For The Last Damn Time: Shy, Quiet and Introverted Are Three Different Things, And Introverts Are Not Broken People

This post was written and posted on the quick following acute frustration in my afternoon reading. I’m seeing a lot of things around the Internet where people are tagging themselves as “I’m a shy introvert.” No, you’re shy AND you’re an introvert. You have a phobia around social interactions, and you have a type preference to lose energy around people. I’m tired of seeing people chalked up as “shy, quiet, introverted” people. They are three different things. I discussed this in a highly-read post a while ago, but to review:

  • An introvert is someone who loses energy when interacting with people. (I am one of these.)
  • A quiet person is someone who just doesn’t feel the need to verbally dominate a group or to be heard constantly. (I am NOT one of these, I am a chatterbox around people I’m comfortable with and don’t lose my energy as long as we’re talking about something interesting.)
  • A shy person has, in my opinion, a psychological pathology around interacting with people, be it fear of rejection, low self-esteem, conditioned expectation of criticism or punishment for speaking up, or excessive pride that can’t bear the judgments of others. (I was one of these in my high school days, following a few years of poor social interactions and ostracism.) Introverts are only a quarter of the population, which means that lots of shy people are extroverts – which means they are deeply conflicted, their phobia denying them the energy they need from other people.

As a recovering shy person myself, I suppose I have some “former smoker syndrome” going on where I am intolerant of other shy people who haven’t gotten over it yet. I do empathize with them. But let me be clear – if you are shy, going through the personal effort (or therapy if necessary) to dispatch that problem is probably the single biggest thing you can do to boost your life success right now.

I know that’s easier said than done. But it doesn’t have to be a prison, and it’s so worth it.

My introversion is still with me, and is a part of me I’m proud of. I plainly (if politely) assert it when necessary, to say “I’ve had a great time y’all, but I need to get out of here.” If something is really not worth my social energy, it’s “I don’t have time for this bullshit.”

You don’t have to be the life of the party to do well with women. Mystery’s brand of wow-the-crowd game was never something I even attempted, knowing I wouldn’t have the patience and energy to get skilled at managing large groups of people in pursuit of the attraction of one of them. But Roosh’s style of innocuously vibing one-on-one, with an intellectual bent, has yielded great results for me.


Alongside people improperly diagnosing themselves as shy/introverted/whatever, equally frustrating is extroverts casting introversion as pathological and substandard.

I’m going to be glib and hyperbolic here and suggest that this is pure projection, the extrovert thinking that if someone doesn’t want to talk to him, something must be wrong with the person who’s not talking. I suppose that is an extension of the reality of being an extrovert, which is centered around the belief that everyone else wants and needs to hear what’s coming out of your mouth.

Ronald Reagan was an introvert. He certainly wasn’t too shy to mock Walter Mondale’s age to his face on live television, or too weak to tell Mikhail Gorbachev that East German Communism sucked on Mickey’s own soil.

I’m amped up about this because I’m seeing it in online dating profiles – I’ve read a bunch where women say their man has to be outgoing, because “I’ve dated a shy/quiet/introverted guy and it just doesn’t work for me.” Sometimes this comes off of an OkCupid question that asks if you could date someone who is really quiet. I suppose it’s the man’s job to sing and dance so that she’s not made uncomfortable by awkward silences? It’s a transparent variation on hypergamous alpha-chasing and the demands that a guy “own the room” (for social value) and that he provide constant stimulation to her (for dopamine flow).

Let’s turn the projection back. Words are valuable to an introvert, so if you find yourself with a guy who isn’t lighting up the verbal fires with you, maybe you should consider whether the stuff coming out of your mouth is worth his time and effort to respond to. (We’ve all known people who thought they were a lot more interesting than they actually are, “legends in their own mind.”) Or maybe you’re putting him in front of your friends and family and expecting him to impress everybody before he’s ready for that kind of investment.

The whole “he’s weird if he’s not outgoing” thing is a very dangerous and pernicious mechanism that dehumanizes people who don’t fit our stereotyped behavior patterns. We introverts could just as easily cast extroverts as compulsive blitherers, peddlers of content-free chatter in the way a cat demands to be petted just as you are starting on other important things.


