think, will this type of relationship last long or what can be done to improve?

    • An Innie

      Not sure what you two do for fun, so could be way off base here, but consider social activities that can be measured on a smaller scale. For example, rather than celebrating his birthday at the bar, or having a house party (just throwing a couple of things out there as an example – again, I don’t know what you like to do for fun), try hosting dinner at home with only two sets of couples who are close to you two. That way, you’ll get the extroverted benefit of being social all evening while he gets the introverted benefit of the comfort of his own home, with people he feels close to and comfortable with.

    • O'Leary

      Maybe I can help with your question a some.
      I’m an introvert myself… I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m unsocial or outgoing by any means. I very much enjoy interacting with people, however for me I enjoy it on a “one on one”, or smaller groups on an intimate basis rather than bigger groups or crowds. I don’t like to be pulled into all directions when I’m with people and small talk makes me a bit anxious. Introverts expend a lot of energy in social surroundings and being able to retreat in solitude or a form a down time is our way of “recharging”. I’ve come to realize being with an extrovert is very complimentary to a relationship. While I do very much enjoy being in my “own space”, having someone that encourages parts of my personality that are typically subdued is refreshing. As an example: In a group of people I’m very much the person who likes to people watch, listen to conversations and take in my surroundings. Having a partner who can carry on a conversation and feels comfortable interacting amongst others relieves a lot of the social pressures sometimes us introverts feel. I’ve realized having an extrovert partner brings out my more social side that isn’t hidden away, rather reserved. Like all relationships there’s finding that balance between each other. It would be understandably difficult to have a partner who didn’t desire the things you enjoy, however I do believe in having a balance if both partners are open.
      If this is something that is of interest to you, the book An Innie mentioned is a good resource to start with. Another great book is “The Introvert’s Way”.
      It’ll help you better understand your husband’s introvert ways… Maybe it’ll help the both of you gain a little perspective and understanding. I know for me it definitely did.

  2. An Innie

    Ah, a rarely-heard voice for the introverts! Thank you for this blog post. I am not only an introvert, but a shy one. You mention a blog by Laurie Helgoe – she also has published a book called “Introvert Power” that helped me understand the differences between introverts & extroverts immensely. We’ve all heard the expression, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Societally, the squeaky wheels tend to be extroverts, which gives them an enormous leg to stand on in American culture. Introverts are often mistaken as meek, boring, and often even cold; when so often they’re really just waiting for the extrovert(s) to stop talking long enough for our opinions to be not only voiced, but heard without having to shout over everyone else.

    I highly recommed “Introvert Power” to extroverts and introverts alike! We can all learn something from this book!

  3. Dr. Paul

    What great comments, advice, and resources! I agree with all of your excellent thoughts!

  4. Anonymous

    I’m an introvert, but definitely not shy; although, those that don’t know me well tend to get that impression of me. Drives me CRAZY, especially when they put that on my peer review. I can’t stand it. It’s an unfair, permanent remark that goes on my work file. I have absolutely NO problem speaking my mind and opinions in meetings; however, since I also grew up with common respect for others I don’t interrupt others. I’ve learned over the years of working at TEC to just go ahead and interrupt the extroverts in the meetings. I feel like I’m being disrespectful in doing so, but I have not received any negative feed back in doing so. Just wanted to share this for any others that may be the same way.

    I also read and enjoyed the following book: The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney Psy.D. (Author).

    I recommend this book to both Introverts and Extroverts. It touches on how to relate to both and how both types think and even how the thinking pattern in our brains are different. If you have children there is a section about introvert/extrovert parents/children.

  5. Anonymous

    Thank you everyone for the comments. I have never thought it that way. I always get upset thinking why he doesnot plan anything fun for the family. So I have to be the one to start. It is very helpful and I hope to bring some positive change this new year.