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What is it like to be an extreme introvert?

I didn’t have to explain my introvert qualities to others for the longest time. Previously, I was an accountant in Singapore. Then, I took a year and a half break to complete my animation studies and my book, Fearless Passion. I hadn’t been meeting many new people.

Coming to Malaysia for work, I had met more people in three months as compared to my last five years. When I came, I hardly knew anyone except my two Animation Mentor’s friends. Even so, they knew me online and they didn’t know how introverted I am in person.

In this post, I want to share with you what an introvert’s world is like by interviewing an introvert.

And who better to interview than me, the extreme introvert!

If you find this weird, then you have just received your first insight on introverts:

Introverts talk to themselves all the time. 

Trust me, it’s less weird for me to write this out here than interviewing myself out loud. So here goes!

The Qualities and Characteristics of an Extreme Introvert

Q: Are you shy or uncomfortable in groups?

Most people think that introverts are shy. This is a big misconception.

I’m nowhere near shy. I had performed on stage multiple times: singing, playing keyboard, dancing, and screaming! I would say that I’m less shy than most extroverts are.

But I do get uncomfortable in large groups. Not because of shyness. It’s because I get overwhelmed easily. Apart from the verbal conversation, I pick up little nuances like non-verbal body cues and energy from other people easily. I get extremely tired quickly when I’m in groups. Sometimes, crowded and noisy places give me a headache too.

So I need to separate myself from groups and be alone regularly to recharge my batteries.

Q: If you aren’t shy, why don’t you talk much in a group?

The main reason why I don’t talk much in a group is that my mind doesn’t work that well when I’m in a group.

I’m not sure if other introverts feel the same way as I do (perhaps you can leave a comment below and let me know what you think.) But my mind works super fast when I’m alone. I’m very creative and energetic if I was left alone to do my own thing. I always have a lot of ideas.

It’s like being in outer space back and forth a million times!

However, when you put me in a group, my mind stops working. If you ask me a question like what’s my favorite movie, my mind goes blank!

I’m guessing it’s because introverts don’t think out loud as extroverts do. We need to think everything through internally first.

I find myself that most of the time when I finally have something to share, the conversation has already moved on to another topic. Or people who ask me the question get distracted and started talking to the next person. So I usually don’t chip in much in a group conversation.

Q: If that is so, why don’t you think out loud like an extrovert?

Because thinking out loud doesn’t work for an extreme introvert like me. If I was about something which I have not processed internally, my answers tend to be short and superficial. These answers hardly stand for what I really feel about the situation.

But I do realize that sometimes people ask questions to get everyone involved in a group or they just want to touch base with you and aren’t genuinely interested in listening to what you have to share. In this case, I’ll just give them what they seek – short and superficial answers. :)


Our Social Preference as an Extreme Introvert

Q: Do you like people?

This is an interesting question. I used to think that I don’t like people when I was a teen! Everyone was in groups and I was kind of like hanging out with myself most of the time. I thought that if I like people enough, I would hang out with them more often.

When I was much older, I figured out that it was just a difference in social preference. It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s just that I prefer to socialize with people on 1-1 or in a smaller group. I love deep, meaningful conversations in a quiet environment and not parties with loud music.

It has nothing to do with whether I like people or not. In fact, I feel I have a better connection with people when I talk to them 1-1.

Q: Why do you prefer a 1-1 conversation?

I feel that 1-1 conversation is like playing ping-pong. One person listens and the other person talks. Then, they exchange roles back and forth. The roles are very clear in a 1-1 conversation.

Group conversation, on the other hand, is like playing soccer. There are many positions to play – you can be the striker, midfielder, defender, goalie, and so on. Many times, I find myself lost in a group and don’t know what position I’m playing. And I will get restless, bored, and distracted.

Over the years, I discovered that being the listener fits my personality the best. Every conversation needs listeners. When I play the listening role, I get more involved in the group conversation. So I stay on the sideline and only enter the pitch when I have something to share.

Q: What are your thoughts on having small talks?

I don’t like to make small talks but I think it’s absolutely necessary from a social point of view. You don’t meet a new person and start asking them about their relationship with their parents, their views on life, and so on. And there aren’t always deeper things to share all the time.

However, you will seldom find me going around asking people like “How’s your day?” or “Have you had your lunch?”. I’m pretty much passive in that aspect. But just want to be clear though that not all introverts are that passive in making friends.

