Suppose a friend invited you for his birthday party, like every year. You know most people that have come there. I don’t know how such parties are held in other countries, but let me suppose it’s a Dutch party with not so many guests, say around ten or fifteen. All sit most of the time at the same place in a circle in the living room, as it happens here. You don’t know the man left of you, who comes for the first time. He seems to be an interesting person, but you don’t know how to start the conversation. You are thinking of all kinds of themes you might start with, but in the end you say nothing. Happily, the man starts to talk with you, and then the conversation develops. Even more, you find it very interesting, and you talk a long time together, for you and your neighbour have much in common.
Do you recognize this? Are you maybe even such a kind of person? If so, then you are probably an introvert. How pity, or so many people think, for introverts have the reputation of being not very social and they could better be avoided. What a weird idea about people who make up at least one third of the world population! But alas, it’s a view that is not quite unexpected in a society where being extrovert pays. The view has been even supported by psychological “insights” for a long time. It’s true that introverts are not as chatty and sociable as extroverts are, or rather, as I would say it, they are chatty and sociable in a different way, for once you know them they are pleasant to get along with, and you can talk a lot with them, albeit often not about superficial things.
This was already known to me, but it became even clearer to me, when I happened to visit the website of Psychology Today when looking for a subject for this week’s blog. There is so much positive about being introvert and remember that people like Newton, Einstein and Wittgenstein were also introverted. It’s true that it has also negative aspects, for as Allison Abrams writes in an article on the theme in Psychology Today: “One of the greatest frustrations introverts experience is squelching [their] gifts.” For example “You’re sitting in a ... [discussion] group when you are suddenly hit with a great idea, as introverts often are. While you’re working up the nerve to voice that idea out loud, the extrovert sitting next to you blurts it out first, of course getting all the credit. You’re devastated and angry at yourself for once again not speaking up.”
But what is then so positive about being an introvert? Let me summarize the seven plus-points that Abrams mentions:
1) Creativity. Introverts have often a big imagination and fantasy which makes them very creative.
2) They can think outside the box, for they feel no need to conform to society’s rules and prefer making their own.
3) Attunement to others. They are sensitive to how others feel, which makes that they have empathy and understanding for others. However, it can make also that they don’t feel at ease in groups, because their sensitivity can become overloaded.
4) Introverts are very good observers. Even if they don’t talk a lot they do see a lot.
5) They are good in overcoming challenges. Introverts are often low in the pecking order. Therefore they are used to overcome obstacles. Moreover, being low in the pecking order has given them understanding of those in difficult situations.
6) Maybe it is so that introverts don’t have many relationships, but they are good in making genuine and reliable connections. Being able to act alone is an asset for them, for having a few – but good – relationships is enough.
7) They can change the world, but they do it in silence or without much ado.
As Liz Fosslien and Mollie West explain on another website, introverts are maybe slow thinkers, but it is because they are deep thinkers, which takes time. Introverts need less stimulation from the world, which makes that they become easily over-stimulated; it makes also that they need less to feel happy (“simply” reading a book is enough). Introverts feel less excitement from surprise and from risk. Introverts process everything in their surroundings and pay attention to all sensory details in their environment, not just to people (which makes that they may seem distracted). And last but not least, the minds of introverts are full of thoughts and they talk with themselves.
All, this sounds rather positive, doesn’t it? But each personality type has negative aspects as well (every introvert can tell you; see also above). Moreover, there are also advantages of being an extrovert; without a doubt. And, oh yet this. Introverts may seem stand-offish and maybe they are not the first to give you a hug, but to quote the end of Abrams’s web article, if they do “feel honored. They don’t let just anyone in. But when they do, their fierce loyalty and empathic nature make them some of the best friends, partners, co-workers and bosses anyone can ask for. Their presence is a gift.”