You’ve probably noticed that people tend to swing one of two primary ways when it comes to social interaction.
There are the extraverts, who thrive in other people’s company and need a lot of socializing in order to feel happy and recharged.
And then there are the introverts, who prefer quiet, solitude, and peace.
The former will be most at home at a blazing festival where they can dance all day and night in throngs of others, while the latter would consider that to be a type of hell.
Similarly, the latter might have their “happy place” in a museum or library, followed by solo takeout to share with their cat.
There are of course different levels of extra- and intro-version, and many people experience different parts of that spectrum depending on what’s going on in their lives at the time.
For example, that extravert might need some downtime alone to recover (and sober up) from Burning Man, and the introvert might need to spend time with a couple of close friends now and then to get some human contact in.
But what about those who spend most of their time at the extreme ends of the spectrum?
What happens when an introvert doesn’t just prefer solitude, but can’t function without it?
These are 12 of the most common signs of extreme introversion. They will vary from person to person, but the average severe introvert will likely experience several of them.
1. You experience intense social anxiety.
This may have started as a child, where you felt strong trepidation when you had to talk to someone new, or in a position of authority.
For example, let’s say your parents had friends over and you were introduced to these new adults. You might have had difficulty making eye contact and froze up when you were supposed to say “the right thing” to be friendly and welcoming. Your parents likely sighed and made the excuse that you were shy, inspiring rolled eyes and jokes all around.
Same could have gone for making friends at a new school, or having to answer aloud in class when the teacher called on you. Having to give a presentation at university or at work would be excruciating, so you might have chosen to do online studies instead.
Symptoms of your social anxiety might include palm sweating, heart palpitations, panic attacks, sudden muteness, stammering, shaking, dizziness, nausea, and digestive issues.
2. You prefer solitude to any kind of social interaction.
Considering all the unpleasantness that social anxiety can cause, it’s small wonder why intense introverts prefer to spend time alone.
Why would someone willingly want to experience a slew of uncomfortable reactions when they don’t even want to interact with others in the first place?
Then there’s the possibility of being judged or mocked for your appearance, able-bodiedness, life choices, food preferences, or any other aspect of your life that doesn’t fit in with the current zeitgeist.
When you’re alone, your life is your own.
You can wear whatever you want, and spend time doing the things you love without interruption. Instead of having to contend with excruciating small talk (much of which might revolve around topics you don’t care about, like sports or celebrity gossip), you can immerse yourself in the subjects that engage and inspire you.
If you love to read, you can spend endless hours lost in the books you adore. Or maybe you like to build things, or paint, or do word puzzles. All of these kinds of solitary pursuits replenish you rather than sucking your will to live. And furthermore, they won’t result in any kind of backlash or drama because you’ve said or done The Wrong Thing again.
3. You prefer to live by yourself, or with a quiet animal companion.
This expands upon the previous sign. Living alone has a ton of benefits when you’re severely introverted.
One of the main benefits is that you never have to deal with any kind of conflict at home. Most extreme introverts hate all confrontation, and the only way to live a life that’s free from that is to live alone.
Furthermore, most introverts are hypersensitive to sound and interruption. This is especially true if they work from home. If you live alone, or with a quiet pet like a rabbit or chilled-out cat, you don’t have to worry about being startled out of your concentration zone by a sharp bark or a shout demanding your attention.
Also, it may be a lot easier for you to understand and interact with animals than people. Their needs are straightforward, there are no mind games to play, and you can be completely yourself with them.
Finally, you can arrange your life to suit your own preferences without having to compromise. Have the furniture you like, wherever you like it. Display your collectibles without shame, eat the foods you like best without anyone nagging at you.
4. Being in crowds of people or sustained social situations drains you very quickly.
As mentioned earlier, extraverts come alive when they’re in crowds of people. They love the bubbling, bustling energy that occurs when tons of people get together and dance, sing, or play. They’re never happier than when they’re being recharged in this manner, and can’t possibly understand that others could be wired differently.
Extreme introverts are the opposite in that they get completely drained when having to deal with crowds or long social interactions. The energy that’s required to pay attention to several conversations at once (and engage with coherent conversation) is absolutely exhausting.
Furthermore, since many introverts are also empaths, crowds become situations in which they’re surrounded by – and feeling – the emotions of countless others swirling around them.
This kind of feels like being shot with rubber bullets from all sides.
After having to deal with a sustained social situation or large crowd of people, an extreme introvert might need some serious alone time in order to unwind and recover from the experience.
In fact, many of them might have overload meltdowns in the middle of whatever they’re going through, and need to find an excuse to leave.
Now now now now.
If this resonates with you, then it’s incredibly important to find coping and recovery protocols that work for you.
