When you characterize someone as an introvert, you are most likely referring to behaviors that seem quiet and withdrawn. We think of introverts as shy and anti-social, preferring to be alone or with one or two people rather than at a party or in a crowd. Extroverts on the other hand are assumed to be gregarious, loud and in search of the next party. There are many misconceptions, however, regarding these general beliefs about introverts and extroverts.
The terms introvert and extrovert were first coined by psychiatrist Carl Jung in the 1920s. Over the years they have become synonymous with certain behaviors and traits. Introvert in most people’s minds means that someone prefers their own company to the company of others and is disinterested in social events and friends, while extroverts are the opposite, always talking, looking for the next party and have lots of friends.
But the truth is that neither of those characterizations is completely fair or true. Introverts and extroverts are both far more complicated than those simple descriptions.
It’s true that introverts are more likely to spend time in solo activities rather than in group situations. But this isn’t always because they don’t like people or being social. Introverts just enjoy social activity differently, for different reasons and for different amounts of time than extroverts do.
Introverts are often referred to as shy, but the truth is that being shy and being an introvert are quite different. People who are shy are nervous and uncomfortable around others, whereas people who are introverted aren’t necessarily uncomfortable at all. Many people who are natural introverts actually enjoy the company of others a great deal. The difference between an introvert and an extrovert has more to do with how each person finds energy and how they need to recharge.
Those who are introverts enjoy social activity in smaller doses than extroverts. It takes more energy for an introvert to be around others and engage in social activity and so they often tire out quickly. It’s the solitude and solo activities that allow them to recharge. The quiet of their own thoughts allows them to feel grounded and in control.
Introverts also like to prepare and plan. They are made more uncomfortable by spontaneous social activity than if they have the time to think about with whom and how they are about to engage. But none of this means that introverts are anti-social people. In fact there are some very well known introverts that are not only recognizable, but are also socially active. For instance Bill Gates, Barak Obama and Steven Spielberg are all introverts, yet none of these people would be characterized as anti-social or shy.
Extroverts are often characterized as leaders, being loud, and overly talkative. Again, these traits are exaggerations. The same way an introvert isn’t necessarily shy, an extrovert can actually be shy. Many assume that extroversion and traits like shyness or being quiet are mutually exclusive. Although extroverts do crave the company of others it has more to do with maintaining their natural energy level and finding mental stimulation than just wanting to party.
Whereas introverts gain energy and perspective by being alone, extroverts find that their energy levels drop when they are alone for too long. It’s the presence of others and the social engagement that helps them think and focus. Extroverts also tend to prefer noise in their environments rather than silence. It may seem strange to some, but an extrovert will find silence distracting.
Because they thrive in environments where there is a lot of interaction with others, many extroverts find their greatest happiness and success in professions like teaching, public speaking, sales or in the hospitality industry. Examples of successful extroverts include Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Steve Wozniak.
Is It Nature or Nurture?
There is a lot of debate as to what makes someone introverted or extroverted. And while there is no definitive answer, signs point to it being a combination of both biology and environmental factors. Our earliest interactions with others certainly help to shape our social behavior and comfort. That is one of the reasons that helping young children socialize is so important. It not only teaches them how to interact with others, but also that interaction can be rewarding. And it helps them learn what they need to do for themselves in order to be energized and rejuvenate.
Research has also pointed to a possible genetic component when it comes to introversion and extroversion. It’s possible that not only genes, but the pattern of blood flow in the brain helps to contribute to a person’s tendency toward one personality type or another.
The truth is that being either introverted or extroverted is not an absolute. Most people operate on a sliding scale, demonstrating traits of both depending upon the time and circumstance. Understanding the behaviors and motivations of each personality type, however, can be instrumental in getting along with others, developing good communication skills and respecting the differences in others. It will also help you to ensure you are doing what’s best for yourself.