For me, I take a slow approach to making friends. If people approach me and talk to me, I would be happy to talk to them. But I don’t enjoy going up to new people and asking them questions when I know they have no interest in finding out the answers.

Sometimes I do make small talks because I know it’s going to lead to a deeper conversation or I find that individual might be someone I can forge a better relationship in the future.

Living with Others as an Extreme Introvert

Q: What is it like for an extreme introvert to live with your family?

Living with others is always a challenge for introverts because we need a lot of downtimes away from other people to recharge our batteries. Even though I had stayed with my family for many years and most of them are introverts too, it still took me years to get them to understand that I need more personal time and space than they do.

I’m not very good at communicating this need to others in the past. And I would flare up when someone intrudes my private space or time. Now I just closed my door whenever I need time alone to work on my stuff. My family members can still knock on my door if they need me. If I absolutely don’t want anyone to disturb me, I would just put a sign or a note outside my door.

Q: What is it like for an extreme introvert to live with others?

Living in Malaysia is kinda different. I believe most of my housemates are more on the extroverted side.

My housemates love inviting guests to their place. In Singapore, my family and I hardly have any guests at our home. So I’m not used to it.

But I’m aware of the difference in cultures and personalities. So I never restrict my housemates from bringing guests to our house. Extroverts feel energize around people. I want them to be themselves. I won’t tell them to lock themselves in a room like what I do most of the time.

It’s great that my housemates accept my introverted nature too and just let me be in my room, although sometimes they don’t quite get it why I stay in my room so much.

The Challenges of Being an Extreme Introvert

Q: What is the question that other people ask you the most?

It’s definitely: “Why are you so quiet?”

I hate to answer this question because it’s like explaining to others why am I born a Chinese or a guy.

This question is a conversation killer for introverts. If you want an extreme introvert to open up, just talk to them and ask them something more specific like:

  • what do you like to do in your free time?
  • what is your opinion about this incident?
  • what do you like about this movie?

Don’t ask introverts to talk more or to open up. It makes us feel flawed like there’s something wrong with us being quiet. And it sounds rude! Introverts don’t go around asking extroverts, “Why are you so talkative and noisy? Can you talk less? Can you shut up?”

Asking an introvert to open up is the same as asking an extrovert to shut up.

A better way to get introverts to share their quiet nature in a less judgmental way is to ask them, “Why do you prefer a quiet environment?”

Q: What is the biggest challenge of being an extreme introvert?

Being misunderstood all the time. Introverts are labelled “anti-social”, “aloof”, “outcast” and “boring”.

When I was in secondary school, people don’t want to pair up with me because I was deemed “boring”. During excursion trips, I would get onto the bus and get a seat first because I feel bad if someone were to be stuck with me for the rest of the trip.

There was even one time when one of my classmates told me that I was arrogant in my face. I was like where does that come from.

But at least I’m grateful that I wasn’t bullied in school. Just mostly ignored.

Now that I’m in 30 years old and I know myself very well enough, what other people think of me doesn’t affect me at all. It’s a good place to be!

Q: What advice would you give other introverts?

I would say be yourself. Don’t try to be an extrovert when you are not an extrovert. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go out and socialize with others. It just means that you recognize your need to spend time alone away from people. Be proud of it; don’t see it as a weakness.

For years, I thought that I have autism or am socially inept. Now that I look back, it was very silly of me to think that way.

Being an introvert is one of the best gifts of my life. I never get bored or run out of things to do. If I want to do something such as watching a movie or have a good meal, I don’t have to find another person who shares the same interest as me before I can do it. I can just do whatever I like on my own.

Plus, most of my creative ideas come from being an introvert. If I’m not an introvert, I wouldn’t have been so in touch with my passions for writing. And I won’t have created this great blog and written my books.

So I say harness your strength as an introvert and do wonder with it.

Q: What resources would you recommend other introverts?

Introverts love to read. I would recommend Susan Cain’s book on introverts, Quiet. I had watched a couple of her interviews and I love what she shared about introverts. They are pretty accurate. She defines introverts as people who have a preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulating environmentAnd that basically sums up what I am as an introvert. You can watch her inspiring video below:

Hopefully, from this interview and the video above, you get a better knowledge of what introversion is all about.

Read Susan Cain’s Quiet to find out more about introverts.

Featured Photo Credit: Little child in a garden / José Morcillo Valenciano