Do you have a close friend or partner who often attends functions like this with you? Then come up with a “safe word” that you only use with them when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
For example, my partner is seriously introverted and has an extreme hypersensitivity to sound. When she’s heading into meltdown mode, she’ll turn to me and simply say “jagged.”
This is the signal that we need to move her somewhere quiet as soon as possible so she can recover from the hyper stimulation she’s been exposed to. For her, recovery includes a hot bath in silence, soothing aromatherapy, and at least a full day of uninterrupted solitude.
Determine what works best for you and have those protocols in place for whenever you have to deal with crowds or social functions. Knowing that you have an exit strategy and introvert aid kid at the ready can help you get through the worst of it without going full-on Oppenheimer.
5. You’ve chosen remote work so you don’t have to interact with others in an office or industrial environment.
If you’ve naturally gravitated toward remote work simply because you don’t want to have to interact with others, that’s a very clear sign of extreme introversion.
There’s a common misconception with extravert employers and colleagues that all kinds of issues need to be discussed in meetings, when email communications will always suffice.
Similarly, they tend to enjoy “just dropping by” your office, cubicle, or desk to have a chat, or even to chat with others while using your desk as a coffee table.
When you work remotely – either as an employee or a freelancer – you don’t have to deal with these kinds of issues. Better still is if you’re self-employed, as you can work on your own terms, and take breaks as often as you like without being threatened with job termination or similar.
6. You can’t think clearly when there’s too much going on around you.
Hyperstimulation is a very real thing, and can be an absolute nightmare for hardcore introverts.
The average person might get irritated when they’re trying to concentrate and other stuff starts going on around them, but an introvert who hyperfocuses and goes into empathic overload can get full-on cognitive blank-outs if there’s too much happening in their periphery.
Extraverts do well working in cafes full of murmuring people and engaging music, but to an introvert, every conversation, every note, every movement around them all comes in at full blast. It’s like trying to concentrate whilst surrounded by 1000 blaring televisions, and a small child is beating you around the head with a toy hammer.
You won’t be able to get much done, and your emotional state will likely veer between wanting to cry, or punch people to make them stop annoying you.
7. You are able to concentrate for long periods of time (and get startled when interrupted).
Super introverts are known for their ability to hyperfocus for almost indefinite periods of time. They might sequester to work on a creative project or similar and only come out for food or bathroom use. Furthermore, they get so engrossed in their work that they can get quite startled if they’re suddenly interrupted by a voice or a loud noise.
It’s almost as though they merge with whatever they’re doing and enter a different realm of consciousness when so deeply focused.
This is one of the main reasons why so many of them choose to work from home: they’re less likely to have to deal with constantly ringing phones, chatty colleagues, and other countless distractions that happen at shared workplaces.
This hyperfocus can be an introvert superpower. People like Einstein and Hawking were able to use it to make scientific breakthroughs, while writers like Emily Bronte and Edgar Allan Poe could conjure up brilliant written works.
8. You prefer to text or write to communicate rather than speaking.
Communicating via text is a lot easier than doing so verbally. After all, when it comes to writing down what you’re thinking or feeling, you have all the time in the world to express yourself eloquently.
Not so when it comes to verbal communication.
When you’re talking to people face to face, you need to be sharp and functioning at 100% or you end up saying something ridiculous. You know, like being told “happy birthday” and replying with “you too,” or something similarly awful.
This generally doesn’t happen when you’re texting someone, does it? You can really take your time and write out exactly what you’re thinking, then triple check grammar and spelling before you send it off.
9. Potential agoraphobia: get everything delivered so as to avoid the public.
Many highly introverted folks clam up or stammer when they have to deal with the public, whether in person or on the phone. As a result, many will choose to do any kind of shopping online so they don’t get humiliated by making a mistake or fumbling in public.
If you’ve ever felt utter embarrassment by mis-pronouncing your coffee order (or spilling it all over yourself because your hand trembled), only to never go back to that shop ever again just in case someone recognized you, then you know what I’m talking about here.
It’s so much easier to just click things online and have them delivered to your door, isn’t it?
10. Physical ailments from over-socialization are very real for you.
We touched upon this earlier when we mentioned the nausea or digestive upset that can occur during “fight or flight” hyperstimulation mode, but extreme introverts often suffer from a ton of different physical issues. These can include (but are not limited to):
- Migraine headaches
- Muscle tension
- Chronic fatigue
- Chronic pain (such as fibromyalgia)
- Autoimmune conditions
- Impaired cognitive function
- Dental pain (from clenching jaw)
- Rosacea or acne
- Hair loss
- Fainting spells
Extraverts and other people who don’t experience these things are quick to dismiss them as being over dramatic, or attribute them to literally any other cause than what they actually are.
