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A Guide to Understanding Asocial Introverts

Alistair has been researching nutrition science for eleven years. Working as an optician, Alistair's primary expertise is in vision health.

Contrary to what you may have heard, there is a huge difference between being an introvert and having asocial personality disorder.

Contrary to what you may have heard, there is a huge difference between being an introvert and having asocial personality disorder.

Asocial vs. Introvert: What's the Difference?

Before we start, I want to be clear about our terms. Discussions about asocial behavior and introverts are, to be bluntly honest, usually based on misconceptions. People so use the two words synonymously so often that you would think they mean the same thing.

But there are huge differences between the two.

What Does "Asocial" Mean?

Asociality is a clinical condition, often influenced by genetics, that means a person cannot relate to or feel empathy towards others. They live isolated, withdrawn from society, and fundamentally do not want to interact or have relationships with other people in any way. Asocial behavior can be symptomatic of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) and even psychosis.

Though not all asocial people are destructive, when forced into social situations they tend to engage in negative or strange behavior. At the extreme end of the spectrum, they can become sociopaths, violent abusers, and, yes, even serial killers (though serial killers often have a myriad of other extreme psychiatric disorders, too).

What Does "Introverted" Mean?

On the other hand, introversion is a personality trait, not a clinical condition. Introverts like people and even desire relationships with people. They simply also need healthy amounts of time alone. In fact, they draw energy and strength from periods of solitude. An introverted person may be reclusive at times, but they still generally approve of human society and contribute towards it in various ways.

Sigmund Freud took a crack at describing introversion and inexplicably associated it with narcissism. In Freud's view, introverts were neurotics who had taken “a turn from reality to phantasy [sic].” People love to quote Freud because almost everything he ever said was controversial in one way or another. But while Freud may have been successful at popularizing the concept of the unconscious and progressing the field of psychoanalysis, the majority of his theories are considered unproven or wrong.

The fact is, up until fairly recently, scientists labeled any sort of abnormal behavior as symptomatic of a disease or pathology, so it's not surprising that introverted people are misunderstood and stigmatized.

Who else has a fun opinion of introversion? Two psychiatrists Costa and McCrae developed the famous Big 5 Personality Theory. And even more recently, have expanded introversion into a six-faceted concept: Warmth, Gregariousness, Assertiveness, Activity Level, Excitement Seeking, and Positive Emotions. These six, combined, supposedly aggregate a person's level of introversion.

What this demonstrates is that someone can be a gregarious, thrill-seeking introvert. There is a spectrum to introversion, and it's fluid and dynamic.

What Causes a Person to Be Introverted?

There is lively debate among scientists as to the cause of introversion. But the general consensus is that it's probably a combination of biological and environmental factors. Genetics, environmental/social conditions, and life experiences will all impact a person's level of introversion.

What determines how children turn out the way they do? Children tend to fluctuate between personality traits, and they continue to do so into the early adult years. Children effectively 'try on' various personalities and, by seeing what adults do at home, at school, and later, at work, they start to develop more permanent psychological viewpoints with hardened preferences and responses.

The personality of a child with reserved or thrill-seeking parents may inherit a tendency or disposition genetically, but that child's mind will be equally shaped by external forces and life experiences.

Myths About Introverts

The prevailing view of introverts is that they are asocial loners who want nothing to do with people and can't function in group situations. But as we have discussed, introverts are nothing like asocials. It's a totally different psychological dynamic at play.

Let's debunk some of the other pesky myths about introverts:

  • "Introverts are shy, awkward, and bad at communicating." Again, introverts do not necessarily dislike social interactions so much as they require periods of solitude to recharge their batteries. And introverts can be just as communicative, eloquent, and graceful in group settings as extroverts; they are simply judicious with their energy and require less interaction.
  • "Introverts avoid friendships and relationships." This is a prevalent myth that totally misses the mark. Introverts desire friendship, romance, and intimacy just as much as the next person. They may be more discerning with whom they associate, but they still seek friends and partners—ideally, ones who understand and respect their need for alone time.
  • "Introverts don't party or have fun." An introverted friend may not join your bar-hopping sprawl, but that doesn't mean introverts aren't into having fun. And that includes parties—yes, parties with actual people! Introverts have different moods and shades to their personalities just like everyone else. In the right situation with the right people, introverts can be just as fun-loving as extroverts.

The 4 Kinds of Introverts

Contemporary psychologists have designated four types of introverted behavior.

