Some myths about introverts and extroverts stick around longer than gum on a city sidewalk: introverts are people-haters. Extroverts won’t shut up. Introverts are neurotic. Extroverts are shallow. In this two-part series, let's dismantle the stereotypes. First up: three myths about introverts.
Before 2013, only personality psychologists and career counselors cared about introversion and extroversion. But when Susan Cain published her bestseller, Quiet, everything shifted.
People who had previously thought they were too quiet, shy, hard to get to know, or, as Cain put it, “somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology,” were suddenly granted permission to see their entire personalities, not to mention their preference for staying in on Saturday night, in a whole new light.
Naturally, as with any new movement, it didn’t take long for the pendulum to swing to the extreme end. After a lifetime of being told they were inadequate, suddenly introverts were framed as delicate zen masters with deep human connections and even deeper creative thoughts, while extroverts were painted as shallow party animals with lampshades on their heads getting by on charm and superficial networking. Uh-oh. You could almost hear the backlash coming.
Simultaneously, an interest in personality exploded, and you couldn’t scroll through your Faceboook feed without being urged to click on quizzes promising to reveal your true nature, from the official Myers-Briggs to the considerably less official BuzzFeed. Who could resist Pick Some Cupcakes and We’ll Reveal Which Harry Potter Character You Are or Go Shopping at Target and We’ll Tell You Which Iconic Drag Queen You Are. (Sidenote: Apparently I am Hermione and Bob The Drag Queen, both of which are oddly accurate. Well done, BuzzFeed, well done.)
Where does all this put us today? Well, the introvert movement has swung back from its extreme and thinking about personality has grown more nuanced (notwithstanding quizzes that reveal what percent Cardi B you are). Even so, stereotypes about both introverts and extroverts have stubbornly persisted.
Therefore, in this two-part series, we’ll bust the myths of introversion and extroversion. First up: 3 myths about introverts.
Myth #1: Introverts don’t like people.
This stereotype makes it sound like introverts would rather be waterboarded than make small talk, or that their dream home is an isolated lighthouse on a remote island.
But a study out of the University of Illinois found that extroverts and introverts spend about the same amount of time alone and about the same amount of time socializing.
Even more importantly, the researchers found that introverts showed pretty much the same increase in happiness as extroverts when hanging out with other people.
So, if introverts spend about the same amount of time socializing and get the same mood boost when they do, why does this stereotype exist?
That’s a million dollar question, but in general, introverted people have a lower tolerance for stimulation, which includes social stimulation, and naturally dislike the feeling of being drained and overwhelmed. Disliking the negative feelings of overstimulation often gets conflated with disliking people. It’s not misanthropy; it’s self-preservation.
Myth #2: Introverts are depressed and anxious.
This is a tough myth to shake. Indeed, in a study of almost 2,000 individuals seeking mental health treatment, extroversion was inversely related to depression, meaning that the more extroverted someone was, the less likely they were to be depressed.
And there’s more: studies show that people are generally happier when they act extroverted. For example, a study out of Wake Forest University pinged participants five times a day for 13 days and asked how they both acted and felt during the previous hour. A pattern emerged: when participants reported being talkative, energetic, assertive, or adventurous, they also reported feeling good.
But wait, there’s even more: a groundbreaking study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology instructed super-introverts and super-extroverts, defined as those at the top or bottom 20% of an extroversion scale, to act either introverted or extroverted during a group task. Regardless of whether they were natural introverts or natural extroverts, everyone reported enjoying the discussion more when they were assigned to act extroverted.
What does all this mean? Essentially, pretty much everyone gets energized and feels good from social interaction, extrovert and introvert alike. This is tough for introverts to swallow—it makes it seem as if something is wrong with how we’re wired.
Overall, the myth that introverts are depressed and anxious likely persists from the tendency of introverts to withdraw in order to recharge. And sometimes introverts accidentally go too far. Withdrawing to the point of isolation, no matter your personality type, can lead to feeling disconnected and lonely, both of which hang together with depression and anxiety.
So to bust the myth, think of it this way: for introverts and extroverts alike, interacting with fellow humans is generally rewarding and invigorating. But for introverts, being alone is also rewarding and invigorating. This gives introverts the best of both worlds—they can feel happy alone, and happy when they decide to channel their inner extrovert and interact.
Introverts don’t necessarily need a respite from people; instead, we need a respite from stimulation.
In other words, introversion and extroversion may be personality traits, but they can also be behaviors. To stave off isolation and bust the myth, introverts can co-opt the best parts of extroversion and reap the benefits.
Myth #3: Introverts prefer to be alone.
Not necessarily. Introverts do need to recharge more often and for longer durations than extroverts, but they don’t necessarily need to be in solitude to do it. Introverts burn out from overstimulation, but when they retreat to recharge, they’re often happy to bring a partner or other trusted confidante along with them.
For introverts, it’s a balancing act. Too much isolation can leave us lonely and insecure—two flavors no one wants swirled together. And too much stimulation can leave us exhausted. But we don’t necessarily need a respite from people; instead, we need a respite from stimulation.
For example, an introvert might very well hate parties, but it’s not simply because there are people present. Instead, it’s just too much of everything—dancing and lights and loud music and people, including strangers.
As an alternative, introverts might adore a dinner party where they can sit and connect, be the last person standing at game night, or chat for hours with their best friends. Again, it’s not people, per se. It’s the stimulation.
Interestingly, some socially-anxious introverts even love crowds. Why? There’s a sense of blending in. Like a herd of caribou or a flock of geese, there is safety in numbers. It’s a magical way to draw energy from others without having to interact. With such a variety of humanity around you, it’s a great way to feel more normal and more validated.
And who among us, introvert or extrovert, couldn’t use more of that?
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