“The trait of extraversion-introversion is a central dimension of human personality theories” (Ancowitz, 2010). These terms were first popularized by Carl Jung with his concepts in analytical psychology. Though debate still exists on whether a person can be both, Carl Jung himself suggested that everyone has an introverted and an extroverted side.
However, he argued that one is always more dominant than the other, hence the difference in personalities between introverts and extroverts. To differentiate the two, Eysenck (1967) explains that “while extroverts tend to be gregarious, assertive and interested in seeking out external stimulus, introverts tend to be introspective, quiet and less sociable”.
Personality influence the way people dress, the way they arrange their work area, they way they decorate their offices and how they feed, among others. Extroverts tend to be more upbeat and will therefore dress and decorate in a way that allows them to stay so. Introverts value quiet time and are bothered by anything that might destruct their peace of mind. As a result, they will avoid loud colors and they enjoy simplicity.
They will arrange their workplace and homes to discourage and minimize social interaction. Although the differences are major, it is important to have an informed society that avoid stereotyping and judging people from their personalities. Insensitive and misinformed judgments can put introverts, who happen to be the minority, under immense stress of being misunderstood.
In its modern sense, the concept goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung. Like Laney (2002) explains, “today it is a mainstay of personality tests, including the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator”. According to Ancowitz (2010), introversion is the “state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life”.
When with other people, introverts are less outspoken and keep to themselves. They have a preference for solitary activities which can be enjoyed alone such as fishing, using computers and reading, among other solitary activities. Though not all archetypal artists, engineers, composers and inventors are introverts, a majority of them are highly introverted.
Introverts find time spent with other people less rewarding. They are more likely to enjoy time spent alone that engaging in activities that include group work. However, introverts may enjoy interactions with people they consider very close friends and family. A majority of introverts have a problem trusting people and have a hard time choosing a worthy companion.
They take time to give their opinion on issues surrounding them and would rather watch situations than participate. While social gatherings may be stimulating to an extrovert, introverts find such situations overwhelming. They also are very analytical and will take long to voice their opinion on a situation.
“Introversion is not the same as being shy or being a social outcast” (Eysenck, 1967). Shy people are fearful and avoid social encounters, which may not be the case with introverts. Social outcasts on the other hand are mostly people with little influence or choice in matters of their solitude.
Jungian theory explains the relationship between personality traits and energy. “According to Carl Jung, introversion and extraversion refer to the direction of psychic energy” (Johnson, Wiebe, Gold & Andreasen, 1999). The psychologist argues that one is considered an introvert when their psychic energy flows inwards. Since their energy flows inwards, they have less energy left to extend to other people. As a result, their interaction level is low since they are have less psychic energy exchange with other people.
Eysenck’s theory offers another explanation for introversion. “Hans Eyesenck described extroversion-introversion as the degree to which a person is outgoing and interactive with other people” (Eysenck, 1967). Introverts differ from other people as a result existing differences in their brain physiology. Introverts feel overwhelmed by social situations and will therefore keep arousal from them at a minimum level. Eysenck theory further equates introversion to melancholy and phlegmatic temperaments.
The other cause of introversion and extroversion can be explained through biological factors. According to Cheng & Furnham (2003), “the relative importance of nature versus environment in determining the level of extraversion is controversial and the focus of many studies”. Biological factors influence one through genetic inheritance and development. It may also be through blood composition and patterns of flow.
According to Johnson, Wiebe, Gold & Andreasen (1999), “one study found that introverts have more blood flow in the frontal lobes of their brain and the anterior of frontal thalamus, which are areas dealing with internal processing, such as planning and problem solving”. The same study revealed that they have less blood flow in areas involved in emotional experience.
Challenges facing introverts in an extrovert world
In discussing the challenges of being an introvert in an extroverted society, Cheng & Furnham (2003) argues that “simply put, introverts face the daily challenge of feeling like square pegs being shoved into round holes”. Much like left-handed people are the minority and almost everything is designed for right-hand use, introverts are the minority in every community.
Social settings and activities right from homes, schools, churches and other social settings are designed to suit extroverts. To understand the challenges of being an introvert, it is important to consider the opposite. Extroverts thrive in the presence of other people and are always looking for such opportunities. They need people to survive and thrive and will therefore go out of their way to seek people to socialize with.
Introverts on the other hand thrive in private moments and need to feel that other people understand that need. In a world where there is a lot of social pressure to interact and spend time with other people, this can be hard to achieve. As a result, introverts will many times feel misunderstood and irritable when people insist on being around them.
Another challenge arises from the fact that introverts are comfortable being alone by nature. It is only when they are alone that they are able to think and dream. This is hard to achieve when other people consider you as being a loner for being yourself. It is particularly difficult when one has family or societal obligations.