  1. Social Introvert: While it sounds paradoxical, social introverts enjoy their solitude but also have a core group of friends with whom they are social. If you saw a social introvert with their in-group, you would never guess they're introverted.
  2. Thinking Introvert: These are the daydreamers, wanderers, and deep thinkers who may appear anti-social but are really just very introspective and emotionally intelligent. They like to experience their thoughts instead of talking about them.
  3. Anxious Introvert: At the more shy end of the spectrum, anxious introverts are self-conscious about their behavior in group settings and tend to over-think how others perceive them. This sometimes overlaps with social anxiety disorder.
  4. Restrained Introvert: This type of introvert is reserved, thoughtful, and doesn't like to be rushed into new environments or social situations. They are routine-oriented and plan any social excursions well in advance.

So, do any of these describe you? Or are you a mixture of several?

Introverts Come in All Shapes and Forms

Now that we've debunked the myths and broken down introversion into a spectrum of personality types, we can talk more generally about the daily life of an introvert. Introverts aren't silent and incapacitated as many imagine them to be. They are politicians, doctors, janitors, scientists, speechwriters, and comedians. Introversion is just a personality trait that affects certain aspects of life—but the way it manifests itself within individual minds is diverse and flexible.

For example, I'm fairly introverted, but given the right scenario, I can do all the things extroverts do—go to parties and dances, walk around shopping malls. Heck, I'd be willing to jump out of a plane or travel to Italy under the right conditions. There are very few things that are absolutely entirely on my "will never do" list, because I know that being fulfilled in life isn't just about getting along with myself—it's about finding a few other brave soldiers to assist you in your endeavors, and perhaps one who you may want to spend the rest of your life with.

And remember, both introverts and extroverts have considerable overlap when it comes to daily activities. In fact, on the spectrum between introvert and extrovert, there's a center category called "ambivert," which represents people who can display characteristics of both introversion and extroversion depending on the context of a situation. I'm saying this because you may have a coworker or even a friend who may have introvert tendencies and you may not even realize it because they have acclimated to their environment.

Now when you see this friend always ducking out early from parties, you've got your answer. They've had their fill, and now they're going back to their bat-lair for some peace and tranquility.

Benefits of Introversion

We often hear about the glorious perks of being an extrovert, but the reality is that introversion isn't a character flaw. In fact, it's more like a misunderstood superpower.

Introverts tend to be more humble and less attention-hungry. This makes them thoughtful, empathetic, and helpful, which is why introverts are often great at managing different types of people and being project leads.

Tips for Introverts

Introversion isn't a character flaw, but it can lead to excessive isolation and this is usually not healthy. Here are some tips for both introverts and their extrovert friends on how the two worlds can live together harmoniously.

  • Don't keep an introvert in a loud nightclub all night—bad things will happen. And conversely, don't keep an extrovert in solitary for too long. While I thrive on silence, most do not.
  • Just because you prefer being alone, that doesn't mean you don't need human contact and fulfilling relationships. Skipping prom is fine. Never having a girlfriend/boyfriend is not. Don't stress, though. Everyone's life unfolds according to their own internal clock. But don't use introversion as an excuse to avoid taking risks and putting yourself out there. Finding a balance and succeeding with your unique talents is more than possible.
  • Find happiness, in whatever context that means to you. Find success, even if it's in a video game. Find a friend or two whom you can trust entirely. Tell them your feelings, tell them your hopes and dreams. Don't become entirely alone. Don't cloister yourself so much that you forget who you are, or start to become delusional about the outside world.
  • Once you find those friends you can trust with your innermost thoughts, listen to theirs, too. Everyone is struggling with something right now, and it goes a long way when someone opens up their own shell to understand what makes another individual happy or sad.
  • Create connections. The Internet has made it easier than ever to find your tribe and communicate in a way that is comfortable for everyone. If you don't want to be online, that's okay, too. Just make sure that if you drop off the grid entirely, there is at least one person who can reach you and help you out.

FAQ

This section is for family members of introverts who don't understand each other.

My Son or Daughter is an Asocial Introvert, What Do I Do?

I'm glad you're here, as I am one of those people. I am an introvert. I am calm, reserved, reticent at times, thoughtful, and conscientious as well. I can also be gregarious and just as loving as anyone else. But, like your son or daughter, I sometimes display tendencies that might look "unhealthy" or "abnormal."

Society has a list of words that it uses to describe those who can't or don't conform with the status quo. If you think you're being original by calling us unhealthy or abnormal, I recommend a thesaurus.

By creating an artificial distance between yourself and your loved one due to their introversion, you are creating resentment on both sides of the table. They will dislike you because you fail to understand their actions, and possibly because they feel pressured to conform to the family standards.

