Introversion and extraversion are terms that many people misuse, confuse and/or abuse, often with little understanding of what the words actually mean. The general perception seems to be that quiet, shy people are introverted, whereas loud, boisterous people are extraverted, but this simply isn’t the case. Quietness and loudness have nothing to do with the matter. It’s all about where a person gets their energy from, and what draws that energy away.
The confusion associated with introversion, in particular, results in a lot of fundamental misunderstandings – misunderstandings that could be avoided if people knew what being an introvert actually means.
10. Introverts Don’t Like Socializing
Let’s get the big one out of the way first. This is one of the most common misconceptions that people have about introversion, so it’s time to clear the air and demystify the whole thing for everyone – both extraverts as well as the more socially-inclined introverts.
Yes, introverts DO like to socialize.
To explain this, we need to go back to Jung’s original definition of introversion and extraversion. The simplest way to define the difference is to say that extraverts gain energy from the outside world—people, places, events—while introverts gain their energy from within.
Extraverts gain energy from people, socialization, interaction and just generally “getting out there.” This could be person-to-person interaction, but can also mean over the phone interaction, or communication online via videogames, message boards, Facebook, etc. Since extraverts draw in energy from the outside world, they need to socialize in order to gain that energy—energy which they then lose from solitude. Generally speaking, there’s nothing more draining for an extravert that being alone for the day in an empty room, with nothing active to do and no one to talk to. At a party the extravert will often stay late, gaining more and more energy as the night goes on.
Introverts gain energy from solitude, privacy and having time to themselves. While the outside world of people, places and events inspires an extravert, it distracts and diverts an introvert from their essential thought process. As a result, introverts lose energy from socialization and people-to-people interaction. This doesn’t mean that they don’t like social events, but it does mean that sustained social interaction will often deplete the introvert and use up their reserves. Many introverts, in social settings, will stage occasional getaways (going out for a cigarette, going to the bathroom for a few minutes, etc.) simply for the purpose of “recharging,” so that they can jump back into the pool without feeling rundown.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean hiding in a corner, brooding, hating people, not knowing how to interact or any of that nonsense that often gets associated with the term. Being an introvert does mean that your energy is gained from within rather than from external sources. Thus, while an extravert is most themselves when interacting with close friends and associates, a socially-inclined introvert will usually “put on a show”—even to those closest to them—while their true identity quietly works away under the surface.
9. Introverts Are Lonely
It’s easy to see why a misunderstanding like this one might occur. Generally, when most people come across a person sitting by themselves in a restaurant, reading by themselves in the corner of the library, walking alone or generally doing things that for most people would be group activities, the natural assumption is that this person is lonely, has no friends, etc. After all, most extraverts would prefer do be doing these activities either in a group or with at least one friend by their side. Why be alone if you don’t have to be?
On the contrary, even an introvert with many, many friends will often be seen doing these regular day-to-day activities by themselves, not due to any predicament, but by choice, because they’d rather be alone. In fact, having a friend come along can sometimes make the introvert feel restricted and not as capable of making necessary decisions – even on simple errands like a grocery shopping trip.
Again, in the same way that extraverts gain energy from social interaction, introverts lose energy from that interaction. As a result, an introvert that is sitting alone in a restaurant might actually be alone on purpose, because they’ve found an opportunity for solitude – something introverts crave, but often feel guilty for desiring due to the extraverted pressures of the world.
When it comes to loneliness, introverts – instead of feeling lonely when by themselves – will often feel more lonely in groups, parties and social settings, especially if they feel disconnected from the event and pressured to socialize. Introverts crave longer, deeper conversations, and find small talk draining. Again, while introverts can often enjoy socialization, they strongly desire the choice to socialize, instead of having socialization thrust upon them.
8. Introverts Don’t Like Getting Out of the House and Doing Things
Yes, they do! Yes, introverts do like spending a lot of time by themselves, but that doesn’t mean that’s all they ever want to do.
