An Intro to Introversion

Featuring Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”

What is an Introvert?

That‘s a tough question, these days.

WHEN MOST PEOPLE THINK OF INTROVERSION, they think of someone quiet, reserved, shy or even unsociable. Personally, I've always considered myself an introvert, but when people would ask me why, I would stumble to find an answer. I generally considered myself to be one because I was shy, and that was really the only reason. However, I never gave much thought to what the word itself meant.

Psychologist Carl Jung first popularized the term introversion, in his 1921 book Psychological Types in which he gave a general breakdown concerning the tendencies of introverts and extroverts. According to Jung, introverts are more inwardly focused, diverting their energy to perceiving the world around them and responding to the thought processes that it creates. Extroverts, on the other hand, are more inclined to experience the world first-hand, head-on, developing relationships and devoting themselves to people and events that directly involve them. This is more information than I ever had growing up, and oddly enough I can’t seem to find the word shy in there.

Both introvert and extrovert originate in the Latin language, from the words INTRO and EXTRO, the former meaning inwardly or within and the latter meaning to go out from. The suffix VERT finds its origin in the Latin VERTO meaning to turn. So, literally, we could define introversion and extroversion as to turn within and to turn without respectfully.

So, again: What is an Introvert?

With this information in mind, it would seem safe to say that an introvert is quite simply an individual who experiences the world by turning within themselves. Still, however, this is rather vague. And where is there anything about being shy?

In her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” − or, as I would call it, “The Introvert’s Guide to Self-Acceptance” − author Susan Cain seeks to disprove some of the stereotypes we've come to associate with introversion and provide her readers with a great deal more information on what it means to be an introvert.

For example, if I were to use Microsoft Word’s thesaurus on the word introversion, what do you think would be the first synonym listed? How about shy. And vice versa.

Could it be that computer software is capable of stereotyping? Cain would have us believe so, as she divides the two concepts of introversion and shyness entirely. Instead, Cain explains that while shyness may be more common among introverts, it is not necessarily a product of introversion.

Shyness, Cain says, is: “the fear of social disapproval or humiliation”. Introversion, on the other hand, she calls: “a preference for environments that are not over-stimulating”.

Furthermore, Cain suggests that there are a number of introverts who defy the common perception, and that there are some who may even have more “extroverted” traits than “introverted”.

Imagine, for instance,

an actor who makes their living by performing on stage in the spotlight in front of hundreds, even thousands, of people, and yet at the end of each night they prefer to skip the cast parties and head straight home to curl up with a fine book. Or consider an extrovert who enjoys being around other people and finds that they feel most fulfilled and energized when immersing themselves in a social environment, however they are actually rather shy, have a hard time sparking conversation with others and often feel embarrassed when doing so.

These examples aren't so far-fetched, and really what defines either of these individuals is what lies at the core of their experience. One finds greater fulfillment alone with quiet and introspection, while the other finds the same when surrounded with people and activity.

For curiosity’s sake, here are some of the most common traits that Cain mentions as being familiar to either extroversion or introversion:

“[Extroverts] tend to be assertive, dominant, and in great need of company. Extroverts think out loud and on their feet; they prefer talking to listening… they’re comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude.”
“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends… they listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

It may be that some introverts find themselves devoid of any qualities associated with extroversion, and vice versa, but to use either personality type to define any of these traits is presumptuous at best. The most important thing to maintain, however, is what defines each of these personalities. It is ultimately an understanding of that, which will give each of us some direction as to whether or not we are an introvert or an extrovert. What is the significance of determining this?

By understanding how our minds work, we better understand how we can get the most out of the world around us and give the most to the people we love and interact with.

It also helps us see what can and cannot be changed about ourselves. For example, I’m not shy anymore, but I’m still an introvert — and proud of it.

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