We have come a long way from thinking of introversion as “shyness.” Now most people are aware that introversion depends on whether the person gains energy from alone time or social interaction. However, that has led to a few other myths about introversion. Some people think that if they often feel socially drained, they must be Introverts. But several third party variables can completely zap even the most Extraverted social butterfly. Let us explore these energy-zapping, mind-dizzying confounding variables that make us want to snuggle with a book under the covers a little more closely.
Socially incompatible friends
Ever get the sense that you simply do not belong with a group of people? Everyone is making jokes that really are not your type of humor. Everyone is referring to movies, friends, and bands that you do not know or simply do not care for. Everything that is supposed to be fun is not that fun.
They want to do another shot? It is like 10 pm! If I speed home, I can probably catch the last episode of “Big Bang Theory.”
If that is you (whether or not you have a penchant for nerdy sitcoms), you are being socially drained. I am not labeling you as an Extravert, but this experience does not render you as an Introvert either. Some people still deduce they are Introverts from it though. They must reconcile with this harrowing social experience or spend time alone (because that is the Introvert remedy).
Let us not close the books that fast however. Extraverts gain energy from human connection, but you sure are not getting any here. Extraverts spending time with people they do not click with is like plugging in a cell phone with a poor connection. It actually drains the battery instead of charging it. Let us expand on the concept of a selective social drain. Maybe your whole life you engaged with people with whom you actually are not that socially compatible with. Maybe your family is filled with dinner table debaters, but you are an easy-going story teller. Maybe your friends only do the brunch and boutique scene, but you are more of a Chipotle and Barnes & Noble person. You might say, “But I still click with them! These are my friends. I have always hung out with people like this.” That might be the kicker! Human beings are not always drawn to the type of people they truly mesh with—they are drawn to the type of people they are used to.
I am not saying to boycott parties, and I am definitely not saying to cut off your old friends. It is important to spend time with people who are different from you too! However, if you want to accurately assess if you are an Introvert or not, we need to try a few new kinds of social connection. We want to see if you have just been living some faulty connections or if all connections drain you.
To start, look for deficits in your current social connections. Are you more spiritual than your current friend group? If so, maybe go out of your way to find people who share your spiritual values, whether through a religious setting or not. Are you more into outdoor activities than your other friends? If you meet someone who shares your love of hiking and kayaking, maybe ask him or her if they want to hang out. Last but not least, the easiest way to befriend people who are similar to you is to be more open and vocal about who you truly are. “No one will understand me” is quite possibly the quickest way to hide from people who will understand you. After being more vocal about your beliefs, your interests, and your true personality, you will be shocked by how often a bystander might exclaim in equal shock, “Are you kidding me, I am the same way!”
Spending time with new types of people, even if they are similar to you, might feel weird at first, especially if you are not used to finding people like that. It will be an interesting experiment in self-discovery. Once you spend time with people whom you connect better with, do you start feeling more energized? If not, you are a more self-aware Introvert than before. If you do feel more energized after, then you might be a dangerously socially drained Extravert. Rehabilitation will include regular FaceTime conversations with close friends, chatting with people who share your interests, and trading the “spend time alone” reaction with “adding different types of people to your social circle.”
Self-consciousness, social anxiety, or overall insecurity. They are all semantics for the fastest ways to drain a person’s energy - Extraverted or Introverted. If we want to take this “draining” metaphor up a notch, struggling with self-consciousness is not even like poking a hole in your bucket of energy. It is like dumping the bucket upside down and shaking it to make sure every last drop of energy is out. Your mind cannot absorb energy if you are looking at other people constantly wondering if you are good enough. Am I saying the wrong thing? What kind of impression am I making? Am I annoying them? (I have no idea if you are annoying them, but constantly wondering if you annoy someone usually increases the chances that you will.) These worries are like those tasks running on the background of our devices that drain the battery—and they are usually not even apps we need. Uninstall that thinking in your life.
Speaking of thinking, let us borrow a therapeutic technique called decatastrophizing from the psychologists over in the Cognitive Behavioral school of thought. Instead of dispelling your social fears, we are going to embrace them. Are you afraid people will think you are extremely weird? Maybe you are to them. Maybe they just do not appreciate your dry, sarcastic humor. That is okay. Do you know what is extremely weird? A world where all humans share the same type of humor. That is like a Twilight Zone episode waiting to happen. Maybe no one got your joke. Half of Star’s Hallow never gets Lorelai Gilmore’s jokes. But does she stop making her witty quips? No, she does not. Nor should you.
Stand a little taller at your next social gathering. Other people’s thoughts about you is none of your business. Concentrate on more important things like getting to the good cheese before everyone else does. We cannot even get near deciding if you are an Introvert or Extravert until we extract the huge confounding variable of self-consciousness. Rules of statistics. Rules of personality types.
Clinical depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress
The list of mental conditions that make someone feel more Introverted or Extraverted than their natural state is longer than depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress. However, in the spirit of brevity, we will keep it to those clusters.
Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress can keep the mind constantly running. For people who struggle with one of them, it is a strange thing to say, “I am being drained by social interaction.” Something more accurate probably sounds like, “I feel drained all the time.” The following situations is where we might get confused.
A natural Introvert who might feel like being alone makes post-traumatic stress worse. As a result, our Introvert here uses social interaction to cope and actually feel less stressed around others. Does that make him or her an Extravert? Of course it doesn't. The social interaction temporarily alleviates the person’s learned or trauma-induced anxiety only to heighten the Introvert’s inherent form of social exhaustion later.
A clinically depressed Extravert might feel more drained after spending time with people who seem happy and confident all the time. Pretending to be okay is exhausting. Deadlifting is easier then pretending you do not already feel dead. Is our Extravert now an Introvert? Once again, obviously not. They simply find themselves in a social Catch 22 that does not go away until the depression does.
It gets tricky because low levels of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress live under the radar all the time—especially if they have existed since childhood. Many people do not know they struggle with them, and they mistake themselves for the wrong personality type. Thankfully, although healing can feel like an upward climb, it has a snowball effect to it. Once you begin to heal, your natural introversion or extraversion will show itself. Once it does, you can start creating a social routine that better fits your inherent personality type—thus speeding up the healing process even more. It gets better.