Introversion Is Not a Personality Fail
Introversion Is Not a Personality Fail
Japanese gardens, Portland, Oregon, November 2011
By Cat Elz / byrslf.co
Oct 19, 2016

A few years ago, I got into an argument with my now mother-in-law over my supposedly “backwards” ways. My transgression? I did not attend a party of my now husband’s (then merely boyfriend’s) distant relatives, none of whom I knew, while he was out of town. Why didn’t I want to crash this crazy fun shindig as the third wheel companion of my boyfriend’s parents? Gosh, I don’t know. I probably had a book to read. Or laundry that wasn’t about to wash itself. Or any number of more appealing somethings.

And, oh yeah, I’m a tragically flawed introvert.

The Ongoing Misconceptions of Introversion

While I may be tragically flawed (aren't we all?), it has next to nothing to do with my introverted tendencies. Introversion is not synonymous with painfully shy (though I was also shy in my younger days), nor is it the same as antisocial or misanthropic. Indeed, such traits might and often do overlap, however, they are each separate aspects of one’s personality - one does not necessary include or preclude another. Haven’t you met a misanthrope that wouldn't take a breath?

Jonathan Rauch may have defined it best in his article in the Atlantic a decade ago: “introverts are people who find other people tiring.” Not in the tiresome sense, but in the exhausting sense. He also points out:

With their endless appetite for talk and attention, extroverts also dominate social life, so they tend to set expectations. In our extrovertist society, being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of happiness, confidence, leadership. Extroverts are seen as bighearted, vibrant, warm, empathic. "People person" is a compliment. Introverts are described with words like "guarded," "loner," "reserved," "taciturn," "self-contained," "private"—narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality.

Sound familiar?

Introversion is Still Considered a Personality Flaw

Despite the recent (but Quiet) introversion awareness campaign, we introverts are still perceived as lacking in some way, or as using our introversion as an excuse to disengage from the world - as if disengaging for brief (or not so brief) periods of time is de facto unhealthy. Introversion is still considered something to be overcome when it should be not only tolerated but accepted and embraced.

Introverts make up a solid third of the population (according to Susan Cain’sQuiet), or, as education experts Jill D. Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig have put it (I’m stealing this from Mr. Rauch), "a minority in the regular population but a majority in the gifted population,"and yet American culture still considers us introverts to be weird loners who need to get with their extroverted program.

In a more recent article, an extroverted teacher claims she’s read some literature on introversion, including Quiet, and has implemented new strategies to help her introverted students. What these strategies are, she does not say. But:

In the end, I have decided to retain my class participation requirement. As a teacher, it is my job to teach grammar, vocabulary, and literature, but I must also teach my students how to succeed in the world we live in -- a world where most people won't stop talking. If anything, I feel even more strongly that my introverted students must learn how to self-advocate by communicating with parents, educators, and the world at large.

It’s your job to teach your introverts that the world is loud and unforgiving? You don’t think we've figured that out by the time we get to your class? Give us a little credit. Extra credit, apparently, since we’ll need to make up for missing some participation points.

Another case of mistaken definition: introversion is not shyness, is not social anxiety - just like a language teacher is not a psychologist.

Penalizing students - and with lower grades, no less - who don’t excel at class participation is just another way of teaching introverts that something is seriously wrong with them. Nothing is wrong with these introverted students; they live and survive in this loud, gregarious culture every day whether or not they participate in a particular class. Classroom dynamics also bear little resemblance to “real world” situations, and classroom participation is not exactly a life skill.

Combating the Criticism

During that conversation years ago, my boyfriend’s mother insisted (as if I hadn't heard it before) that I needed to “break out of my shell” because I’d regret all my alone time when friends and family died. (And apparently strangers, too, because I didn’t go to that party, so I never got the chance to engage in all that really fun awkward small talk about the weather. And now they’re dead. With whom will I discuss traffic patterns now? — Not to be callous. They are lovely people, as I now know, years and many parties with me in attendance later.)

Break out of my shell? I’m not exactly shy these days, nor was I then; I just don’t have much to say on demand. Without commonality of subject, I’m completely lost. I understand such rapport must be established… by talking. Which is fine - I can talk about the intricacies of the funky Midwest weather patterns as well as an extrovert. But, dear extroverts, such rapport cannot always be garnered through small talk alone, nor can it be forced by volume, neither of sound nor of words. Talking for talking’s sake is just so boring.

I also prefer not to talk about subjects about which I know little to nothing - I can listen somewhat convincingly, but converse about the complexities of determining which players to pick for your fantasy football team? Not as much. Politely nod with appropriate questions and interjections, yes, but please don’t drain the life out of me for too long.

