There are a number of reasons why introverts shut down. A lack of understanding of the possible reasons may lead to relationship and friendship fallouts.
That being said, it helps to know and consider why it happens in the first place.
To better understand this matter, here are 10 experts and their insights on why introverts shut down.
Joanna Rawbone, MSc
TEDx Speaker | Introvert| Executive Coach, Flourishing Introverts
In simple terms, introverts shut-down either to prevent introvert burn-out or because of it
Because introverts are already over-stimulated mentally, they are mindful of their ever-draining mental batteries in certain situations. Many introverts spend a lot of time pretending to be more outgoing in a world that favors extraversion. Pretending takes its toll though, mentally and emotionally.
Introverts who are really self-aware will have a finely tuned low-battery warning signal and will deploy their necessary recharging strategies before they become completely depleted. These strategies will include various ways to mentally or physically withdraw as recharging is a necessarily quiet process.
Timely recharging often prevents complete shut-down but will often cause frustration in those around them.
The misunderstanding occurs because extraverts recharge through social interaction and active experiences, so they don’t understand why the introvert is withdrawing. It’s during these times that many introverts will be judged unsociable, arrogant, or boring.
If their recharging doesn’t happen soon enough, or if an introvert is exposed to unusually high levels of external stimulation over an extended period without being able to withdraw, burn-out is inevitable requiring a full shut down.
This is the difference between plugging in for a quick battery top-up and needing a complete recharge! Like our smart devices, once the screen is blank, a certain level of recharging is needed before normal service can be resumed. Its why introverts crave a quiet weekend after a busy week of work so don’t pity them when they don’t have wild stories on a Monday morning.
So what drains an introvert’s mental batteries? It varies introvert to introvert but here are a few.
- Open-plan offices with constant noise and distractions.
- Unstructured meetings that are all talk and no decisions.
- Enforced ‘fun’ at work and team-building activities.
- Thinking aloud problem-solving processes.
- Networking events and conferences.
- Large family gatherings where the introvert is not understood.
Astute Introverts will ensure that they are sufficiently charged before engaging in these situations and will have their escape plans at the ready. Here one minute, gone the next!
Related: 12 Best Jobs for Introverts
Samantha Crowe, Ph.D., ICF-ACC
Leadership and Transformation Coach | Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator |
CEO and Founder, Evalia Consulting, LLC
We all fall somewhere along the introversion-extraversion spectrum – ranging from introverts to ambiverts to extraverts. People closer to the introversion end need less external stimulation to be in an optimal state relative to those closer to the extraversion end. This may reflect naturally higher levels of arousal in the brain of introverts relative to extraverts.
If we look at stimulation like a radio dial, we all have a “volume” at which we thrive. If we turn the dial above this volume, we feel overstimulated, overwhelmed, or exhausted. An introvert doesn’t need to turn the dial-up as high as an extravert.
Introverts and extraverts also appear to differ in where they turn their attention and what drives their reward systems. Turning their attention outward rather than inward may be more effortful and less rewarding than it would be for an extravert. And doing so may lead to feelings of fatigue, overwhelm, or exhaustion.
Introverts often find themselves needing more time and space for rest, inward reflection, and recharge – more time alone, quieter or stillness, or more time in environments or situations with lower stimulation.
If introverts don’t hold time and space for themselves, they may shut down
Because introversion-extraversion is just one of 5 to 6 personality dimensions, and because other aspects of our biology and biography affect what gives us energy and what takes energy away, different things will shut different introverts down.
For example, if you are both introverted and shy, you may shut down faster if you have to lead meetings and speaking events relative to someone who is introverted and not shy. Or, if you are an introvert who is high in openness and agreeableness, you may get energy from engaging with other people in situations where an introvert lower in those dimensions would tap out.
Licensed Psychologist | Nationally Recognized Expert in Clinical Psychology |
Author, But It’s Your Family…: Cutting Ties with Toxic Family Members and Loving Yourself in the Aftermath
Being an introvert, there is only so much stimulation you can take.
Too many people, too much noise, too much emotion causes an introvert to shut down
They need to need to be quiet, to be to themselves so they can detox their sensitive system. Their shut-down is temporary but necessary. Introverts need to refuel to function.
Further, introverts are more sensitive and aware than most others. It’s like a nerve- they don’t have a protective sheath to cover it. If you hurt an introvert, not only will they shut down, but also he/she will likely shut you out completely.
Rob Magill, MA, ICAADC, CCPG, DOT-SAP, LPCTBHI
Certified Telebehavioral Health Practitioner, Magill Counseling
People tend to think of introverts and extroverts as to how talkative or outgoing someone is. That is part of what introverted or extroverted looks like, but it has more to do with where and how people process information.
Extroverts process information outside of themself: by talking, writing, etc. On the other hand, introverts process information internally: by thinking through something, by investigating on their own how they are feeling, etc.
Introverts shut down when they are overwhelmed
When a person is getting overwhelmed, they have a lot of information they can process. For an introvert, this means that they need to process for themself a significant amount of information. Others pressuring them for a response, etc. only makes this worse.
From someone outside the introvert, they are shutting down. However, to the introvert, they are trying to process what they are experiencing. They are actually working through the problem! It just doesn’t look like it from the outside. The introvert needs some space and time to be able to continue a conversation, meeting, etc.