Filed under off the donkey rails

49 responses to “For The Last Damn Time: Shy, Quiet and Introverted Are Three Different Things, And Introverts Are Not Broken People

  1. kris

    As a fellow introvert, I just wanted to say that this was a great article.


  2. kris,

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. Rico

    You mentioned that you are formerly “shy”… what exactly did you do to get past that (Other than simply quit being shy)?

  4. Candide

    “An introvert is someone who loses energy when interacting with people.”

    Damn, maybe I am one. I thought it’s just because most people are so stupid and boring that it costs me energy to talk to them.

    Where can you get officially diagnosed and certified as introvert or extrovert? I used to think that this is just white people’s mumbo-jumbo. You talk too much and you’re extro, you don’t talk enough and you’re intro.

    My crazy ex who’s a psychology student said that I swing between I and E, and it’s a damn fine big swing too. I don’t trust her though, cos she’s crazy. :P

  5. an observer

    I vaguely recall that three quarters of the population are extroverts. Meaning that other quarter are just wishing the rest would shut the f*ck up occasionally. The constant nattering is an annoying form of attention seeking, an endless quest for validation i was more tolerant of when younger.

    Some years later, i am less tolerant than ever.

    What does really annoy is that modern workplaces, especially offices, cater to extroverts. Even job criteria now commonly seek outgoing, persuasive people who talk constantly, above all else.

    Must be time for a career change.

  6. dejour

    They may not be the same thing (or even close), but I’m sure there is some overlap . If you looked only at shy people I’m sure you’d find more than your usual share of introverts.

  7. Lakes

    Great point about the workplace, an observer. I hope that with Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet,” perhaps awareness of the contributions and needs of introverts will be raised.

  8. dejour,

    “They may not be the same thing (or even close), but I’m sure there is some overlap . If you looked only at shy people I’m sure you’d find more than your usual share of introverts.”

    Thanks for commenting.

    I see you’ve asserted irrefutable hard data to back up your assertion that you’re just “sure” about. Again, shyness is a neurosis producing a fear of people, introversion is just a personality preference. An introvert will probably avoid some crowded events, but an introvert has no neurotic fear it.

    Interestingly, I find it easy to go to a concert or a festival or something where I’m not expected to chat everyone up, and I’ve made friends there because there’s no expectation. It’s going to parties my friends throw or work mixers that tire me out, because the expectation is there that I’m to be talking a lot and “having a good time,” and there’s a false politeness enforced where I can’t just not talk to people and be left alone to (not) do it. Whereas at the music club, nobody cares if I’m enjoying my drink alone while the Bruce Springsteen cover band wails away.

  9. Candide,

    “Where can you get officially diagnosed and certified as introvert or extrovert? I used to think that this is just white people’s mumbo-jumbo. You talk too much and you’re extro, you don’t talk enough and you’re intro. ”

    Most people I know have taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator exam, which for some people (like me) is really spot-on, and for others is noisy, inconclusive or hazy. One of its dimensions is I vs E, from which I get my concept of the terms.

    It definitely goes much deeper than whether you talk a lot or not (again, quiet is different). I talk a lot with people I’m close to, I walk softly around those I don’t. I really hate it when people I know only peripherally stop me (at work, church, etc) and try to extract a long small-talk conversation from me.

    There seems to be an opposites-attract kind of idea out there that I’s and E’s make good relationship pairings, and to be honest I really don’t buy it. It takes a lot of discipline and swallowing your pride to accommodate one another’s preference, and in particular since society is so biased to extroverts, I think it’s critical that the E partner give the I partner a lot of leeway, to be the person who really understands their needs. You can accuse me of being self-interested but that’s the way I see it. I-E mismatch was a large part of at least one of my breakups.

  10. OffTheCuff

    Shyness is often another manifestation of conceitedness: you are afraid to say or do something, because you think everyone is watching or judging you. News flash… you’re not that important that them.

    In a way, humility is the cure. That and alcohol.

  11. Vicomte

    I’m glad someone else understands this.

    Extroversion/introversion is a preference, nothing more.