She and I eventually came to terms - perhaps she was surprised that I wasn't about to back down, but hopefully she finally realized that we just process the world differently. She talks first and thinks later - and doesn’t care what others think, she says. That’s fine - I don’t, nor do I have any desire to do so, and I don’t care what others think about that. She agreed to not take it personally if I didn't accept every single socializing invitation, and I agreed to pay more attention to my phone (which I had a tendency to ignore for long periods of time - I’ve gotten much better, I swear!) and to try to respond to voicemails and emails more quickly.

Introversion is Not a Personality Fail

Believe it or not, I (and most introverts) actually enjoy the more than occasional party or social gathering - of moderate size and for a reasonable length of time. We even might like engaging in witty banter - just not all the time. We like dinners with friends and visits with families - just in smaller doses than extroverts.

In the end, introvert or extrovert, we need to understand and play to our strengths. That’s not to say an introvert should never have to deal with uncomfortably social or crowded situations (they are, after all, part of life), or that an extrovert should never have to deal with some alone time with his or her own thoughts.

But it’s perfectly acceptable for an introvert (or even an extrovert) to insist upon taking time for themselves, and to decline the occasional invitation, and to admit we’d rather not self-promote, or give a presentation, or attend a networking event or party full of strangers, even though we know we need to for our careers or families or friends or even ourselves. It’s not making an excuse or an admission of a flaw, but a simple statement of preference. We’re still going to do many of those things, we just aren’t going to enjoy them as much as an extrovert might. And that’s fine.

As personality traits and tendencies go, introversion is just as big a win as extroversion. Introverts don’t go around demanding (at least out loud) that chatty extroverts retreat into their respective shells or go sit quietly and think about what they’ve done. We merely ask for the same respect in return. We’ve built these shells for a reason. If you extroverts out there paused your constant stream of self-expression for a moment, maybe you’d notice their restorative usefulness.

4.5 ·
3
Trending Today
Looking Forward to the Day That Nationalism Is as Reviled as Racism
Tim Hjersted · 11,131 views today · Nationalism is a form of geographical racism that makes some lives matter more than others, and explicitly justifies that logic without apology. While today, not even lying...
Supporters 'Ecstatic' After Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence
Nika Knight · 7,311 views today · Whistleblower to be released from military prison in May
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 5,520 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 3,369 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Before He Was Assassinated, MLK Jr. Was Advocating For An End To Income Inequality
10 min · 1,202 views today · We can honor MLK Jr. by pursuing the causes he was advocating for before he was killed.  ​​ Part 2: The Basic Income, A New Human Right (3 minutes) MLK's idea of a basic...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 916 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
One "Piece of the Oppressor" That I Have Discovered Within Myself
Tim Hjersted · 758 views today · One "piece of the oppressor" that I have found in myself during my inner activist journeys is my use of shame as a method of engaging with the world's problems. Having learned...
Here's How We're Going to End Factory Farming
2 min · 743 views today · Factory farming is a huge problem. But the solution is simple, if you'll join us. Watch this short 2 minute video to see how... Help make a kinder world possible...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 695 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Coping With Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the White House
N Ziehl · 668 views today · I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are...
The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves
Yasha Levine · 578 views today · “…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” —Arthur Young; 1771 Our popular economic wisdom says that...
What Martin Luther King Jr. Can Teach Us about Nonviolence
John Dear · 437 views today · I've been reflecting on the principles of nonviolence that Martin Luther King Jr. learned during the historic yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. After Rosa Parks refused...
The Greening of the Self: The Most Important Development of Modern Times
Joanna Macy · 352 views today · Something important is happening in our world that you are not going to read about in the newspapers. I consider it the most fascinating and hopeful development of our time...
This Woman Gets No Applause...Why? They Are Too Creeped Out...
7 min · 347 views today · Think you aren't being fooled by advertising tricks? Take a look at this so-called expert revealing food marketing's secret weapon. No amount of marketing makes factory farming...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 345 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Watch How Europeans Carved Up African Land They Never Owned
56 min · 327 views today · Watch how Europeans gave away African land they never owned, then expressed anger when Africans resisted. The film is called Africa: A Voyage of Discovery, Episode 6: The...
The Corporation (2003)
145 min · 302 views today · The Corporation is today's dominant institution, creating great wealth but also great harm. This 26 award-winning documentary examines the nature, evolution, impacts and future...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 282 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
#ReclaimMLK Seeks to Combat the Sanitizing of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy
Danielle C. Belton · 244 views today · Martin Luther King Jr. had more than “a dream,” but you might not notice that on Monday during observances for his birthday. Somewhere between his assassination and today...
Defiance in the Face of Oppression - Iranian Artist Atena Farghadani Defends the Right to Draw
Gavin Aung Than · 213 views today · Atena Farghadani is a 28-year-old Iranian artist. She was recently sentenced to 12 years and 9 months in prison for drawing a cartoon.  
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
Introversion Is Not a Personality Fail