Most people think introverts are shy and anti-social compared to extraverts who are not. Until we realize the unique differences and strengths both personality types offer, each may continue to befuddle the other.
Our social standard leans towards extraversion, being a “people person.” As a child, having lots of friends, liking parties, preferring to play with friends rather than read a good book, making friends easily, and greeting new experiences enthusiastically is encouraged and pursued. Kids who don’t fit this ideal are called withdrawn, aloof, shy and loners. These terms show the extent to which we misunderstand introversion. Introverts – a minority – are often misunderstood and being an introvert myself, people do misinterpret my introspective nature.
Briggs-Myers used the terms introvert and extravert to describe how individuals energize. People can be extreme extraverts or extreme introverts but are usually a combination. Rather than the assumption that introverts are shy and reserved and extraverts are outgoing and gregarious, more accurately introverts seek stimulation and energy from within – directing their energies inward in reflection; and extraverts seek stimulation and energy from outside themselves, directing energy outward. So when extraverts spend time brainstorming with others, working all day with people and talking all the while, they can feel pumped at the end of the day. Since extraverts get their energy from interaction with people and the external world, talking and “thinking out loud” is effective in getting things done and spending too much time alone is not desirable.
For someone like me, talking all day or brainstorming ideas is draining and seems intrusive and non-productive. Although I can easily do this for a period, I need quiet time at the end of the day to replenish. Working on our own with few interruptions is energizing and introverts make their best decisions through inner reflection. Rarely will an introvert put their foot in their mouth because they think thoroughly before they speak which is why, for me, writing is easier – edit, edit, edit! Introverts tend to prefer discussions of the most meaningful sort and other discussions can seem like chatter.
It took me years to stop trying to be more extraverted. As a child I observed the popularity and adoration my extraverted friends received: going to the front of the classroom to recite a story; being complimented and praised for singing and dancing on stage; being the centre of attention, life of the party and jewel in the crowd. At age seven, I was mortified to walk to the front of the audience and give flowers to my teacher while everyone clapped. When a household microphone was put in my face to play “pretend you’re an airline stewardess and we’re the passengers” I didn’t have a clue what to say. What a stupid game I thought, and was much more content to daydream and make believe all on my own. And summer camp – a lonely place for introverts! I had insight though, and often wondered what made extraverts tick! Why was it so important to wave frantically and blurt out the answer in school? I wondered why, at parties, people all talked at once and no one listened. I saw how talking just for the sake of talking seemed futile.
Society could learn about the positive side of introversion and teach children that reflection is a good quality. Most creative individuals seek solitude, and leaders in academic, aesthetic and technical fields are often introverts. More National Merit Scholars are introverted than extraverted, and introverts have higher grade point averages in Ivy League colleges. Introverts also have an advantage at midlife in that journey to the soul that, eventually, calls us all.
Personalities can change throughout our lives. Where we receive our primary energy does not. Hurray for our differences!
Tips to help children who gather their energy from within:
respect their need for privacy; never embarrass them in public; let them observe first in new situations; don’t demand instant answers; reprimand them privately; teach them new skills in private; enable them to find a best friend with similar interests and encourage that friendship even if the friend moves; don’t push them to make lots of friends; respect their introversion and don’t try to make them into extraverts.
Christine Goyer-Swift finds expression through writing and dance, and inspiration through long walks and solitude. “Writing is a window into my life, recording, witnessing and continually emerging.”