Thriving As An Introvert: Ileana Arganda-Stevens of Thrive Therapy and Counseling On How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts
Self-Acceptance — This has been a hard lesson for me as I used to seek acceptance exclusively from others. But when it didn’t happen, or I received criticism or ridicule, I slowly learned I had to look inside. Shifting my focus toward my own values has been helpful.
In a world that often rewards outspokenness and social networking, introverts can sometimes feel sidelined or overlooked. The workplace, educational institutions, and even social settings can often seem engineered to suit the strengths of extroverts, leaving introverts searching for a space to flourish.
However, introversion comes with its own set of unique strengths — deep thinking, the ability to focus, empathy, and keen observational skills — that are invaluable but often underestimated. The question then becomes: how can introverts not only survive but also thrive and succeed in environments that seem skewed towards extroversion? In this interview series, we are talking to introverts, business leaders, psychologists, authors, career coaches, organizational leaders, and other experts in the field who can talk about “How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts”. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ileana Arganda-Stevens.
Ileana Arganda-Stevens is a licensed marriage and family therapist and Program Manager at Thrive Therapy and Counseling, a group practice in Sacramento, California. She works with introverts, highly sensitive people, and individuals with complex trauma who are wanting to learn more about themselves and live more fulfilling lives. She’s an introvert herself, as well as highly sensitive, and is passionate about helping others to increase their self-acceptance. She lives independently, enjoying movies, writing, and time with loved ones. She believes that our relationship with ourselves is both unique and important and that learning to accept and appreciate ourselves as we are is a benefit not only to us but those around us.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I’m a middle child with an older and younger brother which may contribute to my sense of diplomacy and attunement to the feelings of others. My parents divorced when I was around 12 and my brothers and I lived with my mom for the most part. Throughout my childhood, I struggled with school anxiety as a child and didn’t really enjoy classroom participation but enjoyed hanging out with friends as well as time to myself to draw. When I reached adolescence, I made some good friends in middle school who helped me feel more accepted and I came out of my shell a bit, mostly by leaning into my creativity and sense of humor. There were enjoyable times and really challenging times throughout my teen years and up into my twenties. Of course, the challenging times don’t end after thirty but I feel much more grounded than I have in the past.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?
I had actually never thought about being a therapist before my senior year in high school. Up until that point, I planned to become an illustrator but during senior year, I took an AP psychology course that inspired me. I felt a sense of fulfillment learning about my own psychology and the psychology of others. I’d had some experiences receiving therapy by that point and when I left high school and started at a Bay Area art college, I continued to think about psychology. I completed my first year in art school and decided to change my focus to psychology instead, enrolling in courses at a local community college. I really loved both my undergrad and graduate work, digging into what makes us behave and feel the way we do and I loved hearing the perspectives and wisdom of my professors. Despite my enthusiasm, I took a break after I received my master’s and worked in the public school system instead. Life dealt me a really difficult hand during that time and that’s actually one of the things that reignited my interest in becoming a therapist. I ended up settling in a different city and started working as an associate therapist. When I decided to leave my practicum site, I really wanted to find a place where I could connect with other therapists and luckily, Thrive Therapy and Counseling was hiring. Since working at Thrive, I’ve become licensed and took on the role of Program Manager in which I provide support both to our program director and the other therapists.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Thriving As An Introvert. In order to make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does “Introvert” mean to you?
To me, “introvert” means someone who benefits from time to themselves. I think everyone actually benefits from time alone but introverts crave it — they need it to recharge and feel like themselves. They might enjoy solitude or spending quiet time amongst others while doing their own thing. For me, it also means I am oriented inward — I’m reflective, think deeply, and need to mull things over quite a bit.
Can you help articulate a few of the challenges that come with being an introvert?
A couple of challenges of being an introvert are acceptance and appreciation. There’s a cultural value in the US around being “productive” and outgoing. Introverts often value time to reflect, relax, or enjoy a quiet activity, but we may receive the message that those things are less valuable than doing things that are more “productive” or social. I keep putting “productive” in quotes because I think it’s a value we really need to examine — where it comes from, what it means, and how it’s impacting our well-being.
I’m sure that being an introvert also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that introverts have?
I really value the perspective and humor of introverts. We’re often keen observers of life and that lends itself to both perspective and humor. And if you’re a quiet introvert, a witty joke or remark may catch people off guard and I find that really enjoyable.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being an introvert? Can you explain what you mean?
Just because a person enjoys time to themselves does not mean they’re sad or lonely. I really enjoy my solitude and will often dine, shop, or go to the movies on my own. While I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I enjoy the freedom of it. I can take my time, go where I like, change my mind, all without needing to accommodate anyone else.
Do you have any role models who are also introverts? What have you learned from them that can help introverts navigate the challenges and benefits of introversion?
