The Introvert Personality
A Definition of Introvert
Introversion is the tendency to focus one's attention towards the inner, mental world rather than external, physical "reality".
Introversion is a natural characteristic occurring in about 25% of the population according to psychotherapist Dr Marti Olsen Laney in her excellent book The Introvert Advantage. Dr Laney offers a further definition of the introvert personality, ie that introverts are those who draw energy from the inner world of ideas and emotions as opposed to extroverts who thrive on external experience and interaction.
Introversion is not something we have or not, rather we all occupy a specific point on an introvert extrovert continuum.
Dr Laney suggests introversion may be rooted in physiology with the parasympathetic (slowing down) brain system being dominant over its sympathetic (speeding up or fight-or-flight) counterpart. She suggests that incoming signals take a longer route through the brains of introverts than of extroverts. That may be so, but like the case of chicken and egg it might be argued which comes first, character or physiology.
Know thyself: are you an introvert?
We are each born with unique characteristics. In order to play our particular traits to their best advantage it is necessary to become acquainted with precisely what we are, our drives, inhibitions etc. Self-knowledge comes primarily from introspection, a surprisingly difficult process that requires discipline to overcome our mind’s inherent reticence.
If you prefer sitting quietly to socializing, if you prefer fewer, deeper relationships to numerous casual, shallow friendships, chances are you are an introvert.
Self-observation and introspection may be supplemented with the use of various “personality tests”, a number of which are freely available online, eg:
HUMANMETRICS an online test based on Jung – Myers-Briggs typology.
similarminds.com offers a range of personality tests and tools.
AdvisorTeam Psychological Personality Tests Online for organizational development, career planning, persona.
Tests based on Jung’s personality types, eg the Myers-Briggs, will reveal where you lie on introvert extrovert continuum.
Accept no single test as definitive. Instead, take several and compare their findings with what you already know about yourself. Tests may highlight certain aspects of yourself that you were not consciously aware of but in seeing them made explicit you might acknowledge them.
Through the process of introspection, testing and comparing the outcomes with self-knowledge and experience we arrive at a pretty good idea of our particular character and its strengths and weaknesses. Whatever our peculiarities we are now empowered to begin making the best of them.
We are each unique individuals, born precisely as we are to fulfil a very special purpose. That’s right, YOU ARE SPECIAL. Be you tall or short, fat or thin, light or dark skinned, introvert or extrovert… you are special and worthy of self-approval and love.
Western society tends to value extroverts more highly than introverts, perhaps that’s because extroverts are in the majority. However introversion is NOT a problem or disease, nor is it something to be ashamed of. In many ways introverts have advantages over extroverts. By directing their energies inwards they are closer to their Spiritual essence. Introverts can more easily open themselves to inspiration and creativity. They are less distracted by worthless, deleterious “noise”.
To introverts the inner, mental world is of supreme importance. Relating to externality takes great effort, even – at times – pain. Because of society’s prejudice towards extroversion we may begin to feel weak, inferior. Stop being overwhelmed by other’s views of what’s “right” or “best”. Only you can know what it’s like to be you. Only you know what you truly want in life. Never try to be what you are not.
It is worth noting that Xinyin Chen and Kenneth Rubin of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and Yuerong Sun of Shanghai Teachers University (quoted by Dr Elaine Aron in her groundbreaking book The Highly Sensitive Person) found that in schools in China, children viewed by their peers as sensitive or quiet (typically introvert properties) were among the best liked and respected. In Canada, they were among the least liked and respected [Chen, X., Rubin, K. H., & Sun, Y. (1992). Social reputation and peer relationships in Chinese and Canadian children: A cross-cultural study. Child Development, 63, 1336-1343]. While the most dominant western countries enter the new millennium embroiled in international conflict, it is predicted that China will become the world’s leading economy in the 21st century.
Just as we should accept ourselves as we are, so we should accept others for what they are. No man is an island. Human progress has been made possible by specialization and cooperation. Just consider how many contribute to the comfort enjoyed in our daily lives, the farmers that produce our food, the builders that build our houses, the teachers that empower us with knowledge etc etc. And so we must accept the need to co-exist harmoniously with others.
From social interaction the introvert may even find experience and stimulation. But only ever so far as we are comfortable. In the knowledge of ourselves we should never try to be extrovert, just as dogs never try to be cats. But we do recognize that beneath the skin we are each manifestations of the one Spirit.
What of the introvert married to an extrovert partner? Even in partnership we retain individuality. It is OK for each spouse to pursue their particular path. But, occasionally, compromise is necessary. Perhaps the introvert partner may agree to attend a limited number of social functions on condition that s/he may time-limit their involvement, the degree of involvement, and whether involvement happens at all.
A Place of Your Own
With self-knowledge and self-acceptance the introvert can begin constructing a lifestyle and pathway that is right for them. They should identify their most productive channels (writing, painting, business, finance, whatever…) and pursue these and direct their efforts to achieving maximum impact within them.
Ideally the introvert will be able to make a living through self-employment. The growth of the Internet is creating numerous new home-based business opportunities, liberating many from the rat race of working for others.
Librarianship, accountancy and academia are oft considered classic introvert occupations. A quiet and predictable work environment is good, as is one that aligns effort with conscience, eg working with a non-profit organisation operating in a field that is strongly believed in. Blythe Camenson’s Careers for Introverts & Other Solitary Types describes many other suitable introvert occupations.
As mentioned, there are varying degrees of introversion. For some introverts a quiet and entirely unstimulating existence is bliss. These folk are lucky. They can simply organise their lives, work and hobbies to minimise external stimulation. This certainly does not make their lives bland or unproductive. What they lack in external engagement is compensated by their rich and active inner world. This group can be extremely creative.
Other introverts face the paradox of craving a degree of external stimulation, but finding it physically and mentally draining. For such folk the answer is in finding a balance that optimises personal satisfaction, eg engaging in external activity but limiting the number or type of events they participate in. “All things in moderation”, is a good motto. Learning to allocate enough energy for venturing outwards balanced by sufficient recovery time for self-repair is the key. It takes practice and will surely bring some knocks along the way, but with maturity that harmony may be found.