Wednesday, April 17, 2013

3 myths about introverts

as i mentioned in my march recap, i recently read and really enjoyed "the introvert advantage".

among other things, it was helpful to understand better how extroverts often misunderstand introverts.  since about 75% of people in america are extroverts, these misunderstanding are widespread.  in fact, in our culture extroversion is seen as better than introversion, while introversion is almost seen as a mental illness that needs treatment.

'we are not snobs' photo (c) 2012, merri - license: before we go further, let me clarify the definition of introversion (and conversely extroversion) in order to clear up some of the misunderstandings.  the main characteristic that defines an introvert is someone who recharges their energy through alone time.  conversely, extroverts are people who are energized by being around other people.  to be clear, there is no "true" introvert or extrovert, there are times when we could be energized by either activity, but most people tend more to one direction or the other.

1. introverts don't like people
introverts are often seen as shy, socially awkward or withdrawn from society.  in reality, extroverts can also be shy, socially awkward or withdrawn (and it is much more painful to them when they do struggle with these things because they need people in order to feel energized).  these things often stem from negative life experiences, and not from temperament (for example, someone might be shy because they were teased a lot as a child).

introverts need a lot of alone time to recharge their batteries. but when they are feeling recharged, they enjoy spending time with people, particularly a few close friends or family members.  in fact, introverts are better at having deep relationships with the people in their lives than extroverts are.

2. introverts can change and become extroverts if they try hard enough
one time, probably in middle school, i though it would be really cool if i switched from being a righty to a lefty.  so i tried writing with my left hand.  alllll day long. every day.  for weeks (maybe even months?).

eventually i gave up.  it was exhausting.  and though my handwriting slightly improved, it was still deplorable, and it was not worth the immense effort.

like handedness, temperament is evident early in life (in fact, i have been able to pin all of our kid's temperaments before they turned one) and has certain genetic components.  we cannot change what energizes us (although studies do show that as people age, they tend to go more towards the middle of the introvert/extrovert continuum). with great effort, one can strengthen their less dominant side, but it will never become the dominant side.

i have seen this in my life.  doing ministry in college has really strengthened my extrovert side.  its much easier for me than for other introverts to engage in small talk, meet new people at parties, talk in front of groups and lead people through a teaching.  i've had numerous people be shocked when they find out that i am an introvert because they have only seen me with my extrovert mask put on.  but at the end of the day, i need a lot of down time to work up the energy for these things (and a lot of time afterwards to decompress/recharge).

3. introversion is a pathology that need to be cured.
in a culture that believes to be successful in life you need to be bold, outgoing, a "people person", friendly, approachable, the life of the party and a strong leader, introversion is not seen as a desirable trait.  i have experienced this tension, because most of the ministry roles that i value (discipler, evangelist, sunday school teacher, bible study leader) are made for extroverts, and i can feel that introversion is a problem in me that needs to be fixed.  it is hard for me that i want to do these things, but they take so much energy that i often feel depleted afterwards, and often need long times to recharge in between doing ministry (i am now understanding why i constantly felt SO drained when i was doing vocational ministry!).  i remember times in college that i felt so guilty for going to a coffee shop to read my bible and pray, when i "should" be doing productive ministry tasks like meeting with women and sharing my faith.

but there are in fact many advantages to introversion for every day life (including ministry).  introverts have deeper relationships than extroverts.  its easier for extroverts to have many shallow relationships (which has certain advantages) but easier for introverts to have a few deep relationships (which has other advantages).  introverts are passionate about deep conversation on topics they care about (but feel super drained when engaging in small talk), while extroverts do well with small talk.  i could talk all afternoon about theology and ministry philosophy, but i hate it when people talk about the weather (really?? in southern california the weather is always the same and people still talk about it as if its unusual that its sunny and in the 70's.  but i digress...).  introverts are much better at listening than extroverts (i can't tell you how many conversations i have had with people where i have asked a few questions here and there and then mostly listened to the other person talk for 30-60 minutes or more!  not that i mind, since this is a strength of my personality).  after all, someone needs to listen to all those extroverts talk :)

what about you?  are you an introvert or an extrovert?  have you experienced these things?


  1. yes, I have experienced it a lot..but the problem is that people , I mean the extroverts usually don't accept us for what we are, even our code family..and that's hurtful..thanks for your note :)

  2. Thank you. Every post on this subject soothes me. Unlike many, I seem to need more space as I get older and that seems hurt those near me.

    1. if they are open to learning more, you could suggest that they read "the introvert advantage". it is written in a way that is informative and helpful to extroverts, to better understand the introverts in their lives. i have an extroverted friend who has an introverted son and husband and she said that she understands them much better after reading this book.