The last few years have been a journey of self discovery. It has been a very surprising and mind renewing journey. Surprising because it seems that whom people think I am and even, whom I think I am, is very different than who I really am. How is it possible that our self-perception could be so wrong? (rhetorical question)
Let me give you an example. Most of life, up until about two years ago, I have always thought that I was an extrovert. For sure, I have many traits that are attributed to extroverts, such as: comfortable in social situations; able to speak with ease in public settings; and the ability to step up and take lead. However, much to my surprise, I took the Myers-Brigg personality test and discovered that I am an introvert (INTJ. Btw, P. Steve is also an INTJ)! Horror of horrors! I felt that this test must be grossly inaccurate. I took the test about 10 more times and each time I became more and more of an INTJ. OMG. Panic mode. I don’t want to be an introvert. This is due to the common stereotype that introverts are socially awkward loners who abhor large crowds and don’t like people very much.
However, after reading the work of Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking — I have come to understand my introversion and now, learning to appreciate it much more. I think many introverts feel weird. Mainly, because our culture tends to value extroverted qualities like assertiveness and outspokenness over solitude and quiet contemplation.
I think introversion may be one of the most frequently misunderstood personality traits. Much of the problem stems from the lack of a simple distinction between introversion and extroversion — the difference is far more complex than being shy versus outgoing, according to Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World. In general, she explains that extroverts as being more naturally oriented towards the outside world, and introverts more focused on their own inner world.
Very simply: Introverts are drained of energy by interaction, and gain energy in solitude and quiet, whereas extroverts gain energy in social situations with interaction.
Prior to this understanding, I have alway thought I was an extrovert and that I just don’t like being around people. The sucky thing and irony is that I am in a vocation that often requires and expects me to be around people all the time! Not only do I have to be around them, but I actually have to be gracious and love them too! And having been a pastor for 14 years, I am always stuck between feelings of that I am fraud and the need to force myself to change and be around people as much as I can. Somehow I thought I could whip my introversion into extroversion shape…like it was a stubborn muscle that just needed to lift heavier weights, worked ’til failure, so that it can grow. Can you imagine all the thoughts going through my head as an introvert who thinks they are an extrovert in a very extroverted vocation?
Let’s get real…how many people want to know that their prolonged interaction with their pastor actually sucks the life and energy out of him/her?!? But, that is exactly how I felt. After a long day of talking to people, people asking me a billion questions, people coming up to me crying, people complaining about a whole lot of BS, and more BS…I would be done…totally K.O.’d. After days like these (which is often), I just want to hide and never see another person again! This, of course, causes me to think, “Emily…what the hell is wrong with you? Why can’t you be more loving, patient, insert fruit of the spirit here, etc.?” Which leads to the endless cycle of of self-loathing, shame, and aversion to people!
However, after the Myers-Brigg test, I began to research (when I research, I frikken research!) and the more I looked into more recent and ground breaking research on introverts, I began to understand, to accept, to love, and even embrace myself. Furthermore, this research has equipped me with the language to explain how I feel and how I function in a clear way (with examples, to boot!). If you’re an introvert, you might be used to feeling misunderstood (many introvert children are criticized for not speaking up at school, and grow up being told to “come out of their shells”) and having your actions (or inaction) misinterpreted. And if you’re an extrovert, there’s a good chance that you have a least a few misconceptions about those mysterious quiet types in your life. Thus, I want to share some common misconceptions about introverts — and why they’re wrong.
1. I am not shy, but I am still an introvert.
Not all introverts are shy. And not all shy people are introverts.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.
Whereas introversion is commonly defined as recharging and gaining energy through alone time, shyness has more to do with discomfort and anxiety in situations involving social interaction. Many introverts aren’t shy; they may feel confident and at ease around people, but simply require more alone time to balance out the energy they expend in social situations. Similarly, an extrovert may seek the company of others but feel insecure or uncomfortable in groups.
“The number-one misconception about introversion is that it’s about shyness,” says Dembling. “The best distinction I’ve heard comes from a neuroscientist who studies shyness. He said, ‘Shyness is a behavior -– it’s being fearful in a social situation. Whereas introversion is a motivation. It’s how much you want and need to be in those interactions.’”
2. I like to talk, but sometimes I don’t like to talk because I am an introvert.
Some people think that introverts don’t like to talk. This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.
3. I am not rude. I am just an introvert.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. If I don’t say HI, it is probably because I don’t know what to say or I am thinking about something else. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting, which then causes them to want to avoid social situations.
4. I love people! I love being around people, but not all the time because I am an introvert.
Some people think that introverts want to be alone because they don’t like people. On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.