You may feel resentment toward them because they're seemingly throwing their talents and lives away by not really acclimating to society. Both sides are understandable.

But there's a reason that the child is behaving that way. Introverts are driven by different instincts and intentions than extroverts. Extroverts may thrive on social interaction and acceptance, being seen and heard, or getting formal commendations at work, but introverts have their own internal value systems that they strive to keep in check.

So when a parent tells their introvert child that they're failing, the child may not see it that way. They may be succeeding in areas that you can't see.

Do your best to understand. Have genuine conversations. Be ready to yell and scream, but don't ever give up on your child.

My Boyfriend/Girlfriend Is an Introvert, What Do I Do?

Thankfully, I was extremely fortunate in this regard. I met my wife in a video game of all places. Yes, you heard me. An MMORPG, too. She was a quiet, shy lady who just really seemed to open up while kicking my character's behind in duels. I got to know her over the course of several months before asking her to move across the country and live with me.

She's a hardcore introvert just as myself, but this isn't always the case in relationships. Introverts can being attracted to extroverts and vice versa.

I know from my own ventures in dating that the glowing social life of an extrovert can be attractive. Wheeling and dealing conversations like it's nothing; ah, it's a bit like envy. They have what I do not. I can stomach social interaction if there's a clear goal in mind, but some of the women I fell for had an unending appetite for it.

What do you do with a potential significant other who has a different appetite for socializing than yourself? Try to understand. If possible, delve into their childhood even and find out what makes them swing toward one end of the spectrum versus the other. How do they *feel* when out in public? What exactly is the sensation they get when walking into a pub that they have yet to explore? Is it dread, or, quite possibly, excitement at getting a chance to meet some new folks.

Humans are interesting people, there can be no doubt, and it's our duty to understand our partners for who they are and how try to meet their needs.

I have met a few extroverts who are absolutely petrified of one-on-one interaction. One girl I knew refused to meet with anyone this way. Meet at a coffee shop for a chat? Nope. Refuse. Study in the library together? Absolutely not. Bowling with twelve people and then a rowdy bar crawl afterward? Sure. Let's do it. I never once saw her with less than two people, and in my eyes it made it hard to get to know her.

For each person involved, the obstacles to deep and meaningful conversation increase. Even after years, I never really felt like I knew her. That's how she wanted it, even after I received a "yes" to a first date from her. It was a double date, of all things, which is just barely at my people limit. While it was an enjoyable time, I didn't feel much of a connection since there was another couple there as well.

While we didn't end up together, I still marvel at her ability to bounce from one conversation to another with seamless grace and a dearth of awkwardness. Don't scorn what you don't understand. Just try to keep talking and understanding.

© 2014 Alistair Torrance

Comments

Christopher Fowler on January 30, 2020:

So, asocial means withdrawn from society. Anti-social means (oftentimes violently) against humanity?

I beg to differ from this statement... I believe that violent crime offenders are more likely to be anti-social people, but the majority of anti-social people are not violent.

Artemis J Smiley from Texas on September 01, 2018:

I've known for a long while now that I'm an introvert. Also, for a long time, I thought of myself as "antisocial". I now know that I was wrong about the later --I'm "asocial".

As for friendships and being social, I do have a few close friends and I can be quite sociable, especially when at work. It just takes time for me to become comfortable enough with others before I reach that stage. In fact, some people have thought I am shy because I rarely initiate conversation; however, if a person starts talking to me I'll communicate with them. It's not that I'm standoffish, I'm just observing and getting acclimated to the environment.

"I'm an observer. Some people take it as being antisocial. I just have to see what the crowd is like before I open up." (Author unknown)

At the end of the day, though, I relish my solitude. I need that quiet time to "recharge" for my next excursion into society. During that time I read for entertainment, or to learn something about a subject(s) I'm curious about or in which I'm interested. (And that has made me an veritable encyclopedia of useless knowledge.) I rarely watch television and, my family might say, spend too much time on the internet. But in my defense, I'm inquisitive by nature and the internet is a window to the world. Information about anything is at my fingertips.

Keisha on May 25, 2018:

The part about an introvert making a friend or two

I know it was coming from a good place

But a asocial-introvert

It’s definitely not a couple of letters that make the sentence

It’s like asking to climb Mount Everest naked...

In some sense

Beautiful work nonetheless =p

Paul on March 24, 2018:

Great to see your points on asocial introverts. I realised I am one. As you pointed out I can have done just about everything you can do in life but if I had a choice I choose peace and quiet and a limited number of friends and social interaction.

More importantly people tend Tim right off introverts as not as valuable - but the opposite is true - we are able to view the world more honestly from our bubble but as you pointed out make sure you don’t stray to far from the realities of the world.

