When it comes to the concept of an introvert, there have been a number of definitions, studies, and stereotypes sprinkled throughout society. This has left us with a wide range of ideas about the characteristics of this personality type. However, as with any abundance of information, there is also an abundance of misunderstandings and misrepresentations to sort through.
Some definitions around introverts may leave us conjuring up images of an individual who is painfully shy, lacks social skills, or someone who always prefers to be alone. It is an image that is often looked upon unfavourably, especially in a society set up for the social. However, this rigid image, or any similar unfavourable image, is much too simplistic to be able to understand the complex, analytical inner processes, of an introvert.
According to research by author Susan Cain, approximately one third of the population may be considered introverted (2012). If we do the math, chances are either you yourself are an introvert, or you likely know an introvert. Needless to say, it’s pretty important that we broaden our understandings around introversion.
So with all of the information out there, how do we use the concept of an introvert to help understand different personality types, or even ourselves, better? Below are some helpful ways to help broaden your understanding of introverted processes.
Energy style – where does the individual get their energy from?
Introverts often have a tendency to recharge their energy internally, while extroverts have a tendency to feed their energy through both their interactions with other people, or through the environment around them. As introverts process information or stimuli, they tend to make meaning around experiences and events; building narratives and analyzing their interpretations in order to make sense of what’s going on. Introverts are often using energy to observe and to reflect. As it takes so much energy to understand events and relationships for an introvert, it’s important for introverts to be able to recharge and re-energize in their own unique way. This can include a dimming of stimuli for an introvert, however that makes sense for them.
Socializing style – they’re not “just shy”.
Being introverted or having introverted traits is not a life sentence for solitude. In fact, many introverts enjoy socializing at parties or events, but when their stimuli cup runneth over, they prefer to head back home to recharge. Introverts also like to save their energies to be able to connect with those who are close to them, they generally prefer to listen over talking, and tend to dislike small talk or conflict, enjoying deep conversations instead (Schmidt, 2015). An introvert’s ability to observe and reflect can be instrumental in being able to increase their self-awareness and allow them to engage in deep and meaningful relationships (Positive Psychology Program, 2016).
It’s a spectrum – no two introverts fit the same stereotype.
Although we can be primed to place ourselves and others in boxes to help with our own understanding of personality types, it’s equally important to recognize that there is a spectrum when it comes to extroversion and introversion, many of us hitting this spectrum at different points, perhaps even in different times throughout our lives (Schmidt, 2015). Where we fall on this spectrum can be a result of different life events we’ve gone through, relationships we’ve had, cultural practices, beliefs or values we hold, or even our family structure and dynamics. Understanding the flexibility around the idea of introversion may be helpful in looking at the bigger picture.
When we use these concepts as a baselines to aid in our understanding of introversion, it helps debunk the concept that one personality trait is more favourable then the other – instead, it allows us to recognize the differences in how one prefers to process stimulation, socialize in different settings and in different ways, and challenge rigid notions we may have come to hold about introversion or extroversion by looking at these personality types as a spectrum.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.
Schmidt, S.J. (2016). Personality Diversity: Extrovert and Introvert Temperaments.Journal of Food Science Education. https://doi.org/10.1111/1541-4329.12091
Positive Psychology Program (2016). The Spectrum for Introversion to Extroversion.Positive Psychology Articles. Retrieved from: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/introversion-extroversion-spectrum/