Introversion - Myths and Reality
By Jessika Endsley
There are far too many misconceptions about what introversion really is. The terms "introversion" and "extraversion" were initially popularized by Carl Jung and have since been used in Personality Typology tools and tests such as Global Five and Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator. Introversion and Extraversion are the two main characteristics that can be used to define personality, and although everyone has a degree of both, everyone tends to lean more heavily towards one or the other. Although some studies suggest that Introverts comprise as much as half of the population, many have warped ideas of what Introversion is and is not, and what Introverts will and will not feel or do. Since Extraverts do tend to take the spotlight, it us up to us Introverts to clear up some of the widespread falsehoods - and not to gloss over them with more falsehoods.
Misconceptions have been made clear by the rise in "Ways To Know You're An Introvert" lists and articles on popular sites, following the exploding trend of self-discovery attempts. Most of these articles should be renamed "Ways To Know You're Neurotic and Shy" or "Symptoms of Social Phobia" or even "How to be an Asshole." Many self-righteous authors of lists on Introversion are determined that Introverts are shy, deep thinkers who are very sensitive and often socially awkward. Is shyness an Introverted characteristic? No. Can Introversion be mistaken for shyness? Yes, if the observer does not know what to look for. Introverts can be shy, but not without traits of neuroticism and anxiety. Extraverts can also be shy, and are much more likely to really suffer from it! As fantastic as it is to be an introvert and to identify as one in this Extravert-centered world, knowing the realities of Introversion is important to accurately typing ones own personality, much less the people around you.
The myth of the always highly-sensitive Introvert is one of the most prevalent and most irksome. It is true that Introverts grow weary and feel drained after prolonged social interactions, whereas our Extraverted counterparts will leave feeling energized. This has nothing to do with how inherently sensitive we are - we simply experience less positive emotions from social interactions than the Extravert. High sensitivity to surroundings are characteristics of sensory processing disorders and are common in people on the Autistic Spectrum as well as outside of it. The sounds and the lights outside of a controlled environment can be over-stimulating for anyone with sensory processing issues, and Extraverts can encounter this issue as well. If you are keeping to yourself because being outside of your quiet comfort-zone is very uncomfortable, but you are not happy spending so much time alone, you may not be an Introvert.
Sensitivity to what happens in your social interaction and how it compromise your self esteem is also outside the realm of Introversion. Sensitivity to criticism has nothing to do with how Introverted you are and everything to do with how neurotic and hyper-self-conscious you are, and I am not really sure how being hyper-sensitive is a desired trait among so many people. Traits of Narcissism can be found in in even the most psychologically healthy people, and just enough of it can make someone overly-sensitive to praise and criticism in a way that they begin to avoid social interaction altogether. Having the world revolve around you can be very tiring! But many Introverts are not psychologically sensitive at all because levels of sensitivity are entirely independent of whether a person is Introverted or not. A person who is highly Introverted but also scores low in Neuroticism is not going to be a feely, sensitive person, and if they score low in Agreeableness as well, they are likely as sensitive as a lug-wrench.
According to Jung, inward-directed psychic energy is the essence of Introversion. This may sound like it means Introverts are inherently deep thinkers, but this is not the case. One must first realize that thinking excessively (and maybe even deeply) about yourself does not make you a "deep thinker." Yet again, we run into a typical "self-absorbed" characteristic being applies to Introverts. Sitting alone and thinking about yourself is not a trait of Introversion nor is it a trait of deep-thinking, although there are certainly Introverts who do such. While Extraverts may have a hard time understanding what we do while spending so much time alone, malfunctioned Extraverts take their own self-centered behavior to be Introversion.
