Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.– Albert Camus
I’m a writer, a presenter, and a teacher. My talents, at least the latter two, are best put to use in situations where I have an audience. In addition to being all of these things, I am also an introvert and a highly sensitive person. This means that mentally and emotionally, I am better without an audience and all of the stimulus that comes with lots of public interaction.
Isn’t this a contradiction? Absolutely it is. Navigating in a world where I shine in a place that also happens to be emotionally detrimental to me has always been challenging. Doing what I love comes at a cost, and I’ve had to learn to be protective of myself.
What is a Highly Sensitive Person?
We’re all bombarded by various stimulus at any given moment. Some of this is related to the five senses. This could be background conversations, various things occurring in our field of vision, somebody brushing against us as we pass, and the smells we encounter. Then there is emotional stimulus. In any given day, we witness people displaying a wide range of emotions.
For most people, the brain does its job quite efficiently by filtering all of this stimulus and storing it away as background noise. For people like me, the brain doesn’t do this job as well as it should. All of the inbound ‘noise’ can become unbearable. Like many HSP individuals, I am also an introvert.
This makes for a very noisy world. Fortunately, it’s one I’ve learned to thrive in, thanks to these lessons.
1. Stick to a Schedule When Possible
This isn’t to say that life as an HSP introvert is a life doomed to no spontaneity, but there is some real value in predictability. If I start the day knowing what my schedule looks like, I can identify the tasks and interactions that will be challenging for me, and be able to predict the times when I will need to take action to recover and recoup my emotional resources.
The result of this is that not only am I better off emotionally, I am much more enjoyable to be around, and I can make the most productive use of my talents. This is because I can bring out the teacher and presenter sides of myself when I need to be switched on, and then seek solace in being a writer when I have time to myself.
2. Take The Time to Figure Out How Your Brain Works
If you are an introvert, take the time to understand exactly what that means, not just in a general sense, but for you specifically. HSP and introversion don’t operate in exactly the same way from one person to the next. For example, I can be in a relatively loud environment if I have a focal point. I do absolutely fine attending the theater or enjoying a concert but, on the other hand, parties and crowded nightspots are an absolute nightmare for me. I suspect this is because, in these situations, I don’t have a single thing on which to focus. When external stimuli come from so many different sources at various levels of intensity, I struggle to sort it all out. Understanding my particular brand of HSP and introversion has helped me to create some great coping strategies.
3. Know Which Situations Will be Most Challenging
I have something called my ‘Defcon 5 List’. This is my list of situations that are extremely difficult for me to contend with, even for a relatively short period of time. Unfortunately, this list is the result of painful and very personal experience. However, once I became aware of some of the situations that caused me to struggle the most, I realized that I could then predict other situations that would be just as challenging for me.
Of course, awareness doesn’t necessarily translate into the ability to avoid. Not only that avoidance isn’t always desirable. What awareness does do for me is that it lets me know that I need to prepare myself for these situations and that I need to allow myself time to get back to normal afterwards.
4. Focus on Growing Not Fixing
Being an introvert or an HSP is not a disease, and it’s not a character flaw. It isn’t something that needs to be cured. However, it also doesn’t mean that no effort should be made to grow or challenge yourself. When I am deciding whether or not to expose myself to a challenging situation, I do a bit of a risk-benefit analysis. I try to determine what I will gain not just from the experience itself, but also from forcing my boundaries to get a bit wider and challenging myself.
If I determine that I simply am not up to the challenge, I don’t beat myself over it. When I am able to challenge my limits, I give myself permission to feel proud of the effort and accomplishment.
5. Develop an Understanding of Extroverts
I think the world is becoming more accepting of introverts and becoming more educated on what it means to be an introvert. In fact, if you were to Google ‘introvert memes’ you can find lots of visual depictions of what life is like for an introvert. Many of these are very spot on. One thing that has come with this increasing acceptance and understanding is a bit of a backlash against extroverts. I think it’s important to put it out there that extrovert is not synonymous with loud, insensitive, brash, or boorish. Someone can be an extrovert and also be thoughtful, contemplative, and bright.
I’ve found it easier to relate to extroverts now that I understand that where I lose energy, they gain energy. That’s helped me to get past some of my own prejudice and tendencies to misinterpret the actions of introverts that I interact with. For example, I understand now that when one of my extrovert friends really wants me to socialize, they aren’t pushing me to do something I don’t care to do. They are sharing something that brings them joy.
What do you think? Do you have any coping strategies that you have created as an HSP? If there are extroverts who are also HSP, your input would be especially interesting.
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12 thoughts on “5 Lessons on Being an Introvert in a Loud World”
Hi Kerry, reading your post felt that I am reading about myself. You’ve clearly penned my thoughts. Being an introvert is not easy, at times frustrating too. I am an HSP too. Well, the way I cope up is by writing my thoughts down. Being a writer, it sometimes generates stories also apart from relaxing me. Moreover, I repeat to myself- “Everyone is Unique, and what these people say now will most likely not matter in another year, I am here to do my work, and become an achiever, so should focus on that.”
This works really well. Initially difficult, but it has made me more focussed. I still get affected and frustrated, but many a times that frustration leads to interesting pieces.. Looking forward to know what you feel.