    I’ve never been accused of being shy, socially awkward, conversationally inadequate, or otherwise unable or afraid of dealing with people competently. People like me, and I know this. However, I much prefer to keep to myself, more often than not. I’ll chime in when something interesting happens. Until then, I enjoy the company of my own thoughts.

    ‘Playing’ extroverted isn’t draining so much as tedious. Most people aren’t that interesting.

    That said, the people who think introversion means ‘social retard’ are the same people that think it’s crazy you’re not on Facebook.

    No shit. I’m hiding from you.

  12. Uncle Rico,

    “You mentioned that you are formerly “shy”… what exactly did you do to get past that (Other than simply quit being shy)?”

    It’s like game, I just started to be more attractive, man! Kidding aside, it began with me recognizing that shyness was holding me back from what I wanted – I was hampered in my friendships, my weekend plans, activities I wanted to do weren’t getting done.

    Once I had come to accept the shortcomings, I then identified certain social behaviors that I sucked at due to the shyness – like initiating conversation, saying “how are you,” responding to “how are you,” and deftly moving to set up weekend activities with friends. I was so bad that I would hesitate to
    because if they said no (even for a good reason) I took it as a rejection of me and got disappointed.

    I worked to come up with proper ways to respond to those situations, and with practice (pushing through the fear), I came to internalize those skills and make them automatic. A lot of inner game came out of that, learning to not be buffeted by events and reactions and not put my self-worth in the hands of other people.

    It was a bit like approach anxiety, a lot like it actually – I had to condition myself to not care so much. It was hard, but worthwhile. Now I’m fearless!

  13. Most people I meet and talk to about this don’t understand the difference despite their thinking they do.
    I even recently had a discussion about this with a girl who was a psych minor, and I wasn’t sure she quite got it.

    And it’s true that more shy people tend to be introverted. Shy people can’t talk and intros don’t feel the need to be continually talking and engaging, thus leading people to think that they are the same thing.

    Ironically, introverts are probably better suited to understand the differences than extroverts. Not because their experiences, but because they are probably more reflective and analytical in their thoughts looking for the right answer and not just the first answer or common belief.

  14. an observer


    If those ‘awareness raising’ activities ever went ahead, i dread the team oriented workshops that would be involved.

    I dreamt about such an event just recently. I was at this pointless team building exercise – again – with yet another team of bright, bubbly extroverts who couldn’t wait to endlessly masticate the issues.


  15. Thanks for this post – your original “Caring for your Introvert” was actually one of the things that made me regularly drop by this blog, since I’m very much an I in the MBTI sense, yet not what most people would think of as an introvert. I can enjoy the big nights out, I can talk to and joke around with anyone, but if I do something like that, I need to spend some time reading, writing, target shooting, or some other inwardly-focused activity.

    If you’re willing to discuss it, I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on I/E pairings – I’m starting to consider dropping some plates to get more serious with a girl who is very much an E – but maybe it works well now because I have plenty of time to rechage between times with her.

  16. just visiting

    Thank you. Introverted doesn’t mean shy, but there are a lot of people who seem to think that’s what it means.

  17. Candide

    Well, every time I take a MBTI test, I come out as E, but I also have many typical behaviours of an Introvert. I draw just as much energy from being in the spotlight interacting with people as I do from spending hours reading or reflecting on my own thoughts. I need that balance, else I get exhausted. If you ask people who know me, half will say I’m a clear E, and half will say I’m an I, and the occasional one will be very confused about what I am exactly.

    Personally I think those labels are a waste of time. I just behave as I please.

    I wonder how much people behave like Extrovert or Introvert just because those labels are widely known and they feel comfortable identifying themselves as such. Kinda like how teenagers (and early-20s) act more immature when society (Western) expects them to be immature. I grew up in a society where those labels are not known. Not sure if that’s an advantage or disadvantage.

  18. Formerly shy + introvert here, but quiet, never!

  19. Introverts chew stuff for longer and develop perception / analytic / creative superpowers. Go introverts. However the stuff they come up with rarely comes to the surface. Fuck you introverts :-)

    Shy people are like you said. Just afraid and with issues. But it can be pretty superficial – without the reflection / introspection part. Shyness can be just dumb.

    Quiet people. Need to be pushed around. To the cliff, so they roll down and gain some momentum.

