A Peek into the World of Introversion

I’m a teenager sitting on my bed staring into space and contemplating life, the universe, and everything (by the way, the answer is 42).  My sister barges in; looks at me, then around the room, then back at me; crosses her arms; and slowly asks, “What. Are. You. Doing?”  To which I reply, “Just thinking.”  A contorted grimace appears on her beautiful face and she walks off declaring, “You are so weird!” 

“I am NOT weird!” I want to say.  “I’m . . . .” 

But I didn’t know what to say back then.  Now, I know.  I’m an INTROVERT. 

As the Encyclopaedia Britannica explains, introvert and extravert are basic personality types theorized by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.  “An introvert is a person whose interest is generally directed inward toward his own feelings and thoughts, in contrast to an extravert, whose attention is directed toward other people and the outside world.” 

Some people think of introverts as simply shy persons, while extraverts must be people persons.  Others think introverts are quiet, and extraverts are talkative.  Some believe introverts are anti-social, and extraverts are party people.  All of these don’t really hit on the crux of introversion. 

I am not shy.  I am talkative (just ask my non-talkative husband!).  I like people.  But I am definitely an introvert. 

Katherine Myers and Isabelle Briggs, authors of the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator personality test, explain that introversion and extraversion refer to how a person gets his or her energy.  Do you feel energized or drained after spending time with a lot of people?  Do you recharge by having long stretches of alone time or by hanging out with others?  Do you like having a long list of pals and contacts or do you prefer a close circle of friends? 

It is estimated that 75% of the world’s population are extraverts, and only 25% are introverts.  (CORRECTION: 75/25 were the percentages being taught when I was getting a master’s degree in counseling; however, recent sources have found that introverts comprise 50.8% of the population; see MBTI.)  So there is a LOT of pressure placed on introverts to come out of their shell, stop being shy, and mingle at the party!  Some of that pressure is positive since a few introverts might be content to huddle in their basement with a book and a mini-fridge and emerge every two weeks to hit the grocery store or Laundromat. 

But what is hard for extraverts to understand is that while introverts enjoy a good party and like being around people, we’re exhausted at the end of it!  We need to go home, crawl under the bed, curl up like a fetus, and recharge in the quiet recesses of our minds.  Okay, it’s not that bad.  But that precious alone time helps us gear up for our people times! 

I am thrilled to have extravert friends, and at times I envy them.  They seem to keep going and going and have oodles and oodles of friends.  But I simply am not built that way.  Maybe that’s a good thing as a writer, since I don’t easily tire of being with merely myself and my words.  Then again, I genuinely enjoy people, so I make every effort to engage with others. 

In fact, it has become a huge goal of mine in the last several years to overcome my natural reservations around people, reach out, and engage in more relationships.  I feel complimented when people think I’m not an introvert because my stomach truly is churning the first time I meet someone; not out of fear, but new territory discomfort.  I love that I can speak publicly now without problems, even though it gave me nausea for the first couple of years that I did it.  

By the way, I live with family of four, and every last one of us is an introvert.  At times, we are all spread throughout the house, doing our own thing and recharging.  It’s oddly quiet then.  But I know plenty of people who married the opposite type, and it can be interesting to negotiate your different styles. 

Are you an extravert or an introvert?  How do you know?  Do you have close family or friends who are the opposite?   How do you handle your need to either be around people (extraversion) or get time alone (introversion) to recharge your battery?