For example, an introverted parent may find it unbearable to constantly provide the attention required by their children. Despite the fact that they love their children just like extroverted parents do, the continual need for attention may be annoying to them. Unfortunately, children do not understand different personality traits to allow introverted parents sufficient time to be alone.
Introverts are easily misunderstood. The world makes judgment without taking time to understand them. Many times they are labeled titles such as loners, shy or even indifferent. As Cheng & Furnham (2003) clarifies, introverts are not necessarily shy people. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not.
In simple words, introverts can be described as people who find other people and their company boring. As a way to protect themselves from that arises from being labeled wrongly, introverts may live in denial, especially if they have good social skills or are not morose. Introversion should not be confused with shyness. In fact, a good number of introverts are not shy.
A combination of introversion and other traits such as low self esteem could leave them easily vulnerable to social misfortunes such as bullying. They are not verbally aggressive and may shy away from arguments. Their lifestyles and preferences are hard to understand since they prefer to be alone. This has been evident in the past in school settings. Their quietness may be easily mistaken for weakness and other students may take advantage of that to bully, label or criticize them.
A preference for own company keeps introverts from being actively involved and excelling in extra-curriculum activities such as sports and music. Their ability to work in groups or do well in team-work may hinder them from developing their social skills. As a result, only few introverted people are able to do well in activities outside their careers.
Furthermore, a career growth may be hindered by their inability to constantly interaction with people. This is one of the reasons why introverted people choose solitude careers such innovations, writing, composing, painting, as well as other forms of art. This limits their ability and may hinder diversification of skills.
Introverts are easily oppressed in the public life. The perfect example of an area where introverts hardly have a say is in politics. Looking at all the most influential leaders in the world, extroversion seems to be a common characteristic. Only few leaders with signs of introversion such as Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon have made it to the top politically.
Even in these cases, these are people whose aloofness and preference for privacy are probable signs of introversion, but are not necessarily fully proven introverts. The situation is the same in sporting and other activities that require assertiveness and aggressiveness.
With an endless appetite for talk and attention, extroverts heavily outdo introverts in social arenas. Extroverts set expectations and introverts being the minority, are left with little choice but to adhere to social rules set and changed often by extroverts.
An outgoing personality today is considered a desirable trait. It is translated to mean confidence and leadership ability. While being a people person is considered a compliment today, introverts may not fit into that description. Such situations put introverts under high pressure to meet society standards.
Another significant challenge facing introverts is the misconception that they are rude. According to Laney (2002), “the misconception has to do with their being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts”. It is also because of their reluctance to air their opinion in almost everything.
The result is misjudgment and wrongful accusations of introverts being rude or indifferent. Sometimes introverts may even be left out of major decision-making processes in a group setting, under the assumption that they are bit interested.
Putting all the discussed issues into consideration, “the essential challenge facing the introvert is that you will continually have to fight your natural inclination toward solitude in order to function in society or within a family” (Ancowitz, 2010). It is evident that the society and the world are designed to serve extroversion. The media today almost has no room for introverts as evident from the number of extroverted personalities making it in the entertainment industry.
All activities that attract crowds such as sports, politics and entertainment suit extroverts better than they do introverts. Therefore, introversion as a personality trait in the public eye seems to be a limitation. However, the society needs to take time and understand introversion before judging and labeling it. Introverts excel in many other activities and professions that socially outgoing people may not be able to handle.
As pointed out in the beginning of the paper, personality influence the way people arrange their work area, their outlook, they way they decorate their offices, and the way they carry themselves around. In every community, introverts find themselves in a disadvantaged position for being the minority. As explained earlier, it is evident that the society and the world are designed to serve extroversion. Their characters and social skills leave them easily misunderstood.
Without taking the time and putting effort to understand them, introverts may appear as rude or indifferent. It is easy to ignore them in major decision making for thinking they do not care much about day-to-day situations facing the society. However, this is not the case. They are not quick to judge or give their opinion, especially on matters that do not affect the directly. It is important for society to allow introverts room to be and not put them under any pressure to meet society’s need to be loud and interactive.
Ancowitz, N. (2010). Self-promotion for introverts: The quiet guide to getting ahead. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Cheng, H. & Furnham, A. (2003). Personality, self-esteem, and demographic predictions of happiness and depression. Personality and Individual Differences, 34, 921-942.
Eysenck, H.J. (1967). The biological basis of personality. Springfield, IL: Thomas Publishing.
Johnson, D.L. Wiebe, J.S. Gold, S.M. & Andreasen, N.C. (1999). Cerebral blood flow and personality: A position emission tomography study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 156, 252-257.
Laney, M.O. (2002). The introvert advantage: How to thrive in an extrovert world. New York: Workman Publishers.