The Stress Of Being An Introvert…And Wishing You Were Someone Else

by Doc Orman, M.D.

In my first post this week, I described how I found my way from a random email from StumbleUpon to a 2012 19-minute video Ted Talk by Susan Cain called “The Power Of Introverts.”

I also explained how I found this video to be very inspiring and validating of those of us who are more inclined to introvert pursuits.  Obviously, this video struck a chord with many others as well, as 6.8 million people have also viewed it. And this should not be a surprise because Susan Cain explains:

  • One in every three people is an introvert at heart.
  • Extroverts are more valued in our society than introverts.


The Stress Of Being An Introvert

As both an introvert and a person interested in the internal causes of our stress, I can’t help but think back on the course of my own life and reflect upon how stressful it was for me in my teenage and early adult years.  During this time, one of my most troubling internal battles was this tension between introversion and extroversion.

My mother was an extrovert and my father was an introvert.  As for me, I tended more to the introvert side, but this was not conducive to becoming very popular.  For some reason, I decided that being popular was important—in fact more important at that time than being comfortable in my own skin.

So I mounted a long-range campaign to change myself into a popular, more extroverted person.  I desperately fought to become more extroverted, but the more pressure I put on myself to be someone other than I was, the more stress, failures and frustration this produced. 

I had a few good friends with whom I could be comfortable just being myself, but when it came to larger social contexts, I felt I needed to push myself to be more of an extrovert.  After about ten long, painful years of trying to do this, I finally gave up and admitted I was an introvert.  End of campaign.  End of stress…for the most part.

Discomfort With Who We Really Are

But this makes me think of other areas in life where we create stress by not being comfortable being ourselves, especially when there are strong social “norms” that run in different directions.

For example, I see this played out very commonly during each Christmas and New Year Season.  During this time of year, there are tremendous social pressures to feel happy, joyous and to always be in a celebratory mood.  So much so that if you don’t feel this way, even for good reasons, you can fall into the trap of believing something must be wrong with you.  And this can be stressful if you don’t come to terms with who you are and what you enjoy internally.

Compare Yourself For Stress

Another common way we can produce lots of unnecessary stress in our lives is to constantly compare ourselves to others.  No matter how good a person you are, or how talented you are in certain areas of life, you can almost always find others who are more accomplished than you are. 

If you are prone to make these types of comparisons, you can drive yourself to feel bad about yourself, even though you are just fine.

We also do the same type of thing when we wish we had a better spouse, we lived in a more beautiful or tropical environment, we had a bigger house or a nicer car, or we wish we had our dream job while constantly being dissatisfied with the one we currently have.

These types of sentiments often show up on bumper stickers, where we publicly proclaim for all to see that we’d rather be fishing, or skiing, or mountain climbing, or golfing, etc.  To me, this always seemed like a bit of socially sanctioned “insanity.”  For me, the only bumper sticker I would ever put on my car would say “I’d rather be driving.”

To my way of thinking, I’d rather be happy—make that ecstatic—about who I really am and what I am already doing.  Seems like the easiest way to be happy in life and a really good way to cut out lots of unneeded stress.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Abby Gardiner, M.A. January 15, 2014 at 11:16 AM

I’m always pleased to read honest articles about the difficulty inherent in being an introvert. There are also joys in recognizing who you really are, and this indeed does remove a huge amount of stress. As an introvert, Elaine Aron’s landmark book “The Highly Sensitive Person” changed my life, helped me understand who I am. Susan Cain’s work is also very important. The only problem is in trying to convince strong-armed outgoing extroverts that they don’t have to change us. That we are ok, as we are. That remains a big challenge!


Doc Orman, M.D. January 15, 2014 at 9:41 PM

Great comments. Thanks


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