6 Things You Thought Wrong About Introverts
By Carolyn Gregoire
If common stereotypes have anything to say on the matter, it's that introverts are socially awkward loners who abhor large crowds and don't like people very much. An introvert may not be a particularly friendly or happy person, but hey, at least they're smarter and more creative than the average extrovert.
Despite compromising an estimated one-third of the general population, introversion may be one of the most frequently misunderstood personality traits. Much of the problem stems from the lack of a simple distinction between introversion and extroversion -- the difference is far more complex than being shy versus outgoing, according to Sophia Dembling, author of the Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World. The introversion/extroversion distinction has its roots in Jungian psychology, which views extroverts as being more naturally oriented towards the outside world, and introverts more focused on their own inner world.
If you're an introvert, you might be used to feeling misunderstood (many introvert children are criticized for not speaking up at school and grown ups being told to 'come out of their shells'). And if you're an extrovert, there's a good chance that you have at least a few misconceptions about those mysterious quiet types in your life. Scroll through the list below for six of the most common false assumptions about introverts -- and why they're wrong.
[If I had a dime for every time I heard from a teacher, a relative, a neighbor or one of my parent's friends, 'Don't worry about Kelsey -- she just needs time to come out of her shell' or 'Well how about that -- Kelsey is coming out of her shell!' I would be the richest hermit in the history of rich hermits.]
1. All introverts are shy -- and all shy people are introverts.
Shyness is so often confused with introversion that the two words are frequently used interchangeable -- but in fact, they're remarkably different traits. As Susan Cain pointed out in a Psychology Today blog, Bill Gates is introverted but not shy: he's quiet and bookish, but isn't bothered by what other people think of him.
Whereas introversion, as Dembling explains, is commonly defined as recharging and gaining energy through alone time, shyness has more to do with discomfort and anxiety in situations involving social interaction. Many introverts aren't shy; they may feel confident and at ease around other people, but simply require more alone time to balance out the energy they expend in social situations.
'The number one misconception about introversion is that it's about shyness,' says Dembling. 'The best distinction I've ever heard comes from a neuroscientist who studies shyness. He said, 'Shyness is a behavior -- it's being fearful in a social situation. Whereas introversion is a motivation. It's how much you want and need to be in those interactions.''
[Personally, I feel like I have introversion on steroids. I'm incredibly introverted, I'm pretty shy, I get anxiety over the smallest things, I have a quiet voice and I'm pretty bookish and nerdy. Let's face it, I'm just a super hermit.]
2. Introverts don't like to be around people.
Although introverts do generally need -- and enjoy -- more solitude than their extroverted counterparts, the idea that introverts are antisocial or don't want the company of others is completely false. They just tend to enjoy social interaction in a different way than extroverts do.
'There are a lot of negative labels placed on introverts -- socially anxious, don't like people, judgmental (because we sit quietly),' says Dembling. 'Introverts may prefer one-on-one interaction. We might enjoy large parties but want to sit and watch the action from the sidelines. Extroverts may interpret this as not wanting to have fun, but this observation is fun for an introvert.'
'I like to say that we may like people more than extroverts because we take the time to get to know them... it's just a completely different style,' says Dembling.
[When I started my interest in journalism, I knew I wanted to write about people and about their stories. I believe everyone has a story to tell -- good or bad -- and I want to be the one who gets their story out into the public. I'm drawn to people with interesting lives. One of my favorite books is Life of Pi for this very reason!]
3. Introverts don't make good leaders or public speakers.
Many introverts enjoy and excel in roles that involve leading others, speaking publicly, and being in the spotlight. Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi and countless other leaders through history have been classified as introverts. According to USA Today, roughly four in ten top executives test as introverts.
'The good news... is that in some sense we are all born to sell and equipped to lead,' writes author Daniel Pink in a Washington Post blog. 'And that means a hidden but urgent challenge for organizations of every kind is to shatter the stereotype of who's an effective leader.'