An introvert can be equally excited as any extravert about the idea of going skydiving, traveling or even spending a bar-hopping night on the town – but unlike the extravert, who is usually thrilled by the idea of all their closest buddies popping over randomly, the introvert will usually need time to prepare themselves for a night of socialization. Again, the introvert needs to be given a bit of space to choose, to mentally ready themselves for that night on the town instead of feeling pressured. Again, we come back to the same model. Extraverts gain energy from socialization, introverts lose energy.
To an extravert, much of the important time in their life is spent doing social activities or getting themselves out there – whether that be work, school, talking to friends, playing multiplayer games online, or what have you – and the solitary time that the extravert spends by themselves is essentially “extra” time, used to fill in the space between one interaction and the next. For introverts, this is reversed. Introverts prize the solitary time and give it utmost importance, and look at the public, social time as “extra.”
7. The Privacy-focused Behavior of an Introvert is “Wrong” and Underdeveloped
Introverts are not failed extraverts. However, an introvert’s desire for an enormous amount of solitary time, privacy and personal space runs contrary to the societal norm – introverts are the outliers, after all – and thus the introvert’s desire for space is often looked down, judged harshly and seen as a defect rather than a difference.
An introvert is not a person with psychological hang-ups, or a person who “doesn’t get it,” or anything like that. An introvert is someone with the same problems, dilemmas, relationships and issues in life as any extravert – but unlike the extraverts, who shape themselves based on the world around them, introverts are more focused on the inward, their internal core, and what’s going on underneath.
6. Introverts are Shy and Socially Awkward
It’s easy to see where this stereotype comes from, largely because it can often can be true; there are plenty of shy, socially awkward introverts out there! However, the word shy is not synonymous with the word introvert by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, an extravert is just as capable of being shy as an introvert, and sometimes even more so.
Since an extravert places so much importance on social acceptance from others, this results in a lot of pressure to fit in – and thus the extravert, who wants to play an important role in the community, will become shy and socially awkward if they feel unable to fit in. Introverts tend to care far less about social acceptance, and thus a socially awkward introvert will be quiet less out of a desire for acceptance and more due to a desire to stay away from the “busy” social scene to begin with. While an extravert usually wants to be in the spotlight, playing an important role in the group, the introvert usually desires the ability to stand in the background a bit and watch things objectively.
Now, both types can make excellent leaders. However, while an extraverted leader will be highly visible and easy for anyone to recognize, an introverted leader will usually do most of their work behind the scenes, trying to maintain some degree of quiet anonymity. For introverts, staying out of the limelight better allows them the solitude they need in order to make big decisions.
5. Introverts are Always Quiet
This is often true, but it’s not an absolute. Just because a person is quiet doesn’t mean that they’re an introvert, and just because they’re loud doesn’t mean that they’re an extravert. Again, it’s simply not about that. It’s about where the person gets their energy from, and how they expend it.
Strange as it might sound, the most boisterous, energetic person at a party can, at times, be an introvert. The key difference is that while an extravert in such a situation is usually “letting it all hang out,” the party-going introvert is basically “putting on a show,” like an actor in a play.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the introvert is lying, or pretending to be someone else. The image they put out there is a well-developed façade, yes, but that’s simply because the more developed version exists on the inside. So the introvert who has put a lot of work into their outer skin can come across as being social, bubbly and extraverted, which in turn can help to protect the usually more-sensitive core that most introverts keep hidden. How well an introvert does in social situations, following social norms and so on is determined by how well developed their extraverted function is.
4. Introverts are Boring
Introverts have a love of quiet, solitary activities like reading, writing, gardening or fishing, depending on the person. Understandably, a socially-minded extraverted loved one—who wants to enjoy quality time with the introvert—may find these loner tendencies frustrating. Why is the introvert doing all of these “boring” things by themselves?
Obviously, the introvert doesn’t find these solitary activities boring. So it’s also important for the extravert to recognize that, if one desires to take up some of the introvert’s time with socialization, the best approach is never to force the issue – and definitely not to surprise the introvert by flinging them into a social scenario without notice.
What introverts need, basically, is a warning. Even if an introvert loves people, they need to be able to prepare themselves for the social situation, rather than being caught off guard. If the introvert is given a warning – something as simple as, “hey, my friends will come over around 6pm” – it makes their participation voluntary instead of mandatory, which means that they’re more likely to have a good time.
