Cape pigeons alone together. Photo from National Maritime Museum.
Cape pigeons alone together. Photo from National Maritime Museum.

Where does your energy come from — other people, or solitude? This is one of the main qualities that decide whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, which seems to be something that a lot of people are concerned about since the publication of Susan Cain’s book on the subject, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Still, despite all the conversation, at its core, most people really don’t quite grasp what makes an introvert an introvert.

Buddhist teacher and New York Times bestselling author Susan Piver specializes in communication styles, and she says there are a lot of myths about introversion and extroversion. Chiefly, she says, the belief that introversion and shyness are inextricably linked.

“It’s commonly thought that ‘introvert’ means you’re shy, and ‘extrovert’ means you’re outgoing,” she explained in her CreativeLive course, Become a Better Communicator. “It has nothing to do with that. It has everything to do with where your energy comes from.”

This isn’t a new definition; Atlantic writer Jonathan Rauch echoed this fact in an article nearly ten years ago, when he wrote about his own life as an introvert, and noted that “Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not.”

Instead, says Susan, “introvert gain energy from solitude. When an introvert is alone, the tank is full.”

Which doesn’t necessarily mean that introverts don’t like to talk to people, or even be around people — it just means that they are more able to think and process when they’re alone, and that engagement with others drains them of energy.

Conversely, “extroverts understand what they think in the act of talking about what they think…they gain energy from interacting with others.”

Additionally, says Susan, many people aren’t sharply one or the other.

“Everybody has some of both. It’s not black-and-white,” she advises, but notes that “one is probably more dominant.”

And while there are plenty of online tests that claim to definitively prove whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert, the only real way to know is to listen to your own personal signifiers.

“Maybe just start making little notes in a journal,” she advises, “begin exploring where you are. That’s always a good first step.”