An Extravert who scores high in Openness is inclined to be as deep of a thinker as an Introvert who scores the same, and deep thinking is much more reliant on intelligence than on how social an individual is. Openness to new experience and to art, concepts, and thought is what is required of deep thinking; sociability is independent of intellect. When using various personality-typing tools, it becomes rather obvious that certain personalities are drawn to thought and philosophy, and these people are deep thinking individuals. A tendency towards using abstract thought in order to relate to the world is an inclination of those deep, reflective types; people who relate to the world through their own intuition rather than through sensory means. These people can be either Introverted or Extraverts, although it is certainly much easier to get time to think about the meaning of life when spending time alone. There are many very introverted individuals who are best suited for hands-on activities and who are rapidly bored with theoretical concepts. Do not forget about the engineers of the world while contemplating Introversion.
The dreaded shyness misconception in relation to Introverts comes about based on the mass assumption that if someone is quiet, they must be afraid to speak. Shyness is a fear-based social behavior, whereas Introversion is a biologically-linked personality trait. A shy person may spend time alone in excess, and this time alone can often become so excess that the person is diagnosed with a Personality Disorder or a Social Phobia. Avoidance of social interaction based on a fear of embarrassment leads a shy individual to believe they have no choice other than to spend time alone. Although some shyness is normal and most people do experience it at some point, the "fear of embarrassment" based behavior can lead individuals to seek help from psychologists to alter the behavior. A healthy Introvert does not seek help to "treat" their Introversion. Treating Introversion and shyness as synonyms can deter dysfunctionally shy people from seeking the help they need, and lead Introverts to believe that they need help or are anxious when neither are true.
Introverts are often quiet people, at least at first, because they are (obviously) less social that Extraverts. We are not afraid to talk, we simply have less to gain from excessively speaking in social situations. Extraverts have an increased sensitivity to reward caused by dopamine in the brain; this is what causes them to gain energy through socializing. Introverts do not necessarily experience more negative emotion than Extraverts, but we are not being rewarded by our brains in the same way that Extraverts are when we are in social situations. We don't get a social high. There are many Introverts who love to talk, but usually only when they are extremely comfortable with the person or people they are speaking to. Without the comfortability factor, talking socially is just a chore. If the Introvert has something to say it, they will probably say it, but the casual small-talk surrounding the remark may be more tiring than interesting. Unlike the shy individual, our silence is based on reserving energy rather than holding our tongues.
Not all Introverts are lone wolves. Introversion, like Extraversion and all other facets of personality, is more of a scale or spectrum than an absolute. Having inward-directed psychic energy does not automatically lead to loner behavior and lifestyles. Neurotypical Introverts who are psychologically healthy do tend to have a small group of friends and the Introvert will often thrive off of spending time with them, or be more comfortable spending even excessive time with one partner or their family. This Introvert simply will not be inclined to become uncomfortable when they are spending time alone, like many Extraverts would. Since we are internally-stimulated, we will not become quickly bored with our alone-time and will not be as inclined to immediately begin ruminating as our Extraverted peers - and ruminating can quickly lead to depression. Some social interaction is required of any human being, and today it is much easier for Introverts to get "just enough" of this necessity. Many Introverts, even lone-wolves have very active online social lives; human beings are social creatures and this does include Introverts.
When an Introvert is a lone wolf, it is not indicative of mental illness or even of loneliness. We are stimulated by our own minds and our own hobbies, making us very low-maintenance for self-entertainment. Extraverts receive so much dopamine from their social interactions that they may not be able to fully understand how we could spend so much time alone and not be miserable or merely keeping busy by plotting some deranged activity. The truth is that we are probably not making bombs or crying ourselves to sleep; we are much more likely to be listening to music, reading, painting, or even just watching TV. There are plenty of "freakishly normal" Introverts out there.
The Introverted-approach to socialization is a detached one. This does not mean that we cannot score high in Conscientiousness or that we do not feel deeply, unlike a person with a generalized emotional detachment or dissociative issue. Not only to Extraverts typically experience a higher flow of positive emotions while interacting socially, evidence suggests that they experience more positive emotions throughout the day regardless of how social they are being. This does not mean that Introverts are doing the opposite by experiencing more negative emotions, but we may indeed feel less often.
