I’m going to be completely honest—when I was younger, I always struggled with being an introvert. It was never easy. I always dreamed of being the first to raise my hand in the classroom. The one to express my ideas with full assertion. The one to step up to the plate and call attention.
Before any party, group project, meeting or class presentation, I would give myself the same little pep talks. Speak up, Daphne. Mix, Daphne. Say Something, Daphne. Be fun, Daphne. Don’t over think, Daphne.
But really, all I was feeding myself was a big spoonful of pressure and bellyaches.
As I got older it got confusing, because it’s not like I hated being around others. I actually loved going out, being a part of sports teams and being around people. I was just always more of the observant one, and not the one seeking the spotlight or talking up a storm with everyone in the room.
It took me years—of both awkward and not so awkward experiences—to see that my introverted nature was more than just a personality trait. It was the way I was hard wired. And there was nothing wrong with the way I was hard wired.
I came to learn that as much as I loved people, I loved my time spent with my self and my thoughts a bit more. But this preference didn’t mean that I should be pigeonholed into the category of shy, awkward or anti-social.Last summer, I came across Susan Cain’s revolutionary book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. She provides mounds of research to support her passionate stance on introversion and it’s value in our society. This book affirmed my thoughts on introversion and actually made me proud to be the way I am.
Cain highlights how the workplace and the educational system have all been set up to support the extroverted ideal. Our fast-paced American culture has come to idolize what it means to have a loud, assertive voice and has associated this with power and success. But I now know there is a lot of power in a quiet, pensive mind.
Let’s be clear: I don’t think either temperament is better than the other—for they each come with their own batches of strengths and weaknesses.
People shouldn’t view extroverts vs. introverts, but instead embrace extroverts and introverts for their respective differences.
Our personality traits shape our lives in profound ways. Understanding a way of being that is different from you will not only improve the quality of your relationships, it will also bring richness to your personal life.
Awareness and acceptance of the differences between introversion-extroversion will help you gain a new perspective and allow you to see life through a fresh pair of lenses.
The textbook difference between an introvert and an extrovert is in the way one recharges their batteries. Extroverts are energized from interacting with other people or buzzing places. Introverts are energized from being alone with their thoughts or a good book. Therefore, being in the opposite setting in which you thrive can be a drain on your energy stores.
In general, an introvert prefers to stay rooted within them self, while an extrovert prefers to travel along trails of interactions.
Keep in mind, these are just generalizations and people can fall anywhere within this spectrum. Just because you are introverted doesn’t mean you hate people and flashy concerts, and just because you are extroverted doesn’t mean you hate PJs and Netflix.
Outgoing introverts who like to frequent parties may feel like they have to explain why they only put half of themselves out there on the ledge. Cautious extroverts who enjoy a quiet night at home with close friends may feel like they have to explain why they come back from that ledge as well.
This is because our culture has formed stereotypes around these definitions—that extroverted means talkative and introverted means shy. But in reality, shyness is a fear-induced behavior and has nothing to do with introversion.
My boyfriend and I were recently in Atlanta and on one of the days, we had an Uber driver named Jennifer pick us up from lunch. She was friendly, super bubbly and talkative. Within five minutes she had shared everything about her day to what she does for a living, in full detail.
She was a personal assistant for entrepreneurs and business professionals. She actually had a big networking event the next day where a lot of potential leads would be in attendance. But she told us she was nervous. We asked her why and her answer was, “because I’m actually an introvert.”
You can imagine our shock when we learned this— because you would’ve never in a million years guessed she was introverted by how outgoing and talkative she was.
But this is just an example of where the terms to describe each type can often be misleading—because there is so much more to extroversion and introversion than our level of chattiness or where we draw energy from.
Research done by Hans Eysenck in the 1960s took a closer look and found that scientifically, introversion-extroversion depends on the rate at which your brain responds to external stimuli.
Extroverted people have lower response rates and therefore seek more stimulation through new experiences and social interactions.