Although introverts do generally need — and enjoy — more solitude than their extroverted counterparts, the idea that introverts are antisocial or don’t want the company of others is completely false. They just tend to enjoy social interaction in a different way than extroverts do.
“There are a lot of negative labels placed on introverts — socially anxious, don’t like people, judgmental (because we sit quietly),” says Dembling. “Introverts may prefer one-on-one interaction … we might enjoy large parties but want to sit and watch the action from the sidelines. Extroverts may interpret this as not wanting to have fun, but this observation is fun for an introvert.”
Introversion shouldn’t be confused with misanthropy — introverts do like people, but they typically favor quality over quantity in their relationships, choosing to focus on creating a smaller circle of close friends rather than a large network of acquaintances.
I like to say that we may like people more than extroverts because we take the time to get to know them. Haha 🙂
So, in case you missed it. I love people and loving being around people!
5. I like leading, enjoy public speaking, and do not get nervous in front of large crowds…and I am still an introvert.
Many introverts enjoy and excel in roles that involve leading others, speaking publicly, and being in the spotlight. Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi and countless other leaders through history have been classified as introverts. These leaders may also foster a better team environment, as research has shown they might work better in groups than extroverts do. And according to USA Today, roughly four in 10 top executives test as introverts.
Research has found that individuals of both personality types can be well-suited to leadership and sales roles.
“The good news … is that in some sense we are all born to sell and equipped to lead,” writes author Daniel Pink in a Washington Post blog. “And that means a hidden but urgent challenge for organizations of every kind is to shatter the stereotype of who’s an effective leader.”
And when it comes to public speaking, introverts aren’t the shrinking violets they’re often thought to be, and they might actually have the upper hand over extroverts. Because introverts focus on preparing projects and thinking things through thoroughly before acting, they can be excellent speakers. For example, Susan Cain’s charismatically delivered TED talk on the power of introverts, for instance, was one of the fastest TED videos ever to reach one million views — and it’s just one of countless examples.
6. Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public for as long as extroverts do. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.
7. I don’t always want to be alone.
Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.
8. I don’t have a negative personality…I am just an Introvert.
Because they actually like being alone, introverts are sometimes stereotyped as having more depressive or negative-slanting personalities. This misconception likely stems from the fact that extroverts — who gain their energy from social interaction — might feel sad when they don’t spend enough time with people. When extroverts spending too much time alone or being quiet, they can report feeling sad and depressed. Because they feel sad when they’re alone, maybe they therefore think introverts feel sad when we’ve been alone. That misconception is coming from a genuine concern, but it’s more putting their feelings on us.
Most introverts don’t connect solitude with loneliness, unless it becomes excessive. That being said, although introverts do not innately have more depressive personalities, they do tend to spend more time thinking and analyzing — and if this turns to ruminating, it could potentially lead to depression.
9. I am not weird. I am just an introvert.
Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.
10. I sometimes feel I must cloak my introversion in an extrovert’s skin to appear more normal.
Some people believe it is easy to tell whether someone is introverted or extroverted.
Many introverts could easily go out to a party and talk up everyone in the room — and they may enjoy themselves doing it. But at the end of the day, they’ll look forward to restoring their energy by coming home and reading in bed with a cup of tea. Given our culture’s bias towards extroverted personality traits, many introverts have become accustomed to being the wolf in sheep’s clothing — behaving like an extrovert in social situations, and perhaps acting more outspoken and gregarious than they feel on the inside. Or they may enjoy the social interaction and attention, but later crave time alone to recover.
Most introverts are very good at behaving like extroverts. Many of us are out there behaving as extroverts … but then we have to shut it down. We feel like we have to put on a “show”, but the we need to be quiet and regain your energy for the next time. The longer I’m out there putting on the show, the longer I need to recuperate. However, the truth is you don’t need to put on the extroversion show, if you are introvert. Just be you. As I come to love and accept myself more and more, I don’t feel the need to turn on my extroversion. I am comfortable being quiet and speak when I want to. 🙂
We cannot and should not fix ourselves and become Extroverts.
A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. It can be terribly destructive for an Introvert to deny themselves in order to get along in an Extrovert-Dominant World. Like other minorities, Introverts can end up hating themselves and others because of the differences. If you think you are an Introvert, I recommend you research the topic and seek out other Introverts to compare notes. The burden is not entirely on Introverts to try and become “normal.” Extroverts need to recognize and respect us, and we also need to respect ourselves.
So, in summary, as an introvert, I love people and love being around people…I just do it a bit differently. And just know that when I am quiet or when you don’t see me around, I am just loving on you passionately with the love of God….just, silently and from afar. 🙂