«I don’t feel like going out, but people are going to think I’m boring»
«In big groups, I tend to get overwhelmed. I prefer to listen rather than participate in the conversation»
«I find it hard to talk about my stuff with others, I need time and trust»
«I really like to spend time alone; I need it to relax.»

These are some of the phrases we may hear an introvert say. Approximately one third of the population tends to introversion. However, in the western societies, introversion has been culturally associated with negative traits: weirdness, boredom or lack of social skills. Therefore, in our society, introverted people often find it difficult to integrate and take advantage of this aspect of themselves. In reality, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being introverted. This article is going to describe the psychological concepts introversion/extraversion and address both the challenges, as well as the advantages, of being an introvert.

What does it mean to be introverted? Introversion vs. Extraversion

In 1921, Carl Gustav Jung, an admired psychologist who significantly influenced personality psychology, identified two main attitudes towards life, coining the terms introversion and extraversion:

  • Extraverted attitude: leads people to focus on the outside world, interactions with others and the environment.
  • Introverted attitude: It has to do with a greater interest in internal stimulation, that is, in internal processes such as reflection and contemplation.

Later, Hans Eysenck followed this theory focusing on the social aspect of the introversion/extraversion dimension, arguing that introverted people «charge their batteries» by being alone or in small groups, while extroverted people «charge their batteries» through external interactions.

In addition, Eysenck proposed a neuropsychological basis for this theory by relating extraversion/introversion to cortical activation. According to his contributions, introverts have higher cortical activation at rest and therefore seek quietness and reflection to balance it. In contrast, extroverts have lower cortical activation at rest and seek external stimulation to increase their level of activation.

In recent decades, multiple personality models have been developed that add nuances to these psychological concepts. But in general, extraverted people are defined as those who are interested in the outside world, open, expressive and willing to meet new people and places. More introverted people are those who pay more attention to their internal processes than to the outside world, who are more comfortable in small groups and more interested in contemplative activities.

Is it possible to be purely introverted or extroverted?

The boom in psychology in recent years has led many people to try to know themselves better. We can hear people defining themselves as introverts or extroverts to explain certain behaviors or aspects of themselves. But are we purely introverts or extroverts?

The answer is no. Introversion and extroversion should be understood as components of the same dimension. Imagine a long line, with pure extraversion and pure introversion at both ends. Each of us would fall somewhere between the two extremes.

When a person is significantly close to one of the extremes, it is normal that it may cause some difficulties and that he or she may wish to seek a better balance. Finding a balance between both tendencies can give us greater versatility in handling different aspects of life.

What difficulties do introverts face?

In 2012, author Susan Cain published her best-selling book «Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking». She also gave one of the most viewed TED Talks to date. In her book, Cain made an interesting analysis of how Western societies are oriented towards extroversion, promoting a greater social appreciation of extroverted people even from an early age.

In this context, introverted people may feel maladjusted, lacking in skills or in constant pursuit of the «extroverted ideal». That is, introverted individuals may feel pressure to adopt extroverted traits in order to feel accepted.

Entendiendo la introversión- ventajas de ser una persona introvertida 3

A telling example is the ease with which we urge others to participate in social events with comments such as «Don’t be dull and come to the party!» or «Are you really going to spend all Saturday afternoon alone?», but it is less common to ask an extrovert to spend more time enjoying solitary activities, such as reading a book in privacy.

The truth is that neither being more introverted nor being more extroverted are positive or negative traits, they are simply different.

Is introversion different from shyness?

One thing Susan Cain emphasizes is the difference between shyness and introversion. A person with introverted tendencies, who becomes exhausted in crowded situations, isn’t necessarily afraid of social interactions. On the contrary, shyness refers to an inhibition in social situations for fear of being judged.

Both shy and introverted people tend to avoid social situations. But while shy people do so out of fear of being judged, introverts do so simply because they have a preference for solitude. Introverts may be more likely to experience shyness if they feel pressured to adapt to extroverted social settings, but this is not true in all cases.

Susan Cain points out that while shyness can be something to overcome, introversion can be something to celebrate. In the next section, I explain why.

What are the advantages of being an introvert?

An introvert is likely to have fewer social skills and may not handle very stimulating situations as well as an extrovert. However, being an introvert has some advantages that sometimes go unnoticed:

  • Reflexivity and introspection: Introverts tend to be deep thinkers, which can lead to greater insight and more thoughtful decision making.
  • Independence: They tend to have a greater ability to enjoy individual activities.
  • Empathy: They tend to be good listeners, which tends to make them sympathetic and trustworthy people.
  • Concentration: Introverts tend to dive deeply into specific tasks, which can lead to greater effectiveness in their projects.
  • Creativity: Moments of reflection and solitude can lead to innovative ideas and creative solutions.
  • Meaningful relationships: They tend to be more selective in their friendships, which may result in fewer but deeper social relationships.
  • Less impressionable: They tend to build their own criteria, which makes them more resistant to fads and external influences.
  • Thoughtful leadership: They can be effective leaders because of their ability to listen to others, pay attention to detail and take more time to weigh options.
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Talking about introversion is important, since, in spite of having been an excluded and unrecognized trait, society needs people with an introverted tendency as well as more extroverted people to move forward. Each brings its virtues, not better or worse, but different. By appreciating and accommodating both personality tendencies, we will achieve greater diversity and human richness. Susan Cain concluded that this bias against introversion leads to «a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness», saying that it is «a great diversity issue of our time».

About the author

Emma is a health psychologist at Sinews. She treats adults and adolescents who come for consultation for problems such as anxiety, depression, grief, self-esteem, emotional self-esteem, emotional dependency… In addition, she is a specialist in the treatment of trauma. She performs her interventions from an integrative approach, which includes an exploration of primary bonding relationships from the perspective of the attachment theory, as well as an approach to the problem from a cognitive-behavioral approach to the problem from a cognitive-behavioral perspective, using effective techniques according to each patient’s needs.

Emma Chancellor Díez
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Emma Chancellor Díez
Psychologist
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English and Spanish
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