Imagine being on a roller-coaster that caters to your own individual levels of emotion and your own dopamine reward-system. An Extravert may have a roller-coaster that is full of ups and downs and spirals - a typical roller-coaster that children love. The Introvert would have a very different roller-coaster; straight, easy-paced plateaus followed by dangerous plunges and sky-high upward spirals, leaving the rider feeling just as exhilarated and maybe a bit more worn-out than the Extraverted roller-coaster would. Those plateaus may have made you forget you were even on the ride to begin with, so the spirals were even more shocking!
So, just because we may experience less positive emotions throughout any given day than the Extraverts, with less frequent peaks, it does not mean we are inherently less emotional. Our emotions may even have a longer half-life than the typical Extraverted individual. But because we are less socially engaged, our low score of Extraversion is indeed a form of detachment.
Selectivity and Value
Because Introverts are less social than Extraverts, there is a preconceived notion that we simply do not like people. This is not generally the case. Not wanting to be around people does not actually mean we want everyone to die, and while some people make it very easy to hate them, we are typically just highly socially-selective. If we are not recharged by casual social interaction, why would we not selectively choose our conversation partners based on who we believe would make for a good long-term friendship? We are less likely to try and begin a friendship with just any dip-shit we find on the street. When being social is initially a chore, as it is for Introverts, we want the pay-off to be worth it.
We value the people we socialize with and the people we call friends are probably much less expendable than the friends of our Extraverted peers. It requires many less people for us to feel socially connected, and we spend much more energy acquiring the valuable people, so when they are gone, we are left with a deeper void than we would if we were more loosely social. Remember, the more Introverted a person is, the more of an honor it is to be considered their friend. If being friends with an Extravert is like getting into community college, being an Introverts friend is Ivy-League.
Introverts have the fortune of our happiness being more independent of our social situations. We are mentally and even emotionally stimulated by our own company, and that company cannot and will not go away whimsically as it often does with friends and family. While it may initially sound a bit disappointing that we do not have the same reward-system that Extraverts have, it is also a blessing; the Extravert is highly dependent on the presence of often the approval of other human beings for their emotional stability. An Introvert will not fall into an isolation-induced depression nearly as quickly as an Extravert of the same psychological health. We can go for longer periods of time enjoying our own solo hobbies and our thoughts without the slightest hint of sadness. A healthy Introvert can easily become his or her own best friend.
Despite the fact that all human beings carry a degree of social need, being an Introvert relieves some of this necessity and frees us from our slavery to other people, even if only for a short amount of time. The more an individuals primary mode of acquiring positive emotions involves interaction, the more dependent on others they are. A low score in Extraversion implies a high degree of self-maintained emotional stability, and the lower the score, the fewer the social chains.
The Real Introvert
Knowing the difference between the myths and the facts of Introversion is crucial to understanding the self, whether one is indeed an Introvert or maybe a maladaptive Extravert. With so many extensive lists of myths being debunked with "nicer sounding" myths, critical thinking while searching for your own truth regarding your personality is a must. If your research has lead you to question whether you are an Introvert or if you are an unhappy, anxious Extravert, you could benefit greatly from treating your own Neurotics and anxiety so that your life better suits you rather than some ridiculous notion that you are simply a deep, pained Introvert.
Introversion and Extraversion are only one facet of the personality, and this facet cannot tell you if you are Neurotic, or how intellectual you are or even if you are a good planner. But you certainly will not be able to accurately determine those pieces of your typology without understanding the real differences between Introversion and Extraversion. If you are an Introvert, do not feel bad that all of the depth, intelligence, and mystery turned out to be myths surrounding your category. There are many advantages to Introversion, and leaving the myths behind to determine those advantages and to practice preferred traits are important steps to self-actualization and fulfilling Introverted potential.