    “shy, quiet, introverted” can be similar on the surface.

  20. J

    I’m a shy, quiet introvert. That’s a triple bonus modifier! Yeah!

    Achievement Unlocked: Social Failure

  21. LifeUniverse42

    On the MBTI test and the I/E balance. I’m one of those personality that are difficult to type. On basic testing I get INTJ. But when discussing with people I can show characteristic relative to other personality type.

    A friend of mine did an analysis to better type a person, they do an analysis between the conscious and the unconscious mind and also the masculine and feminine part of the character. So at the end you get 4 personality type that are more or less developed and modify your behaviour. From this set of four you can get a set of two, a synthesis personality for the unconscious mind and the conscious one. At the end you can produce a single synthesis personality type.

    This analysis allow to see that a person type is rather flexible and also has room to grow. Even someone who is mostly Introvert can go and work on some extrovert personality trait if he have them. Like talking to a crowd it would still drain energy, but if you work on it it will drain less energy eventually or we could be with a small group of person and the group would be giving energy.

  22. I think all of these three expressions are thrown around too much. A person isn’t either an introvert or an extrovert, it always depends on the situation someone finds himself in. There’s always a reason for a person’s behavior though and this may range from absent-mindedness to disinterest for people who are shy/quiet/introverted on the surface.

  23. Pingback: Introverts are people too | Touching Life With A Ten Foot Pole

  24. Doe

    I wonder if the extroverts who are trying so hard to force social interaction on their introvert friends/partners are the ones who used to be shy? The formerly shy extroverts think that by helping their friends/partners to overcome the “shyness” (which is really introversion), they are doing a great service.

    I’ve noticed that introverts tend to build rapport with conversation that most extroverts would consider too serious. As an introvert, I look forward to the conversation that happens after the pleasantries are out of the way. For my extrovert friends, the pleasantries are the conversation, and once that’s over they move on to chat with the next person.

  25. Actually, introverts are estimated to be about half the population.

    It’s iNtuitive types who are about a quarter of the population.

  26. Introverts rule the world. It just is.

  27. lavazza1891

    One weird thing about only talking when you have something well thought to say is that you will stop the conversation with that comment.

  28. This is bang on; our culture celebrates the choleric/sanguine extroverts, and acts as if there is something wrong with the melancholic/phlegmatic introverts. Nothing could be further from the truth. (Hint – Michaelangelo ‘the party animal’ was a melancholic introvert!)

    As an extrovert, I’m driven to shove my nose into other people’s business, and yell at strangers. Just because I can chat up a room doesn’t mean that extroversion is ‘good’.

  29. Youtube trackback: Introverts shouldn’t feel ashamed.

  30. Claire

    Doe – NAIL ON HEAD! I love your post!. I’m aware of shy extroverts etc but it never occurred to me that ‘reformed’ shy extroverts may think they’re doing introverts a favour by forcing interaction on them.

    I also agree with you wholeheartedly on your second point, and going by your insightful post, I can bet that a conversation with you, after the dreaded small talk of course, would definitely be one worth having.

  31. Diana

    Man! I don’t know who you are or how I ended up here! But I, too, am a die hard introvert. Just gimme my alone time so I can recharge! I also used to be terribly shy, so I started bartending. Now, years later, I can out-social anyone and actually really enjoy it… until it’s time to go home and recharge, that is! And I hate being lumped with the shy ones that haven’t gotten over it yet.

  32. Kel

    I really appreciate this article. I’m an INFJ. I like meeting new acquaintances but am very selective of friends. I was at a party the other night involving people from a new job. They automatically pegged me as “quiet” and asked if they “scared me away” because I left before most. (It also happened to be a Passion Party, hence the “scared me away” line.) The real reason I left was because they were boring. The party was a waste of my time and energy. Their stories didn’t even come close to scaring me; they were rather immature. I didn’t want to appear like a stuck-up asshole, so I made an excuse up and left. I wish more people understood the distinction.

  33. Kel

    To add to my previous work party story, they were the “Mean Girls.” They made fun of everyone else in the office at the party. I really didn’t want to associate myself with people that made their conversations solely from boring “crazy” stories and talking about people behind their backs. Maybe that makes me an asshole, maybe not.

