I hear a lot of chatter about what defines introversion and extroversion.  Lately, it seems that everyone believes themselves to be an introvert.  All you have to do is pop onto Facebook to see some kind of commentary on this subject.

Some Definitions

The definitions of introversion and extroversion that I find most useful are the ones I learned in graduate school.  These definitions are drawn from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  I like the MBTI because it measures personality traits on a spectrum.

This is based off Carl Jung’s theory that we all have all of these traits but with a propensity towards one side or another.  So, simply because you are introverted or extroverted, it does not mean that you also don’t have traits relating to the opposite side of the spectrum.

The definition of extroversion provided by the MBTI is where we get our energy from.

If you are an introvert, it means you get energy from time spent alone.

If you are an extrovert, it means you get energy from time spent with people.


This is an additional category we can somewhat consider.  An ambivert is someone who gets equal energy from time alone and time with people.  Arguably, the MBTI is going to say that we’re all ambiverts since extroversion/introversion is a spectrum.  I believe that everyone, regardless of how they collect energy, can agree that they feel energized after time alone and time with people.  It might just depend on who the people were or what you were doing when you were alone.

Social Anxiety

A trend I believe that I am seeing is that more and more people are using introversion as an out for coping with social anxiety.  Social anxiety is exactly how it sounds; you get anxious in social situations.

Someone with introversion is not necessarily anxious around people.

Let me say it again.

Someone with introversion is not necessarily anxious around people.  An introvert may also be a highly social person.  An introvert may also really enjoy the company of people.

But introversion does not automatically equate to social anxiety.

As a result, I believe there are many extroverts suffering from social anxiety that are then incorrectly identifying as introverts.

The thought process is as follows:

“I become anxious around people but am not anxious when I am alone.  Therefore, I am an introvert.”

I do believe this is a type of cognitive distortion similar to all or nothing thinking.  All or nothing thinking leads us to think in extremes.  You can see it play out in the previous thought pattern.  It’s the idea of if I’m a little uncomfortable in social situations, I must be introverted.  However, I would argue that we all feel a little uncomfortable to very uncomfortable in various social situations.

At the same time, if you find that you are constantly anxious when around people, it may be because you’re struggling with social anxiety.

This can come from a number of things in our lives such as


Moving around a lot when we were kids

Lack of coping skills

Lack of healthy boundaries

Lack of self-care even in social situations

A misunderstanding of or disconnection from our personal feelings


A history of bullying

Negative self-beliefs

Negative self-talk

And many other factors you might not think played into this.  It can be tricky to figure out the roots of social anxiety.  However, that’s what counseling is for.  Not to put in a shameless plug or anything, but counseling is meant to be a judgment free space where we can figure these things out, ask deep questions of ourselves to learn more about who we are.

Ask yourself this.  What if you’re really an extrovert who is denying themselves this amazing recharging experience for the wrong reasons?  What if you didn’t have to be anxious around people anymore?  What if there were skills you could learn to increase your comfort no matter what your personality type is?

We Are Social Creatures

Why am I harping on this?  It’s because we’re social creatures!  Regardless if you are an introvert or an extrovert, we all need each other.  Humans are social creatures and do not do well in isolation.  This is a part of why Americans these days are experiencing some of the highest rates of anxiety that we have ever seen.  I don’t like to blame everything on social media and phone usage, but we do know that these things contribute to people being more isolated than ever before.

What do you think happens to a social creature that experiences high rates of isolation?


It’s anxiety.

The catch 22 is that since we’re social creatures that are used to isolation, we now tend to experience social anxiety when we have face to face time with other human beings.

So, no.  You’re not all introverts.  Far from it.  You may just be having social anxiety.

Why This Can be a Good Thing

You might be thinking that social anxiety sounds terrible so why is this actually a good thing that you’re maybe not as introverted as you thought?  It’s because there are coping skills you can learn!  It means things can change!  It means you will probably be initially a little bit more anxious, but it doesn’t have to be that way forever.

Some coping skills to consider may be

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Distress Tolerance Skills (something I am currently getting a certificate in to use in my therapy sessions)

Deep breathing techniques

Identifying where you feel your emotions in your body to better connect with them

Grounding techniques

Exposure therapy

Now, I never send someone in to do exposure therapy type tasks without a plethora of coping skills to aid them first.  But it is worth considering.  Think of it this way.  If you weight lift at all, you are probably all too familiar with how sore you feel the first time you add more weight.  Eventually, your body adjusts to the new load and you don’t feel sore at that weight anymore.  Then you bump the weight up and become sore again.  Or maybe you add a new exercise.

Exposure therapy is very similar.  It’s okay to feel anxious sometimes.  It’s okay to feel bad sometimes especially when you’re trying to change something in your life.  Discomfort isn’t always bad in the first place.  Moreover, even anxiety can be a good thing.

If you’ve been traumatized or victimized in the past, your brain is trying to alert you to something that was a legitimate danger in the past (and maybe even could be in the present).  It’s okay to thank that anxiety for keeping you safe.  But you can let it go too.  It’s tough.  It’s difficult.  I’ve been through trauma therapy before myself so I can personally testify to this.  But it is entirely worth it.

So the next time you label yourself an introvert or an extrovert, it may be worth considering if something additional is going on behind the scenes.