What Is Introversion?

OK, important article today. Everybody knows the term introversion, but very few know what it actually means. In this post, I’ll do my best to clear the confusion and misconceptions. I know tons of people who think they are not introverts, while they definitely are. I know way too many people who call themselves “shy” while they are just introverted. I’ve even heard kids diagnosed “Asperger” by there parents, while I’m pretty sure they are, once again, nothing but introverts. And, no, introversion is not a weakness or something that should be fixed.

Introversion was defined by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Jung was born in Switzerland, in the late XIXth Century (1875 more precisely). In the early XXth Century, he met Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, and became his student. Quite soon, they started to disagree with each other, and Jung created his own branch of psychoanalysis, which is not totally compatible with Freud’s. You see, Freud focused a lot on the influence of our sexual desires, aka libido, on our personality. Jung disagreed and told him:

  • “Come on Sigmund, not everything is about sex!”

To which Freud answered:

  • “You see, Carl, the fact you disagree with me is due to the fact that you want to have sex with your mother”.

Nah, I just made this conversation up, but the rest is true. Jung made his own branch of psychoanalysis and invented his own concepts. Now, don’t get me wrong, he didn’t invent introversion and extraversion, he just made them popular.

Anyway, this is not a history class about psychoanalysis. It’s about introversion and extraversion. Those concepts were popularised a long time ago, but they are still misunderstood. So, what are the particularities of introverts?

Introversion is not the same as shyness

Very often, I run into people who tell me “I’m a shy person”. And, more often than not, they are not. They are introverted, which is completely different:

A shy person fears social interaction. An introvert is not that interested in it.

So, when you are an introvert, it’s not that you are scared by other people. You’re more drained by interacting with them for too long.

As a child, you were probably called quiet. That’s the adjective that often describes you. Susan Cain, a famous introvert, wrote a best-selling book titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. She even did a TED talk on that very topic. Yes, even quiet, introverted people can speak in public, obviously. That’s the raison d’ĂȘtre of that blog. I’ll dedicate one of my blog posts on that very topic. But let’s get back to introversion as a whole.

Even if you enjoy social events, at the end of a party, especially if it’s a loud one, with lots of people, you feel exhausted and need time by yourself to recharge. On the other hand, an extravert will feel exhausted if he is left alone for hours or even days, and will need social interaction to recharge.

And there is nothing wrong with that. To each his own. The world needs both. People who are very comfortable in a group, who will speak their mind. And people who are more on the reflective side, who will think and process the information they are given, before interacting with others.

The problem is, society as a whole seems to have a preference toward extraversion. When you are an introvert in school, your teachers will tell you you must get out of your shell and interact more with the rest of the class. When you’re looking for a job, employers will tell they want a dynamic person who works easily in a group. When you spend your Saturday night home alone, reading a book, watching a movie or playing video games, people will ask what’s wrong with you and tell you should go out.

All of this is good, obviously, and sure, you should not only try to cater to these social obligations as if they were moral ones, but… that is just not your nature.

Are you an introvert? Take the test!

Here is an easy test to know if you’re an introvert or not. Do you have the following traits? The more of them you have, the more likely you are to be an introvert:

  • You love to spend time alone, either reading a book, drawing, watching a movie, playing video games or being outside for a walk or a run.

  • When you are with friends, you prefer being with a small group of people you know well and really enjoy, rather than with a big group of people you barely know.

  • You are often in your own head, trying to digest information, to make sense out of it. You have a very rich inner world.

  • You don’t like to be the center of attention. You don’t like being under the spotlight, having to talk about you.

  • You prefer deep, meaningful conversation rather than doing smalltalk.

  • You don’t like to talk about your own emotions, especially with people you don’t know really well and trust.

  • You have a small circle of friends you trust and know really well, rather than a big number of acquaintances you don’t know that much.

  • You dread phone conversations, and prefer sending an e-mail if that’s possible.

  • When you’re in the middle of a crowd, you actually feel lonelier than when you are alone or with just one or two people.

  • You’re a good listener, and you notice details other people don’t notice. People, especially extraverts, like to speak to you as they know you will listen to them.

  • You need a quiet environment to work.

Oh, so you say I’m stuck in a box? I’m either an extravert, or an introvert, and that’s it?

No. Introversion / extraversion is not an all-or-nothing kind of thing. Carl Jung himself said there was no pure introvert or pure extravert, and, if such a person existed, she would be in a “lunatic asylum”. It’s a continuum, a spectrum if you like. We are all more or less extraverted, more or less introverted. We all have both an introverted and an extraverted facet in our personality, but one of these facets is just more developed. Heck, you could even be almost in between, what is sometimes called an ambivert.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Introversion and extraversion are not words to categorize you and put you in a box, they are concepts to better understand each person’s personality and preferences.

According to your test, I’m an introvert, or leaning toward introversion. Does that mean I should try to become more of an extravert?

No, you shouldn’t, and there are several reasons for that.

First, you can’t just change your personality like that. Scientists determined your personality, your tendency towards introversion or extraversion, is partly genetic. It’s partly how your brain works. How you react to hormones, like dopamine for instance. Extraverts crave dopamine, and that hormone is, among other things, produced when you interact with others. Introverts don’t crave it that much, as they easily feel overstimulated.

So, no, you won’t become an extravert even if you try hard. But, the good news is you don’t have to.

Even if it’s not obvious as society keeps asking us to be as outgoing as possible, we introverts have unique qualities those loud people cannot even dream of. We are mostly deep thinkers, who can make sense of a lot of complex, apparently non-sensical information. We think before we act, before we speak. We can focus on a task.

And, this is what I’ll talk in a next post, we can be great speakers, even better than extraverts.

And, finally, you can learn some social skills that won’t conflict to your introverted nature. The goal of this blog, for instance, is to teach you how to become a better speaker, even if you are a pure introvert, without trying to renounce your own nature. But we’ll talk about that later.