Although you’ve probably heard the terms “Introvert” and “Extravert” thrown around in conversation, you might not know exactly what these traits mean and how they differ. It’s easy to say Introverts like to stay in while Extraverts like to go out, but few people know why. Because  generic statements are so prevalent, people often find these personality terms confusing and unknowingly perpetuate falsehoods about them. So what is an Introvert, exactly?

In simple terms, introverted people recharge and expend energy differently than extraverted types, directing their energy flow internally instead of focusing on the outside world. But it’s helpful to think of energy flow in terms of habits, quirks, and preferences, too.

Common Traits of Introverts

To help shed some light on what an Introvert is, here are seven traits all Introverts have, even if they don’t know it.   

1. They have an extreme level of focus  

Although extraverted types may also be able to hone in on a project and lose hours in what feels like a matter of minutes, introverted types are skilled at maintaining a high level of focus when working. Since Introverts have a rich inner world and easily get lost in thought, they find interesting projects stimulating and thus find themselves excelling in areas where extraverted types may have trouble. 

While an Extravert may need several breaks at “the water cooler” to chat with co-workers, an Introvert focused on a project will have a hard time remembering to take a 10-minute break, eat lunch, or take a drink of water when they’re in a workflow that’s got their full attention. Of course, not all Introverts will experience this laser-focus in the same way. Some Introverts will find that work comes easily to them, while others will notice a stronger focus during other activities. Introverted types can find themselves lost in a good book, more prone to meditative types of exercise like running or Tai Chi, or in whatever hobby they prize the most. 

And while extraverted types may also be capable of this sort of focus, they may get fatigued more quickly, especially if they feel isolated from others at work. The difference lies in how introverted types can lock in tirelessly as time passes and notice little else going on around them.

2. They really enjoy their own company

Although extraverted types may also enjoy spending time alone, it’s more difficult for them to be away from people for a prolonged period. Introverts, however, thrive on their alone time and really enjoy spending time in their own company (so much so, sometimes they’ll cancel plans in order to spend time alone). So if you often find yourself feeling antsy to spend time by yourself or happy to get more personal time when people cancel social plans, you’re likely an Introvert.

3. They prefer intellectual conversations over small talk  

A lot of people think Introverts are anti-social, but that’s not the case. Many introverted types of the 16-type system enjoy connecting with others; most Introverts will mention how much they prize their time with close friends and family members. 

But what’s more surprising is how introverted types may thoroughly enjoy intellectual conversations with strangers or new acquaintances. It’s true, Introverts hate small talk and avoid it, but when someone comes out of the gate unafraid to discuss deeper topics, Introverts are more easily drawn in.  

As an Introvert, although I find most social situations drain my energy, when I encounter someone who enjoys debate and discussing in-depth topics instead of small talk, I’m more inclined to stay out longer. By remaining in stimulating conversations like these, I feel inspired and more willing to invest in new relationships.

4. Loyalty is crucial to them

Some people can rebound from lost friendships and relationships easier than introverted types. Many Introverts feel loyalty is irreplaceable and have a difficult time when someone close to them betrays their trust. It’s not hard to figure out the reason behind this importance—it’s likely because Introverts have a hard time opening up and trusting others to be a part of their life. 

While an extraverted type will have a long list of friends, Introverts usually keep their close friendships limited to 10 or less. The small group of friends is because an Introvert’s friend list is exclusive and vital to them—they prefer quality over quantity and reserve their friendships for those they feel deserve it. So, it stands to reason when someone betrays their trust or is no longer loyal to them, the Introvert takes it very hard. When an Introvert finds someone is no longer trustworthy, it may cause them to shut down for weeks and fear trusting others again.    

5. They often space out in deep thought

Because Introverts have such a strong connection to their inner world, it’s easy for them to tune out the external life around them. Often, Introverts do this without thinking about it or knowing it’s happening. Life in an Introvert’s mind is interesting to them. These thoughtful beings may find their mind wandering in several directions throughout the day—even at the most inconvenient of times, like when they’re trying to watch a film. 

If you catch yourself or someone you know lost in thought a lot, they could be an Introvert. To be clear, Extraverts also occasionally lapse into a distracting period of thought—everyone does! The best way to describe it is while an Extravert gets visibly lost in their thoughts sometimes, an Introverts’ mind is always going, and it’ll be quite evident to those who pay attention. A couple of people once told me they felt they could always see me thinking; that I never stopped. Their words stuck with me because I find more and more it’s the truth for most Introverts. 

6. They prefer to listen instead of steering the conversation

You’ve probably heard Introverts are quiet or shy, but it isn’t true for many Introverts. Many Introverts are as outgoing as Extraverts in certain situations—and can be as boisterous as the next when they’re with friends. If an Introvert is quiet, it’s not because of an innate shyness. Most people mistake an Introvert’s attentiveness and desire to listen as being shy or afraid to speak up and are sadly missing the magic of how an Introverts’ mind works. Introverts listen, pause, and think before they speak, so sometimes, it takes them a while to formulate their answer when called upon to talk. 

Meanwhile, when focused on the speaker, an Introvert wants to know about their day, thoughts, and experiences and prefers to observe instead of dominating the conversation.

Growing up, I always mistook my desire to listen in a conversation as a result of my shyness. But the more I found out about what an Introvert is and became less shy, I realized being a listener is simply a part of my personality, and one of the excellent skills Introverts have is their talent for observation.

7. They analyze everything

Introverts constantly take in the information around them and analyze what they see, hear, or feel through their inner world. Because these types are so focused on seeing the deep meaning behind things, Introverts may also be guilty of overthinking at times—but that’s what makes them so good at self-reflection. 

Introverts will spend hours analyzing everything in their life, from their career to their relationships and themselves. An Introvert needs to remember their analysis skills set them apart, and it’s why these types often do well in career paths that require a lot of focus. On the other hand, Introverts should also take a moment to relax when they can—and realize self-care is a great tool to combat any instances of anxiety-provoking overthinking.

So, what is an Introvert really? The takeaway

Introverts are not the long list of misconceptions you may have heard over the years. They’re not all shy by nature, nor do they avoid people and prefer to live a hermit lifestyle. Instead, an Introvert is a reserved, observant, and thoughtful individual whose rich inner world makes them unique and provides them with an energy they can’t receive from the outside world. Because group events exhaust their energy stores, Introverts require time alone to regain their strength and prize a few meaningful, authentic relationships over a packed-out contact list.

Cianna Garrison
Cianna Garrison holds a B.A. in English from Arizona State University and works as a freelance writer. She fell in love with psychology and personality type theory back in 2011. Since then, she has enjoyed continually learning about the 16 personality types. As an INFJ, she lives for the creative arts, and even when she isn’t working, she’s probably still writing.