Introverts are the shy types and extroverts are the outgoing types? Not quite. Society has long misunderstood these personality types and our understanding of these traits will truly make our relationships much stronger.
The concept of introversion/extraversion is often misunderstood in modern culture. The introvert is often perceived to have a shy personality which results in solitary behaviour. Extroversion, on the other hand, tends to be manifested in outgoing, chatty and energetic behaviour. But Carl Jung, the man who popularised these concepts had a different perspective.
Carl claims introversion is simply the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life. While extraversion is the state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with obtaining gratification from what is outside the self. Even more interesting is that Carl suggests that these are the extreme ends of the scale leaving most people somewhere in the middle. This means everyone has both an extroverted side and an introverted side, with one simply being more dominant than the other.
“There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”
The first thing we must understand about the topic of introversion/extraversion is that the sole concept revolves around energy and stimulation.
Introvert – A person who is energised by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people. At their most capable when alone the introvert focuses on intellectual engagement and self-reflection as stimulants.
Extrovert – A person who is energised by being around other people. Tend to fade when alone and can easily become bored without other people around. Social stimulation, discussion and openness are all common traits that drive the extrovert. Very receptive to their environment and most capable amongst the crowd.
How can I tell if I am more Introverted or Extroverted?
Do you find yourself more oriented toward the inner world or the outer world? Are you most energised within the crowd, or do you prefer the company of few? Using the points that have been covered so far, I’m sure you’ve already placed yourself on one side of the spectrum. But maybe not. Perhaps you’re in that ‘sweet spot’ in the middle that finds itself directly between introversion and extroversion. You, my friend, are an ambivert. Moderately stimulated with groups and social interaction, but also relishing your time alone, away from a crowd. Many questionnaires are available online that aim to tell you where you fall. One such test is available at The Quiet Revolution.
So why does this matter?
It’s important to understand the bias our society has inadvertently formed on this subject and how this can affect our relationships and our roles within the workplace. Our most important institutions, our schools and our workplaces are designed mostly for extroverts and their need for large amounts of stimulation. The introvert who seeks solitude from time to time can often be seen as a problem child or the employee who isn’t engaging enough.
When this happens, we can impede creativity and push away those who feel most energised and productive in their solitude. Some of our world’s greatest thinkers come from the introverted side and our society needs to offer a much better balance to facilitate the introverted thinker. Our world truly benefits from the great minds of introversion and for too long the introvert has been punished for their behavioural traits.
An excellent TED talk on the power of introversion can be seen below, which offered me a lot of insight when I was writing this article:
Why do we have such a bias?
Susan Cain in the video above provides one theory which lies deep in our cultural history. Western societies, and in particular the USA, have always favoured the man of action over the man of contemplation. But it never always used to be this way. Back in the day, the USA featured role models like Abraham Lincoln; who was praised for being unassuming and modest. But then the 20th century came along and we entered a new culture that historians call the culture of personality. Moving from an agricultural economy to a world of global big business. Suddenly people are moving all over the place, from small towns to the big cities.
Now instead of working with the people they’ve known all their lives, they are having to step up and prove themselves in a large crowd of strangers. So, understandably, qualities like magnetism and charisma suddenly come to seem really important. So that’s the world we’re living in today. That’s our cultural inheritance.
Life should certainly be seeing us all frequently coming together and engaging in group activities, chatty open types of interactions with different people, the kind where people come together and exchange ideas. Such a regular group dynamic is great for introverts and it’s great for extroverts.
But we need to encourage privacy and much more freedom to retreat to solitude when required. In our schools, in our workplace and even with our loved ones. We mustn’t pass on this bias to our children, teaching children from a young age to work on their own is essential. Even more so for extroverted children who perhaps struggle more than their introverted counterpart.
With this understanding of stimulation, we can go forward and get the best out of our relationships, no longer inadvertently punishing behaviours that have been misinterpreted for too long in our society.