In general, people assume that the extrovert has a better time than the introvert. Surely the former has all the fun while the latter just sits in his room feeling lonely and depressed! Indeed, for many the word “introvert” is synonymous with “shy”, “lonely”, and “miserable”. This is a mistake. Many introverts are none of these things and in fact live very rich and happy lives.
What Is an Introvert?
In the 1960s, the psychologist Hans Eysenck argued that the main difference between an introvert and an extrovert lay in arousal: in how alert and responsive their minds and bodies are to stimulation. In essence, extroverts have a lower level of arousal. Consequently, they seek out novelty and adventure. And they do so because they need the stimulation. Introverts are aroused more easily and exhausted more quickly.
The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung explained the difference in terms of psychic energy. An introvert’s psychic energy flows inward, an extrovert’s flows outward. This means that an introvert is generally more concerned with his inner life – with memories, thoughts, and ideas. The extrovert, on the other hand, is preoccupied with people, objects, and external events. Oddly, the extrovert’s energy level actually drops if you force him to spend too much time alone. Give him enjoyable company and his energy levels will rise; with introverts the opposite is true.
Introverts are not necessarily loners, neither are they always lonely. On the contrary, they often experience less loneliness than extroverts. Extroverts need people. Now that is fine so long as they are popular and likeable. But when an extrovert isn’t particularly likeable, or, for whatever reason, can find no one to befriend, he will feel his isolation more keenly than an introvert and suffer a great deal more. Place an introvert and an extrovert in solitary confinement and it is obvious who will be first to slip into depression!
Introverts tend to have very rich inner lives, while extroverts live life on the surface. Indeed, some extroverts feel lost and unreal without other people. Left alone they can even experience a sense of fear and panic. If you are an introvert, it would be wise to nurture this inner life. Consider the things you are most passionate about. If you love history, for example, cultivate that love, reading as many books as you can on medieval knights or Roman Emperors. Your imagination will feed off of those books and you will strengthen and deepen that inner world.
It is often assumed that extroverts have more friends than introverts, but this is not necessarily true. Extroverts may know more people, but that does not mean these are relationships of quality and depth. When extroverts socialize, they are more likely to skim the surface, flitting from one person to the next. Thus they are always in danger of accumulating lots of casual acquaintances without inspiring any deep loyalty or affection.
Introverts, on the other hand, usually have depth and will focus on one person, really listening to what they say. So, for example, if an introvert and an extrovert were to attend a party, the extrovert would be the one busy circulating: curious to meet as many people as possible but soon tiring of them and moving on to the next. The introvert, however, would be more likely to seek out the one person with whom he shares a common interest and to then focus intently on him.
Introverts often seem more interesting than extroverts as well. Though it may not be true, extroverts can seem shallow and insincere. Introverts, on the other hand, often seem deep, dark, and mysterious.
When it comes to the workplace, there are both advantages and disadvantages to being an introvert (just as there are advantages and disadvantages to being an extrovert). Introverts tend to think deeply and slowly. But they can also be left alone to get on with things. Extroverts, on the other hand, though they tend to be quicker, also need praise, reassurance, and company. Put them on their own to do a job and they may find things difficult.
Take the building trade as an example. If you were to employ an introvert and an extrovert, you would soon find that they thrived in different conditions. Leave an extrovert alone for the day to construct a wall or garden shed and you may find that he not only takes longer than usual but that he also does a poorer job. The extrovert needs the stimulation of work colleagues to motivate and inspire him. The introvert, however, would probably do a better job if he was left alone. Put him with a noisy group of fellow builders who do nothing but talk and joke all day and the introvert will not only find it harder to concentrate but will soon be exhausted.
Introverts and extroverts bring different qualities to a relationship as well. Many people, especially those who are tactile and needy, will complain that their partner is cold and distant when in fact he or she is merely introverted and in need of their own space. This is especially true of introverts who spent many years living alone before moving in with their new partner. When extroverts and introverts form relationships, problems can arise. This is especially true when the couple are young. A young extrovert, for example, may complain that her introverted lover is “dull” and “never wants to do anything.” He, on the other hand, may be both irritated and perplexed by her love of clubs and parties and how she will socialize “just for the sake of it” (as he may put it).
That said, introverts also possess immensely attractive qualities. For example, their partner never feels obliged to entertain or please them and has no need to fear awkward silences. Introverts also value their personal space and are therefore more likely to respect their partner’s. Another bonus is the depth and sensitivity introverts often bring to a relationship. Women usually find male introverts more emotionally intelligent and better listeners than the average man. Since they are not constantly distracted, introverts are also very good at giving their complete attention to their partner and their worries. And since they tend to be deep thinkers who respond from hidden depths, their advice is likely to be sensible and wise.
Of course, there are different sorts of introverts: an introvert may be shy or arrogant, polite or rude, boring or interesting. In reality, there is no typical life of an introvert. Nevertheless, certain broad generalizations can be made. And, as an Ancient Greek philosopher once said, the first rule of life is “know thyself”. Once you have recognized that you are an introvert, you can play to your strengths, work on your weaknesses, and arrange your life in a way that suits your temperament. Above all, do not think of being an introvert as some kind of disability. It isn’t something you must struggle with and fight against. As you can see, it even has its advantages.