Introverted people have higher response rates and can be over stimulated much more easily. Therefore, they are content with calm, familiar and predictable interactions.
At its core, it really is all about the way our brains are wired. And while Jennifer was talkative and social, it was her innate sensitivity to the external stimulation of networking with a ton of professionals that made her an introvert.
In grade school, there were always those kids who loved to be called on by the teacher. They would jump out of their seat and flail their arms around in the air, before the teacher even spit the question out. Sometimes they would even have to use their other hand to hold up the one in the air once it got tired.
But here’s the kicker—once the teacher called on them, they often didn’t know the answer. I—the introverted student who dreaded being called on— would always think to myself, “Wow all that excitement and he doesn’t know the answer?! WHAT A NUT!”
I didn’t understand this species of classmates back then, but I eventually came to see what my own fear of being called on stemmed from. It was due to the fact that, like most introverts, I was born with an internal processor. This just means I prefer to process all my ideas, thoughts and responses within the comfort of my own mind before revealing them to the world. The more baked they are in the oven, the better. It explains why I—like many other introverts— claim to express myself better through writing.
Extroverts on the other hand, are usually equipped with external processors. They prefer to talk through their ideas out loud and amongst others, and form their ideas as they go along.
That kid that eagerly raised his hand in class is most likely an extrovert. When asked a question, an extrovert will start talking because they are most comfortable thinking out loud. Introverts, however, will either pause or respond with a shuffled “I don’t know,” because they are more comfortable thinking silently and taking time to comb through a response.
And that is one of the extrovert’s unique abilities—their spontaneity. They are quick on their feet and can make others see that their ideas and thoughts make sense, as they think them through themselves.
This fast-paced style is conducive in the workplace and business. However, an introvert may struggle when they aren’t given the time or freedom to contemplate, analyze or weigh options.
Let’s say, their boss asks them a question on the spot. If not given enough time to respond, an introvert would worry that the boss either: 1. sees them as dumb or 2. would think they paused because they didn’t know the answer.
Whatever the case, introverts have much to contribute in work and business. The way they draw connections and pay attention to details can lend itself to new perspectives and unique alternatives.
Extroverts tend to be captivated by the new and exciting. They are usually interested in a wide range of things, but they may not explore them all as deeply. So, they dabble around a broad variety of interests and hobbies.
Introverts tend to have a smaller scope of interests, but the few interests they do have are pursued at a much deeper level and in much more detail—and occasionally, these particular interests are defined as passions. So while extroverts prefer breadth, introverts prefer depth.
Most extroverts tend to be spontaneous by nature. As much as they can plan, they also are happy with spur of the moment decisions and like to play things by ear.
However, for an introvert like myself, hearing these four words is enough to make me want to cry a river of frustration. Because “let’s play it by ear” is just code for “we’ll decide last minute”—an introvert’s worst nightmare. This can also explain why we also aren’t so keen on last-minute surprises or walking into unknown situations.
It’s easier for extroverts to strike up conversations and lock in connections with new people, even if they have nothing in common with them. They often have a team of friends—some close and some not so close. They are an open book and are willing to share a page of it with anyone who asks.
Introverts on the other hand, are more private and tend to choose their relationships much more carefully. They are less likely to travel in packs and would say that they have a handful of close friends that they share the most deep and hidden facets of their life with. They still crave connections, however, they favor one-on-one encounters.
The introvert’s guarded and reserved nature means it may take longer for these relationships to develop—especially when it comes to intimate and romantic relationships. However, great things sometimes take time to grow and once trust is planted, an introvert can become one of the most loyal and caring companions you’ll ever know.
When Opposites Pull.
It’s probably important that I mention one thing before I go on— I love extroverts.
A lot of my closest friends and family are extroverts. And like Cain puts it, there is something magical about a union where “one is sensitive to beauty but also to slings and arrows, while the other barrels cheerfully through their days.”
They have a lot to offer one another—the introvert may gain a greater sense of what it is to feel happy and alive, while the extrovert may feel more anchored and gain access to a deeper state of being.
