Basic definition: extroverts are people to whom human interaction gives energy, and they act accordingly. Introverts are people for whom human interaction drains energy, and they act accordingly. (You can also be an ambivert, with no particular energy response to people.) It's really as simple as that. People exhaust me. I love some of them so dearly that I could probably smother them with my love, but human interaction wears me out. As such, I'm drawn towards quiet and isolated activities and much prefer to spend time one-on-one or in very small groups, so as to minimize the energy drain. I mean, I have fibromyalgia. I already have too little energy as is,. There's only so many naps you can take a day before you turn into Sleeping Beauty.
Obviously, although I have a social anxiety problem I'm working to overcome, not all introverts have anxiety issues and many extroverts do. It's a separate issue, but in my case, since I'm a natural introvert who also has anxiety, it does contribute. It makes it much harder to deal with being in public places and around lots of people. My mom always tells me I need to stop "glaring" at people if I want to make friends, and she's probably right, but it's not something that comes easily to me. Most the time I don't realize I'm glaring. It's a defense mechanism. So if I'm glaring at you or just generally look unfriendly, I'm probably experiencing some decent anxiety. You can talk to me one on one in a quieter space and it might work out, if you're not a creep. It's a little harder of a sell for dudes, sorry to say. Also, offering me food is a good idea, because the fibro and OCD combined mean I have one serious "hanger" problem. I'm like a hanger monster.
The fact that I'm an introvert used to seem really weird to me, considering how clingily and deeply I love certain people, but that was mostly because I didn't understand the real definition of it. Especially bringing anxiety into it: there's this test I've taken like a bazillion times in the gifted program and other later classes, about various "kinds" of intelligence. (Here's an example of the test, if you're curious.) I consistently score high in four areas: linguistic (which also comes up as my learning style), musical, intrapersonal, and interpersonal. The second two refer to a high awareness of self and a high awareness of others. I also, in other tests done by elementary school counselors, proved to have a pretty high empathetic ability. When my social anxiety was at its worst, I would think about these tests results, the empathy, the interpersonal nature, and I just couldn't understand it. How could I come up as that when I was such an awkward, anxious introvert?
Then half a year-ish ago, as I was finally adjusting to being in OCD recovery, I mentioned that to a dude who was doing a learning assignment on the seven intelligences, and he said something along the lines of, "Well yeah, but you could be interpersonal in small groups or one-on-one instead of with lots of people. Just because you're not comfortable in big groups doesn't mean you're not good with people."
It was strangely heartening, and very true. Introverts like me, even when we happen to have anxiety, can still be skilled and empathetic and connected to others. We just do it in a different way. Again, it's a healthy identity and has just as much value as extroversion. I think sometimes we introverts forget that (or maybe that's my anxiety speaking). So it's a beautiful thing to remember: that "I" in my INFJ is a vital part of my identity, it doesn't diminish my interpersonal skills, and it can be wonderful just to be me.
Image via happymonsters on Tumblr.