It can be hard for introverts to thrive in a world that values being outgoing and social. Introverts are often misunderstood and can be mistreated by people who don’t know better.
That’s why it’s important to understand how to care for introverts in your life, and to know the things you should avoid doing to introverts.
As an introvert, I’ve experienced a lot of crazy things that I’m one hundred percent certain would not have happened if I was a ‘normal’ person, also known as an extrovert. These experiences have caused a lot of pain that I’m sure was not the intention of the people involved, which is why I’m sharing 18 ways to care for introverts.
To give you a taste of my crazy introvert experiences, I had a lady tell me I was going to kill myself after knowing me for just a few hours. Eight years later, I’m still here! More on this later.
What is an introvert?
Introverts are people who gain and spend energy a bit differently from other people. They make up 25 to 40 percent of the population.
While many people gain energy from external social interactions, introverts lose energy when around other people for extended periods of time.
To regain that energy introverts need time alone to “recharge” their batteries.
Introverts can be more sensitive to stimulation like lots of noise or large crowds, and need to have recovery time in quiet low stimulation places afterwards.
Being an introvert does not always mean they are shy or quiet, or that they suffer from social anxiety and depression.
Some introverts love talking to small groups of friends for periods of time, they just need alone time later. You may know people who are ‘social butterflies’ that are actually introverts.
Self-awareness is important to introverts, so they enjoy activities that allow them to be introspective and may need time to decide how they feel about something.
What’s the Difference Between Introverts and Extroverts
Extroverts thrive in social situations. They love being around other people, they feed off group energy.
Extroverts can actually start to feel run down and listless if they have to spend too much time alone. They need social interaction to perk up again.
They also tend to process information by speaking and doing, while introverts process information by thinking and observing. Introverts prefer to learn in private and don’t like to be put on the spot, while extroverts don’t mind trying things out in front of others.
It’s important for extroverts to learn how to care for introverts. Extroverts can have a very hard time understanding them, and can inadvertently become ‘energy vampires’ when they focus their attention on introverts in the wrong way.
Neither one is better or worse than the other, it simply comes down to biology.
Each processes information differently in the brain. Data travels through different areas of the brain. For extroverts information takes a shorter path through the areas where taste, audio, sight, and touch is processed. For introverts, information takes a longer route though areas responsible for memory, planning, and problem solving.
This doesn’t mean they are ‘slow’ or dumb, in fact introverts take in more information from their surroundings than extroverts, which is why they later need to be in low stimulation environments so their brains can process the information.
What if I’m in the middle?
The majority of people aren’t just one or the other, they can relate to both introvert and extrovert tendencies. If you feel like you’re somewhere in the middle of the introvert to extrovert spectrum, you are probably an ambivert.
Ambiverts enjoy the best of both worlds.
They are happy to socialize and don’t always feel as drained as introverts, but they need alone time too. They process information by thinking and talking. They are happy to work in groups or alone. Sometimes they feel outgoing, other times they feel reserved.
How do introverts recharge?
Introverts don’t need to be alone all the time, but when they need to recharge they do it by going someplace quiet where they can hear themselves think or just not think at all.
Introverts need alone time like they need food and sleep, if they don’t get it they feel run down.
Sometimes they’ll read, watch tv, take a walk, or engage in a hobby.
I know that when my social battery is drained if feels like I just ran into a wall. Being around people, and even being around my pets, feels like a huge weight on my chest. Sometimes I get headaches and anxious feelings. It doesn’t happen everyday, but maybe once a week I need to hide in my room for a while to recharge.
They may also enjoy these activities:
Why is it important to understand introverts?
Many introverts report feeling shame about their introversion, and it doesn’t help that some extroverts feel they need to ‘fix’ introverts or treat them like they have something wrong with them.
Remember when I mentioned that a woman told me I was going to kill myself? It’s because I’m a quiet introvert and she could not understand why I did not enthusiastically speak to her.
I was out of state for a wedding and rode to the location with a relative. The event ended up last about 5 hours and the whole incident ended up being very painful.
I can’t remember her name now, but there was an older woman who kept talking to me. I tried to be polite but I really had no interest in talking to her. I was about 24, she was in her 70s and she kept asking really personal questions which turned me off.
