As a personal coach and an INFJ in the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator, I have a deep interest in seeing others rise to their highest potential. I see people’s problems as puzzles to remedy. I seek understanding and help others find it as well. I especially love helping others untangle the frustrations and heartache brought on by relationship woes. I have a keen interest in knowing and connecting with people, which may appear out of synch with the stereotype of an introvert.
Introvert and extrovert stereotypes
Let’s talk about the stereotypes of extroverts and introverts. Most of us picture an outgoing and socially fun person hanging out with a circle of friends when we imagine an extrovert. We see them as brimming with words and animated body language. I personally think of extroverts as faster moving, faster talking and more eager to interact with their environment than an introvert. A negative stereotypical view of an extrovert may portray them as loud, obnoxious and needy.
When we picture an introvert we may imagine a quiet and reserved person hanging out on the fringe of a group or with no one at all. We don’t expect introverts to be in the center of a social scene. If we indulge in a more negative stereotype we may even see introverts as awkward, weird and boring.
More accurate definitions of introverts and extroverts
A more accurate definition of an extrovert is an individual who energizes by interacting with others. They are at home in the outer world. They often act before they think. Acting or talking helps them process information. Introverts energize by reducing stimulation and/or retreating to time alone. They like people but will need time away from them or at least large numbers of them, to process information. They often think before they act. They are at home in their inner world.
Although stereotypes often contain an element of truth, we are all much more faceted than a list of personality traits. We have an essence of our own, our own humanness.
When you grow up in the shadow of an extrovert
I spent many years wishing and willing myself to be extroverted. My sister is a full-out extrovert. As kids, she was the one people remembered. She was the “character”, the “little devil”. She was always asking questions and saying cute quotable phrases. I was the quiet one, appreciated for her ability to entertain herself. I spent a lot of time in my room reading and listening to music.
I quickly discerned the benefits of being talkative and engaging versus contemplative and observant. Extroverts experienced increased attention and a greater likelihood their requests would be met. Although introverts often shy away from overt attention, we like acknowledgment. We all do, don’t we? As a child, I observed my sister’s way of being. I threw pity parties for myself and quietly suffered from jealousy.
Finding out you’re an introvert at age 37
I was married living in the suburbs with three children before I truly understood I was an introvert. At that point in my life, I felt I had to put on an extroverted mask and socialize. Instead of entertaining myself I entertained my husband’s co-workers and the neighborhood kids.
I felt compelled to be involved with the kids’ schools and the events at the country club. All of the cool moms did it. I admit, I did not mind most of those activities. It was the quantity of events and people who overwhelmed me.
My own household consisted of five people and it was not acceptable to escape to my room to read and listen to music. My husband exhibited extroverted traits such as speaking quickly with conviction and taking charge. He is probably an ESTJ in the Myers Briggs inventory. Business school may have influenced his traits, but again, they received the most attention and seemed to be the way to go. I did my best to keep up.
But I couldn’t. I’m an introvert.
I can’t fake it anymore
Going counter to my nature took its toll. I started having anxiety attacks. I didn’t sleep well. I tried to explain my needs to my husband but he did not understand. He had a penchant for togetherness and society’s version of productive. I felt guilty for not wanting to constantly be with my family and friends, like most people seemed to want. My need to recharge in uninterrupted solitude or quiet, became too great. I sought calm, meaningful friendships and places beyond my home.
Eventually, the marriage ended and I shifted my way of thinking and living. Certainly, going counter to your nature doesn’t always end in divorce. Often there is opportunity for individuals to learn from each other and bring richness to their relationship. That takes a two-way investment in the growth of the relationship. That two-way investment breathes life into each partner.
I moved forward striving to teach my kids appreciation for work and rest, outer and inner worlds and differences in personality types. Two out of three of my teenaged children are introverts. I manifested the old Zen proverb, “The obstacle is the path” and created space2live, a blog for introverts and highly sensitive people. I found and created a tribe of people who understand me and I, them. You don’t have to be extroverted to be acknowledged and fulfilled.