  34. Kel

    Doe–you are exactly right regarding the pleasantry conversations. I hate them as well! It’s funny; I usually end up coming off as either shy or abrasive because of this.

  35. “An introvert is someone who loses energy when interacting with people” That is such a simple yet absolutely spot on statement. Having to interact with Neurotypical chatterboxes is more draining IMHO than running a marathon.

  36. Ag

    @:YOHAMI I dont agree that shy people needn to be pushed around. No one has given the permission to the extroverts & street smart people to push around shy people just to prove their status! Responsible shy people are better than street smart goalless extroverts!

  37. Mike

    I actually believe a lot more people would prefer to consider themselves introverts as there appears to be the perception that this implies a higher level of intelligence (I suppose due to the fact introverts are more “thoughtful and analytical). Also the fact extroverts may be stereotyped as being loud and obnoxious.

    Being an introvert also means you are effectively a bit of a narcissist, now the extrovert can obviously also display traits of narcissism, however by definition -this obsession the introvert inherently has for their own mind and thoughts surely represents a far higher level of self-absorption and in a way.. arrogance.. working under the pre-tense that their views are more valid than those around you etc..

    I am unsure where I fall on the scale. As we know it is not as simple as being “introvert” or “extrovert”. There is a lot more too it than that and I suspect a lot more to it than studies of psychology have theorised to date.. You probably don’t want to find yourself too far at either extreme end of the spectrum.

    I found your article a good read though – I struggle to evaluate myself with this one due to my lack of confidence obfuscating the answer somewhat.. I find I switch between the two to some degree as how introverted I am fluctuates depending on environmental factors (relationships, career etc). As a child I’m certain I was an extrovert – craved attention etc – I still do now as an honest answer – I value what people think of me quite highly – I think I do feed off other peoples “energy” a little. I then withdrew in my teenage years due to fear > depression > lack of confidence > for a time – isolation. Can one who is born an extrovert convert into an introvert as a result of depression, developed shyness, lack of social awareness etc?

  38. Excellent article. It gave me new insights in understanding myself better.

    I have almost given up on being that popular party guy. It’s just not in me. There’s still some fight in me but overall I think it’s better to focus at what i’m good at and improve that.

  39. Jordan

    I agree completely with your definition of introversion. But, I’m sort of conflicted about the definition of shy. I see shy as slow to warm up to people. I wouldn’t consider it on par with social anxiety, social phobia, or avoidant personality disorder.

    Personally, I’m not really shy because I have no problem talking to people once they start talking to me. But, I do have social phobia/avoidant personality disorder and introversion. I consider myself so worthless that I assume people wouldn’t want to be friends with me. That’s different than not opening up.

    But, again, that’s just my opinion from subjective experience. =)

  40. quietone

    I agree and disagree with this post. Quiet people tend to be either introverted, shy, or social phobics. Quiet people are soft-spoken and/or not as talkative as extroverted and outgoing people. Being an introvert is different from being a shy person and being a shy person is different from being a social phobic.

    I know this because I am introverted and I am shy. I once was a social phobic. Shyness is just another aspect of personality. If you’re sensitive, modest, and shrink from seeking the spotlight or bold and agressive, you’re shy. Social phobia is extreme shyness that interferes with your life.

    As this society seems to confuse quiet types, my natural introversion and shy nature were mistaken for a pathology and eventually I became a social phobic as a result. In a culture that values bold, agressive alpha types it’s no surprise that anything outside of that is just lumped into one category or distinctions are completely blurred.

  41. tanya

    Outgoing introvert female completely agrees :)

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  44. John Bearss

    A little late coming to this party….but I just wanted to note something that seemed absent from this discussion

    Wherever you fall on the introverted/extroverted/quiet/shy/not shy matrix……this is not a one-side-is-right, team A vs. team B issue. People are all different and different blends of personality. Understanding who you are is important, BUT PLEASE TRY AND UNDERSTAND EVERYONE ELSE, and, much more importantly, dare I say try and make other people comfortable (don’t do it so much t your detriment, but a little won’t kill you) as social circumstances dictate. I am introverted AND shy (and maybe a little quiet but I can definitely get loud and obnoxious)…..however, more than being proud of any of those particular traits, what I”m probably most proud of is the ability to BE (“act”) extroverted or loud or whatever. I’m probably not terrific at it, but I make a lot of effort in being a social chameleon of sorts…..being an introvert I guess fortunately I watch how people act a lot.

