By Overthinking Introverts Can Often Isolate Themselves—Dwelling in Self-Doubt and Negative Self-Talk or Simply by Failing to Practice Timely Participation in Conversations
Do a quick Google search: what is an introvert? You’ll find more smoke and hokum than you ever thought possible. People’s opinions of us range from “shy” and “quiet” through “thoughtful” to “intellectual” or even “cerebral,” These are all introvert personality traits that are—rightly or wrongly—applied to all of us across the board simply because people just don’t understand what an introvert really is.
Introversion isn’t a lifestyle we’ve chosen for ourselves.
Introversion isn’t a trendy buzzword we apply because we spotted it in a hashtag on Instagram.
Introversion isn’t shyness or a preference to be alone.
Introversion is a real biological difference that can be measured at very basic levels that run far deeper than the psychological differences that pop up.
However, one statement about introverts you’ll find floating around on the Internet is true: we overthink things all the time.
Proponents of introversion—mostly those of us (like Susan Cain) who have used our introvert powers for good and have carved out a bit of the collective human attention for themselves—they call that being “analytical.” I don’t know about you but sometimes when my mind is on overdrive it feels like a hamster spinning on a squeaky wheel.
This happens most often at night. When I’m trying to sleep. Because I have something important to do the next day.
Do Introverts Think More than Extroverts?
The short answer is: yes!
In a 2010 article entitled Revenge of the Introvert published in Psychology Today, Dr. Laurie Helgoe, a psychologist practicing psychodynamic psychotherapy, calls out two key biological differences between introverts and extroverts that help explain variations in brain activity.
First, she discusses electrical activity in our brains—you know, like neurons firing.
Studies have repeatedly discovered that baseline electrical activity in an introvert’s brain is higher (sometimes much higher) than baseline activity in the brains of extroverts. This electrical activity—called cortical arousal—suggests that we’re thinking almost constantly—even during “down time” with little to no external arousal.
Second, scientists tracking blood flow in the brains of both introverts and extroverts who were exposed to external stimuli found that different areas of the brain are saturated correlating to “personality type.”
Specifically, introverts experience more blood flow in the frontal cortex—the area of the brain associated with critical thinking, planning, and problem solving—as well as the nubbin of grey matter called Broca’s Area. If you’re familiar with the brain at all (or human evolution) you’ll recognize that Broca’s area is the spot in our brains associated with speech. (Broca’s area is at the center of several contentious theories about evolution because it is one of the critical differences between modern humans and their alleged ape-like ancestors. It “appeared” mysteriously and rather quickly—similar to the great consciousness awakening during the Cambrian Explosion 545 million years ago.) But that’s a little out of the scope of this article.
For our purposes, it’s enough to know that Broca’s area is also associated non-verbal self-talk.
Do Introvert Have More Thoughts?
Combine these two findings and you’ll see that an introvert’s brain exhibits much more activity—even when in a “resting” state than the brain of an extrovert. This activity has nothing to do with intelligence even though some contested research suggests that a higher percentage of introverted children fall into the “gifted” category when they’re intelligence is tested.
For our purposes, let’s just leave it at introverts think more.
Why Do Introverts Get Overwhelmed?
You might also find in your cursory Internet search about introversion and introvert personality traits that introverts tend to get mentally overwhelmed or worn out from being in social situations for relatively short amounts of time.
There’s a ton of articles out there suggesting that the mere act of being in the presence of others drains our “mental batteries” and that we need time alone to recharge. That’s not quite true. We experience symptoms of mental exhaustion because our brains are being overloaded, not because they’re being drained.
Neurotransmitter Sensitivity in Introverts
Neurotransmitters are chemical compounds that help send signals to and from our brains. There are quite an array of them which control everything from transmission of hunger and pain to sensations of satiation and that good washed out feeling you get after . . . well, you know.
The two we are concerned with here are dopamine and acetylcholine.
Dopamine is the quintessential “feel good” hormone. It produces feelings of relaxation, calm, and what you might call physical happiness. It’s so powerful that dopamine sensitivity has been linked to everything from obesity to addictions to various chemicals and stimuli including heroine and pornography.
Acetylcholine is another neurotransmitter that has a much less intense affect on most people (but not introverts).
Essentially, introverts are hard-wired from before birth to be much more sensitive to both these neurotransmitters. We simply have many more receptors in our brains for these chemicals. That means we need much lower amounts of these chemicals in our bloodstreams than extroverts to produce an identical physiological response. It’s like giving a preteen who has never had coffee before a double-shot of espresso and turning them loose on the world!
However, when our neuroreceptors are constantly bombarded by these chemicals, we get burned out, overwhelmed, and our measurable cognitive skills rapidly decline. That’s the “mental exhaustion” that these Internet articles talk about.
What Did We Learn Today?
Being an introvert is not trendy. It’s not something you can turn off or on. It’s not something you can learn to undo. There is no cure for introversion. It’s a syndrome caused by very real biological differences at very basic levels in our brains and bodies.
Unfortunately, that innate aversion to stimuli is often exaggerated by our social upbringing. Introverted kids are often labelled shy, or weird, or quiet and pushed off to the periphery by their peers and adults in positions of authority. They’re often left to their own devices in classrooms more often than extroverts, often picked last for group activities, and usually struggle to create more than a handful of lasting strong social bonds. (Though the friends an introvert makes will be a friend for life!)
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to “control” your introversion. You can, with practice, pick up life skills and personality traits typically associated with extroverts and use them to your advantage. Comfortability with public speaking is a good example. Through what is essentially exposure therapy, the more often you do something out of your comfort zone, the better you’ll become at it.
And that’s what this website is all about. I’m here to teach you about introversion, dispel many of the myths associated with it, and help you to understand how many of those introvert personality traits you’ve always thought were bad things can really be used to take control of your life and build whatever success story you’ve dreamed of.
Thank you for coming along on the journey.