Why being introverted should not be seen as something to fix
Would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? This categorisation is somewhat complicated, so don’t be concerned if you’re unsure of what these words mean, never mind where you would place yourself.
The psychologist Carl Jung introduced the terms as opposing personality types. At a basic level introverts were seen as passive whilst extroverts were more assertive. Introversion and extroversion also relate to your temperament and to how you respond to stimulation. An introvert is someone who refills their cup after social situations, whereas an extrovert is someone who can refill theirs by engaging in more social activities with others.
I recently saw the following tweet; “Just once I’d like to see an article like ‘Extroverted? Here’s some tips on how to be quiet and reflective’.’
Is it true to say that we live in a world built for extroverted people?
Dissimilar but equal
Do you enjoy spending time in your own company? Would you consider yourself reflective? How do you feel after being in a crowd – drained or energised?
Typically an introvert is more likely to favour solitude over interacting in a large group. This doesn’t mean that they hate all social interaction, rather that they need time to recharge their batteries after group settings.
In contrast, extroverts are social and can quickly get bored, which in turn leads them to seek out exciting situations.
Science tells us that there is a biological variation between the two, with specific areas of the brain responding differently in extroverts in comparison to introverts. So why are we determined to help people ‘break out of their shell’? Neither of these are better than the another, with each bringing great talents and skills to the world.
But, like the previously mentioned tweet, should we be exploring the ways in which the world could be more welcoming of introverts?
In her 2012 TedTalk, writer Susan Cain describes the experience of being sent to summer camp, where she was expecting all of the girls to be sitting around reading cosily – because that’s what her family did of an evening. However, when she took out her books at camp, the camp counsellor encouraged her to be more ‘outgoing’ in her activities. She was sent the message that her quiet, introverted style of being was ‘not necessarily the right way to go’ and that she she try to be ‘more of an extrovert’.
Her story reminded me of situations in which I was challenged in a similar way. Throughout college I dreaded modules that involved presentations. Why were we being graded on something that didn’t faze some of my classmates but caused my heart rate to shoot right up?
This sort of divide continues into the working world, where companies are praised for their open-plan offices, breakout rooms and other collaborative spaces. All of these modern features favour those who thrive on interactions but risk limiting those who prefer to work independently. Introverts may be more likely to share their ideas in smaller groups, as they can sometimes be drowned out by louder voices in larger settings. Different personalities thrive in different environments and it would be beneficial for all educational and workplace environments to be conscious of this. After all, why would anyone want to alienate up to 50 percent of their students or employees?
Being social comes naturally to extroverts, so it is understandable if they struggle to understand how some of us find it hard to do what comes easy to them – such as making small talk.
Personally, I especially noticed the difference when I worked in hotels. At the end of my shift, I would be so drained that I couldn’t face talking to anyone. To unwind I needed to be doing something passive, and all by myself. I needed to read a book, take a shower or listen to some music. Meanwhile my colleagues were going for drinks after their shifts and meeting more people!? After eight-plus hours of niceties, I was at capacity and so would politely refuse any invitations.
Like your eye colour, temperaments can’t be changed – so maybe we should stop trying to crack that shell.