How Incorrectly Identifying As An Introvert Can Mess With Your Well-Being
People who are shy or socially anxious may self-identify as introverts, believing their social tendencies affect their personality type. But according to communication expert Celeste Headlee, many people who self-identify as introverts may not actually be true introverts. Here's why those misunderstood and incorrectly adopted labels can be harmful.
What is a true introvert?
Introverted and extroverted personality types were developed by psychiatrist Carl Jung in the early 1900s. Jung classifies introverts as people who prefer environments with little stimulation and turn inward to recharge, as opposed to extroverts who get energized by spending time with others in stimulating environments.
Over time, outgoing has seemingly become synonymous with extroverted, while shy has become synonymous with introverted. Though both can be true, these are oversimplifications of the two personality types.
"Introversion and extroversion—the terms that Carl Jung came up with—describe the absolute ends of the spectrum," Headlee told mbg co-founder and co-CEO Jason Wachob during a recent mindbodygreen podcast episode. Most people actually fall somewhere down the middle, she says.
Ambiversion was defined by Kimball Young in the 1920s as a person who exhibits the traits of both introverts and extroverts. According to psychotherapist Ken Page, LCSW, "almost all of us are ambiverts to some degree."
People who fall into this category are able to do well in social settings but will also enjoy a night alone in their pajamas, Headlee explains. Ambiverts are more flexible and able to adapt.
Why can it be bad to self-identify as an introvert?
When someone incorrectly self-identifies as an introvert, they may be justifying their choice to avoid human connection, Headlee says. While she admits staying in can be a form of self-care every now and then, choosing it every time can have consequences. "Texting back and forth is no replacement for embodied communication," she explains.
People who think of themselves as introverts may avoid social interactions, which eventually can degrade their social skills. The next time they do have a social interaction, it might not go as planned. That one bad social experience could keep them from going out the next time around. "It becomes a vicious cycle," Headlee tells Wachob.
Since opportunities to mingle in large groups are limited and unsafe during the pandemic, making an effort to video chat or spend socially distanced time with close friends can be valuable. In most cases social interactions will actually make people feel better.
Is it always bad to self-identify as an introvert?
Not necessarily. "Self-identifying as an introvert simply means that you understand and leverage how you are wired," psychologist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, tells mbg. "It doesn't mean you avoid human beings in general," Neo says.
In fact, introverts don't only recharge with alone time, Neo explains. They also recharge with select one-on-one interactions. Yes, there are ways to have a social life as an introvert without getting exhausted.
"Granted there are many who use introversion as an excuse when what's going on is social anxiety or something else," she says. According to Neo, empathy and sensitivity can also be used to avoid social interactions—not just introversion.
"There's a line between victimhood and doing something about it," she says. "When you can leverage introversion and let it empower you, that means you mutate a potential 'weakness' into a superpower."
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.