I am an introvert, and I’m OK with that. No, I’m way ok with that. It’s who I am, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not like “I have only one arm and I’m OK with that because I’ve adapted.” There’s no adaptation needed with introversion. It’s the way I am, and ever since I came to understand it better, I realize it’s not only who I am, it’s who I prefer to be.
Introversion has nothing directly to do with shyness. Shyness is on a whole other scale of things, although it is true that introverts often seem to be shy (and in many cases really are shy). But they are not the same thing, not at all.
Introversion and extroversion are personality types. One is not better than the other, although people who belong to one group often think less of the others simply because they sometimes have trouble relating to them.
Several years ago I heard an interview on CBC radio with a Canadian scientist – an introvert – on the subject of what makes the two types different. I wish I could conjure up his name, and the interview, but I can’t. But based on what I remember, plus what I’ve learned through further reading and observation, the fundamental differences lie in how people in the two groups handle external and internal stimulation. Thus (speaking in general terms and painting with a wide brush):
Introverts are all about internal stimulation. They have rich “inner worlds” that keep them from getting bored even when they have little to do externally. Introverts generally love reading and watching movies because those activities stimulate them internally. Introverts tire easily of the kind of external stimulation one gets at crowded parties and activities that require a lot of physical activity. Introverts generally don’t like a situation that involves a lot of small talk with a lot of people; they’d rather have in-depth conversations with a few people, such as at a dinner party.
Extroverts are all about external stimulation. They thrive on it. When there’s nothing going on they get bored quickly, even if they have a stack of books and magazines to look at. Extroverts certainly enjoy in-depth conversations, but they love lively parties with lots of people and noise. They love chatting with people and doing things. They also enjoy reading, but do so primarily for the sake of learning and gathering information, and less so just for the pleasure of reading.
But… but… but…
This next bit shouldn’t be necessary, but some of you might be skimming and missed the part where I say I’m speaking in generalities. Yes, introverts like parties. But we’ve all see the “wall flowers” at parties (and I don’t mean sullen moody people, just ones who stay at the edge of the action). Those are the introverts. They’re probably feeling a bit overstimulated, so they’re laying back a bit. There’s a lot going on in their heads, and they’re having a good time just observing and thinking about what’s going on. The extroverts, on the other hand, are out there in the middle of the room chatting everyone up. The more the merrier!
And yes, introverts can enjoy things like skiing and hiking and other physical activities. But if you asked an introvert and an extrovert what they’ve done over the past four weekends (barring neutral things like yard work and other chores) you’ll find the extrovert when skiing twice, went to a spa one other weekend, and relaxed on the fourth (but was probably a bit bored). The introvert, on the other hand, read four novels, saw a play, and went skiing once.
Above, I was not only speaking in generalities, but I was referring to binary opposites; people at the extreme ends of what is actually a continuum. Most of us lie somewhere in between, although most of us lean one way or the other. Few are at the extremes or at dead-center.
Five things you should know
Via Darkly Dreaming David, I found this list of “Top 5 Things Every Extrovert Should Know About Introverts.” I would say that introverts should know it too, as some of us are not fully aware that it’s OK to be an introvert. Know thyself, introvert, so you don’t have to feel bad about not wanting to go para-sailing every goddam weekend.
Here are the five things, in brief, but if you’re interested, go to the source for the full explanations:
- If a person is introverted, it does NOT mean they are shy or anti-social.
- Introverts tend to dislike small talk.
- Introverts do like to socialize – only in a different manner and less frequently than extroverts.
- Introverts need time alone to recharge.
- Introverts are socially well adjusted.