Sheila Tucker, LAMFT, MA
Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Heart Mind & Soul Counseling
Introverts are multi-takers of information. This means introverts attend to their internal dialogue and feelings, while also noticing everything going on in their external environment.
The overload of information can lead to overstimulation, which will eventually lead to overwhelm and the possibility of shutting down
Think of it as the power save function on your computer. It’s also important to mention that sometimes, it looks like an introvert has shut down, but instead, they’re carefully considering their response.
Be patient, sometimes it takes an introvert a little longer to respond due to mulling over all of the information, experiences, and the active ongoing dialogue in their minds.
Stephanie Wijkstrom MS, LPC, NBCC
Psychotherapist | Founder, The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Introversion may be related to ‘stonewalling’ during the interpersonal conflict. Stonewalling is a tendency to remain quiet and immobile when disagreeing.
From the outside, it can appear that the person who is stonewalling is ignoring the problem or conversation, the partners of the chronic stonewaller often imagine that the person does not care. Whenever researchers measure the person who is stonewalling’s heart rate and respiration, their heart rates are often soaring, they are in a state hyperaroused.
A person who is highly introverted already may not excel at processing information externally, with others
This effect can be multiplied during the conflict which taxes the problem solving of even the most extroverted person. The antidote to stonewalling is self-soothing when we learn to manage the stresses of interpersonal conflict with an emotionally soothing technique such as deep breathing or a short walk, the hyperarousal dissipates and conversation about the problem topic can continue.
Certified Mental Health Consultant, Enlightened Reality | Relationship Expert, Maple Holistics
Introverts are people who prefer calm environments. While they might enjoy social interactions, they very much need their own quiet space too. Introverts often need to recharge after prolonged social interactions. Too much stimulation will overwhelm them.
Introverts might shut down if they are inundated with too much stimulation without a break to recharge
Oftentimes, social situations such as parties are too much for introverts, who need their own space more often than extroverts. As such, introverts tend to shut down when they are overwhelmed.
When they are in a place that is too noisy or that requires them to be using too much social energy, an introvert might feel like they’re about to break.
They might look for a place to hide out, such as a corner or bathroom, in order to get some calm. If an introvert doesn’t build ‘alone time’ breaks into their social events, they can completely shut down in the middle of stress.
Certified Life Coach
This can show up as avoiding events entirely, going to them but not engaging (hiding in that corner), or just being so in your head that you feel you can think of absolutely nothing to say.
Why does this happen? Often the first thought that comes to mind is “It’s because I’m an introvert.” We then make that label we’ve given ourselves define how we show up. We use it as a limitation, and from that place, we get exhausted, hold back, and shut down.
But you can use your introversion to energize yourself and become one of the most engaging individuals. It’s all about what you make your introversion means about you.
If you’re feeling trapped by your introversion, here’s what I recommend. Notice the qualities that your introversion can bring. Introverts are often expert connectors, knowing how to listen and ask questions. This makes introverts engaging; they can draw people to them with that energy.
You can also use your introversion in social settings as a means to reconnect with yourself. Notice how you are showing up at that event. Get in touch with what’s going on in your head. Notice how you don’t have to feel overwhelmed – you can stay grounded and present in yourself, and then the energy of the room doesn’t have to exhaust you.
It’s all about the way you approach your situation and what you want to make that situation and your introversion say about you. I’ve used these strategies and others on myself, and on my clients in my coaching program, and it has transformed how to show up as an introvert.
You can enjoy networking and social situations if you want. You can lean into the strengths of introversion as a means to speak up instead of shut down. It’s all about what you decide to make your introversion mean about you.
Related: Best Books for Introverts
Bianca Asiya Saeed
Holistic Health & Wellness Coach, Motherhood Empowerment Coach, LLC
There are many differences between extroverts, introverts, and ambiverts, but there remains one primary distinction.
Introverts prefer solitude more often since their brains create energy during periods of alone time, low levels of stimulation and turning inward. Introverts are known for being relatively quiet, they enjoy contemplating and don’t prefer the social scene as much as their more extroverted counterparts.
The reason that introverts ultimately shut down is due to long periods of stimulation
These periods of stimulation overwhelm, exhaust and confuse their brains. Since the introvert brain prefers solitude to social interaction when their internal limit for socializing has been crossed into the territory of overstimulation, their brains cannot process the number of sights, sounds, smells, etc. being received by their physical bodies.
This causes introverts to essentially give up on trying to process all of the stimulation (shutting down) or attempt their escape, heading for the nearest exit.
Writer, Car Insurers | Clinical Mental Health Counselor
Introverts tend to stay away from attention and drama. They don’t enjoy sharing personal information, showing emotion, or being vulnerable.
When an introvert shuts down, it’s usually because they are feeling vulnerable or trying to shut down the emotions as quickly as possible
Introverts don’t need a lot of input from their surroundings to process information. They process feelings and thoughts internally and may take some time to formulate well-thought-out responses. Introverts are not reactive. However, introverts who harbor their thoughts and feelings internally may be at risk for emotional overload.
Sometimes introverts can be hard to read. They may be direct and blunt, not with the goal of offending, but just because they are direct and blunt. To some, this could be off-putting. But there is something to be said for being able to express yourself so directly.