You know your body better than anyone else ever will, so learn to recognize the subtle signs and cues before they turn into bigger issues.
11. You have a very small circle of friends who are very low maintenance.
Most people think that introverts are social recluses who never talk to anyone. Sure, that might be the case for some, but most introverts (even extreme ones) still like to have close friends they can socialize with.
Introverts’ friends tend to be seriously low maintenance. These aren’t the types to freak out if you don’t answer their texts for a couple of days, or turn down multiple invitations to parties.
In fact, they’re probably also serious introverts and would rather pull out their own lungs than organize karaoke nights.
Your friend circle likely consists of a few awesome people whom you communicate with regularly, most likely via online chat or texting. If and when you hang out together, it’s likely one-on-one, or in very small groups for quiet, chill time together.
For instance, you might get together monthly for an in-person board game session in someone’s dining room, rather than meeting at a pub for drinks. Or you might even just like hanging out in each other’s company to watch movies and be creative, without doing much talking.
If you have people like this in your life, you likely treasure them dearly. They’re your tribe; your family. Just because you’re not howling at the moon together doesn’t mean you don’t sincerely enjoy one another’s company. You’re just bonding and enjoying company introvert style.
12. “Brunch” is a nightmare word trigger for you.
Okay, so maybe this isn’t a nightmare for everyone, but extreme introverts tend to balk at the possibility of being trapped in a social setting where they have to behave a certain way to fit in.
I used brunch as an example because there’s an amazing Bill Burr comedy sketch in which he talks about the insipid exchanges that tend to happen during brunch with people’s friends or extended family.
Without going into detail about what he said, especially considering his generous use of profanity, he encompassed how excruciating it is to listen to other people prattle on about the ingredients in the food they’re eating, and oh did you happen to watch that TV show the other night?
Extreme introverts consider this type of hollow, useless small talk to be excruciating. None of it actually matters, so why flap your lips around making sounds that aren’t necessary? Just doing so for the sake of filling up a comfortable silence with the comfort of your own voice?
This could also apply to family dinners with relatives you despise and who don’t understand you, work meetings where you’re trapped in a room for hours, etc.
Remember: You’re fine just as you are.
We live in a world where extraverts are prized for their ability to “hustle.” It seems like the more a person does, the more energy they have, the more they socialize, the better they are as human beings.
Most people worship the big name celebrities who have crowds screaming their names, not the quiet nerds who do the coding that lets you play MMORPGs all night.
The world generally isn’t very kind to introverts. Society as a whole tends to treat those who prefer their solitude as “wrong” somehow. Like unless you’re behaving the idealized way that everyone else does, you deserve to be banished like a non-compliant bonobo.
Introverts are shamed and made fun of, especially if they’re awkward with in-person communication. God help you if you have a nervous stammer or if you clam up when talking to others: they’ll never let go of that.
Screw that. You’re fine as you are. More than fine, you’re amazing.
So here’s a piece of advice from me to you:
Live a life that suits your strengths, rather than trying to force yourself into chaos.
Extreme introverts tend to have pretty intense superpowers. In fact, most are incredibly intelligent, and lean heavily toward the arts and sciences.
There’s an ongoing joke about artists and other creative types: people will often ask what they do for a “real” job, or that the things creatives offer the world are non-essential. Arts programs tend to be the first to get cut when it comes to funding in schools and public development.
Yet look at the things most folks take part in on a daily basis and ask yourself whether they could go without the arts for a single day.
Do these people listen to music when driving to work? Or exercising? Well, guess who’s composing that music.
Same with watching TV or films, reading books, or hanging paintings and prints around their homes.
If they wear clothes, there are creatives who have designed them. Someone has engineered their car, programmed the apps they use, formulated their favorite drink.
Choose life circumstances that inspire you and play to your strengths, rather than trying to force yourself to be something you’re not.
If you love science, aim for a career path in which you’ll have a lot of solo time in a lab or behind a screen.
Are you creative? Consider being an illustrator or graphic designer.
Love fitness? Start a video channel where you teach people yoga or strength training from the comfort of your own home.
If you choose what you love to do solo, you’ll be a lot happier and healthier than trying to function in an office or factory environment.
And if you haven’t already, check out the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. It does a lot to dispel the myths of introverts being somehow “broken” or “wrong” simply because they’re wired differently from others.
You may also like:
- An Introvert’s Guide To Recharging Your Social Batteries
- The 9 Hidden Powers Of Introverts
- 15 Of The Best Hobbies For Introverts
- What It Really Means To Be An Introvert
- 15 Ways Introverts Interact Differently With The World