But like most things in life, differences can inevitably cause some friction. Thus, different personalities can result in people feeling misunderstood, judged and testy.
For instance, an extrovert may always feel inclined to fill in awkward silences in a conversation. However, the introvert may not see the silence as being “awkward.” A sign that an introvert is truly comfortable with you is when they don’t feel the pressure to fill these gaps in conversation with meaningless chitchat and can just enjoy your company. However, an introvert may not see how their silence can be hurtful to an extrovert.
An extrovert may think that the quietness is a sign that the introvert is uncomfortable, upset or uninterested. This leaves the extrovert feeling deflated. And if the matter is unaddressed and continues, it can even leave them feeling resentful.
Perception vs. Reality.
Susan Cain also presented an interesting study done by LiveScience on her blog. It examined whether introverts and extroverts actually perceive reality differently. They distributed surveys out which asked for people’s reactions to things like a cute picture of a puppy or how they’d respond if they found a caterpillar in their bed.
After looking over the responses to these psychology surveys, LiveScience found that extroverts tend to have more extreme responses than introverts.
Cain then poses the question: “do extroverts actually experience life in extremes or are they just more inclined to declarative statements?”
One scientist Cain interviewed did find a correlation to extroverts experiencing life in extremes—at least when it came to positive emotions like ecstasy and happiness.
Extroverts are known for ‘up-regulating’ these feelings—for accentuating the positive—says Rick Howard, University of Nottingham psychology professor, while introverts are more likely to simply take their emotions as they find them.
Now, let’s say my extroverted friend and I are whipping up a bowl of guacamole together. Once it’s ready, my extroverted friend dips a chip in the guac, tastes it and exclaims, “OMG! This is the best guac ever!” I—the introvert— dip my chip in the guac, taste it and might say something like “Ya, it’s pretty good.”
What does this mean? Susan Cain explains:
If two people look at the same event and one feels X about it while the other feels X plus 1, or X plus 10, then it’s harder for them to enjoy a sense of mutual experience.
And even if my friend and I are actually enjoying the guacamole equally, it may not seem that way. This can lead to an unnecessary misunderstanding between the both of us.
My casual response may indicate to her that I’m not enjoying the experience and flatten her enthusiasm. But if I feel like I have to do pirouettes and pretend like it’s the best guac on earth— when I think Chipotle’s is secretly better— I’ll feel like I’m being inauthentic and dishonest.
In some relationships, this misunderstanding can also trigger some fears—for introverts, it’s the fear of extroverts viewing them as “too serious” or “too boring;” for extroverts, it’s the fear of introverts viewing them as “too ridiculous” or “too much.”
And this lingering fear over how you’re seen is something both introverts and extroverts deal with. This worry alone is what may cause an introvert to pretend to be extroverted—to keep the conversation going, to process and make decisions faster, to act before thinking, to be extra bubbly and interactive—in hopes that these traits may one day come naturally.
We can always fine-tune our personalities depending on the situation we find ourselves in. But taking on an alternate personality will ultimately backfire and deplete us of our energy.
Instead, the focus should be on growing and building new skills, moderated with self-acceptance. Because if you aren’t being true to yourself, it’ll eventually show.
The guacamole example is silly, but sheds light on the importance of understanding each other’s emotional blueprints and mental wiring to help avoid us from taking our differences personally. Because while these differences exist, they aren’t irreconcilable.
A basic understanding on how a person prefers to function is the key to unlocking the door to where communication and compromise can take place.
Because in the end, what we all have in common is that we are all imperfect humans—and all imperfect humans want to feel understood. It’s one of the basic human needs.
And once awareness and understanding is gained, a pair of yin and yang personalities can relish in an exciting and life-fulfilling relationship of mutual admiration.
The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed. –Carl Jung
If you are unsure of where you fall along the introversion-extroversion spectrum, take this quick quiz here.
Are you introverted or extroverted? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!