And when it comes to public speaking, introverts aren't the shrinking violets they're often thought to be, and they might actually have the upper hand over extroverts. Because introverts focus on preparing projects and thinking things through thoroughly before acting, they can be excellent speakers, says Dembling. Susan Cain's charismatically delivered TED talk on the power of introverts, for instance, was one of the fastest TED videos ever to reach one million views.
[Unfortunately for me, I am and will probably always be a terrible public speaker. I'm okay with that, because I refuse to take any more public speaking classes, mostly because the one I did take last year, Comm 110 was a total bust waste-of-my-time. I did not enjoy that class one bit. I do, however, think I'm a pretty good leader. In the unconventional sense, though. I'm a behind the scenes kind of leader.]
4. Introverts have more negative personalities.
Because they actually like being alone, introverts are sometimes stereotyped as having more depressive or negative-slanting personalities. This misconception likely stems from the fact that extroverts -- who gain their energy from social interaction -- might feel sad when they don't spend enough time with people, Dembling says.
Most introverts don't connect solitude with loneliness, unless it becomes excessive. That being said, although introverts do not innately have more depressive personalities, they do tend to spend more time thinking and analyzing -- and if this turns to ruminating, it could potentially lead to depression.
[Unfortunately for me, again, I do have depression and anxiety and super anxiety in social situations, so can I just get a damn medal or something for being the stereotypical introvert already or something??]
5. Introverts are more intellectual or creative than extroverts.
Many of the most celebrated artists and thinkers throughout history -- including Albert Einstein, Marcel Proust, and Charles Darwin -- were thought to be quiet types. Introverts are sometimes touted as being 'more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive,' as Jonathan Rauch writes in an Atlantic article, 'Caring For Your Introvert.'
But before any quiet types climb atop an intellectual high horse, it's important to note that being an introvert doesn't innately make you a loftier, or more innovative, thinker. Extroverts are, of course, often incredibly intelligent and creative; there's just a good chance that their best ideas happen while they're in a more reflective, or introverted, mindset.
'Creativity occurs in an introverted space... but that doesn't mean we've cornered the market on it,' says Dembling. 'Without both introverts and extroverts, things wouldn't get done. We've got one person thinking it through and one person going out and slaying the dragon.'
[While I'd love to be characterized as more creative and intelligent, I know that's not true. I get that people think that, though. Many creative thoughts are thought of when a person is in an introverted state of mind. I mean, how many of you come up with your most brilliant ideas in the shower? Or driving to work? Or right before you go to sleep, when you're most relaxed? I know I do!]
6. It's easy to tell whether someone is introverted or extroverted.
Many introverts could easily go out to a cocktail party and talk up everyone in the room -- and they may even enjoy themselves doing it. But at the end of the day, they'll look forward to restoring their energy by coming home and reading in bed with a cup of tea. Given our culture's bias towards extroverted personality traits, many introverts have become accustomed to being the wolf in sheep's clothing -- behaving like an extrovert in social situations, and perhaps acting more outspoken and gregarious than they feel on the inside. Or they may enjoy the social interaction and attention, but later crave alone time to recover.
'Most introverts are very good at behaving like extroverts,' says Dembling. 'A lot of us are out there behaving like extroverts... but then we have to shut it down. I call it my 'dog and pony show.' The longer I'm out there putting on the show, the longer I need to recuperate. Introverts really do like people and we do like socializing. We just like it in different ways than extroverts.'
[I totally feel like I'm putting on a dog and pony show when I'm being forced to participate in class activities, projects, and things. Well, most of the time. Sometimes I do actually enjoy the interaction and company of other people communication in a group. I also like how, for introverts, restoring our energy always comes with a cup of tea. My theory on distinguishing if someone is an introvert or extrovert is to look at what they drink in the morning. Coffee? Extrovert, of course. Tea? Introvert, clearly. Red Bull? Crazy.]