Despite me not engaging she kept hammering me with questions. The more I refused to open up to her the more she believed she needed to help me ‘break out of my shell.’ Sometimes she would go talk to other people for a while but then she’d come right back.
When I didn’t divulge all my private thoughts and feelings she shared hers. She told me all about her current lover and how he compared to past lovers. She gave me dating advice. She asked invasive questions that were none of her business.
On top of all this I had multiple aunts and uncles repeated say things like “why don’t you talk, why are you so quiet, what’s wrong with you?” Or they would sarcastically say “quiet down!” when I was minding my own business and not speaking.
Can you imagine how awful it feels to have people ask what’s wrong with you when you’re just being yourself? It feels really bad.
That night was really difficult, but the icing on the cake was when we were (finally!) leaving and she came up to me, grabbed my hands said the following:
“You need to get help.”
I thought ok, everyone does so what.
“Do you want to die?”
I can’t remember the exact thing she said next due to my shock, but it was along the lines of “you’re depressed and need help otherwise you’re going to kill yourself.”
I had suffered with depression in my late teens but I was not depressed or suicidal at that time. There was no reason for this woman to tell me that I was going to kill myself except that I just didn’t want to talk to her.
I don’t share this to shame extroverts, just to highlight how important it is not to make assumptions about people who aren’t as social as you, and how important it is not to belittle or mock them like my aunts and uncle did to me.
The one highlight of the night was when a woman around my age to sat next to me for a few minutes and asked some friendly questions without demanding anything super personal. I probably wouldn’t have even remembered her except it was such a nice contrast to the invasive questions from the older woman.
So it’s not always bad to approach quiet introverts and try to get to know them, just use common courtesy and follow the tips below to care for introverts the right way.
10 Ways to Respect and Care for Introverts
1. Give them advanced notice of changes
Introverts need time to gather energy for social interactions or important tasks, so if possible give them advance notice when plans change. Don’t assume you can change things that impact them and they’ll be happy to go with the flow.
Communicate with them and just use basic consideration.
2. Respect their privacy
Introverts keep things close to their chests, you probably won’t find them sharing their life story to strangers or casual acquaintances.
Respect their need for privacy. They don’t want to casually share all their thoughts and feelings, no amount of poking and prodding will change that.
3. Observe their body language
When you’re talking to an introvert, or a shy person, pay attention to their body language. They might not quite know what to say but if they are interest in talking to you they will turn their body towards you and make eye contact.
If they are turned away from you and staring at the wall they are likely uncomfortable. Politely excuse yourself and leave them to their thoughts.
4. Give them time to process new information
Introverts need time to process information. Remember that introverts process information differently, data travels a longer path through different parts of their brains. They need time to study information and decide what to do with it before they take action.
5. Earn their trust over time
Because introverts are so easily drained, and they are very self-aware, they need to trust someone before they open up and don’t like sharing intimate details with people who they don’t have a close relationship.
Stick to general topics and let them offer up personal information when they are comfortable.
6. Find shared interest to talk about
Introverts can get tired from small talk, and they don’t like voicing an opinion on things if they aren’t experienced or educated on that topic, so if possible try to find things you have in common.
Ask some lighthearted questions about what they like to do. If they don’t know you very well they may not want to talk about serious personal topics.
If you want to spend time with an introvert suggest activities you know they like doing too. Don’t only offer to do activities only you like.
7. Give them time to form a response
Introverts like to thoroughly think things through, so it may take them more time to come up with a reply. They may need a few extra seconds to find the right words, be patient and try not to interrupt when they do speak.
If you need a official response about something let them know exactly when that is.
Introverts may enjoy digital interactions more than physical interactions because they can take time to think of a response and walk away for as long as they need without offending.
8. Invite them to events but respect them if they say no
They might not have the energy to attend your event, but if they like you they still like to be asked.
Don’t be offended if they decline your invitation. They might have had a busy week and need some down time. Or they might just not be comfortable with that activity.
Personally I live with 5 other humans and 3 dogs, if the family is going to a restaurant or birthday party sometimes I choose to stay home just because I need the quiet time. That doesn’t mean I don’t like time with my family, just that I value the chance to unwind and recharge because it doesn’t come often.