I’m slowly gaining introverted role models as I get older. I read an article from The Marginalian recently that contained a beautiful quote from May Sarton about the value of solitude:
“It is raining. I look out on the maple, where a few leaves have turned yellow, and listen to Punch, the parrot, talking to himself and to the rain ticking gently against the windows. I am here alone for the first time in weeks, to take up my “real” life again at last. That is what is strange — that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time alone in which to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened. Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet I taste it fully only when I am alone…”
She seems to be talking about the value of time to digest life, to allow our thoughts and experiences to sink in and derive from them a sense of meaning or appreciation. I often feel chaotic or foggy when I’ve not had time to digest life and this quote is both wonderful validation and a reminder that this time is needed.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the “Five Things Introverts Need To Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1 . Self-Acceptance — This has been a hard lesson for me as I used to seek acceptance exclusively from others. But when it didn’t happen, or I received criticism or ridicule, I slowly learned I had to look inside. Shifting my focus toward my own values has been helpful.
2 . Boundaries — I think many introverts feel as though our time does not belong to us. We might have even received explicit or implicit messages that we “owe” others our time and energy, but I’ve learned over time that this is not true. The only person we really owe anything to is ourselves. Boundaries can help us protect our time, energy, and self-respect by setting limits on what we will and will not do and accept.
3 . Sanctuary — Introverts need a place they feel completely at home, a place where they can not only set down their burdens but also create and reflect. Creating an inner and outer environment that reflects our strengths, interests, and needs can help us feel that sense of sanctuary.
4 . Kindred spirits — Introverts also need people with whom they connect. Whether it’s a character in a book or movie, friends, a teacher, a therapist, a neighbor, these connections help us feel a sense of belonging in a world that doesn’t always recognize or appreciate our needs and strengths.
5 . Meaning/purpose — Because introverts are often deep thinkers and keen observers of life, I think it can be helpful to develop a sense of purpose or meaning in life. Be mindful about the media you consume and seek out different perspectives on big life questions. Try to discern your deepest values and why they’re important to you and do something to serve your values every week.
How should an introvert navigate social relationships and networking, activities that are often touted as extroverts’ forte? Do you have any advice for introverts in these areas?
Develop your own standards for navigating social situations. Trying to fit somebody else’s ideal of how you ought to be can deplete your energy and self-esteem. Decide ahead of time what feels most important to you about an interaction or a relationship (e.g. developing one or two deeper connections as opposed to many surface-level connections) and put your energy toward that in a sustainable way. By sustainable, I mean put the amount of energy into it you think you’d be able to sustain for the long-term. Amping up our energy or engaging with others for too long may be so depleting that we avoid future interactions so take it slow and do what you can.
What are some practical tips you can offer to introverts who want to succeed in the workplace, which is often geared towards extroverted behaviors?
I feel really grateful to myself for pursuing a career which I find both fulfilling and flexible to my needs. I also feel really grateful that I found an employer who shares my values around self-care. I encourage introverts to be honest and compassionate with themselves about their work needs and to the best of their ability, pursue a career that’s a good fit for them. If you need work that’s meaningful and offers a flexible schedule, go for it. If you prefer a job that gives you the hours and the pay you need to enjoy your off-time, go for that!
Have you noticed any specific ways that being an introvert affects mental health or overall well-being? Any tips for introverts to maintain good mental health?
I think mental health has a lot to do with inner and outer acceptance. If our internal or external environment is hostile or neglectful, this can deteriorate our well-being over time. Take time to reflect on the quality of your inner and outer worlds, if you’re regularly feeling depleted or demeaned, see where you can make changes. Oftentimes, we can set a boundary that is helpful or move to a new place or job that is a better match for us. If not, it may be worthwhile to explore inner work through therapy, journaling, or quiet contemplation in nature.
In your opinion, are societal views on introversion changing? If so, how do you think this impacts introverts positively or negatively? Can you please explain what you mean?
Sometimes I think societal views on introversion are becoming more accepting, but other times I worry it’s not true acceptance of who we are as people as much as it is encouragement to stay inside, on our screens, consuming lots of media content. A heavy focus on consumerism and overreliance on technology may lead us to become disconnected from ourselves by creating an ideal of perfect comfort which can only be attained through consumption. Perfect comfort is, of course, unrealistic, and pursuing it can contribute to anxiety and disappointment. I think it’s important to be mindful about our consumption and take breaks to digest and reconnect with ourselves.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is from Mark Twain, “For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon — laughter. Power, Money, Persuasion, Supplication, Persecution — these can lift at a colossal humbug, — push it a little — crowd it a little — weaken it a little, century by century: but only Laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand.”
Laughter has smoothed out the hard edges of my life and been a wonderful refuge and nourishment to my soul. There’s so much in life we cannot control — laughter helps loosen our grip on that control and accept ourselves and each other as we are in the moment.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe so much in the self-compassion movement right now. I feel like it’s what’s missing from our lives and can help heal our fractured relationships with ourselves and others. Kristen Neff and Paul Gilbert have done wonderful work in this area as have many others. Developing compassion for myself and helping others do the same have been some of the most meaningful endeavors in my life.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can read more about me in my bio on Thrive Therapy and Counseling’s webpage. I’m also a regular contributor to Thrive’s Surviving and Thriving blog and our social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook so keep a look out for my content there as well.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thriving As An Introvert: Ileana Arganda-Stevens of Thrive Therapy and Counseling On How… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.