An introvert is, to oversimplify, a person who gains his or her energy from solitude; overstimulation from the outside world and interpersonal interaction sap the strength from such a person, requiring him or her to retreat into isolation in order to mentally and physically recover from the stress and emotional overbearance.

The definition provided by Carl Jung, founder of modern type theory, among other claims to fame, is somewhat more inspiring (taken from unknown source):

"...Introversion for Jung is interest in the subject, while extraversion is interest in the object. This raises the important metaphysical question about the nature of subject and object. Although Jung would have found both question and answer in Schopenhauer, he was not interested in burdening his psychological analysis with particular metaphysical doctrines. "'Interest in the subject' thus simply means the internal states, whether of one's self or of others, are the primary way that the introvert relates to the world, while the extravert relates through objects. One consequence of this is that when introverts are interested in objects, this tends to isolate them rather than relate them to others -- objects for an introvert are private rather than public."
In other words, while the extravert is interested in the object itself, the introvert is generally more interested in the meaning behind the object -- why it is there, what constitutes it, where it came from, how it got to be&where it is, etcetera.

The introvert generally prefers to exist in a mostly self-controlled environment, where the amount of sensory input can be heightened or dampened at will, as, with his/her deep and sensitive involvement with stimuli, the introvert is very succeptible to sensory overload. When in a situation overly-full of superficial, mind-clouding input, the introvert's sensors are completely overloaded and he or she must retreat as soon as possible to a state of solitude, in order to recover. The extravert, meanwhile, with his or her looser, surface-oriented sensors, needs all of the outside input he or she can get, to avoid an unhappy bout of sensory deprivation. As an introvert might define it, "to an extravert, it's not so much the quality of the information as the quantity." This is true in a sense, but an extravert would likely have a very different way of looking at it.

Anyway, the way it narrows down is that the introvert tends to have astonishing depth of focus and understanding, but a relatively narrow amount of experience. Being bombarded with sensory information confuses and rattles him. The extravert tends to have a very wide range of experiences and contacts but in trade for a lack of detailed comprehension. Sitting on one topic and getting personal with it makes him fidgety. For more info past this shallow overview, look to Jung or Myers-Briggs.

Introversion is often mistaken for shyness. A Venn Diagram of the two might show a large intersection, but they are different qualities of personality. A shy person is generally timid, quiet and retiring. Introverts are not necessarily any of these things.

Introverts typically are misunderstood. Extroverts, who outnumber introverts by about 3:1, consider introversion to be a pitiable condition which must be remedied. A recent study apparently showed that the "problem" with introverts is that they are unable to take pleasure in things which are presumed to be unquestionably pleasant. Milling about in large crowds of noisy people, attempting to draw the attention of as many of them as possible to oneself, is presupposed to be one of those pleasant activities.

It is not the case that introverts avoid that which is pleasant and embrace that which is unpleasant. They simply do not find typical extroverted activites pleasant. An introvert would rather be known by one person than be merely noticed by fifty.

Introverts maintain small circles of close friends. They do not feel that they are denying themselves friendship. Quite the contrary, an introvert with a large circle of friends would constantly feel as if he were neglecting most of them, resulting in feelings of guilt. Despite the concerns of well-meaning extroverts, being a social butterfly, even a successful one, is very stressful for an introvert. Certainly there are people who avoid social activities for fear of rejection, but it would be incorrect to identify this group as "introverts."

In`tro*vert" (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Introverted; p. pr. & vb. n. Introverting.] [Pref. intro- + L. vertere, versum, to turn.]

1.

To turn or bend inward.

"Introverted toes."

Cowper.

2.

To look within; to introspect.

Lew Wallace.

 

© Webster 1913.

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