9. Invite them to small groups instead of big groups
Introverts are more likely to say yes to hanging out with small groups of people they know and trust. If you want to spend time with your introvert invite them to a small gathering where they will be comfortable.
Many introverts love being with people they trust and are more likely to have a small close knit group of friends than many casual friends.
10. Give them alone time to recharge after socializing
If you live with an introvert respect their space when they need to recharge. Let them have time alone in their bedroom or wherever without interruption.
If an introvert wants to leave a gathering early be understanding, they have likely reached their limit of how much stimulation they can take in for the day and need to recharge.
8 Things you should NOT do to Introverts
1. Don’t try to ‘help’ them break out of their shell
Listen, introverts don’t need to come out of their shells. They are quite happy there. The reason you think they need to change is about you, not them.
Ask why you are so uncomfortable with someone being different than you. Ask why you want them to change.
2. Don’t treat introverts like puzzles or games
Introverts are not puzzles for you to solve. They don’t exist to entertain you. They aren’t a mystery you need to crack. Treat them like a human being with feelings, not a game.
3. Don’t assume they are depressed and need you to ‘save’ them
Introverts aren’t sitting around depressed and sad, waiting for you to save them from themselves. They are just living their lives.
It does not feel good to be contently minding your own business, and then have a stranger tell you that you’re depressed and need help. That is not being helpful, that is being hurtful.
If you want to ‘help’ them, give them some peace and quiet. Give them time to be comfortable around you.
If you have an introvert in your life that you know well and you see a change just let them know that you are there for them and they can come to you if they ever need to talk. Don’t try to force them to open up.
4. Don’t ask why they’re quiet
Asking them “why don’t you talk” does not make them want to talk to you.
If someone came up to you and asked “why are you so loud?” or “why do you talk so much?” would you be cool with that? No, you’d be offended.
So when you ask an introvert why they’re quiet or why they don’t talk you’re being incredibly rude and guaranteeing they won’t ever want to have a conversation with you as long as they live.
I’ve literally stopped going to any social situations where people who’ve asked me this will be, even family events.
Some reasons they aren’t talking are: they don’t know enough about the subject offer an informed opinion, they can’t relate to the situation, they’re tired, they’re distracted by too much stimulation, they don’t feel like talking about themselves, or you’re being an energy vampire and draining their battery.
5. Don’t invade their personal space
Some introverts may not like people making physical contact beyond a handshake, so please ask before hugging them. Just in general always ask before touching someone if it’s more than a handshake.
6. Don’t put them on the spot
Don’t put introverts on the spot with demands or awkward questions.
I had a college professor ask “do you even have friends?” in front of the whole class. Sure I didn’t do a lot of small talk in the class but I discussed the classwork with my group and it had been one of the most pleasant class group social situations I’d been in up to that point.
Also if possible, don’t ask them to demonstrate a skill they haven’t had time to practice privately. Get them one on one and ask if they would be comfortable enough to demonstrate something at a future time.
7. Don’t act surprised when they do talk
“OH MY GOD YOU ACTUALLY TALK!”
This is always an obnoxious thing to say. It can take an introvert time to get comfortable speaking up, so when some jerk acts like they just birthed a unicorn it feels like a slap in the face.
Do you think they’re going to want to talk to you or be around you after that? Nope! Introverts will retreat back into their shell. I personally will avoid people who do this like the plague.
8. Don’t insist they spend time with you or give you attention
As we’ve discussed, introverts need a certain amount of alone time to recharge their social batteries, so let them have some space when they need it.
Don’t nag them to spend all their time with you because you don’t want to be alone. Introverts shouldn’t be alone 24/7, but if you want time with them it needs to be purposeful or enjoyable for them too, and not just because you want company.
If you are in a relationship with an introvert communication is key. Tell them what you need and let them tell you what they need. Then find a way for you to both compromise so that your needs are equally fulfilled. When you plan to go to a party also make a plan to let them have recharging time afterwards.
Final Thoughts on Caring for Introverts
I hope this post has helped you understand the importance of knowing how to care for introverts.
Introverts are biologically built differently than extroverts, and it’s important to know how to interact with them to avoid causing harm. The thing is, most introverts will never let you know that they are hurt by your words and actions, so taking these tips into consideration will show them that you really care and build a relationship of trust between you.
Understanding how introverts work will improve your relationship with them.