    In the end, we’re all trying to get by and be happy and take care of people we love and who make a difference in our lives. Being introverted I don’t really practice what I preach here, but I definitely think there is something to be said for networking – for meeting and interacting with as many different types of people for the little amount of time we’re all here, because ultimately I think the happiest people in the world/most satisfied people blah blah are the ones who have been exposed to as many different people/personalities as possible. I’m sort of talking out of my ass now but in other cultures/countries all of the personality dimensions discussed are all mixed and re-arranged and called different things, so in some other parts of the world extroverts are introverts, etc. I have no evidence for saying that whatsoever, but I’m instantly skeptical of anyone saying otherwise. Yes, the idea of getting energy/losing energy around people exists everywhere but the stigmas/cultural significance for these could be vastly different from the U.S.

    As I enjoy hammering my arguments into the ground……I guess my point is, don’t be a victim.

    Don’t be a victim, because in reality I don’t think this is (ever was?) a situation a victim and victimizer/antagonizer exists. I think it’s easy to frame it that way and process it and modify how we act afterwards that way…..but everyone brings something to the table, and while you can make “extroverts finish first” arguments, it’s just healthier to say “I’m glad extroverts are doing well, I’m also glad introverts are doing well (which is true), and I’m glad there are hundreds of other personalities out there too and if I meet some of them and get to know them better than I’ll experience something/meet someone that makes turns me from an introvert into an extrovert (possible? idk)/vice versa, and so on, and really in the grand scheme of things, we really just know next to nothing about each other, and if we call each other extroverts and introverts, it’s just because we haven’t talked to each other enough to the point that we love each other for everything that we are, flaws, strengths, social quirks, and we just have to keep talking and talking until we’re sick of talking to each other, but at least we are also sick with how much we understand each other now, etc.”.

    Phew…I feel better now, lol

  45. extroverts as compulsive blitherers, peddlers of content-free chatter

    There is some thought that extroverts are neurologically deficient in needing excessive stimulation.

    Introvert hate would then be extroverts projecting their own pathology.

  46. Lori

    Today, it was suggested, by my manager, that I consider taking an upcoming workshop entitled, “Interpersonal Communication Skills.” Now, while I admit to once feeling shy (high school, college), I am now a relatively secure and confident 47-year-old introverted working mother of a very outgoing 4-year-old. When asked why I should take this workshop, I was told, “I thought this would be a good one for you because it helps you with your shyness. It also helps you understand how others communicate and how to read their motives.” Now, I’ve been in Al-anon and other assorted recovery groups, as well as pursuing my own interests among varied groups of people, for well over 15 years. If all of that “self” work hasn’t allowed me ample opportunity to understand how others communicate and better read their motives, I don’t think this workshop will. In fact, it’s keeping quiet that offers me the best vantage point from which to do all that understanding and motive-reading.

  47. Lori, sounds like your manager hasn’t been paying attention to how you communicate. I have been through those classes, they are really patronizing, and at the same time don’t do much to teach you to better yourself. I think to have a really effective training in interpersonal communication you seriously need to teach a cross-section of manipulation techniques – inducing the right emotions in others is a cornerstone of good communication, and those whose careers depend on “good communication” learn early on how to fake it.

    I’m not advocating per se, I’m just pointing out what it would take to really make people “effective” communicators.

  48. Lori

    Thanks for your feedback, Badger. “…inducing the right emotions in others is a cornerstone of good communication, and those whose careers depend on “good communication” learn early on how to fake it.” Perhaps this is the reason it’s been suggested I take the workshop. I have no interest in doing either of the things mentioned above. I’ve spent many years unlearning the fruitless behavior of trying to manipulate others’ emotions and will no longer do “fake.” If that’s what’s considered good communication, I’ll skip it. I prefer directness, honesty and transparency. I find, though, these are not the desired characteristics in most circles, and I consider that unfortunate. It makes things a whole lot easier.

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