At times, introverts can seem selfish because of their tendency to spend time on their own and think carefully before joining groups or trends. But introversion does not mean selfishness.

Introverts tend to live in their own world. Selfish people don’t care about others. The tendency to live in your own world has nothing to do with being inconsiderate of others.

Are introverts arrogant? Hardly. I suppose this common misconception has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts.

Jonathan Rauch

Introversion in a nutshell

Where do you tend to direct your psychic energy toward? In simple terms — do you predominantly focus on the inner world or the external world?

Psychology defines the former as introversion and the latter as extroversion. It’s not black and white, by the way. It’s a spectrum.

The words “introvert” and “extroverts” merely indicate which side of the spectrum one tends to lean toward, usually and in most situations.

Alright, so, to be introverted means to be focused on the inner world. What does this imply, and why is this often mistaken for selfishness?

One who is introverted often does not see things as they are, but rather see their own impressions of things. In this sense, introversion is subjective rather than objective.

Introverts are known for being slower. This is because they think slower. This is because their perception of the world has to go through their inner world first.

You can see how such a personality type can be mistaken for selfishness: introverts are not as likely to blindly accept things around them; there is always a filter, a subjective factor.

Introversion vs selfishness

Sure, some people are very introverted and very selfish. I’ve met a few myself. But that’s a bit like saying that some people are extroverted and like, say, the color purple.

Though one could argue that introverts are, because of their unconscious nature, slightly more likely to act selfishly, in general there is zero correlation between the two things.

To understand the difference between introversion and selfishness, we first have to look at the definition of both.

  • Introversion is defined as the tendency to focus your energy and attention on the inner world, e.g. the images and ideas in your mind
  • Selfishness is defined as the tendency to act and think only to your advantage, especially in a way that disregards other people’s feelings

To put it as simply as possible:

Introverts tend to live in their own world. Selfish people don’t care about others. The tendency to live in your own world has nothing to do with being inconsiderate of others.

Why introverts can appear selfish

1. “No, thanks”

It’s pretty much guaranteed that on average you are more likely to hear these two words from an introvert, not an extrovert.

Introverts are concerned with their own thoughts and ideas and this means they tend to think independently.

In turn, this means they think carefully before e.g. joining a group, following a trend, doing what others do. Many introverts are, in this sense, nonconformists.

Some people believe this is selfish, or even dangerous. But independence isn’t selfishness; not following the crowd isn’t fighting against it.

2. Solitude

This is another common misconception. Some assume that those who enjoy their own company are arrogant or have some kind of superiority complex.

After all, why would one spend time in solitude instead of being around others? Doesn’t it imply selfishness, arrogance? Not at all.

Introverts like to spend time on their own purely because they have such a rich inner world that they are almost never bored; they don’t crave external stimuli all the time.

They also find silence and solitude relaxing; they spend time on their own to rest and recharge, particularly after social interactions (including spontaneous ones).

3. Independence

Introverts like to be independent financially, emotionally, spiritually… and socially. Again, it’s not selfishness but independence.

Herd mentality, going with the crowd, generally accepted rules and ideas — these would usually appeal to extroverts rather than introverts.

But do introverts think on their own because they are selfish? Nope — they simply “do their thing”, what’s right for them, regardless of others but not at the expense of others.

That would define an asocial or antisocial personality disorder — not introversion per se!

4. Privacy

Sharing is caring. Social media. Letting the world know every single one of your thoughts. No, thank you.

Introverts don’t feel the need to share everything about their personal life, and this should never be interpreted as selfish behavior.

And it’s not like introverts never share and never give. It’s just that they are not comfortable doing that with most people.

Which leads us to the final reason…

5. Affection

Person A and person B both love and appreciate you deeply. Person A hugs you and praises you enthusiastically. Person B looks at you, smiles warmly, and doesn’t say anything.

Does it make any difference? It does, but not in terms of what the other person feels for you.

I have found this to be one of the most difficult yet most important psychological skills in life — to look beyond, to never judge a book by its cover.

It’s not to say that person B’s behavior (in the example above) is always acceptable. But if you ever thought introverts were selfish for not expressing affection the way extroverts do, please think again.