Mina on December 24, 2017:

If someone is an introvert, are they automatically asocial? Is there a level of how much a person can be an introvert before they can be considered an asocial?

Eunice on September 09, 2017:

All my life , I have been on the reserved side. I enjoy my own company too much I am not afraid to speak up when I have a point to make though I listen more than Talking and I am most productive when I go solo. I do find people's company enjoyable, it's the extended companionship I have problems with. I go to parties and absolutely enjoy it but I Am usually among the first people to leave. To the category I belong, I do not know.

Kayla on December 08, 2016:

Wow, everything you said about introverts completely relates to me, sadly.

I was a child that was always surrounded by traumatizing events. Witnessed my dad choke my big sister and put a knife to her throat. I was only 6 at that time and wasn't in a stable home with food on the table everyday. I've come really far from lashing back at teachers and students, to opening my ears and understanding them. I'm diagnosed with past-trauma-stress.

So I'm usually depressed and anxious and if someone tries getting close to my heart, I turn them away.

I'm a survivor though, and I do try finding happiness in small events like fuck, just getting a hug from one of my friends will keep my groove on.

My outlet is drawing and listening to music. People say I have a gift with my art skills but man they don't even know the bull I went through to gain these skills.

And there's a guy I like, he's kind and he's smart too. Giving me advice to survive highschool and boosting my self esteem when we hangout with my sister and her crew. He's great but he's an extrovert and I feel like we won't have much in common. I'm terrified of falling in love because I never got the loving I needed in the beginning. He's got some of his life together while all I do is lay in my bat-lair on my phone every time I get off from school. Today I'm not sure how I'm going to get my shit together. Maybe next year when I'm old enough to get a job I can start from there and work my way up.

Thanks for this article it helps me

See what I have to work on for the better.

Rae on November 23, 2016:

I was with you up until you stated that "skipping prom is fine... never having a boyfriend/gf is not". That's where you lost me, I am 100% asocial introvert to the core, I've talked to guys but never had a serious boyfriend and I'm not missing out on anything. I'm actually strongly considering becoming a mother via IVF and running off into the sunset with my two kids- sans husband. I don't like the idea that everyone "needs" a significant other, I highly enjoy and very secluded life of solitude, with very little social outings and I'm still a happy, healthy addition to the world around me. Asociality and introversion are just one aspects of the many unique personality traits we each can have-- there's also things like asexuality, or sapiosexuals ect. This is such a broad topic you can't put everyone that's asocial into boxes.

not76 on July 26, 2016:

Quote from article, "idiots with too many words on their lips, and that the truth is most often obscured"... Ha, one of the things that makes me an introvert is the dislike of those idiots avoiding and obscuring: the extroverts. Or as Balkesh posted "it could be because your meeting is a lot of talk about talking or some other nonsense." An extrovert speak to hear themselves and an introvert speaks when it has value in my experience.

Anyways that's a good article for an extrovert to learn a little something. Sadly judging by the votes only 3% of people reading are extroverts. I'm not surprised as they don't learn, they just already know everything, right or wrong.

Asocial is part of being a reasonably intelligent introvert, I think. Too much thinking going on, too much actually seeing whats going on. It's hard to tolerate nonsense and lies, hard to tolerate society when you see how dysfunctional it is. I had to convince myself to just accept how people are to not be anti-social. Appreciate the good parts and let the rest go.

I think the majority of people are neither classification, they are just well rounded.

TPF on October 12, 2015:

I'm introverted and trying to find out more about asocial personality types. It seems the two are related but necessarily the same. The description for an asocial type fits me, but I'm not anti-social. I haven't found much written about asocial personalities and would appreciate suggestions.

Joy on January 13, 2015:

While these are all terrific ponits, as a person who vollies back and forth between extrovert and introvert, being singled out in a meeting for your opinion is a fate worse than death. Even though I tend to be more reserved, I always speak up if I feel like I have something valuable to add. If I had a boss that constantly put me on the spot, that would certainly make for a challenging work environment.

Balkesh on January 13, 2015:

I agree with Erica. I am an introvert, all the way. That does not eauqte with being shy . I am absolutely not afraid to speak up if I have something to add to the conversation, which I often do, as I spend more time listening than talking and can distill things to a point where my contribution can be short, efficient and sweet . Calling on me in a meeting would be completely counterproductive, in fact, it would make me pretty angry as it would be obviously manipulative. If I have something to say, you WILL hear about it. If I don't, it could be because your meeting is a lot of talk about talking or some other nonsense.