3. Introverts are Angry/Depressed/Moody
This is one common misunderstanding that most introverts are all-too-familiar with, as it’s something that many have dealt with since their school days. It comes down to this customary line:
Basically, because we live in a predominantly extraverted culture, if a person isn’t talking the assumption is that something is wrong with them, and this is often interpreted by the extravert as a sign of hostility. After all, if there are opportunities for a person to be social, then why aren’t they socializing? Do they hate everyone around them, or they are in the middle of a deep, deep depression?
By this point it should be clear that for an introvert, quietness does not equal sadness, and we can all move on from this tired stereotype forever.
2. If Introverts Just Spoke Up About Their Problems, They’d be Happier
When extraverts speak up about their problems it does make them happier, because an extravert solves their problems by communicating them to other people. Extraverts find solutions by calling up all of their best friends and talking things out. An extravert has no problem making decisions on what to do, what to wear or applying to new jobs with their friends at their side, cheering them on.
Introverts make decisions privately. They need space, solitude and “quiet time” with no intrusions. While advice from others is always useful, the introvert needs to have a period of solitary time to think about the problem before any good decision can be made. Too much pushiness or egging on from others, which is a boon to the extravert, can be crippling to the usually more sensitive introvert, who simply wants time to think about their situation before making any giant decisions. Talking too much about their problems and receiving too much input can often make the introvert become restless and unsure of themselves.
As a result, excessively pushing an introvert to talk can be painful and destructive for the introvert if he or she isn’t ready yet. Instead, if the introvert is given a “Welcome” sign – a gentle reminder that their friend/lover/family member is there for them if they want to talk – and if the introvert is shown that talking about their problems is their choice instead of something that’s being thrust upon them, then conversation with others can actually be helpful.
Or maybe not. Sometimes, an introvert really does just need to be introverted for a little while. Sometimes an introvert just needs to recharge, deal with their issues internally and get things done. If the introvert needs this, then they need it, and it’s important for loved ones to understand that this behavior isn’t moody, awkward or unhealthy.
But it’s also important to state that dealing with issues internally is not a good excuse for repression. Whether a person is working things out in their head or working them out by talking to people, the key thing is that the person continues to work them out. Bottling up one’s emotions, not confronting problems and avoiding emotional issues that need to be tackled is not healthy, whether one is an introvert or an extravert. Emotional repression is damaging to a person, no matter who that person is.
1. Introverts Just Need to Lighten Up and Enjoy Life!
By their nature, introverts often tend to be more serious people. And as a result, there is a perception on the part of extraverts that introverts are, again, nothing more than underdeveloped extraverts; sad, lonely people who need to cheer up, get over themselves and get into the social game.
This isn’t the case. Introverts are driven by different needs than extraverts – needs that extraverts can sometimes find difficult to understand. Whereas meeting new people every day and going out every night might sound great to an extravert, an introvert might be more drawn to the idea of spending that night sprawled out on the couch with a great book with no other people around for miles.
But this doesn’t mean that introverts don’t enjoy things – they simply show that enjoyment in different ways. Whereas an extravert’s reaction to something that they love is usually highly visible, open and raw, the introvert’s reaction is more composed and internal – but the excitement level is the same, it’s just not as apparent because the introvert’s true self is on the inside rather than on their sleeve.
Still, balance is everything. While most of us tend more toward either extraversion or introversion, it’s highly rare – and unhealthy – to exist all the way on one side or the other without developing the other side as well. While an introverted person does need to focus on what makes their introverted self happy, they also need to develop their extraverted side – by creating close connections with others, going to social events and leaving their comfort zone. And the same applies to extraverts; while partying with loved ones is important, so is finding time to develop oneself internally.
When it comes down to it, introverts and extraverts operate in fundamentally different ways, but they both belong to the same species. And in the future, if both sides of the spectrum learn to accept one another instead of constantly pushing the other side to change, then all of us will be a lot happier.
Nicholas Conley is the author of The Cage Legacy, a psychological thriller published by Post Mortem Press in 2012. He can be found on the web at www.nicholasconley.com.