Great piece. Glad to see the distinction made between being a ‘highly sensitive’ (HSP) and introversion. A recent piece on introversion on TinyBuddha.com unnecessarily associated worry with introversion.
As I can attest as an introvert, I am neither highly sensitive nor a worrier. I think more care should be taken, as this piece suggests, to put introversion into perspective with other traits that an introvert might also happen to have.
Hi Kerry, great read. I am an introvert and HSP. I figured out fairly quickly that I was introverted, but I am just now discovering what it means to be a HSP. When I was a kid I always startled very easily, and hated loud noises like balloons popping and fireworks.
This is all very good advice. I had to chuckle about the “Defcon 5” list (although I am sorry that came from a traumatic experience). My Defcon 5 list would definitely include haunted houses, fireworks displays and mosh pits.
I also crave predictability, but that doesn’t mean i’m not a fun person. I just prefer when I know at least a little of what to expect. I’m glad there seems to be an introversion awareness movement going on with our generation, it helps us feel like we’re not flawed for how we experience and interact with the world!
I love this. I am currently writing a post about how God created us for relationships, and how I struggle with maintaining relationships. I suppose it is because I am drawn to extroverts and their ability to seemingly function better in the world. Your words echo some deep-seeded feelings. Thank you.
I think introverts tend to be isolated from people, to be with themselves and live calmly, without stress. But on the other hand, they are more aware of human nature, they are more sympathetic. Moreover, among introverts we can meet many talented writers, musicians who tell about themselves through the art. Here is a link http://highlysensitive.org/introverted-shy-highly-sensitive-arts/
Nice piece, Kerry! I’m HSP and score ‘ambiverted’ on most quizzes (roughly 70% extraverted on various MBTI assessments, though, for what that may be worth).
I wonder if simply being an HSP — regardless of the relative level of introversion/extraversion — dictates the need for schedule and predictability. I also wonder if, then, that relative level of introversion/extraversion determines just how much advance notice one needs. For example, while I might not hate at least certain surprises like many introverts I know would, I still have a strong preference for being able to prepare — particularly emotionally. I just generally don’t need as much time for that emotional preparation as an introverted HSP, in my experience.
Definitely agree with you that there is great value in knowing your own Defcon5 list so that you can strike the important balance between protecting your boundaries and challenging yourself to expand them, too.
Perhaps the most important item on my own Defcon5 list is that I am very, very sensitive to what I loosely term the ‘aesthetic pleasingness’ of a space. I have yet to actually be able to come up with a list of what specific qualities I’m looking for other than ‘orderliness’ and ‘beauty’ — for right now, it’s mostly just a gut feeling. But, boy, when I don’t like a space, I know it; and I need to be careful to not stay too long because it will exhaust me. One way that this has affected me is that it has, at different phases of my life, really discouraged travel (something that at *other* times in my life I’ve massively enjoyed!) because I couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping over in any space other than my own room. When I tried to push myself too far, too fast; I even started having panic attacks. I’ve definitely grown in this area, but my particular brand of HSP still causes me to be very sensitive to my visual space.
Laura, I totally am with you when you say ‘When I push myself too far, too fast I start to have panic attacks! I am glad I am not alone! Also thank you for this post, Kerry! I know I have been an introvert but made to feel ‘strange’ so I am also glad it is being more recognized, although again I have to be careful as to not push myself in uncomfortable places. Recently I have acknowledged I am HSP. I am struggling to find work that will not tax me. Thank You all-I don’t feel so alone or strange ;)!
Definitely not alone, Amy. Good luck to you! If you haven’t looked into EFT to help when you feel yourself getting panicky, I highly recommend it. :-)
Noticing that the majority of responses here are from females made me realize that also being a introverted male is an added stigma. Add to that, an African-American introverted male and people’s expectations fall way out of sync with what you actually are.
Approaching 50 years of age has made me virtually immune to people’s expectations, but self-acceptance only began after my 40s after reading Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet’ and Anneli Rufus’ Party of One. Not to mention the fact that some of the greatest minds of our time have had some level of introversion–it almost seems to be a societal necessity.
My husband is also an introvert (and loves ‘Quiet’; I’ll have to tell him about ‘Party Of One’) and would definitely agree with you on the stigmas associated with being male and introverted.
It’s as if people see introversion as some sort of ‘weakness’ — like you just don’t have the moral fortitude to handle people they way one ‘should’. It’s a big challenge to deal with this gross misunderstanding.
I’m curious how many of you have taken this HSP self-assessment? http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/
Also, one shameless plug about a piece I wrote on 7 ways to emotionally support HSPs.
Hello Kerry. I must say that your post was very thought out and informative and I thoroughly enjoyed it. After reading this, I’m fairly certain that I am indeed introverted but not exactly a highly sensitive person. For the most part I am able to block out the world around me if I need to but it still is a struggle for me to re-enter it when ready. There are a lot of situations where I feel like I need to force myself to actively take a part in what other people seem to do so easily.
Overall I have to say that I’m thankful for blogs like this where everyone can get a better understanding of themselves based on the people around them. This easily allows us to share how we feel and contribute our own experience to reach out to other people. Thanks Kerry for the post. It really helped me put things into perspective.