11 Apr 2011

I is for Introverts.

I am an extravert. Sometimes I show introverted behaviour, especially in loud and lively environments with lots of other people, but at heart, I am an extravert.

'Wrong letter and wrong post,' you may say, but bear with me.

My husband is an introvert, and so are several of my closest friends. Many years ago, I thought introverts were shy, reserved, absent-minded or aloof. Now I know better. They're just different. And fascinating.

I want to dedicate today's post to the wonderful introverts in my life (lives). I hope it will contribute to a better understanding and higher appreciation of introverts all over the world. In other words: to World Peace *beatific smile*.

The main thing we need to know - and accept - about introverts is that their attention is focused on what's happening inside their minds. While we extraverts are 'out there', interacting and observing everyone and everything around us, an introvert is doing something similar in his or her own inner world. And that inner world doesn't necessarily look or feel like the world outside.

Now, we extraverts do this as well - to a certain degree. We, too, have our inner worlds. But we attribute a different value to them. For an extravert, the outside world comes first. We often put other people's beliefs, interests and concerns before our own. Our thoughts and emotions are triggered by factors around us, and then we internalise them.
Sometimes we need to process what happened by being alone and digging in, but more often we'll process by talking to other people (or pets, or imaginary others).

Introverts process what happens in their lives by being on their own, undisturbed. They don't need to talk about something in order to deal with it. To the contrary. Often they can only communicate something after they've worked it through.

What we Should Know about Introverts:
  • Introverts are not necessarily shy. In fact, I have the impression shyness occurs more often in extraverts, because they are more aware of the people around them, and place higher value on their opinions.
    Introverts don't prefer solitude because they're anxious about interaction with others, but because they don't feel a strong need to.
    (It's interesting to note here that many shy extraverts - and extraverts with non-mainstream beliefs - like to think they are introverts, because it gives them a less emotionally charged term to identify with. If you would like to interact with people, but you're anxious about it or don't really know how, you're probably an extravert.)
  • Being around other people costs introverts a lot of energy, especially in larger groups and when they are forced to interact. They will do it for the people they care about, but be aware that it drains them, and they'll need to be alone afterwards to recharge.
  • Introverts don't hate people. They are not anti-social. They just need to spend a sufficient amount of time on their own.
  • Because introverts don't feel the urge to interact, when they do, they prefer to talk about ideas and feelings that matter, rather than small talk and social chit-chat
  • You cannot turn an introvert into an extravert. (Besides: why would you want to? Our world needs diversity!)
    You can make them act in a more extraverted way, but it will still drain them and they'll need to be alone afterwards. You can change some of the behaviour, but not the person.

What Introverts should Know about Extraverts:
  • When extraverts talk, they're not doing it to be loud, to dominate the conversation or because they believe what they think is more important than what everybody else thinks.
    Often they're just responding to an urge to get something off their chest. Once that's done, and when they notice they've been heard, they can listen to what others have to say.
    (So yes, introverts, giving feedback by means of facial expressions and 'uhuhs' is a good idea - we're not mind readers, and aren't you happy about that!)
  • Extraverts structure their thoughts, make sense of emotions and form their opinions in interaction with the outside world. When they are confronted with issues or questions, they'll start talking about it. This is a way to bounce off ideas, gather feedback and see which responses resonate.
  • Extraverts are not shallow. They might spend less of their mental time in their inner world, but that doesn't mean they think or feel less. They have a keen interest in the world and in other people, and are often aware of different layers and subtleties in social interaction that introverts would miss.
  • Extraverts are energised by being around people, but not just anyone. Interaction with people they can't identify with or with whom they don't have much in common, can wear them out as well.
  • Everything else you need to know about extraverts: don't worry, we'll tell you.

Interesting links.

Are you an introvert? How do you deal with the people around you?

Photo 'Alone he sings' by Luis Humberto Molinar Márquez. Available under a creative commons license. © 2009, Luis Humberto Molinar Márquez.
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  1. I guess I am an introvert....at least mostly. If it wasn't for my husband I'd probably live in a cave somewhere. If you see me in a group with a glazed look in my eye and a fake smile on my face you'll know I've gone to my "happy place".

  2. thanks for posting this. we can all do with more understanding.

  3. Yep, you pretty much nailed it. I'm an introvert, but I'm not shy or a people hater. Geesh, not the way I carry on on-line. But I do need my solitude.

    Actually, I appreciate the insight on extraverts. I have a conference I'm going to in a few weeks and this stuff always comes into play when a large group of introverts gets together. The extraverts generally own the room.

  4. I am one of those rare people who switched from extravert to introvert. It doesn't happen very often, I guess. I took the Myers-Brigg test in high school and college, ranking fully in the extravert category.

    Now, more than 20 years later, I am an introvert who would much rather stay in than go out. I used to love parties and social gatherings. Now they just tire me. I can still act the part of extravert but I have switched completely. Thanks for the great post!

