Settling The Debate About Introverts


Most people don’t believe me when I tell them I’m an introvert.

And that is in large part thanks to the qualities I have that – to the untrained eye – would disqualify me from being one: I’m good at conversations. I’m outwardly friendly. I’m (usually) good at eye contact. I smile a lot. My laugh is loud.

But stacking all of those things up on top of each other doesn’t negate my introversion – at least, to me it doesn’t. And that’s because I’ve always thought about introversion and extroversion as a matter of “battery charge”. Over the years I’ve observed that if you get energy from being around other people and have to use energy to be on your own, you’re probably an extrovert. And conversely, if you get energy from being alone and use energy in most social settings, then you’re probably an introvert. I charge my battery when I’m alone and then I use that battery at things like parties, concerts, meetings etc – so after a week of too much socialising, dinners out, or phone calls, I’ll feel completely depleted. As though someone has poured concrete into my limbs.

But I also know literally nothing. And the qualities I listed at the start of this article still probably put me at odds with most introverts you know.

According to Jonathan Cheek, a psychologist and psychology professor at Wellesley College, it’s not unusual for there to be confusion and that’s because, in the bulk of research on personality psychology, introversion has typically only ever been defined by what it’s not: extroversion. And any one-size-fits-all definition is usually at odds with the way introverts actually describe themselves. So he undertook new research and found, what he told The Cut, are four shades of introversion: social, thinking, anxious, and restrained (The STAR Model). FOUR!! And, what’s more, apparently most introverts are a mix of all four types, with the one uniting principle of them all being “a tendency to turn inward rather than outward.” I like that sentence.

Okay, here they are:

Social: “Social introversion is the closest to the commonly held understanding of introversion, in that it’s a preference for socialising with small groups instead of large ones. Or sometimes, it’s a preference for no group at all – solitude is often preferable for those who score high in social introversion. But it’s different from shyness, in that there’s no anxiety driving the preference for solitude or small groups.

Thinking: “People with high levels of thinking introversion don’t share the aversion to social events people usually associate with introversion. Instead, they’re introspective, thoughtgul and self-reflective. You’re capable of getting lost in an internal fantasy world, but it’s not in a neurotic way, it’s in an imaginative and creative way.”

Anxious: “Unlike social introverts, anxious introverts seek out solitude because they feel awkward and painfully self-conscious around other people, because they’re not confidence in their own social skills. This kind is defined by a tendency to ruminate on the things that might or could or already have gone wrong.”

Restrained: “Another word for this one is reserved. Restrained introverts sometimes seem to operate at a slightly slower pace, preferring to think before they speak or act. They also might take a while to get going – they can’t, for instance, wake up and immediately spring into action.”

Cheek’s STAR Model is still relatively new and, while it’s considered to be an important launch pad, it’s also very much a work-in-progress – just like the rest of us. It’s worth mentioning that this is all just semantics, so if none of these definitions feel right to you, who cares? You’re not required to define any or all of the parts of yourself. Cheek’s work is also debatably imperfect because not one (!) of his definitions mentioned my affinity for putting on pyjamas at 3pm and eating cereal in bed while I search YouTube videos of Ellen giving away money to deserving families and bawling my eyes out.

Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club