Ever read a Facebook status update of the ‘At home by myself, really bored!’ variety (usually accompanied by an indiscriminate use of ‘LOL’, ‘OMG’ or ‘Literally’) and felt perplexed at how this could be, when surely there are all kinds of things they could be getting on with? Have you ever desperately sought an escape route after a few hours at a party because it all just felt a bit arduous? If so it’s probable that, like me and between half and a third of the population, your personality lies toward the introverted end of the extraversion scale. For those of us living in the western world it can sometimes seem like an exhausting affair keeping up with the demands of a decidedly extraverted society. Even the bloody personality measure is called the ‘Extraversion Scale’!
Susan Cain, the acclaimed author of Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, explains the extraversion bias in western cultures in simple terms (well, relatively): the rise of big city capitalism, succeeding agricultural economics, increased the importance of characteristics helpful in ‘proving yourself in a crowd of strangers’. Charisma and magnetism, she argues, have become more influential in many ways than intelligence or giftedness (both of which are highly linked with introversion). I for one have often felt constrained by incessant group work at Uni or in the workplace – a scenario extraverts typically find conducive to creativity- knowing that I would have much more to offer if I could just step outside for ten minutes to a quieter environment before feeding my genius breakthrough back to the group.
With society placing the charismatic talker in a better starting position than the quiet thinker, it’s easy to feel like there’s something wrong with you when you don’t seem to fit into its expectations. We introverts, for example, can often feel guilty about appearing anti-social when declining an invitation to meet up with friends, when in actuality we probably just need to recharge our batteries. Indeed, Carl Jung – who first popularised the extra-introversion personality construct (in between spanking sessions with Keira Knightley, apparently) – thought of this need for quiet reflection in order to energise one’s mind as a central part of introversion; the idea being that, while extraverts gain energy from being around other people, introverts actually find it depleting after a while.
That’s certainly not to imply introverts are misanthropes or ‘haters’; I absolutely love seeing my friends and family as well as meeting new people, and would go crazy if cooped up by myself for too long, but I just have a threshold for how much interaction I can take in any one dose. I also don’t mean to say that people either lie on one side or the other of the spectrum. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of us lie somewhere in between ‘James Corden’ and ‘Paul Scholes’ on the bed of extra/introversion… (with Corden roaring loudly down the phone, kicking fried chicken remains in his excitement toward an exasperated Scholes, coiled-up in the opposite direction, tugging frantically for the tiniest share of duvet… where was I?). Thirdly, it’s also not a static thing – sometimes we might feel more outgoing than other times, depending on our mood or tiredness, among other things.
It was only recently, at the age of 27, that I really started to acknowledge that I am very definitely more of an introvert than extravert. I think I knew it for a long time, but something prevented me from wanting to fully embrace it. It’s strange to think that a fundamental personality trait shared by up to half of the population could be a source of shame, but ultimately it’s pretty straightforward: I didn’t want to think of myself as someone who isn’t naturally outgoing, ‘fun’, a ‘people person’ or ‘team-player’. Indeed, think about most of the job descriptions you’ve read and you can see how these features are so positively rewarded. By extension, when told employers are ‘looking for a motivated, energetic team player who thrives when working with others’, those of us whose inherent personality doesn’t provide a snug fit may well feel somewhat lacking, and may end up fighting against our true nature by desperately trying to tweak our mental CV accordingly. Similarly, when public obituaries are read, the lines usually pronounce how ‘they had always been the life and the soul of the party, always smiling, loved being around people’ as if these were the only virtues worthy of value. Happily, I have now come to accept that I am who I am, despite living in a culture that extols characteristics predominantly associated with an extraverted personality.
There may well by plenty of you saying ‘I’ve been content with my introversion all my life, stop being so bloody neurotic’, to which I say ‘touché’, but I firmly believe there are many of us who have unknowingly resisted this liberating revelation: being a quiet thinker who likes a little more time in solitude than those shouting out the rules of societal engagement does not imply a weakness, but is instead simply a trait that should be cherished and enjoyed in the quietness we afford ourselves, guilt-free. So, team talk… Introverts: let’s all get out there – or inside to our separate houses, I should say – and just express ourselves… independently, and can we all keep the music down so we can hear ourselves think please? Wonderful.
follow Fabio on Twitter: @fabzucci