  5. I am not sure if I am in or ex but I am sure that you have an interesting knowledge of people.
    I like this post!

  6. @mybabyjohn: that certainly sounds introverted. One of my friends described herself once as 'If I'd be any more introverted, I'd be a potted plant.' But 'live in a cave' is a good image too :-)

    @Michelle: Thank you. We certainly can. Understanding where other people's behaviour comes from is a great way to prevent / avoid unnecessary conflict.

    @L.G. Much of an extravert's problem is that so few people (extraverts included) really listen to what someone is saying. And when extraverts feel they're not being heard, that's when they'll become more dominant.

    @Nicole: a problem with many personality tests is that it's easier to measure behaviour than underlying motivations.
    I often prefer to stay in as well, but not because I'm introverted. Being an analytical, more emotional extravert, it's taxing for me to be with people I don't have a lot in common with, in an environment where there's (open or hidden) conflict, etc.

    @50 foot QE: very kind of you :-) There are a few online personality tests if you'd want to figure out what the tests think you are ;-)
    I particularly like this one: http://kisa.ca/personality/

  7. A definite introvert here. If I don't get a certain amount of time away from people I start getting antsy. And I definitely need recharging when I've been interacting with people.

    I wonder if this is why I have such a problem with Twitter - it's like being in a huge party where you only know a couple of people.

  8. @C R: I've heard that a lot from introverts, and noticed it a few times. When they've been around people for too long, without 'downtime' to recharge, they get fidgety, short, irritated, ...

  9. I'm an introvert who married an extravert. We meld perfectly together. You are right, spending time with people is very emotionally draining, especially if they are high energy people. It is a growth process to learn how to do that, I've found.

  10. @Shelli: Introverts & extraverts make a great team, especially if they learn to take care of each other :-)

  11. Thanks for this posting - I really enjoyed it (and the links).

    I'm happy that my husband learned that I function much better as long as I get space for regular 'sanity breaks'. When I've been in interaction mode for a while I need to go & be on my own - it's a compulsion that's hard to explain to people who think I am just being anti-social! I'm happier spending time with others when I know I can take time out to recharge when I need to.

  12. Everyone who knows me would peg me as an extravert but I'm not. I'm one of those weird folks that fall in the middle. I do like people and I like to talk and socialize but only to a certain point. Then I have to be by myself or I get all stroppy. I'm a closet introvert I guess. It's hard. boo hoo.
    Jan Morrison

  13. @Hweorfa: when people don't understand that introverts need alone time to recharge, they tend to take it personally when the introvert takes off. As if it's a comment on them as people and they're bad, boring or demanding company, whereas it's got nothing to do with them.

    @Jan: I think I recognise that. I love being with people, but after a while I get what I call 'buffer overflow', and then I need to be alone, or with 1 or 2 people I know really well. With me, it's due to extraversion, but it's different for everybody. We're such wonderfully complicated creatures. :-)

  14. Wonderful post. I'm an introvert and proud of it. I like how mention that introverted isn't antisocial. Sometimes people can think that and pity introverts. Depending on the situation introversion can be mistaken for arrogance, I've been there before.

  15. Great post! In school we had to take tests on that, and I wanted to be an extravert . . . in some strange hope that it would help me conquer my shyness. Well, I'm an introvert, and I get it more now. Introversion has nothing to do with shyness . . . although they are often linked. I can be very chatty and talky, and even loud and obnoxious. However, I still get re-charged in "alone" or "quiet, family" time. I don't want to be a hermit, but time alone is needed for me.

  16. @Claire: if there's one thing I've learnt, it's that introverts don't need our pity. Every human character trait has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the situation we're in. And I believe that, the better we know ourselves, the more we can look for situations where we are at our best.

    @Tyrean: Thanks! It's interesting to meet an introvert who used to wish he were an extravert, whereas I know many extraverts I know who wish they were introverts. We are what we are, and I think that's great. The world needs all kinds of people, and we're capable of so much when we learn to work together and complement each other.

  17. I don't believe in the Myer Briggs personality test! Nor do I believe people are either extraverted or introverted. People assess me as an extravert, yet I go bonkers without sufficient 'me' time, and I always have my own thinking going on. I also tend to talk about problems and issues with total strangers! So, according to your definitions, I'm both extraverted and introverted and I'll be damned if you can peg me with a standardised test!
    Having thus spoken, I do like your blog - and see we chose some of the same topics in the A-Z: Joy and You, so far - I'm reading the alphabet backwards! I guess that makes me in this moment reversoverted!

  18. @alison: I don't believe in it either.

    It's nothing but a framework, and I use it because it works for me, not because I think it's a blood-written truth.

    Frameworks are simplifications of reality and too general to peg anyone completely, but that doesn't contradict their usefulness.

    And we use similar ones all the time, e.g. to describe a person's looks, with characteristics like: short -> tall, bald -> long hair, etc.

    Those systems are useful for understanding and communication, because they provide a vocabulary. They're not meant to describe an individual in great detail, and even less to peg anyone, even though I'm sure some people use them that way.

    Thanks for your comment! :-)


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