Parties? Bah, Humbug! An Introvert's Guide to Staying Jolly During the Holidays


By Wayne Chan




is the season for holiday hobnobbing and fun times with family and

friends. Fun, that is, for some people. But do you know someone who has

to be dragged to social functions, kicking and screaming? Who would rather

be gnawed to death by rats than attend the office Christmas party? Well

then, you probably have an introvert on your hands. I should know —

I'm one of them.


The terms “introverted” and “extroverted” come from the personality

theories of Carl Jung, the famous early 20th-century psychologist.

Introverts and extroverts differ in how they are energized by the

environment around them. According to Jung, a person who is an extrovert

is focused outwardly, and is energized by interacting with people and things

in the outside world. By contrast, an introvert is focused more inwardly,

and is energized by his or her inner world of thoughts, ideas, and feelings.


Jung understood that most people are a mix of both extroversion and

introversion, and that everyone falls somewhere on a continuum between the

two extremes, usually with a degree of preference for one or the other —

a degree that can be slight or marked.


In her book The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World,

psychologist Dr. Marti Olsen Laney summed up the distinction between the

two temperaments wonderfully by saying that “introverts are like a

rechargeable battery. They need to stop expending energy and rest in order

to recharge. Extroverts are like solar panels that need the sun to recharge.

Extroverts need to be out and about to refuel.”


Extroverts are “people” persons — they like to be liked, while introverts

are “people who find people tiring”, as Jonathan Rauch succinctly put it,

in an article in The Atlantic Monthly about the plight of introverts.


It's not that introverts hate socializing completely, though. We love

one-on-one or close-knit group discussions about ideas and things that

interest us. Depending on our energy level, we may even enjoy a larger

social gathering. It's just that prolonged chitchat wears us down and we

start to feel the need to withdraw.


Introverts are in the definite minority. Estimates generally range from

between 20–30% of the general population, so we're outnumbered about three

to one. It's no wonder that we are an enigma to most people. Introverts,

nevertheless, can take comfort in the fact that we are heavily

over-represented in the gifted population. Newton, Einstein, Darwin,

and Edison — introverts? You bet!


In spite of this, western society loves the extrovert. Extroverted qualities

like being outgoing, gregarious, and lively are considered desirable, and

are culturally ingrained as being “good” attributes, because the extroverted

majority sets the expectations, states Rauch. Thus, introverts are pressured

early on to become more extroverted, since this is what we are “supposed”

to be. But there is no “correct” or “normal” way of functioning, argues

Laney — there are simply differences, and there is scientific evidence

that these differences are, at least in part, genetic.


Research has shown a possible biological basis for the two temperaments.

Neuroscientists have discovered that introverts generally have more overall

brain activity than extroverts, particularly in the frontal lobe, which

is associated with problem solving, planning, and long-term memory.

Extroverts, on the other hand, have more activity in parts of the brain

associated with sensory processing.


Laney explains that introverts also seem to be naturally more sensitive to

dopamine, a neurotransmitter that acts as a mediator of pleasure and

emotion in the brain. Introverted people receive adequate amounts of

dopamine through low-key pursuits, whereas extroverts are less sensitive

to dopamine and require stronger stimulation and a greater adrenaline kick

to create more of it. Extroverts therefore need to seek greater stimulation

from the outside world and are more likely to be bored when left alone.


People sometimes confuse introversion for shyness or social anxiety, which

is not correct, according to Laney. Many introverted people are not shy at

all, and have little difficulty with meeting people or with public speaking.

Nevertheless, they may feel exhausted by such things, and may need to

reenergize by being alone; in contrast, an extrovert would usually be keyed

up by these activities. Shyness is also something that people often grow

out of, whereas introversion is a lifelong inclination.


You would never guess that one of my friends is introverted, for example.

She appears very charismatic and outgoing, but, as she explained it, it's

really an act that she can sustain for only brief periods before feeling

drained and needing to retreat. Which is why I often found her curled up

in a chair, contentedly reading a novel.


As you might expect, it's a trying time of year for introverts. With all

the holiday festivities happening, we can start to feel pretty Scrooge-like

after a while. So, here are some tips from the experts to help introverts

get the most out of the season without feeling the urge to throttle their

high-volume, high-octane counterparts:


1. It's okay to decline a social invitation. Yes, I know, all of your pals

will try to convince you to go, but if you're not feeling up to it, thank

them for the invitation and politely say “no”. 


2. Okay, diplomacy didn't work — you've been talked into going. Laney

recommends getting some rest just before the event and not to schedule too

many other social activities on the same day or in the same week.


3. At the party, volunteer to help with the food, music, or the photography,

suggests Susan Dunn, a personal development coach. It'll keep you busy and

help to relieve the awkward feeling of not having anything to do. Bonus

points for looking like a “team player”, if it's a work function.


4. If schmoozing isn't your thing, Laney suggests that you try to find a

place away from the crowd and just sit, relax, and observe. Sooner or later,

other people may drift by, and you can chat with them if you wish. 


5. Try to find moments to get away for a few minutes to recharge yourself.

Writer Sara Richmond-Walls suggests taking a bathroom break, or just

stepping outside for some fresh air. 


6. Hooray, the party's finally over! Be sure to schedule some downtime

immediately afterwards. Relax, have a cup of tea, or do something that you

find enjoyable. Pat yourself on the back - you've survived and maybe even

had a little fun! 


7. Putting up with the in-laws: If you have guests staying over,

Richmond-Walls recommends getting up earlier and going to bed earlier than

the rest of the household, to give yourself some quiet time.


8. Why not try something different for the holidays this year? Dunn

proposes heading to a retreat with a few friends or just by yourself, and

enjoying a slower-paced holiday. Or, you might try to work on some

hobby projects that you've always wanted to do, but never had the time for.


9. Finally, “Christmas has a knob. Use it”, says Dunn. Crank it up or down,

or just turn it off. It's your choice.


The world needs both extroverts and introverts. Jung believed that the two

temperaments balanced each other, and that each type naturally sought out

the other for completeness — giving credence to the notion that opposites



With our quiet, introspective ways, introverts have much to offer, but our

voices are often drowned out by our more boisterous brethren. So, this

holiday season, please take some time to recognize the introverts in your

lives and learn to appreciate their approach to life.


Just don't expect us to go party-hopping with you!