Socializing was also a confusing experience. I enjoyed people, and people seemed to like me, but I often dreaded going out. I would go back and forth deciding whether to show up at a party or public event. I concluded I was a social chicken. Sometimes I felt awkward and uncomfortable; at other times I felt okay. Even when I was having a wonderful time, I was eyeing the door and fantasizing about snuggling in bed with my pajamas…
It took me years to discover that all of my puzzling contradictions actually made sense. I was a normal introvert. This discovery brought me such relief!
The above is an excerpt from Dr. Marti Olsen Laney’s book The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World. Dr. Laney spends much of the beginning of her book explaining exactly what introversion is so that those who are introverts (or those who live with introverts) can better understand their temperaments. American culture, she says, values the qualities exhibited by extroverts. She explains, “America was built on rugged individualism and the importance of citizens speaking their minds. We value action, speed, competition, and drive.” Dr. Laney argues that it is time to celebrate the positive qualities that introverts bring to the table.
Introverts vs. Extroverts According to Laney
The strongest distinguishing characteristic of introverts is their energy source: Introverts draw energy from their internal world of ideas, emotions, and impressions. They are energy conservers. They can be easily overstimulated by the external world, experiencing the uncomfortable feeling of “too much.” However, introverts need to balance their alone time with the outside time, or they can lose other perspectives and connections. Introverted people who balance their energy have perseverance and the ability to think independently, focus deeply, and work creatively.
[Extroverts] are energized by the external world – by activities, people, places, and things. They are energy spenders. Long periods of hanging out, internal contemplation, or being alone or with just one other person understimulate them. However, extroverts need to balance their time doing with intervals of just being, or they can lose themselves in a whirlwind of anxious activities. Extroverts offer much to our society – they express themselves easily, they concentrate on results, and they enjoy crowds and action.
This is not the first time that I have written about introversion and extroversion. In fact, I was fascinated by Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking when it was published a few years ago. In her book, Cain has a slightly different take on the definitions of introversion and extroversion.
Introverts vs. Extroverts According to Cain
Cain describes the introverts and extroverts as the north and south of temperaments. Introverts are people who prefer to be alone, enjoying the lack of stimulation and noise. On the other hand, extroverts thrive off of other people’s conversation and energy. While introversion and shyness often overlap, people who are shy experience anxiety when faced with social situations. In contrast, “Introverted people aren’t bothered by social situations,” says Louis Schmidt, director of the Child Emotion Laboratory at McMaster University in Ontario. “They just prefer not to engage.”
By some counts, roughly thirty percent of people fall into the introverted temperament end of the spectrum. And, while we might think that introversion and extroversion are choices we make, a study at Harvard University illustrated that even four-month-old babies exhibit tendencies towards introversion and extroversion that correlate with their personalities when they get older.
Benefits of Introversion
While American culture values extroverts, there are some key benefits that introverts possess. Firstly, because introverts spend less time talking, they are wonderful listeners. Listening is an essential element in nonverbal communication, perhaps one of the most important skills when going on a shidduch, making friends, or interviewing for a job. Recent studies show that introverted CEOs of major companies are most successful because they are able to listen to the creative ideas of their employees, instead of asserting their own ideas on a consistent basis.
Another benefit of introversion is good decision making. By nature, introverts are less likely to take excessive risks and therefore are more likely to weigh their decisions carefully before acting. Cain explains that “Extroverts are much more likely to get really excited by the possibility of a reward, but because of that, they won’t always pay attention to warning signals. Introverts are much more circumspect.”
Yet another benefit of introversion is the skill mastery, which has to do with the introvert’s ability to spend significant patches of time alone. Studies done on chess masters, concert violinists, athletes, and even regular university students preparing for examines demonstrated that the more deliberate time spent practicing or studying alone, the more skilled the person became. Florida State University psychologist reasoned, “You gain the most on your performance when you work alone. And the introverted temperament might make some kids more willing to make that commitment.”
Parents of Introverts
Traditionally, extroversion is valued over introversion in our communities. We tell our children, “Don’t be shy.” We grade our students on class participation and sometimes take off point for not participating enough. We call silences in conversation “awkward pauses.” Perhaps, though, we need to figure out how to strike a balance with our children, teaching them the value of following their natural dispositions while occasionally pushing past their discomfort every now and then.
Some tips include:
Check in with teachers. Introverts are often overlooked in the classroom. But, if you sporadically check in with your child’s teacher, the teacher will know to look out for your child, even if he is quiet. This will ensure that his progress will be monitored.
Encourage moderate risks. What feels like an easy task for you might be a daring adventure for your child. Therefore, discuss with your child what feels comfortable for them and what slightly pushes their limits. For instance, if your child refuses all playdates, suggest having a short playdate with only one other child in the comfort of your home. Then, create a signal for your child to let you know when they feel the playdate is over. Taking moderate risks will help your child become more at ease when he is forced into difficult situations.
Respect boundaries. Don’t push far beyond what is comfortable for your child. Listen to him if he says that he cannot do what you are asking of him in social situations.
Perhaps the main idea parents can take away from this article is that introverted is not inherently bad. In fact, there are some wonderful things about being introverted. However, because introverted children often float under the radar or are misunderstood, just make sure someone is keeping track of them!