Pandemic Lessons for Introverts (and their Therapists) By F. Diane Barth, LCSW on 6/8/21 - 1:05 PM

Melissa* is a professional in her early thirties. She is married and has two dogs and a cat. She is also a self-described introvert. “What that means,” she said when we first started working together “is that I like people, but I don’t like socializing. I’m happiest when I’m at home with my husband and my pets. I prefer working in my garden to being around other people.”

Melissa is one of many self-described introverts for whom the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a surprising and often welcome respite from the difficult demands of everyday interactions with others. The concept of “introversion,” popularized by Carl Jung, is often described as a reserved or shy person who enjoys spending time alone. As with most descriptions of personality, introversion and extroversion exist on a continuum, with most of us experiencing a mix of these characteristics, and many people who consider themselves more on the introverted side of the extrovert-introvert continuum have still had difficulties during the pandemic. But, as a recent New York Times article suggested, forced separation from their hectic lives has given some people the opportunity to see just how hectic those pre-pandemic lives were (1). After reading the article, Melissa resonated with the example of Josh Bernoff, a public speaker and author who lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, who acknowledged how stressed he had been prior to the pandemic as he was constantly traveling, planning his next on-the-go meal, and forced into socially awkward conversation with veritable strangers.

“That’s exactly how I felt,” she told me. “I hadn’t thought about how hard I work all the time to do social stuff that other people find so simple.”

Years ago, individuals who were quiet and reserved were often admired, but today, at least in the United States, according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, introversion and its often-associated characteristics of sensitivity and shyness has become synonymous with some type of personality flaw (2).

Melissa, who had grown up in a world that admires the outgoing extrovert, spent much of her life feeling ashamed of herself for preferring solitude to social interaction. “I’ve always thought there was something wrong with me,” she told me early in our work together. “So, I’ve worked hard to be more outgoing, even though it’s never been comfortable.”

The reality for Melissa, as for many self-proclaimed introverts, was not quite as black and white as it might have appeared at first. During the pandemic, even as she was enjoying her time alone, she found herself thinking that it might be nice to spend a little time with one friend or another. But as the world has begun to open, Melissa is taking stock of some of the lessons she has learned about herself during the pandemic.

“I don’t want to get caught back up in that crazy social schedule I had before,” she said. “I want to be able to find time for myself, to read, listen to music, go for long solitary walks. But I also want some time with people I care about.”

I asked her to talk to me about what appealed to her about spending time with those people. “That’s a really interesting question,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to think about what I like about being with them, because I’m always so busy either forcing myself to spend time with someone when I don’t want to or pushing people away because they want to spend time with me when I want—need—to be alone.”

I asked her to tell me about what she liked about being with friends and family she cared about, and as she tried to explain it to me, she realized that she actually enjoyed her time with other people when it was her choice to be with them.

I said, “You need more quiet time than some of your friends and family, and more time alone. But it’s not that you don’t like being with people at all.”

“You’re right,” she said. “I just realized that one of the things I’ve really liked about the pandemic—and I hate that so many people are suffering from it, and I kind of feel guilty about the fact that I’m enjoying anything about it—but one of the things I do enjoy is that when I talk to a friend or my sister or my mother or a colleague on Zoom, it’s for a limited time. Most of us just can’t stay on Zoom forever, so it has a natural limit that’s probably much more like my own personal limit.”

We were both silent for a minute, digesting this idea. I was wondering if there was a way to carry this new information about herself into the world as it opened up and had just started to ask her that question when she said, “I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way I can use that knowledge about myself moving forward. I have to go back to work, and I have to start seeing my friends and my family again. But can I set some kind of limits with them? Or will I just fall into the same habits as before, going along with what seems right to them and then fighting to find my time and space?”

As the apparent slowing down of the pandemic leads businesses to re-open and social life to ramp up, Melissa, like other clients who have enjoyed the time on their own, faces an interesting dilemma. She put it this way in one of our discussions: “I’ve learned a lot about myself during this time,” she said to me. “Now I want to see if I can incorporate my sense of peace about myself as a less outgoing person with my desire to be connected—but on my own terms.”

Many clients who do not consider themselves introverted at all have also told me that they learned to appreciate time on their own more than ever before. As another client put it, “It seems like some of the activity in my life was doing stuff because I was afraid of feeling left out. It felt really good to slow down, to be on my own, and to do things that I wanted to be doing, not because I was driven to be part of the crowd.”

The gradual ending of the isolation resulting from the pandemic has brought on some concerns, including what Melissa and several other clients call “fear of re-entry,” that is, fears about returning situations in which interpersonal interactions stir up discomfort and anxiety. But one important takeaway for therapists and clients has been to pay attention to and respect what they have learned about themselves during this time. We therapists can help clients recognize and respect their own needs and shift away from always pushing themselves to engage in social activities. Recognizing the “power of introverts” can lead to acknowledgement that it can be useful to respect their own qualities, even if they do not meet the demands of an extroverted culture. And many clients might also discover for themselves what Melissa recently told me: “As I allow myself to take the time alone when I need it, I find that I’m able to engage in the social interactions that I want to engage in much more easily.”

*Names and identifying information changed to protect privacy


(1) Richtel, M. (2021) The U.S. is opening up. For the anxious, that comes with a cost. Retrieved from

(2) Cain, S. (2013) Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking. Crown.

Additional Writings on Introversion

Buelow, B. and the Introvert Entrepreneur. (2012) Insight: reflections on the gift of being an introvert. Introvert Entrepreneur.

Dembling, S. (2012). An introvert's way: Living a quiet life in a noisy world. Penguin Books.

Helgoe, L. (2012) Introvert power: Why your inner life is your hidden strength. Sourcebooks. 

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy, COVID-19 Blogs